Jan Brett creates some of the most intricately drawn children’s books around. Her stories, often populated by woodland critters of many varieties, have delighted young readers for years. Her books such as “The Mitten,” “The Hat” and “Mossy” have sold more than 36 million copies.
Brett’s latest book, “Animals’ Santa,” was actually born during the heat of summer. Her husband, Joe Hearne, is a bassist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which every summer does a series of performances at Tanglewood, in the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. While staying at their lake cabin at the hottest time of summer, the idea of a Santa for animals just popped into her head, she said.
“I still have no idea where it came from,” she said. “It was a little different.”
In Brett’s book, a bunny named Little Snow asks who the animals’ Santa is. None of his friends and neighbors – a porcupine, some ravens, squirrels, and a badger among them – know for sure. They do know that Santa leaves presents for them at night.
“I thought maybe all the animals would be kind to each other on Christmas Eve,” she said with a laugh, “and not eat each other up.”
Many of her books have centered on winter and the holidays, and the reason for that is pretty straightforward.
“I love to do detail,” she said. “And the (pages) that don’t have snow, some of the details get lost and you have to take a minute to figure out what’s going on with a character. Once the snow falls, it’s a transformation, and all the colors become more brilliant, the faces and expressions all of a sudden are clearer and they give you more information. … Just using white or grades of white as an element just helps out my style.”
That attention to detail is Brett’s trademark. Her illustrations are meticulous. As a child, she said, she most enjoyed books that featured richly detailed drawings. “When I was little I used to feel like I could just walk into the pages of some of my books. I could look at them for hours,” Brett said. “It’s my 6-year-old self I’m trying to please. I promised myself, because I knew I was going to be an illustrator when I was really little, 5 or 6, and I would say, ‘Oh I’m going to have details in my drawings. I’m going to tell a story. I’m going to give hints and clues so that if someone really looks closely, they’ll get an aha moment about what’s going to come, or the emotional state of a character.’ ”
Brett is out on the road bringing “Animals’ Santa” to kids across the country. Her tour comes to Spokane on Sunday at the Bing Crosby Theater.
She’s not flying in. She travels by custom-decorated bus for a couple of reasons. First, it’s more efficient to get to smaller cities that are away from major airport hubs. Second, “We come bearing gifts,” she said. At each stop, she’ll give away 100 posters to the first 100 people through the door, and buttons. Hedgie the hedgehog, one of her characters, will make an appearance, as will a bunny who looks much like the star of “Animals’ Santa.” She’ll have an easel and art supplies with her as well.
“If you’re flying, going from one place to another, it’s really hard to bring all this stuff.”
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