Article, Author Interviews

Jan Brett Interview Transcript

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Author and illustrator Jan Brett was interviewed by students and teachers on Scholastic.com.


How do you feel when you write and draw pictures for your books? From Put-in-Bay first graders
I feel like I’m in a world of my own. Almost like I’m on another planet.

Do you draw all of your own beautiful pictures?
Yes ... and thank you!

Hello from Highland Park Elementary first graders and kindergarteners in Austin, TX. Where are you today? We love your books! Do you use colored pencils, markers, ink, crayons, or paint for your drawings, or do you paint on a computer, and do you write the stories with a pencil or computer?
Hi, to Texas! Texas is one of my favorite states! Right now, I'm looking out at about two feet of snow at our home in Norwell, MA. I just came in from feeding my chickens and ducks.

I use pencil to sketch the drawings first, and then I use watercolors. When I write stories, I use the computer, but my husband Joe does the keyboarding. Guess what class I should have taken!

How many years have you been writing books?
Twenty-seven years since my first book was published, but I’ve wanted to publish books since I was in kindergarten!

How many books have you written?
I never count how many I've already, written — only ones that I'd like to write. And right now I've got four that I have ideas for. One is about a bird that lives in Africa. One is about Hedgie going to outer space. One is about bunny that has more heart than brains. And then one is an alphabet book about Hedgie.

We just read Daisy Comes Home, and we loved it! We will be acting out The Mitten with the masks from your web site. What is your favorite of all the books you have written or illustrated?
My favorite is The Umbrella, the book I'm working on right now, and that's because I like to see it unfold.

Second graders in Rochester, New York wonder how many animals you have. We know that you have a pet hedgehog and that you put hedgehogs in many of your books.
Yes, I have Buffy the Hedgehog, and I have four ducks and fourteen chickens!

Hello from Olympic View Elementary in Washington State. How do you draw such detailed pictures of animals? They look so real.
I keep drawing until I feel like I can walk into the page and pat them. It takes an hour for me to draw an inch.

What kind of stories did you write when you were little?
I loved horses, so everything I drew had a horse in it. Usually the main character was me, and I would be saving somebody.

From Groves Elem. in Wylie, TX — How do you come up with the ideas from your books?
One of my favorite books is Armadillo Rodeo, and I got the idea from traveling to Texas and seeing armadillos. A teacher wrote to me and told me an armadillo was following her sneakers around and he thought they were an armadillo, and I thought that was a good idea for a book.

Sometimes I get ideas from childhood. In The Hat, Hedgie starts getting teased about his hat, and he just pretends that everything is okay. That’s the advice that my mother gave me — not to get mad and pretend that everything is okay. And it worked.

Sometimes, ideas come from travel. In the case of Daisy Comes Home, I thought the mountains of Guilin looked a bit like an animal, so I put that in a book. In Who’s That Knocking, the borders look like the Northern lights, which we saw in Norway.

From NJ: How long does it take to write a book?
For me, it takes about a year.

What do you enjoy better, writing or drawing your pictures? Second Grade
I have a hard time writing, and I usually have to put a timer at my desk and put it on for an hour. But I love to illustrate, and I can hardly stop myself.

What book took you the longest?
Noah's Ark took me the longest, because it had about 400 animals in it.

Hello from first and second grade readers and writers at Vaughn Elementary in Vaughn, Washington! What makes you want to write books for us? What was your favorite character in a book when you were a child?
When I was little, I was very shy, but if I took the time to draw a picture, I could say what I really wanted. Ever since then, it’s my best way of communicating. My favorite character was probably the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.

We noticed you foreshadow in the borders of many of your books. What made you want to include that?
When I was little, I always looked at the last page first because I would get worried about the characters. So now I put hints to tell you what’s going to happen next. I guess I was a scaredy cat!

Fairview Heights, NC — How do you get the details in your pictures?
I use a very small brush, and I keep painting until I feel like I can hear the sounds, smell the smells, and feel how soft the fur of the animals is. Drawing is like tennis, or playing the piano, or playing basketball... The more you practice, the better you get. Anybody can learn how to draw.

We enjoyed your Gingerbread Baby video, and we wondered who those children were and if you have children of your own.
Those children are friends of mine: Francesca and Maddie. And yes, I have three children who are all grown up. One is a scientist, one is an art historian, and one is a captain in the Marines.

Hello from Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. Our grade one students are becoming Jan Brett detectives. They would like to know how many of your stories take place in the winter.
What a good question! Let’s see... I can count six, but maybe you can count more.

My daughter is a big fan. She was wondering if you would write something on Hanukkah.
Thank you — it makes me happy that you would think that I would do a good book about a beautiful tradition. It’s not as easy to write a story as you may think. The stories find me... I don’t find the stories.

Our third grade students would like to know if you have ever worked with another author or illustrator in creating a book.
Yes, when I first began my career, I worked with Eve Bunting. She has written over a hundred books.

What is your favorite thing to draw?
My favorite thing to draw would be chickens, but it’s hard to decide between chickens, hedgehogs, and horses (my three favorite animals). Hardest thing to draw... feet, hands and noses!

How do you write so fast and have so many books?
I don’t think a year is fast, but I guess a lot of people have different jobs, and being an illustrator is my job. And that’s all I do night and day. I can’t stop!

Do you keep a writer's notebook? Or a sketch note book?
No. I would like to if I had time, but I spend most of my time drawing. And a lot of what I do is just in my mind.

From Sylvan Avenue Elementary School, Bayport, NY — Do you believe that trolls are real? They are in some of your books. When is your next book coming out? Where did you come up with the ideas for The Mitten and The Hat? They are sort of the same idea.
No, I don’t believe in Trolls, but perhaps thousands of years ago, there were people who had characteristics of Trolls, and that started the legend.

My next book, The Umbrella, is coming out the end of next September. I have only two pages left to do. It has a jaguar, and I can't wait for you to see the quetzal, a bird that lives in Costa Rica.

If you look in the front of The Mitten, you’ll see the names of three teachers. It was their idea. The Hat I made up myself when our hedgehog got stuck in a sock.

My first grade students are learning about the four seasons and they would like to know if winter is your favorite season since so many of your books take place in that season.
Winter is my favorite. I love the way that snow transforms our everyday backyard into a beautiful fairyland. It makes the wild birds look like jewels.

In Niagara Falls NY, we would like to know how you learned to illustrate your books.
I was practicing since I was six, and instead of watching television, I would draw. And I still do! We don't even have a TV.

Do you have a special room that you work in?
Yes, I have an art studio with bright lights to make it seem like it's daytime. I work until about 12 o'clock every night.

Hi from West Warwick RI. Why do you put Hedgie in so many of your books?
Well, there's something about a hedgehog that makes my mind start rolling. It's an attractive animal with lots of resources. I'm all excited about writing a story where Hedgie goes into space and saves a planet from destruction.

The first grade students from A.P. Willits School in Syosset, New York would like to know what your first book was called.
Fritz and the Beautiful Horses. And the pony, whose real name was John, was so fluffy that when you patted him, your hand would disappear. When my daughter took riding lessons, that gave me the idea for the book.

Hello Ms. Brett from Gig Harbor. Do you write other types of stories like poetry? And what do you do when you are writing and get stuck (don't know what to write next) and what do you do when you make a mistake in your pictures?
It's so hard for me to write, I can barely do it... but I do write poems for my husband for his birthday or Valentine's Day.

I never get stuck... I'll get too many ideas, and sometimes I can't concentrate. I call that “feeling scattered.”

When I make a mistake in my pictures, I start a new picture or just erase. And some of the best things happen when I'm fixing a mistake.

The Young People's Department of the Vigo County Public Library in Terre Haute, Indiana will be hosting a party celebrating your birthday on December 13. Children of all ages (me included) have fallen in love with your beautiful books. How have you developed and maintained such an enchanting view of the world and what advice would you give our party attendees about viewing the world in spite of frightening times? Thank you so much for your time, and happy birthday! Jeanette Bouchie
My optimism has helped me through some hard times. If you try to send out good things, good things come back to you.

I like your books. They are really fun to read. We are giving some of your characters holiday gifts for our book club meeting. What gift would you give to one of your characters and why?
Hedgie is always interested in food. He likes sugar and fat. He has to be restricted, so try not to give him too much junk food. We want him to be healthy.

From Fairview Heights in Hamlet, NC. We would like to know if you always wanted to be an author and illustrator or if you would have rather done something else.
I love my job so much, I can't imagine anything else. And I've wanted to be an illustrator since I was in kindergarten.

When you were a child, were you considered a good artist?
I have other interests, and at one time I wanted to ride horses in the Olympics, and I have a pilots license. I enjoy those things but not enough to do it full time. When I was a child, I used to get a penny for each horse picture I drew... but I wasn't the best illustrator in my class.

What inspired you to use so many different countries in your books?
It's hard to put in words, but it's exciting to see a different approach... new colors, new designs, and animals I've never seen before. Do you know that in Central America, there's an animal that LOOKS like a raccoon, but its nose is twice as long? It's called a Coti Mundi.

My name is Summer B. I am a 2nd grader in Bristol, Rhode Island. My question to Ms. Brett is: what country did you visit that you enjoyed the most and why? I think about going to different countries when I'm a grown up. Maybe I'll be a writer too. I love the world. Don't you?
I love your thoughts, Summer! My favorite place is Africa. I love the people, and I am awestruck by the beauty of the animals.

What advice would you give to young writers and illustrators?
Give yourself time. Instead of watching television, take just half an hour and create something. The feeling you get when you create something entirely new is very compelling.

We are having our first snowfall today. The children are so excited. We will be reading Gingerbread Baby later and making our own version of the character. Do you make gingerbread with your children?
Yes, I do make gingerbread with my children. And when I was writing Gingerbread Baby, my studio smelled like gingerbread for a whole year. And then a mouse got in and ate up my cookies!

A question from your fan, Kaitlyn: Ms. Jan Brett, I am your biggest fan, and I was wondering if you ever get tired of being an author
No... I just wish I had another life to do some more books!

Who is your favorite author? Goshen Lane Elementary Gahanna, Ohio fifth grade
I would say Beatrix Potter, Tomie DePaola, and Diane Stanley.

How many books have you written? The first graders here in Festus, Missouri are doing an author study with your books. They love the way you use the borders to tell the story. What made you think of using borders?
I have too many ideas, so using borders is like having a ranch and getting another cattle pen to put cows in. I hope you try it!

What is your favorite part of your day at work?
I guess I love coming down in the morning and seeing what I worked on late the night before. It always surprises me!

Do you write and draw pictures everyday?
Yes, except when I’m traveling. But even then, I might get a few doodles in.

Do you travel around and visit elementary schools? I would love to have you come and visit our school in Brownstown, MI. I think you were in the Detroit area a year or two ago and some of my students had their books signed by you. It was a thrill for them as I use a lot of your books in class and I do an author study about you.
Thank you. If you go on my website, I have a contest, and the winner gets a visit from me. But I feel like I'm the winner because I love to visit schools. I always visit my sister's classroom in Wilton, NH. And every year I go on a book tour for two weeks, and at every store I visit, I take time to tell the kids a story and draw a picture.

How will you be spending your holidays this upcoming season?
I'm going to go to Japan to see my daughter, and our other daughter is going with us because she's stationed in Okinawa. We're stopping in Albuquerque along the way to see my grandkids.

We're almost out of time. Ms. Brett, is there anything you would like to add?
I’d just like to tell you all one last thing: if you look at your fingerprint, it’s different than everybody else’s in the world. And it’s the same way with how you tell a story, or draw a picture… no one can do exactly like you! Please give the world your gift of creativity. We need you!

  • Subjects:
    Animals, Writing Process, Creativity and Imagination, Curiosity, Determination and Perseverance, Individuality
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