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As a child, Jan Brett decided to be an illustrator and spent many hours reading and drawing. She studied at the Boston Museum School and began her career as an illustrator in 1978 with the publication of "Woodland Crossings" (written by Stephen Krensky). Her first entirely self-generated work was "Fritz" "and the" "Beautiful Horses" (1981), and her latest book is "Gingerbread Friends" (Penguin, September 2008). With more than 33 million books in print, her award-winning New York Times best-selling books are known for colorful depictions of a wide variety of animals. This is clearly seen in her wonderful artwork for the 2008 National Book Festival in which birds and animals from many states are represented. She lives in Norwell, Mass.

2008 National Book Festival poster by Jan Brett

Download poster (PDF, 94Kb)

Previous National Book Festival Appearances

The Scoop

From the 2008 National Book Festival

Your wonderful artwork can be seen on the 2008 National Book Festival poster. How did you decide what to draw?

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Washington - since our children have lived there at different times – so it was great to try to draw the Capitol and the Library of Congress in the background. I love to draw animals and I have always been fascinated that each state has their own animal, bird, flower or tree. I thought it would be nice to feature the animal or bird from each state. They are carrying books in different ways as if they are in a big train –coming away from the Capitol down the mall. It’s a place I’ve been before and it has lots of happy memories for me. The best part, of course, was choosing the animals. But some states have whales as their state animal. It was hard - even in my imagination - to find a place to put those whales.

What sparked your imagination for your newest book Gingerbread Friends?

About eight years ago I retold the story of the gingerbread boy in my book called Gingerbread Baby. But my gingerbread boy didn’t get eaten in the end. He gets saved creatively by a little boy named Mattie. He makes a gingerbread house for him. He had everything he wants - except for friends. I left him there but kept thinking, there’s got to be a second chapter for this story. So that’s how got the idea for my new book.

What challenges do you face in your writing and drawing process? How do you overcome them? Do you find one more difficult than the other (writing vs. drawing)?

When I was little I was very shy. When I drew I felt I could really express myself. I always wanted to be an illustrator – since kindergarten. Writing came later. I wanted be in control of the whole creative process.

What artists have inspired you? Are you often inspired by your everyday surroundings or dreams?

My favorite is Beatrix Potter. When I was really little, I loved her books because the illustrations of animals were quirky, but so realistic that I felt like I could walk right into the pictures. I also loved that they had nuggets of grown-up words that I could add to my vocabulary. I also get inspired listening to music – my husband is a double base player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It makes your mind go in different paths sometimes.

What tips or advice can you share with young students to inspire their creative talents?

In general, I say make a time that you don’t have another activity. Have some time to create. Sometimes a good idea doesn’t come right away. Relax and turn off the other noise – no sisters and brothers – no tv, radio – and listen to your own voice because you might find that it is telling you something very strongly about what kind of things should go down on the paper. Creativity needs to percolate. Give it space. It’s kind of magical when that happens.

And another helpful hint. If you’re drawing something and it looks funny - you’re not happy but you can’t figure out what’s wrong – you can look at it in a mirror. Then it’s backwards and sometimes you can see right away what’s wrong. It gives you a fresh look. I still do that as an adult.

Can you suggest a fun writing or drawing topic to get them started?

Most illustrators love to create their own world. Imagine being in a spaceship and looking down. What would your world look like? What plants and animals would you see? Draw your world. For lots more project ideas, activities and activities, visit my web site -

How do you decide on themes for your books?

First I try to choose something I can draw. I think of the plot first. Sometimes I work on my ideas for several years.

How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?

Much of my research is real life. For me, for example, when I needed chickens to be in a book – like in Hedgie’s Surprise - I got chickens. I put them on my art table and watched them. Then that led to another book that had fancy chickens – so I got more chickens. Travel is also a constant inspiration. From cave paintings to Norwegian sleighs, to Japanese gardens, I study the traditions of the many countries I visit and use them as a starting point for my books. You never know where you will be inspired.

What is your list of favorite children or teen books?

Anything by Jean Fritz – especially her book - China Homecoming – about going back to China. I also love Tomie DePaola’s work.

If you were not writing and drawing, what do you think you would be doing?

Exhibiting my show chickens. I now have 50 babies - White Crested Polish Bantams.

What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?

Don’t stop reading aloud when your child learns to read. Keep on reading to them - even into Junior High.

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