Jan Brett Continues to Create 'Special Sanctuaries' for Children

Dec 12, 2016

Children’s book author and illustrator Jan Brett has created more than 35 children’s books, all typically centered around animals and folk tales.  They’re painstakingly drawn, intricate and beautiful illustrations - a work of art on each page. Some of her best-known books include The Mitten, The Hat and Comet’s Nine Lives. 

Brett's latest creation, Gingerbread Christmas, is perfect for the season complete with gingerbread characters, a Swiss winter setting and decorations galore.

Inspired by her own collection of cookie cutters and her husband's career as a professional musician, Brett decided to take one of her signature characters, Gingerbread Baby, on a Christmas adventure.

Known for her intricate illustrations, Brett spends about an hour on an inch of each page. Starting with the center image, she leaves the boarders for last to allow for adjustments in the art that can indicate what the characters will be doing next.

"You never know where the book is going to take you," says Brett. "I feel like when I can walk into the page, that's when the picture is done."

Credit Jan Brett / facebook.com
Jan Brett with her rooster Alf on her "Gingerbread Christmas" tour bus.
Credit Claire Mosely

For Brett, creating children's books allows her to tap back into the "fresh and vibrant insight" that children possess.

"As a matter of fact, I would say I’m really not that talented of an artist, but I’m really good at remembering what it was like to be six," Brett explains. "And I have - as a muse - my six-year-old self on my shoulder, going, 'No… yes.'"

Citing Beatrix Potter as one of her main literary inspirations, Brett works to maintain a world where children's books are not "dumbed down," but full of detail that immerses a child into the story.

"I know that children are learning to read, but that doesn't mean that what they have as an intellect or imagination is any way simple," she says. "It's very nuanced, and I think children thirst for a place that they can have that communicated to them."

"A children's book is kind of this special sanctuary where they can be appreciated for what they are - their high intelligence, their vibrancy, being able to absorb things, their ability to focus."