Between the Lines: By Bus, With Chickens

Nov 23, 2016

Author Jan Brett's decorated tour bus
Credit Penguin-Random House

As Jan Brett begins her 23-city national tour in a bus decorated front-to-back with her own illustrations, she reflects on what inspires her – and about a surprise guest traveling with her. Alf, one of the roosters that the children’s book author and illustrator raises, will travel with her as Brett meets with fans of all ages. 

“Alf will have a girlfriend with him,” Brett says. “Or wife. They have a nice box they will live in, with a perch in it, and on my day off I put them in a wire pen so that they can get some sun. We took a bunny along another year, because the kids love it!”

Alf, along with a myriad of other creatures, appears throughout Brett’s newest children’s book, Gingerbread Christmas (Putnam, October 2016). It's the story of Gingerbread Baby, who pops out of the oven and brings a gingerbread band to the town Christmas festival. Everyone enjoys the joyful holiday music — until they catch a whiff of the gingerbread smell and realize those musicians are delicious cookies.

Brett has written and illustrated 35 books for kids that have sold more than 40 million copies. She says each book takes about a year of work to create the detailed illustrations that bring it to life.

“When I have an idea, I think about whether it will sustain me for a whole year,” Brett says. “I want to be able to feel like there’s this discovery, this curiosity, there’s learning … all these things are going to build up this momentum.”

Jan Brett
Credit Penguin-Random House

Brett's books often feature wildlife she enjoys having at her two-acre home in Norwell, Massachusetts. But she has a special love for chickens and raises exotic breeds that she sells and shows. Brett has about 60 chickens, including Silkies, Buff Brahmas, Cochins, Silver Phoenix, and Polish varieties.

“But my biggest inspiration is snow,” Brett says. “I love to run in it, I love to be out in it, I just love snow.”

For Gingerbread Christmas, Brett drew upon yet another inspiration in her life: music. Her husband, who's a musician with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, inspired her to illustrate elaborate classical instruments in the book. Later in the story they're charmingly disguised with snow to keep them safe from hungry festival-goers.

“Music is such an important part of my life,” Brett says. “Every week I go to a concert. When I was a child, my mother helped to organize youth concerts, and it wasn’t my favorite thing to do. I kind of focused more on making a paper airplane out of my program and seeing how far it would go from the balcony. But now … well, it would be great to have all children exposed to concerts and not just the privileged.”

On her national tour promoting Gingerbread Christmas, Brett will stop at Kanley Memorial Chapel at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. The event is sponsored by Bookbug. She'll appear on Saturday, December 3, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will lead activities for children, sign books, and share Alf with her audience. Tickets are required. For more information, call Bookbug at (269) 385-2847.

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.

You can stay in touch with WMUK news on FacebookTwitter, and by signing up for our eNewsletter.