Jan Brett travels like a rock star — a rock star with a bunny, husband, an easel, two bus drivers and hundreds of posters in tow. The author/illustrator is currently on a 23-city tour for her latest book, “The Animal’s Santa.”
This isn’t the first time Jan has taken animals on tour. It started last year with “Cinders,” Jan’s take on the Cinderella story featuring chickens and set in Russia.
“So I brought 3 chickens,” Jan told Cracking the Cover during phone interview from her Massachusetts studio. “They came with me on the bus and the drivers are really nice, and (this time) it’s the same ones as last year, so I guess that means they thought the chickens were OK.”
Jan’s tour bus — the largest allowed on U.S. roads — is fully outfitted and wrapped from front to back with images from Jan’s book. The road trip lasts 2 ½ weeks, and Jan and her husband, Joe, sleep on the bus.
“This enables us to do the signings in the evenings sometimes, which is really great because it will free up a lot of people that wouldn’t be able to come when they have their jobs,” Jan said. “It works out really well. I just feel like I’m able to do more for the kids and librarians and teachers that make the big effort to come.”
For Jan, touring is more than selling books; it’s about connecting with children. It’s meeting that one child who looks at her and says he knows exactly what she’s doing because he does it, too. “It’s not that they don’t get support, Jan says, “but I think we have that little moment of recognition. A lot of times they’ve never met someone whose job is to be an artist. So the best part is when they bring their artwork.”
Meeting young fans makes encourages Jan. It makes her optimistic about the future. “I meet these kids who love their books and creativity just bubbles forth. They love to get their crayons out and get that tactile feeling of drawing pictures and they will always ask me questions about their characters. It’s wonderful.”
Jan has written and illustrated more than 30 books over a period of more than 30 years, and she plans to keep going until it’s no longer an option. She’s always working — though she wouldn’t really call it work. “It’s so much a part of me and how I exist in the world, if I don’t do some kind of drawing, I feel worthless and mentally flabby.
“Ever since I was in kindergarten, that’s what I would do for hours a day. There may have been times in my life when it was less important, but now, I just can’t imagine my life if I didn’t have my studio to go to every day and to work on my artwork. I have thought, ‘What if there’s no market for books?’ I’d still do them and keep them in a drawer someplace.
Despite her prolific career, Jan is just like other author/illustrators who have had projects never pan out, although she prefers to say “there’s no failed attempt, it’s just pending.” Some ideas are just waiting for a plot, and others morph into something else. That’s what happened with “The Hat.” Originally, “The Hat” was set in Greece, but Jan couldn’t get the plot to work. Finally, she moved the setting and changed things around; the completed book is set in Denmark and features a hedgehog. For some reason “it just clicked,” Jan said.
Over the past 30-plus years, Jan has witnessed a lot of changes, but the way books are created, at least from her vantage point, remain mostly the same. “I go about it the way I always have,” she said. “Even though I think the Kindle versions are great, especially if the grandkids are going on an airplane trip or something, I don’t really think that books will be replaced. There will always be a place for them. There’s something about a book — the smell of it, you open it up and the pages get sort of soft on the edges. I have some of my books from when I was little, and I know my daughter has books from when she was little. I think that tradition will keep going.”
Jan will be at the Provo Library, 550 North University Avenue, in Provo Utah this Wednesday, Dec. 10, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The event is being held in conjunction with The King’s English Bookshop. THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT. Stand-by tickets will be available on a first come, first serve basis on the evening of the event.
Visit Jan’s website for other tour locations and dates.