Jan Brett is hoping she’ll run into some “chicken people” in Iowa.
Brett, an acclaimed children’s picture book writer and artist who also happens to love chickens, will be in Decorah on Nov. 10 to promote her new book, “Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella.”
“Cinders” is the latest in a long list of children books by the New York Times best-selling author and illustrator. She has more than 38 million copies in print, including “The Mitten,” “Gingerbread Baby” and “Honey … Honey … Lion!” among many others.
“Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella,” a snowy retelling of the classic fairy tale through the eyes, and feathers, of a chicken, was inspired by Brett’s own flock of course—some older chickens being bossy to a younger chicken in the hen house, more specifically Brett says.
“Chickens have a lot of silly behaviors,” Brett says.
And she would know. Brett keeps her own flock of 75 award-winning chickens at her home in Massachusetts.
Two of her chickens — a Silkie and the chicken who inspired Cinders — are accompanying her on her national bus tour.
“I had my own flock pose,” she says of illustrating the book. She also did extensive research to make sure she was depicting the various breeds just right throughout the story.
Brett admits she lightened up the attitudes of the traditional characters in her retelling.
“The chickens are mostly overly self-important and bossy,” she says of the stepmother chicken and two stepsister chickens. Brett herself is a stepmom and the oldest of three daughters and wanted to break the mean fairy tale character streak. “I made it gentler because I didn’t want to overemphasize the mean. I’d rather go for the humor.”
The book has distinct bits of humor, indeed, including depicting chickens in their underwear.
The setting for Cinders — which Brett captures in a beautiful detailed manner — was inspired by Russian winters and traditional Russian costume, she says. Brett’s research travels to St. Petersburg, Russia, helped her visual ideas for the story come together.
“It fueled my imagination and I liked the folk lore quality it brought to the story,” Brett says. “I also wanted to set it in winter because the idea of an ice palace adds to the magic. Russian architecture is just beautiful.”
The process of creating her books is beautiful in itself and Brett says she very much enjoys traveling around the country to meet with young readers.
“Creating a picture book is a really special thing,” Brett says. “It’s a human need to tell a story and I want children to be able to experience that. Children have an inner spirit that you want to be fully realized and stories and art can help do that.”
Brett’s visit to Decorah — during which she will give a short presentation and then sign books — is sponsored by the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, where there is a display of Brett’s stunning illustrations.
“The World of Jan Brett,” on view now through Jan. 5, 2014, is an engaging traveling exhibition that brings to life the stories of the beloved children’s author and illustrator, including original artwork, interactive adventure areas, and themed reading environments.
If you go