Jan Brett trained to be an illustrator by studying at the Boston Museum School and illustrated her first children’s book, Woodland Crossings, in 1978. By 1981, she was not only illustrating her books, but writing the stories as well and that year published her second book, Fritz and the Beautiful Horses. Now there are over 33 million Jan Brett books published, and she is still going strong. Children of all ages will love these books, but they are geared toward 4-8 year old readers and pre-readers.
Many of Brett’s stories re-tell local fairy tales of countries in Scandinavia and Africa. Some of her best loved titles are The Mitten, a Ukrainian folktale about forest animals climbing into and sharing the warmth of a lost mitten, The Three Snow Bears, the goldilocks tale set in an Inuit Indian village, and Town Mouse, Country Mouse, the beloved tale of the little country mouse who wants to experience life in the big town.
Brett’s artwork is beautiful and the books are unique in that each page is surrounded by a fully illustrated and colored border that gives a preview of the story as it will unfold on the next pages. Hard to believe that this trait, something that Jan Brett books are much loved for, was initially discouraged by her publisher. Lucky for young readers, Brett won the disagreement.
Brett has used her books to develop lesson plans and other materials for teachers and parents. Armadillo Rodeo tells the story of a young Texas armadillo named Bo and what happens when he follows a woman wearing bright red boots to a rodeo. After reading the book, parents can visit http://www.janbrett.com/piggybacks/armadillo_rodeo_book.htm for free learning materials designed around the story. The unit covers math, science, reading, history, language arts, social studies and music and drama and is a ready- made teaching unit, especially useful for homeschooling parents. There is also a page with simple instructions on how to draw an armadillo.
Themes are available for other Brett titles, and often include extras such as printable masks (for all the animals in The Mitten) and drawing instructions (how to create a coloring mural for The Three Snow Bears).