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Getting to know Jan Brett's work
Do you know who Jan Brett is? If you said no, I bet you’re wrong.
Do you remember, as a kid in grade school, reading a book about a kid who loses a white mitten in the snow? The animals of the forest, knowing cozy outerwear when they see it, climb in one by one, each animal bigger than the last. And then you all cut out mitten shapes from paper and got to use the STAPLER to stick the two pieces together into a mitten-shaped pouch, into which you popped your colored-in animals, thus replicating the story before your very eyes. I KNOW I am not the only one who did that at least once growing up. If you have a very similar memory, you can thank Jan Brett.
In the world of children’s books, Jan Brett is a bona fide rock star. She is a New York Times #1 bestselling author/illustrator, with over 40 million books in print. That book with the animals taking up residence in a kid’s mitten is called The Mitten, and it was written by Brett in 1989. Nearly three decades later, The Mitten is still showing up on lists of books that every preschool or kindergarten classroom should have. On TeachersPayTeachers.com, there are well over 5,000 activities and lesson plans based on The Mitten. Did you hear me? Over 5,000 activities. For ONE BOOK.
Looking through Brett’s bibliography, you’ll probably notice other familiar classics. I associate Jan Brett with books about winter and Christmas, but she does write about other holidays and other, non-snowy places. Her latest book is about a mermaid who lives off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. Setting aside the mermaids for now, I want to focus on how Jan Brett’s wintery works can help keep your kids occupied in the colder months.
Jan Brett knows how to keep kids busy!
First, you can have a very cozy time just reading the books. It might even be hygge, right, Ariel? Jan Brett’s attention to detail and in-depth research on the cultures she is portraying, mean that there is a lot to take in when reading her simple stories. Read The Mitten and ask your kids to tell you about Nicki’s clothes. Do they look big on him? How are his clothes the same as theirs? How are they different? Also, pay attention to the borders around each illustration. Often, there is a story-within-a-story going on there, or foreshadowing, or a “meanwhile, back at the farm” situation. This makes for a lot of re-read value, as there’s always something more to notice, and kids enjoy comparing the border on the previous page to the primary illustration on the next.
Second, these books model for us how children play outside. In Jan Brett’s stories, children are often portrayed as playing alone outside, even in the winter. If you live in an area with snow or frozen mud puddles, see if you can match animal prints on the ground to the ones that live in your area. Imagine what happens to lost mittens where you live.
Finally, the best bit. Jan Brett has a website that is constructed fairly poorly, but is nonetheless an amazing resource for activities to go along with her books.* She has free printable coloring and activity pages, all organized by subject or season. Activities include alphabet tracers, dot-to-dots, printable greeting cards for all of your child's social correspondence, and that mitten craft. She even has mural templates! For even more fun, check out her YouTube channel, for tutorials on how to draw her characters. Jan Brett’s licensing terms for all of these resources are outrageously generous:
“Jan Brett grants to you a non-exclusive license to use and display for your personal use the artwork and text on these pages, and to download and print materials available through these pages, all solely for your personal, classroom, or library non-commercial use. You may create as many copies as you wish, but you may not transfer, assign, sub-license, or sell the rights granted under this license. This license permits the display and printing of the artwork and text on your personal, school, or library computer, but not the re-use or incorporation or framing of the artwork or text on another Internet site or email or email list or for use in any promotion or advertisement or on any product for which a charge is made. Use of the material on this site constitutes agreement with the terms of this license.”
How I use all of this
I’m building a Christmas tradition in my family. My mother-in-law made a habit of giving all of her children pajamas on Christmas Eve. It was fun for her kids to unwrap just one present before bed, and she sent them to sleep in brand new pajamas, purchased just for them (not hand-me-downs). I love this practice, and have started doing it myself, and want to add a Christmas movie and book for the family to enjoy together. I know that for the next few years, that book will probably be written by Jan Brett. Her easy writing and beautiful illustrations make each of her books a work of art worth treasuring for years to come. Knowing that I can go to her website and quickly run off coloring pages that look just like the pages in those special books is a big bonus.
*An aside about www.janbrett.com: it needs a lot of help, but it’s surprisingly well-supported and the information is up to date. It’s probably as safe to use as any page, and definitely worth visiting, just a bit clunky. I suggest opening links in new tabs, or relying heavily on the "back" button in your browser.
Get your own!
If you're interested in starting your own Jan Brett collection, start here. Whenever possible, I linked these covers to their board book. If the book is not available as a board book, I linked to the hardcover. Feel free to get whichever format is best for you. As a mom whose little is still quite little, I love that I can enjoy these beautiful books with her in a format that's more tolerant of her throwing and ripping.
Ariel and Brianna are friends who met while working in a library. Now they collaborate to develop life-enhancing book club experiences.
Let's keep in touch!