Brett, Jan 1949–

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Brett, Jan 1949–

(Jan Brett Bowler, Jan Churchill Brett)


Born December 1, 1949, in Hingham, MA; daughter of George (a sales engineer) and Jean (a teacher; maiden name, Thaxter) Brett; married Daniel Bowler, February 27, 1970 (divorced, 1979); married Joseph Hearne (a musician), August 18, 1980; children: three. Education: Attended Colby Junior College (now Colby-Sawyer College), 1968–69, and Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, 1970. Hobbies and other interests: Horses, gliding.


Home—132 Pleasant St., Norwell, MA 02061.


Artist and author and illustrator of children's books. Trustee, Boston Symphony Orchestra. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at galleries, including Master Eagle Gallery, New York, NY, 1981; Gallery on the Green, Lexington, MA, 1985; Main Street Gallery, Nantucket, MA, 1987; and Society of Illustration show, New York, NY, 1991.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Society of Colonial Dames in America.

Awards, Honors

Parents' Choice award, Parents' Choice Foundation, 1981, for Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, 1988, for Mother's Day Mice; In the Castle of Cats and Fritz and the Beautiful Horses selected as Children's Choice titles, International Reading Association, 1982; Ambassador of Honor Book designation, English-Speaking Union of the United States, 1983, for Some Birds Have Funny Names; University of Nebraska Children's Book Award, 1984, for Fritz and the Beautiful Horses; Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children designation, National Science Teachers Association, 1984, for Some Plants Have Funny Names; top ten children's books of the year choice, Redbook magazine, 1985, for Annie and the Wild Animals; Booklist Editor's Choice designation, 1986, for The Twelve Days of Christmas, and 1987, for Goldilocks and the Three Bears; Best of the Year award, Parent's magazine, 1988, for Mother's Day Mice, and 1991, for The Owl and the Pussycat; first prize for juvenile book, New York Book Show, 1987, for Mother's Day Mice; best of the year award, Newsweek magazine, 1987, for Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and 1991, for Berlioz the Bear; certificate of merit, Bookbuilders West Book Show, 1987, for The Enchanted Book; Pick of the Lists, American Bookseller, 1988, for The First Dog, 1989, for The Mitten, 1990, for The Wild Christmas Reindeer, and 1991, for The Owl and the Pussycat and Berlioz the Bear; Best Children's Books citation, New Yorker magazine, 1988, for The First Dog, 1989, for The Mitten, 1990, for The Wild Christmas Reindeer, and 1991, for Berlioz the Bear; Booklist Best Children's Book of the 1980s designation, for The Mitten; artist award, New England Booksellers' Association, 1990; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year citation, Waldenbooks best chil-dren's book honor award, and American Library Association Notable Book designation, all 1991, all for The Owl and the Pussycat; Book of the Year Award, American Booksellers Association, 1998, for The Hat.



Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1981.

Good Luck Sneakers, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1981.

Annie and the Wild Animals, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1985.

(Adaptor) Goldilocks and the Three Bears (based on the version by Andrew Lang), Dodd (New York, NY), 1987.

The First Dog, (San Diego, CA), 1988.

(Adaptor) The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folktale, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.

(Adaptor) Beauty and the Beast, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1989.

The Wild Christmas Reindeer, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.

Berlioz the Bear, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.

The Trouble with Trolls, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.

Christmas Trolls, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.

(Adaptor) Town Mouse, Country Mouse, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.

Armadillo Rodeo, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.

Comet's Nine Lives, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

The Hat, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.

(Adaptor) Gingerbread Baby, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.

Hedgie's Surprise, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Daisy Comes Home, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

Knockety-Knock, It's Christmas Eve, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

On Noah's Ark, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

The Umbrella, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.

Honey … Honey … Lion!: A Story of Africa, Putnam (New York, NY), 2005.

Hedgie Blasts Off!, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.


(Under name Jan Brett Bowler) Stephen Krensky, Woodland Crossings, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1978.

Mary Louise Cuneo, Inside a Sand Castle and Other Secrets, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1979.

Simon Seymour, The Secret Clocks: Time Senses of Living Things, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.

Eve Bunting, St. Patrick's Day in the Morning, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1980.

Mark Taylor, Young Melvin and Bulger, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1981.

Betty Boegehold, In the Castle of Cats, Dutton (New York, NY), 1981.

Diana Harding Cross, Some Birds Have Funny Names, Crown (New York, NY), 1981.

Ruth Krauss, I Can Fly, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Jeanette L. Groth, Prayer: Learning How to Talk to God, Concordia (St. Louis, MO), 1983.

Eve Bunting, The Valentine Bears, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Diana Harding Cross, Some Plants Have Funny Names, Crown (New York, NY), 1983.

Mark Taylor, The Great Rescue (part of the "Cabbage Patch Kids" series), Parker Brothers (Beverly, MA), 1984.

Annetta Dellinger, You Are Special to Jesus, Concordia (St. Louis, MO), 1984.

Dorothy Van Woerkom, Old Devil Is Waiting: Three Folktales (part of the "Let Me Read" series), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1985.

The Wizard of Oz: A Story to Color, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Eve Bunting, The Mother's Day Mice, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1986.

The Twelve Days of Christmas, Dodd (New York, NY), 1986.

Pamela Jane, Noelle of the Nutcracker, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1986.

Eve Bunting, Scary, Scary Halloween, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1986.

Janina Porazinska, The Enchanted Book: A Tale from Krakow, translated by Bozena Smith, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1987.

Eve Bunting, Happy Birthday, Dear Duck, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.

(With others) For Our Children: A Book to Benefit the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Disney Press (Burbank, CA), 1991.

Clement Moore, The Night before Christmas, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.

Also illustrator of a calendar for Sunrise Publications.


Many of Brett's books have been adapted for audiocassette, including The Great Rescue, Parker Brothers (Beverly, MA), 1984; Beauty and the Beast, Dove Audio (Beverly Hills, CA), 1992; The Night before Christmas, Spoken Arts (New Rochelle, NY), 2001; The Mitten, Spoken Arts, 2001; The Hat, Spoken Arts, 2001; Gingerbread Baby, Spoken Arts, 2001; and The Umbrella Spoken Arts, 2006.


When Massachusetts-born artist Jan Brett rendered the drawings for Stephen Krensky's 1978 work of fables, Woodland Crossings, she began to realize her childhood dream of becoming a professional illustrator of children's books. As Brett has developed her career, she has continued to provide art for the texts of others, adapted classic fairy tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears as well as illustrating her own stories, including Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, The Hat, and Hedgie's Surprise. Brett's work, which frequently features animals and nature, often incorporates Old World folklore and motifs. Her books have received attention from critics who are quick to applaud her effective use of illustration to further the meaning, symbolism, and moral of a story. Her inclusion of detailed borders and side panels to graphically reveal additional aspects not presented in the main story line and pictures has, in fact, become her trademark. Such ornamental peripherals offer "a story around a story, so that the reader instantly becomes an insider," pointed out New York Times Book Review contributor Pat Ross in a critique of Brett's illustrations for Annie and the Wild Animals. Praising the artist's work on Beauty and the Beast as "a brilliant marriage of artwork and text," a Publishers Weekly reviewer judged Brett "a contemporary illustrator of consummate skill."

The daughter of a sales engineer and a teacher, Brett attended the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School in 1970 to refine her artistic skills. She credits her keen ability to create fantasy through pictures and words to her mother, who encouraged her to be imaginative, and to her own penchant for immersing herself in the stories she read in childhood. "I remember the special quiet of rainy days when I felt that I could enter the pages of my beautiful picture books," Brett once recalled. "Now I try to recreate that feeling of believing that the imaginary place I'm drawing really exists." To elicit such an authentic air, Brett often uses real-life people, settings, and occurrences as the basis for her work. She feels that the beauty and tranquility of her summer home in the mountains, near where her husband plays with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, provides a source of inspiration and new ideas. Brett's world travels are also a major influence on her illustrated works. The author/illustrator often incorporates gathered from her travels into her works, including On Noah's Ark, which was influenced by a trip to Botswana, and Daisy Comes Homes which was inspired by Brett's travels to China. Brett's stories and illustrations are also influenced by images she has stored in her memory.

Brett's childhood love of horses influenced her 1981 children's story Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, the first published book to feature her talents as both writer and illustrator. Centering around the theme that one's inner beauty is more important than one's outer appearance, the volume describes how a shy, lanky pony named Fritz wins the hearts of townspeople through his kindness and good deeds, despite the pony's lack of grandeur and physical stature. Featuring Eastern European motifs and settings, Brett's book was widely lauded by critics, many of whom claimed that her art evokes the enchantment of a distant era. Many reviewers assessed the book's paintings as special and magnificent; as a Publishers Weekly commentator noted, the text of Fritz and the Beautiful Horses is "simple but engaging," and Brett's drawings showcase "the beauty of equines as few pictures do."

Brett has continued to win critical approval with her self-illustrated storybooks, among them Annie and the Wild Animals and The Wild Christmas Reindeer. In the former title, Brett draws from her daughter Lia's fascination with undomesticated critters to show what happens when a little girl's pet kitty disappears one winter, leaving the girl to search for new friends in the forest. Sad and lonely, the child leaves corn cakes in the snow to attract potential playmates and eventually meets a moose, wildcat, bear, and other animals. All are unacceptable replacements for her beloved cat, however: they are either too ferocious, too ornery, or too unruly. Annie's desperation is short-lived, however, for she is reunited in the spring with her favorite feline. In the end, as foreshadowed in the border art of earlier pages, the tabby returns with three kittens in tow. A number of commentators remarked on the style of clothing and backdrops used in Annie and the Wild Animals, pointing out that both are greatly detailed and feature a Scandinavian design. The book's art uses a "treasury of motifs taken from the universal tradition of folk art and crafts," asserted Ross in the New York Times Book Review. Brett's depiction of animals was also praised. A Horn Book reviewer found the work's creatures "rendered with … humor," and praised the artist's "elaborate illustrations" for "adeptly conveying the change from winter to spring."

Like Annie and the Wild Animals, The Wild Christmas Reindeer features a young female protagonist and the lessons she learns from her experiences with a group of disobedient beasts. Charting the frustrations of the youngster, who trains Santa Claus's reindeer for the daunting journey on Christmas Eve, Brett shows how uncooperative the feisty reindeer become when scolded by the girl after a lackluster practice session. After the child realizes the ineffectiveness of her harsh instruction and subsequently offers kind words of encouragement to her pupils, the rambunctious creatures respond earnestly and the trainer succeeds in readying the group for their 'round-the-world flight. Brett again uses borders and side panels to disclose additional action: peripheral illustrations feature gift-making elves at work, while borders contain other holiday paraphernalia. A hit with many critics, The Wild Christmas Reindeer was deemed a "sweet Christmas fantasy that shows Brett at her best" by a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.

The celebration of the Christmas season is a recurring theme in many of Brett's other picture books, such as The Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Trolls, Knockety-Knock, It's Christmas Eve, The Night before Christmas, and Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve? Winter is the setting for The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folktale, a retelling of a traditional story about several tiny animals that find refuge in a girl's lost piece of outerwear, and The Hat. In the second book, Hedgie the hedgehog finds a red woolen stocking stuck to his prickles after it blows off a clothesline. Pretending the sock is his new winter hat, Hedgie ignores the other animals as they laugh at his new chapeau. As the sock's owner eventually retrieves her missing item, Hedgie's fellow animal creatures decide that his use of winter clothing is not such a ridiculous idea after all. While the other animals don winter attire, Hedgie laughs at them, finding their new clothing equally humorous. "Brett conveys the season with such loving spirit," according to Booklist contributor Susan Dove Lempke, "that children will almost wish for winter." Claiming that "Brett demonstrates an expert eye for color," a Publishers Weekly reviewer found the author/illustrator's cast of "animal characters as endearing and expressive" as those in The Mitten. In Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve? Brett crosses the global landscape to Norway where the title's storyline takes place. Brett uses her trademark borders to augment her rendition of a Norwegian folktale based on a young boy and his polar bear as they assist a young Norwegian girl in her effort to chase away the trolls that come to steal the Christmas treats. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the inclusion of "authentic cultural details" adds to the "setting, costumes, and food" that Brett depicts.

Hedgie is featured again in Hedgie's Surprise, a story wherein the hedgehog finds a clever solution to a chicken's problem. Laying eggs every day, Henny loses her potential chicks to a hungry troll named Tomten. Hedgie feels sorry for his feathered friend and devises a plan to scare off the greedy troll for good. First substituting round objects such as an acorn, strawberry, mushroom, and potato in Henny's nest, the hedgehog finally curls up in a ball and uses himself as a egg-shaped decoy. As Tomten tries to steal the prickly fellow, Hedgie's pointed bristles sends the troll away for good. Again, reviewers noted Brett's artwork, and a Publishers Weekly critic reported that "the author's endearingly expressive animal characters, depicted in meticulous detail, steal the show."

Brett's self-illustrated Daisy Comes Home was inspired by a trip to China that Brett took with her son and daughter-in-law, as well as by Marjorie Flack's popular children's book The Story about Ping. Daisy Comes Home takes place in modern-day China and focuses on Daisy, a hen that is treasured by her owner Mei Mei, but badgered by other hens because she is the smallest of the group. Tired of being harassed by the other hens, Daisy decides to sleep outside the coop one rainy night. She nests in one of Mei Mei's market baskets, which has been left near the bank of the Li River. When the Li overflows its banks due to a recent rainfall, the market basket carries the sleeping hen downstream, and Daisy awakens to an array of adventures which test her courage and survival. Eventually caught by a fisherman, she is brought to the market to be sold as someone's supper, until she is spotted by her observant owner. Back in the hens' coop Daisy uses her newfound confidence and bravery to establish herself within the group of hens. Children's Literature reviewer Claudia Mills commented that Daisy Comes Home is a "believable transformation of self-empowerment," while a Publishers Weekly acknowledged Brett for her "trademark borders and embellishments [which] intriguingly evoke the timeless setting."

The biblical story of Noah and his ark is retold in Brett's On Noah's Ark, which is narrated from the viewpoint of Noah's granddaughter. While a Publishers Weekly critic observed that Brett "omits the biblical framework" of the classic tale, in Kirkus Reviews a contributor acknowledged the book as a "child-friendly, beautifully crafted version" of the familiar story. Brett presents the story in a simplistic manner, but features life-like detail in her illustrations of the animals. Gillian Engberg commented in Booklist that Brett uses "precise brushstrokes and vivid colors" to "create … incredibly textured feathers and fur." In researching the book's artwork, Brett traveled to Botswana, and her inclusion of vivid details "add to the book's interest for older children, who can find something new to explore."

Brett's travels to the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica influence the framework of her title The Umbrella. Similar to The Mitten and The Hat, the storyline of The Umbrella introduces young readers to an array of rainforest animals. Young Carlos takes a trip to the tropical region with an intent to see some of the forest's animals and brings with him a green umbrella. As the boy enters the forest he is disappointed that there are no animals to see. Carlos decides to climb a tree in order to get a better view, and in the process drops his green umbrella next to the base of the tree. As he sits on the branches above, an assortment of small animals begin collecting in his green umbrella, among them a toucan, a jaguar, a tapir, and a monkey. In the text, readers are introduced to snippets of Spanish that add "authenticity to a story with a deeply rooted sense of place," according to Booklist reviewer Terry Glover. Characteristically, however, Brett's illustrations captured most critical acclaim. Susan Weitz, writing in School Library Journal, for instance, noted that the author/artist's "watercolor-and-gouache illustrations are stunning" and are provide an "entertaining visual puzzle for children."

In addition to her self-illustrated children's books, Brett has won acclaim for her artistic contributions to other authors' texts, particularly Eve Bunting's St. Patrick's Day in the Morning and Valentine Bears; Diana Harding Cross's Some Birds Have Funny Names and Some Plants Have Funny Names; and Betty Boegehold's In the Castle of Cats. Brett's retellings and picture work for classic fairy tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Beauty and the Beast have also met with positive critical response, critics noting that she furthers the main story lines through her ornate pictures. In the last-named title, for example, the book's moral—that appearances can be deceiving—is graphically presented in tapestries adorning the walls depicted in the principal illustrations. In these wall hangings, the beast's ser-vants—who appear in animal guise in the primary story—are depicted as they truly exist: in human form. "Brett shows real finesse in drafting various animals," observed a reviewer in an appraisal of Beauty and the Beast for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Calling the book "lovely" and "carefully made," a Kirkus Reviews contributor deemed it a "simple, yet graceful retelling." The artwork for Goldilocks and the Three Bears received equal praise. Brett's illustrations "burst with action," noted Horn Book critic Ellen Fader, the reviewing adding that the volume "infuses the old nursery tale with new life."

Another book featuring animal characters, Town Mouse, Country Mouse follows a mouse couple from the city as they exchange residences with a pair of country mice. Town Mouse, Country Mouse also adds a twist to the traditional ending: Where usually the mice realize that nothing replaces their own home, here a cat and owl, both chasing the mice, suggest to each other that they should trade places, potentially starting the cycle all over again. Calling the illustrations "gorgeous," Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin predicted that Brett's "playful retelling is certain to become a favorite."

Brett once noted: "My imagination has always run away with me. As a child, this was entertaining but confusing. As an adult, I can direct my ideas toward children's books. Often I put borders in my books to contain the overflow of thoughts."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 1, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Town Mouse, Country Mouse, p. 45; September 15, 1995, Leone McDermott, review of Armadillo Rodeo, p. 174; October 15, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Comet's Nine Lives, p. 430; September 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Hat, p. 116; November 15, 1999, Marta Segal, review of Gingerbread Baby, p. 633; September 1, 2000, Denise Wilms, review of Hedgie's Surprise, p. 120; October 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of On Noah's Ark, p. 333; December 1, 2004, Terry Glover, review of The Umbrella, p. 658.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1989, review of Beauty and the Beast, p. 79.

Horn Book, July, 1985, review of Annie and the Wild Animals, p. 434; February, 1988, Ellen Fader, review of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, p. 75; March-April, 1995, Margaret A. Bush, review of Town Mouse, Country Mouse, p. 203; January-February, 1996, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Armadillo Rodeo, p. 59.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1989, review of Beauty and the Beast, p. 1242; November 1, 2002, review of Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?, p. 1615; August 1, 2003, review of On Noah's Ark, p. 1013.

New York Times Book Review, August 25, 1985, Pat Ross, review of Annie and the Wild Animals, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, January 9, 1981, review of Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, p. 76; September 8, 1989, review of Beauty and the Beast, p. 69; August 10, 1990, review of The Wild Christmas Reindeer, p. 443; July 4, 1994, review of Town Mouse, Country Mouse, p. 61; July 17, 1995, review of Armadillo Rodeo, p. 229; October 7, 1996, review of Comet's Nine Lives, p. 74; June 2, 1997, review of The Hat, p. 71; September 20, 1999, review of Gingerbread Baby, p. 88; July 17, 2000, review of Hedgie's Surprise, p. 192; December 3, 2001, review of Daisy Comes Home, p. 60; August 25, 2003, review of On Noah's Ark, p. 60.

School Library Journal, May, 1978, p. 69; May, 1980, p. 51; April, 1981, pp. 109-110; April, 1985, p. 75; December, 1987, p. 70; November, 1988, p. 83; October, 1990, p. 34; September, 2000, Karen James, review of Hedgie's Surprise, p. 184; September, 2003, Kathy Piehl, review of On Noah's Ark, p. 175; November, 2004, Susan Weitz, review of The Umbrella, p. 91.


Jan Brett Home Page, (May 4, 2006).