Jan Brett is a prolific as an author and illustrator! Her books are instantly recognizable, with her trademark style of using detail to draw you further into the story, weaving a story-within-a-story as she offers new vantage points in the borders or foreshadows the arrival of a new character.
I like to do brief author studies with young children, and winter is a perfect theme in which to introduce Jan Brett. She’s written so many books with snowy backdrops, she even has a Snowy Treasury– a collection of four favorite snowy stories (The Gingerbread Baby, The Hat, The Mitten, and The Three Snow Bears), which happen to be the books I would most likely use in this activity. In addition to that, she has many Christmas-themed books; enough for a Christmas Treasury and more to spare! Then there’s also Trouble with Trolls and Annie and the Wild Animals set in snowy scenes as well!
My main purpose for doing author studies to support literacy development by (1) teaching what an author/illustrator is, (2) building interest in quality literature through exposure and examination of details, and (3) creating an exercise for recognizing similarities and patterns in an author/illustrator’s work and thereby building connections.
When I introduce Jan Brett, I gather an assortment of her winter-themed books and arrange them for the children to see. Then I tell them I want to talk to them about someone who is an author and an illustrator. We talk a bit about what those words mean. Then I point out that the same person was the author and illustrator of all of the books they see! You may want to show a picture of Jan Brett and talk a little about her biography (which you can read more about here). Once we establish the concept of author/illustrator (and of course, talk about how we are also authors and illustrators), we talk about how the books are similar after examining their covers and a few inside pages. With Jan Brett’s books they’re likely to notice (particularly with your expert guidance) that the books have a lot of animals; they have borders; some animals have people clothes on, others don’t; the colors are bold and bright; and there are a lot of little designs and details.
You may even want to start a list on chart paper with two columns: “same” and “different”. As you have your discussion, you might write in these columns, noting the similarities and differences between the sample books. Then, as you explore the books more thoroughly throughout the week or month, the children can add additional observations as they continue to compare and contrast the books.
Of course, after talking about the collection of books, we have to read some! You don’t want to read them all in one day of course! But place them in your book area to be examined and explored by the children, and plan some readings throughout the course of a week or month. Here are a few of my favorites, in “quick fashion” (if only I were capable of such a thing)!
Set in a Scandinavian theme, this story tells of Lisa, who is preparing for winter by airing her woolens. A woolen sock strays, and gets stuck on the prickles of Hedgie the hedgehog. Embarrassed, Hedgie tells her friends it’s a hat, and soon the whole barnyard has ideas about how to use Lisa’s woolens!
This is a great book for starting a discussion about getting ready for winter, winter clothes, or how animals prepare for winter (Why don’t they need winter clothes?). Follow up the reading by sorting summer clothes from winter clothes, or by creating a hedgehog out of playdough and toothpicks.
At first appearance, The Mitten may seem to be too similar to The Hat, but they are actually quite different. First of all, your children may point out during your discussion that one has woodland animals while the other has farm animals. In the mitten, the main character, Nicky, loses his white mitten in the white snow. Soon, it becomes a warm spot for a little mouse to nestle….until a succession of larger animals come! There’s just enough room for all of them as they stretch the mitten’s seams to their full capacity. The fine stitching holds until one giant sneeze sends them all flying in different directions! This retelling of a Ukrainian folktale is certainly enchanting!
Follow up by acting the story out, having your characters “squeeze” into a blanket as the mitten. You could also play a mitten matching game. You could also explore the different animal footprints in the snow, shown in the book’s illustrations. Then go looking for some animal footprints in your own snow!
This is a fantastic retelling of the Gingerbread Man! When the oven door is opened too soon, the baby jumps out and runs out the door, taunting an entire village as it runs through the snow. Only Matti is clever enough to come up with a way to lure the baby back home! After this story, your little ones are definitely going to want to make some gingerbread people! You could bake some (just don’t open your oven door too soon!), or cut some from paper and provide ribbon, rick rack, buttons, stickers, yarn, and markers for decorating!
This Arctic retelling of Goldilocks is clever and exciting, and, once again, the illustrations are detailed and beautiful! After reading about this Inuit girl who goes wandering in an igloo belonging to a polar bear family, you may want to extend the activity by trying to build an igloo with ice cubes, or experiment with ice floating in your water table (as with the ice floe in the story) and see how many of one object (pennies, toy cars, etc.) you can place on your ice before it begins to sink!
While reading each story, make connections with the others you have read. (“This one has a bear too!” “Do you think they’ll wear the mitten like they did in The Hat?” “This border gives you clues just like the last one!”)
Enjoy reading some wonderful wintry stories while getting to know a fabulous children’s author and illustrator, Jan Brett!
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