Last Saturday, Broad Street Books hosted an event featuring acclaimed children’s author and illustrator Jan Brett. The event was not widely publicized on Wesleyan’s campus–probably because the target audience seemed to be young children and school teachers–but as someone who has been a fan of Brett’s books ever since I was a child, it was hard to stay away.
Brett published her first book “Fritz and the Beautiful Horses” in 1981, but her breakout publication came eight years later in “The Mitten,” a classic winter’s tale in which a parade of woodland animals seeks shelter in a young boy’s lost mitten. She has published steadily over the past thirty years, completing 29 books of her stories and illustrations and building a fan base that spans generations.
When I found out about Brett’s event last week on Facebook, I was ecstatic, but most of my friends on campus didn’t know who she was at first. Their memories were jogged when I prompted them with the plot of “The Mitten,” but no one seemed quite as excited as I was for the event. Brett was one of my favorite authors as a child, especially her 1992 effort “Trouble with Trolls” and the 1993 follow up, “Christmas Trolls.” Both feature the protagonist Treva, who in the first book foils a family of greedy trolls that are trying to steal her dog and, in the second, teaches some selfish troll brothers the true meaning of Christmas. She does this by gifting them her most prized possession: a Dala horse (a traditional toy of Sweden, a wooden horse figure painted bright red). I longed for one of my own. Finally, one summer I came across one at a yard sale down the street and spent hours reenacting the book.
Stories like this make me wish that Brett’s event had been more widely advertised to Wesleyan students—I think it’s important for us to have these occasional trips down memory lane, especially in the midst of midterms and blackouts. But even without much showing by University students (I think I saw maybe one or two besides myself), Broad Street’s top floor was packed with fans.
Brett began by giving a presentation about her new book “Home for Christmas,” which was partly inspired by a trip she made to Sweden last spring. While on this trip, she enjoyed the exciting opportunity to interact with some moose on a farm in Kiruna. Brett showed off her artistic know-how for the crowd, drawing one of the moose characters from the book right in front of us, while simultaneously giving drawing tips to the crowd. The completed portrait was gifted to the bookstore as a thank you for hosting her book tour.
After the presentation was completed, the line formed for book signings, snaking down the aisles and almost spilling out the door. The line moved very slowly, but only because Brett took the time to speak to each of her fans individually, taking photos with everybody and signing two books per person. To boot, she gave out pre-signed book plates for fans with books at home or who were purchasing more than two books that day. Hedgie the hedgehog, a recurring figure in Brett’s illustrations, wandered around the bookstore taking pictures with fans who were in line.
I was in line for over an hour and a half, and spent most of the time deliberating about which books I wanted to get signed. I decided on “Trouble with Trolls” and “Home for Christmas” just as I was about to make it to the front of the line. As I stepped up to meet my childhood idol, I was smiling like an idiot. We took a picture together and she asked me if I was going to grad school, and then it was over. Totally worth the wait.