FALMOUTH – Best-selling author and illustrator Jan Brett has many fond memories of visiting Cape Cod as a child and sailing in the surrounding waters.
Brett, whose colorful picture books have become collector’s items for adults and children, will be back on the Cape this week. She is coming to Falmouth on Tuesday, August 22, to give a talk and sign copies of her new book, “The Mermaid.”
The talk is at 2pm in the new Simon Center for the Performing Arts at Falmouth Academy, 7 Highfield Drive in Falmouth.
Brett used to visit family on Cape Cod in the summer at a home in Chatham. Among family here was her great uncle, Harold Brett, who lived in Harwich. Harold Brett was famous in his own right, having illustrated the Joseph Lincoln books, bestsellers in their day.
Illustrating children’s books is something Jan Brett said she always wanted to do, as far back as she can remember.
Back in kindergarten when the teacher asked her what she wanted to be, she said, “a children’s book illustrator.”
Though she writes the books too, she said she loves being considered an illustrator. “That is my way of communication,” she said.
Brett’s books are full of details and those details are thoroughly analyzed and researched.
Her new book, “The Mermaid”, was inspired by a trip that Jan Brett took to visit her daughter, who was stationed in Japan. While there, Brett went snorkeling in the reefs off the coast of Okinawa and was in awe of the colorful creatures of the sea.
“It was another world,” she said. Once she saw that other world, she started thinking about it as the setting for a book. The idea to use the Goldilocks story came out of that story’s themes of curiosity and discovery.
When thinking about that underwater setting, Brett thought, who better to star in it but a mermaid. Like Goldilocks, the mermaid intrudes on a family, in this case, an octopus family.
Brett studied the species at the New England Aquarium in Boston as part of her research for the book.
Brett said she has been fascinated by the sea ever since she was a child visiting the Cape.
Though she now lives in Norwell, she grew up in Hingham and would visit a family house on Oyster River in Chatham. She remembers hanging around shellfishermen as they shucked the oysters in a shack by the harbor.
She recalls a trip to Monomoy and seeing all the scallop shells having washed ashore, still wet from the ocean and glistening in colors of yellow, blue and red.
“I remember thinking my mind would burst, the colors were so beautiful.”
Her father was an avid boater and they used to cruise around the waters of Buzzards Bay in a wooden sailboat, exploring the Elizabeth Islands and sailing over to Martha’s Vineyard.
“We had so many adventures,” she said.
One special place she remembers fondly is Quissett Harbor where they would often anchor. As the grownups entertained guests, Brett and her sister would think up entrepreneurial schemes, like approaching the owners of other boats anchored in the harbor and offering to bring their trash to shore for a fee.
Jan Brett’s event in Falmouth is sponsored by Eight Cousins Books.
Sara Hines, co-owner of Eight Cousins, said she is excited about Jan Brett’s upcoming visit.
What makes a Jan Brett book really distinctive are the elaborately illustrated borders, which contain stories and additional narrative, Hines said. “Her illustrations are really striking,” Hines said.
The event requires a $3 ticket. Attendees are advised to get their tickets early as Jan Brett events are popular. Her 35 books have sold 40 million books. Needless to say, her events draw crowds.
Hines said, there is no secret to the popularity of Jan Brett’s books. “It’s the consistency and quality. Any Jan Brett book is going to be fantastic. Each page is really beautiful. There is so much to look at and to return to,” she said.
The books, Hines said, are keepsakes. “They have a classic style that stands the test of time,” she said. “You never grow out of a Jan Brett book. Each time you come back, there’s something else to find.”
Brett said she will be bringing her easel and paints and markers and will do a painting during the event. She loves to encourage creativity in children. Kids can go to her website, JanBrett.com, and download coloring book pages inspired by the book.
Tickets for the event can be purchased by going to EventBrite or from Eight Cousins at 189 Main Street in Falmouth.
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