Although gardens don't grow on turtle shells, that didn't stop Jan Brett from creating "Mossy," the story of an Eastern box turtle with an elaborate garden on its shell.
Meet author Jan Brett
• 10 a.m. to noon Sunday, Oct. 21, Barnes & Noble, 7700 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd. Store phone number, 360-253-9007.
• On the Web: Jan Brett 2012 Tour
"Turtle lovers wanted me to know a turtle would never have a garden on its back," Brett said during a phone interview. "But children love to walk that line between reality and imagination."
On Sunday, best-selling children's picture book author and illustrator Brett will roll into the Vancouver Barnes & Noble in her colorful tour bus. It's the second-to-last stop in Brett's 23-city cross-country tour to promote her new book, "Mossy," the 31st book Brett has written and illustrated during her 30-year career. She's illustrated another nine books, including the classics "The Night Before Christmas" and "The Owl and the Pussycat." Her titles have risen to the New York Times best-sellers list multiple times. She has more than 38 million books in print.
Brett's rich illustrations often extend the storyline on each page's colorful borders.
"I've always drawn borders since I was a little girl," Brett said. Her publisher removed her border illustrations from her first book. But with her second book, "Annie and the Wild Animals," which is being re-released this year, Brett made sure her illustrated borders furthered the storyline. Ever since then, her publisher has included her borders.
Set in Edwardian New England, "Mossy" tells the story of a turtle who lives in a pond near a natural history museum. The borders are resplendent with a riot of wildflowers, beetles, butterflies, mushrooms, mosses, seashells and fossils.
Brett and her husband have traveled the world to conduct research for her books. This time, her research was much closer to her home in rural Massachusetts. They created their own pond to attract turtles, and hired a professional pond builder to create a pond where a natural spring exists. He made caves in the pond, some with air holes so a turtle can take refuge in the cave and still breathe.
"We got starter muck from a nearby pond," Brett said.
They planted blueberries, lingonberries, strawberries and squash around the pond to attract turtles. Brett explained that you can't just transplant a turtle to a pond and expect it to stay. Turtles need to find the pond on their own. First to arrive were the frogs. Then dragonflies discovered the new pond. In June, she and her husband, Joe, were in Russia researching her next book. While they were gone, a painted turtle moved into the pond. Soon a snapping turtle moved in.
"The thing that makes my books stay fresh and alive is that kids get their pointer finger out and say, 'You had this in another book,'" Brett said. Her earlier books often included hedgehogs frolicking along the borders. Her family kept two pet hedgehogs for many years, but she no longer has hedgehogs.
She became interested in raising unusual breeds of chickens. Now they have 103 chickens, and she knows most of their names. Every summer when they drive 21/2 hours to their home in the Berkshires, they take their chickens with them. One year, she had 50 chickens in her car.
"Some of the chickens don't get along with others," Brett said. "Now we have a trailer for the chickens, and our trip is easier without chickens in the car."
On Mossy's shell, she wrote her granddaughter's name, Torynn. "It's kind of my version of 'Charlotte's Web,'" Brett said, explaining that kids can draw their own turtle and write magical messages on its shell.
Brett will bring her easel and will illustrate while she talks to families about her stories. Barnes & Noble will provide drawing supplies for children to make their own illustrations along with Brett. All children in attendance will receive buttons featuring a Jan Brett illustration. The first 100 people receive a "Mossy" poster.