Jan Brett's Winter Books

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Annie and the Wild Animals         The Night Before Christmas     The Mitten         Trouble with Trolls

Jan Brett is known for the borders that surround the pages of her books. As she has explained, she has so many ideas for the illustrations that they spill over onto the borders, so the reader is treated to more designs and information along the edges of the book pages. (Check The Mitten for especially clever use of borders and foreshadowing.) Since Jan Brett likes hedgehogs, look for Hedgie in most of her books.

This prolific author has her own website, which you can access at http:www.janbrett.com to receive a teacher's pack, bookmarks, and much more. If you write to her at her studio address, you will receive a packet of information that contains a newsletter about the current book she's working on; sometimes you get a photo, an activity page, or even masks that will help students reenact her stories. The address is:

Jan Brett
Post Office Box 366
Norwell, MA 02061

  • Annie and the Wild Animals
  • The Night Before Christmas
  • The Mitten
  • Trouble with Trolls
  • Internet Resources

  • Books by Jan Brett

  • Annie and the Wild Animals

    (New York: The Trumpet Club, 1985)

    A delightful story in a winter setting about a little girl whose pet cat, Taffy, has disappeared. Annie, lonely for company, takes corn cakes out to the edge of the woods each day to feed the animals, but each animal in turn is too grumpy or too mean or far too big. Finally, the corn cakes run out and the animals return to the woods as spring approaches Annie, alone again, suddenly sees Taffy the cat emerging from the woods--and she is the proud mama of three friendly kittens. Annie will not be lonely again.

    Enrichment Activities to Accompany Annie and the Wild Animals

    1. Ask students to identify the wild animals, one by one, as you revisit the book.
    2. Let's look at the borders. How do the borders reflect what is going on in the double-page spread? The first border reflects winter clothing and the second border features Taffy the cat. Here are other picture clues:
      • Notice how the border at the bottom of the page alerts the reader to the animal that will appear next on the scene.
      • Find the cat in the borders. Where is the cat spending her time? What information do the readers know that Annie still doesn't know? (Cat has kittens.)
      • How can we tell by the changing border that spring is on the way? (Robins begin to appear.)
    3. Have students begin to illustrate their stories and pictures with borders. Begin with simple designs at first, then work in subject matter that goes with the picture or story.

    The Night Before Christmas, A Poem by Clement Moore

    (New York: Scholastic, 1998)

    Done in Jan Brett's style – with magnificent borders that are filled with the sights, sounds, smells, and joys of Christmas – this book provides the reader with a visual treat. In this version, Santa's little elf helpers are extremely merry and have fun playing with the toys while Santa is inside making his deliveries. The attention to detail is magnificent.

    Enrichment Activities to Accompany The Night Before Christmas, A Poem by Clement Moore

    1. Read the book and enjoy the pictures. Then go through the book again, this time inspecting the pictures as everyone enjoys them.
    2. Pass out copies of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to have students practice choral reading.
    3. Have students draw themselves sleeping and the detailed "visions of sugarplums" dancing above them. "In this book there is a swirl of gingerbread cookies, candies, canes, and wonderful goodies of all colors, so let's take our cue from the illustrator when we draw our own visions." What will students include?
    4. Inspect the borders. "What information can we learn from these?" Note the "shapes within the shape" of the border where illustrations are displayed.
    5. Make a "Find It" challenge sheet. See if students can locate certain items and tell the number of the page on which it appears. For example, "Where is the elephant bank with Scott's nametag? Where is the present marked for Kayla?" Have students make up their own challenge sheets; other students can search for the visual clues.
    6. "How many different ornaments can we name on the beautiful Christmas tree?"
    7. "Let's draw and design our own stocking to hang by the chimney with care."
    8. If students should ask for Rudolph, let them know that this is the original version of the poem. Rudolph was added to a much later version of Santa and his reindeer, when a song about him became a commercial hit. So Rudolph belongs in the song version.
    9. Enjoy the book The Twelve Days of Christmas, beautifully illustrated by Jan Brett, as a companion piece to this book.

    The Mitten

    (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1989)

    This is an adaptation of an old European tale set in the Ukraine. A boy named Nicki gets a new pair of mittens, which his grandmother has just knitted, and promptly goes out into the wintry outdoors and drops one. The delightful story goes on to show how, one by one, animals come to explore the mitten and crawl inside. Of course it expands until even a bear wiggles inside. It can't seem to hold another creature, so when a mouse comes along, the mouse settles on the bear's nose, which causes the bear to sneeze – and the animals scatter in all directions! The mitten comes falling into the boy's hand from the sky, and when he takes them home to Grandmother, they surely don't match.

    Enrichment Activities to Accompany The Mitten

    1. Read the story and enjoy it. Chances are students will want to hear it again and again, for it quickly becomes a favorite.
    2. By now the children are somewhat familiar with this author/illustrator's borders, but this book holds a surprise for the reader. Each page in the book is a double-page spread, so a mitten shape appears at both the left and right sides of the page. The visual picture in the mitten on the left shows what has gone on in the story, while the picture in the mitten on the right shows the reader what is to come next. Students are thrilled with this discovery!
    3. Try this: The students as artists can draw one scene from a story, any story, and enclose it with an artistic border. Have them create a space to the left and right of the main picture, and show what came before this and what will happen next. Students may want to select The Mitten or a favorite fairy tale. Talk about what shape they will use that goes along with their story.
    4. Do artists rush? No, artists take their time to create a drawing. Jan Brett is known for her attention to detail. In one of her newsletters, she mentions that it takes her one hour to do one inch, so it takes about a week just to do one page! This is excellent information to pass along to students. There is no rush! Slow down!
    5. The very last page of the book shows Grandmother looking at the two different mittens. There is no text on this page, but Grandmother has a perplexed look. Have students write text for this last page on a mitten shape. Then compare endings.

    Trouble With Trolls

    (New York: Scholastic 1992)

    This book has a Scandinavian setting. A Young girl decides to visit her cousin on the other side of Mount Baldi with her dog, Tuffi. It takes all morning to walk up the mountain, and no time at all to ski down the other side. But this day, there is trouble with trolls – they want Tuffi! The young girl keeps outsmarting one troll after another by giving them articles of clothing, until she finally runs out of things to do at the top of the mountain where they are gathered for her dog. It is then that she gets an inspiration – and all of her clothes back – as well as a safe trip down the mountainside with Tuffi.

    Enrichment Activities to Accompany Trouble With Trolls

    1. Throughout this story at the bottom of the page, there is activity underground. The entire page is bordered by the outdoor scenery until we check out the bottom and about one-fourth of the way up each side. It shows the underground home of the trolls and a hedgehog that gets inside. Page after page, watch the adventures going on indoors as well as outdoors.
    2. Students can write story text for the underground story, which is almost a wordless picture book accompanying the main story. They can describe the home, what made them leave, and then the activity of the hedgehog. They are free to write their own ending.
    3. The story is set in Norway. Locate this country on the map. Note the Nordic designs on the girl's clothing, the skis, the Swiss chalet. Perhaps students can design socks, sweater, or mittens in a similar style.
    4. Notice that these story trolls have pointed heads with white hair, pointed ears, large feet, and a twisty tail. Their clothing is patched. At the easel, students can create their own version of a troll, or use these same characteristics.
    5. The girl "outsmarted" the trolls. (This may be an opportune time to introduce that new vocabulary word.) That was clever. This would be a good story to do as a play.
    6. Write a story about another encounter with these trolls and the way they could be outsmarted another day.

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