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Author/Illustrator Jan Brett

Author/Illustrator Jan Brett Shares a Classic Folk Tale in her Newest Children’s Book

The bestselling author/illustrator is making a stop in Denver on December 12. Here, she talks about her latest children’s book and what she hopes parents and children will notice.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

There’s a new tiger in town from bestselling children’s author and illustrator Jan Brett. The vibrantly illustrated The Tale of the Tiger Slippers is set in India and is based on the classic Persian folktale, “Abu Kassem’s Slippers.” It’s a visual feast inspired by Brett’s travels to India’s top national parks, and her long-time fascination with the ornate court art of the Mughal dynasty.

The story centers around a poor, hardworking tiger cub, whose mother sews him slippers to protect his feet while he works. When he builds his fortune, everyone wonders why he continues to wear the old, tattered slippers. He tries to get rid of the slippers, but they keep coming back to him in unusual circumstances. He begins to realize their value.

Now a grandmother of six with more than 42 million books in print, Brett is known for her detailed illustrations. Here, she shares the detail on her latest creation.

Colorado Parent:
When did you first hear of the folktale that sparked the idea for The Tale of the Tiger Slippers?
Jan Brett:
I read about it in two books (Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese and Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton). In the original story, there are dire consequences (when the man tries to get rid of the slippers). The idea is that you have these experiences that you might not want to be part of you. But you can compartmentalize: I had this experience that wasn’t pleasant, but I can put it away. I loved the idea of that! (The original folktale) was not for children, though. I put in a happy beginning, that the slippers were given in love.
What did you learn, or what stood out to you the most, while observing wild tigers and the landscape of India for this book?
It reminded me of Rhode Island. (The landscape was) more familiar than I thought, and there were all these deciduous trees. We saw so much bird life, and every bird in the book that I drew, I saw (in India). And the tigers there were huge! We were told that we may not see a tiger, and they were keeping track of them because they were being poached. It was stunning to see these men, riding on elephants, looking for poachers.
After three days—we went to three different parks—a huge male (tiger) stood straight up in the air, and he roared. The roar was so primal and there was something so great about it. It was very exciting, and I consider myself very lucky to have had the experience.
Do you have a favorite page of the finished book?
I love pages 28 and 29 (three pages from the end of the book), where the father is looking at the son, and the son says, “Why not build the slippers a special house of their own?” I love the idea that the book is about the father and the son, and the son solves the problem. My muse is my six-year-old self—I have an attachment to that age. There was so much energy then, and I like to revisit that time.
What do you hope your readers notice or discover as they read this book?
The slippers have a mind of their own—I like inanimate objects that came to life. A friend of mine gave me a Chinese hat for a kid, and it had eyes. I thought, “I’ll put that in.”
At book signings, the kids don’t always get to talk, so I like to ask the kids questions. Then the parents say, “I didn’t know that!” (Similarly) I like to put in little asides (in my illustrations), the visuals kids will notice that will help them on the road to reading and tracking a character. It’s like a little reward if you look closer.
I had given the book to a man with a nonverbal autistic child, and he told me the child loved the book. He said it was the first book where (his son) had tracked an image (throughout the story). The son recognizes the tiger when he sees it and gets excited. It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten.
How have you seen the children who enjoy your books change over the past 30 years of your career?
I guess my biggest concern is they don’t have enough time to play in the woods and make huts; they are always going to little league and activities. When I was a child, we could make a mess and go outside. Now they are on electronics so much. We have to encourage kids to have other ways to amuse themselves.
Although, there are now all these posters that show all the things that kids can do. It’s wonderful to see gender equality, and kids are more accepting to other people’s differences and preferences.
What advice do you have for parents who will read this book to their children?
In my books, you turn the page when the person is finished looking. Dwell on it. Absorb it. I hope the parents will let their children run their fingers down the pages. Children absorb more than adults.
I don’t think children need simple colors and shapes—well, maybe babies. As a girl, I would go for the books with realistic horses, and ones that would give you information about that world. If it was too simple, you would lose me. I wanted illustrations that matched my mind.

Need to Know: Jan Brett will be visiting Colorado on December 12, appearing at Barnes & Noble, 4300 North Freeway, Pueblo, at 10 a.m., and at Tattered Cover, 2526 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, at 5:30 p.m.

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