Historically, Jan Brett has visited bookstores, schools, and libraries throughout the Northeast to promote each of her new picture books, traveling in her own customized bus with her number one fan, husband Joe Hearne. But in this anything-but-normal pandemical year, Brett and her publisher, Putnam, have charted a new course to bring personalized copies of her new release, Cozy, to booksellers who have long supported the author and her work. Brett is currently inscribing and autographing close to 4,000 copies of the book, which will be sent to 14 bookstores—located as far east as Cohasset, Mass., and as far west as Anchorage, Alaska. Up to 275 customers of each store who have pre-ordered the book will receive a personalized, signed copy of Cozy, the story of an Alaskan musk ox.
With an announced first printing of 150,000 copies, Cozy is the latest of Brett’s popular wintry tales, which include The Mitten, The Three Snow Bears, and Gingerbread Baby. In her new story, the title character becomes separated from his herd during a winter storm and feels lonely—but not for long. As snow piles up, Cozy welcomes a menagerie of smaller, shivering animals, among them a lemming family, a snowshoe hare, a snowy owl, and an Arctic fox, into the folds of his warm fur. When signs of spring appear, Cozy reunites with his herd and his new friends head off to their summer homes—with the promise of getting cozy with Cozy the following winter.
As is her wont, Brett traveled from her Massachusetts home to her new book’s setting to conduct research. The author visited Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska, where she spent some time with the friendly, furry residents. Her interest in the species dates to childhood, Brett explained. “When I was a little girl, I read a fantastic book from National Geographic about North American mammals,” she said. “In the book, there was a wonderful painting of a musk ox, which looked almost prehistoric, and for some reason that image stuck in my mind.”
Brett’s daughter, who lives in Alaska, recommended that the author stop by Musk Ox Farm when the author was visiting several years ago. “She knows how much I love Arctic animals, and this farm is very special and is nestled in a beautiful mountain valley,” Brett said. “When we visited, we had the chance to meet one of their older males, who had lived on the farm since he was a baby and was very friendly. Actually, ‘musk ox’ is kind of a misnomer because these animals are more like Arctic goats—they look very primordial. Musk ox were hunted to extinction in Alaska in the early 1800s when the fur trade was at its height, but were reintroduced in the 1930s when herds were brought to the area from Greenland. They are beautiful animals, with long fur skirts that blow in the wind when they galumph along. The people at Musk Ox Farm, where 37 animals live, take very good care of them and are devoted to keeping the species healthy.”
Innovating in the Time of Covid
Rhalee Hughes, who was director of publicity for Penguin Young Readers before launching her public relations and marketing firm in 2008, is coordinating the Cozy pre-order campaign for the publisher. She first met Brett in 1999 when she handled the publicity for Gingerbread Baby. “To think about how long I’ve been working with Jan makes me smile, and I am so happy to be helping with the campaign for Cozy,” she said. “I’ve toured with Jan and Joe many times in the past, visiting stores along the East Coast, and they are an amazing team.”
When it came time to shape a promotional plan for Cozy, Hughes said, the campaign “evolved over time, as the pandemic grew. When it became clear that Jan’s usual bus tour would not be possible, we thought perhaps we could drive to stores on the eastern seaboard, and she would sign books for customers in a safe way, perhaps in back rooms. But then as the virus spread and states were issuing different travel regulations, some requiring long quarantine periods, that became less practical. So, we decided that it made much more sense to have Jan sign pre-ordered books in her studio.”
Hughes and Penguin staffers teamed up to orchestrate the logistics of the campaign, which involves participating stores submitting the names of pre-ordering customers. Hughes then will create and print out a list of names on removable labels, which she will send to Brett. Last week, the publisher delivered the books to Brett, who will sign them before they are shipped to the bookstores. Booksellers will also receive “exclusive swag,” Hughes explained, consisting of signed Cozy posters, bandanas created by Brett’s studio team, a newsletter with info about the new book, and a tote bag featuring images of various Brett book covers.
The author is disappointed that she will not have a chance to mingle with young readers and booksellers this time around and introduce them to Cozy in person. “It is hard for me to work in a bubble and entirely live in the world of a book for a year, and I reawaken when I go on tour,” she said. “It is very inspiring to hear what kids are interested in—and to see their incredible imaginations. And I love meeting teachers and booksellers. It is always so exciting to visit bookstores—that is one of the perks I will miss this year.”
Looking on the bright side, Brett noted that she is “not at all intimidated” by the prospect of signing thousands of books in her studio. “It’s nothing that some chocolate and a glass of red wine—at night, of course—won’t help,” she quipped. “Luckily my husband and assistant can help with the lugging and mailing of the books, and as I inscribe them I will be listening to the audio book of War and Peace, which I reread every decade, and watching my backyard from my studio window, which is something I always love to do. I am truly grateful to the booksellers who worked with me on this campaign and who work so hard to let people who love books get them in these uncertain times.”
Cozy by Jan Brett. Putnam, $18.99 Oct. 20 ISBN 978-0-593-10979-3