Jan Brett signing a book

Lesson Plan: Email About Jan Brett’s Books

Students are told that they will have an opportunity to communicate with Jan Brett, via the e-mailing of a class letter. Anticipation of the author’s answer to the class e-mail is integral to creating interest throughout the unit. Attention is drawn to the kinds of things students might want to tell the author.

Jan Brett’s Books in Order

Jan Brett is a beloved children’s author and illustrator known for her stunningly illustrated picture books that often feature animals as the main characters. Here are her books in order of publication:

  1. Fritz and the Beautiful Horses (1981)
  2. The Trouble with Trolls (1984)
  3. Annie and the Wild Animals (1985)
  4. Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1987)
  5. The Owl and the Pussycat (1989)
  6. The Mitten (1989)
  7. Berlioz the Bear (1991)
  8. The Twelve Days of Christmas (1991)
  9. The Wild Christmas Reindeer (1992)
  10. Armadillo Rodeo (1995)
  11. Town Mouse, Country Mouse (1995)
  12. The Hat (1997)
  13. Christmas Trolls (1999)
  14. Comet’s Nine Lives (2000)
  15. Hedgie’s Surprise (2000)
  16. Armadillo Rodeo (2001)
  17. Hedgie Blasts Off! (2002)
  18. The Umbrella (2004)
  19. Gingerbread Friends (2006)
  20. The Three Snow Bears (2007)
  21. The Easter Egg (2010)
  22. Home for Christmas (2011)
  23. Mossy (2012)
  24. Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella (2013)
  25. The Animals’ Santa (2014)
  26. The Turnip (2015)
  27. Gingerbread Christmas (2016)
  28. The Mermaid (2017)
  29. The Snowy Nap (2018)
  30. Cozy (2020)
  31. The Tale of the Tiger Slippers (2020)
  32. Cozy in Love (2022)

It’s worth noting that some of Brett’s earlier books, such as Fritz and the Beautiful Horses and The Trouble with Trolls, have been re-illustrated and republished in newer editions.

Title III Learning Experience

Learning Context | Procedure | Instructional/Environmental Modifications | Time Required | Resources | Assessment Plan | Student Work | Reflection

LE Title: “Talking” to Author Jan Brett via E-mailAuthor: Hilda C. Moses, Library Media Spec.
Grade Level: First GradeSchool : N A Walbran Elementary
Topic/Subject Area: Author study / Lang. ArtsSchool Address: Rt. 69, Box 539, Oriskany, NY 13424

Learning Context

Purpose or Focus of Experience

The purpose of this Learning Experience is to have students experience the rapid way in which e-mail allows people to communicate, in a very direct and personal manner. The quick response to students’ shared opinions and comments will help students feel better acquainted with author/illustrator Jan Brett. This learning experience is part of an in-depth study of author Jan Brett and her work. The lesson is done at the end of the unit.

Connection to Standards

This learning experience supports ELA Standard 1: Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding.

 *This is evident when students paraphrase information about the author and her books, in order to cooperatively create an e-mail message to the author.

*This is evident when students summarize prior knowledge of Jan Brett, her writing and illustration, in order to create valid messages to send in their e-mail. 

*This is evident when students listen to many different titles authored and illustrated by Jan Brett, and use character names, themes and special features in their communication with the author.

*This is evident when students retain information from a worksheet booklet done early in the unit and use this information in creating their e-mail message.

This learning experience supports ELA Standard 4: Students will read, write, listen, and speak for social interaction.

*This is evident when students participate in group discussions to arrive at an agreement on the content of their class e-mail message, to author Jan Brett.

*This is evident when students listen to the author speaking (on her web site) and hear information about her childhood.

*This is evident when students watch the creation of their e-mail message on a large screen and hear explanations of how e-mail works.

*This is evident when students share the e-mail response of author Jan Brett, the day that arrives.

Essential Questions

How does getting to know about an author’s life and personality, help a reader understand the books that the author writes and illustrates?

 How can first graders achieve a feeling of “knowing” an author they most likely will never meet in person?

Content Knowledge: Declarative, Procedural

Declarative Knowledge

Students will know that Jan Brett decided, early in her life, that she wanted to be an author/illustrator, and that she is still alive, making appearances and creating more books each year.

Students will have a large amount of prior knowledge about the author’s stories and life. They will have listened to many titles, shared the information in special brochures from the author, participated in a class dramatization of one of the stories, and “toured” the author’s web site.

Procedural Knowledge

Students will access specific prior knowledge, through group discussion (teacher directed), in order to formulate specific questions or comments for the e-mail message.

Students will practice improving their listening skills each time a book by Jan Brett is read aloud in class.

Students will have been involved in the dramatization of “The Gingerbread Baby .Students will have had opportunities to express their opinions about the different topics related to Jan Brett’s stories.

Students will have had an opportunity to gather correct answers to specific questions for a work booklet about Jan Brett’s books.


(Chronologically ordered description of all teacher & student activities and interactions.)

 Students participate in this Learning Experience, at the end of the unit on “Getting to Know Jan Brett”. As part of the Initiating Activities at the beginning of the unit, students are told that they will have an opportunity to communicate with Jan Brett, via the e-mailing of a class letter.

Anticipation of the author’s answer to the class e-mail, is an integral factor in creating interest throughout the unit. First grade students have not used e-mail enough to be “unimpressed,” as older students might be. Throughout the unit, attention is drawn to the kinds of things students might want to tell the author. (their favorite title, character, or illustration, a description of their class play “Gingerbread Baby”, reports on the visit of a real hedgehog, like “Hedgie”, or questions about the author’s pets).

This verbal brainstorming is done during Library Media Center classes, with enough repetition to ensure a productive discussion when “e-mail day” arrives.

Prior to composing the class e-mail message, students will have listened to a minimum of five different Jan Brett books, and discussed many aspects of the author’s approach to writing and illustrating individual titles. (The author provides an excellent assortment of background materials to aid in this study of her books)

Jan Brett’s most recently published title “The Gingerbread Baby” was presented in the form of a play by first grade students for their parents, and other students in the Library Media Center. This gave the participants a very close working knowledge of the story and contributed to the opinions they expressed when creating their e-mail message.

Classes “visited” Jan Brett’s web site several times to listen to a short message from the author, download coloring pages and see the character masks the author provided for use in their play. This provided additional experiences and information to bring to their communication with the author at the end of the unit.

The class also was able to see a live hedgehog in their classroom. This was especially meaningful, since Jan Brett has a pet hedgehog and features “Hedgie” as a character in one of her books.

The Library Media Center class was used for the creation of the class e-mail communication. When the class arrived, the computer screen was projected onto an overhead screen with an LCD projector. This allowed class members to see the process clearly. Jan Brett’s web site was on the screen and about 5 minutes were used to review topics and titles. To provide a sense of “ownership” of this project, a black and white coloring sheet (one of many Jan Brett illustrations available in this format) is downloaded and printed . The library aide makes photocopies for each member of the class to take home at the end of library class .

Students then began brainstorming topics to use in the message. Since each student brings a wealth of prior knowledge about Jan Brett and her books, the most difficult job is guiding the class to a consensus of what should be included. Each student is encouraged to contribute and the instructor guides the responses towards the appropriate phrasing. A general introductory and informational paragraph is composed with the instructor’s help. This is read aloud as it is being typed for all to see on the screen.

After the initial discussion and composing of the first part of the e-mail message, the instructor will ask specific students to state their message. Immediately the message will be typed on the computer. This process is clearly visible to the class on the overhead screen, the moment it is happening. Students are very interested to watch their words arrive on the big screen. At the first grade level this provides an effective model of how their words can become written communications. Upon completion, the entire message is read to the class from the front of the room A pointer is used on the screen, to help students see where their statements are, in the body of the letter. The e-mail message is “sent” before the class leaves the library media center.

Students are told before leaving the Library Media Center, that as soon as a response is received from Jan Brett, a printed copy will be brought to their room and read to them.

Author Jan Brett was quick to respond and although a portion of her e-mail message is in the form of a “Hedge-o-gram” sent out to all her correspondents, their were comments directed to our specific communication . About a week later, the class received a large envelope of materials from author Jan Brett via “snail mail.” This provided an excellent basis for comparison of both the time and content of e-mail and regular mail.

Instructional / Environmental Modifications

During the brainstorming process, (which is done prior to the actual composition of the e-mail message) an effort should be made to include each student, in some way. If any of the students have special needs, the instructor will prompt a successful response from them, in order for all class members to experience involvement.

This is easily handled, because of the many and varied ways the work of Jan Brett has been presented to the class throughout the unit. All students participated in some “Brett activity.” (Examples: One student with Down’s Syndrome had the responsibility of ringing a bell and handing out programs, during the class play , all students observed the real hedgehog , all students received coloring sheets.) These experiences provided appropriate background for good communication in the e-mail message.

Time Required

This Learning Experience was done at the conclusion of a 6-8 week unit, during First Grade, Library Media Center instructional time. Instructional time in Library ranges from 20-30 minutes, of a 40 min. class, which is scheduled once every 6 days.

Time for brainstorming, approximately, (10-15 min.)

Time for composing e-mail cooperatively, with class input. (10-15 min)

Time for sharing e-mail response (10-15 min. in the classroom, on the day it arrives)


Jan Brett’s selected titles read aloud by the Library Media Specialist

Additional Jan Brett titles (especially her first book) to compare and contrast

Materials from the teaching packet sent by author Jan Brett (these include visuals relating to her books, photos of the author and her pets, pamphlets that give information on how and why each book was created.)

Photocopy of Jan Brett as a child with a paragraph describing her early focus on becoming an author and illustrator.

Author materials from books and magazines.

Atlas or map, to point out where the e-mail will travel to.

Information, pictures and audio from Jan Brett’s web page: janbrett.com

Computer with Internet connection and LCD presentation equipment

Assessment Plan

 The assessment of this lesson would be done informally by the Library Media Specialist during the time the class was brainstorming and developing their messages for the e-mail. It would take the form of a checklist.


  1. Student voluntarily contributes more than one fact, opinion, or idea directly related to the study of author Jan Brett, her life and her work. Statement is easily understood and appropriately expressed.
  2. Student contributes one fact, opinion, or idea directly related to the study of author Jan Brett, her life and her work, only when asked or prompted. Statement needs clarification and is expressed with some difficulty.
  3. Student contributes a fact, opinion, or idea that has already been stated by other classmates. Statement is made only after prompting and with help from the instructor.
  4. Student’s contribution is totally unrelated to the topic even when some prompting is given.

Student Work

This learning experience was based on listening and speaking for information, understanding and social interaction. Therefore, student “work” was in the form of verbal responses, during brainstorming and creation of the e-mail message. Indications of the range of responses are seen in the body of the e-mail message.(See attached sheet).

Example of a statement ranking #1 “The hedgehog that visited us was a different color than Hedgie”

Example of a statement ranking #2 “We like how you put in the borders”

Example of a statement ranking #3 “Our favorite book is The Gingerbread Baby”

Example of a statement ranking #4 “My tooth really wiggles!” (This would not have been included in the e-mail message)


This learning experience was valuable and effective, because each student had an opportunity to express his or her knowledge and understanding of many related experiences. This required students to draw upon information gathered informally by observing, listening and discussion over the course of several weeks.

Since rapid communication is becoming an integral part of our daily lives, this introduction to the process, provides a sample of appropriate social interaction with a person that students “know about”. This also allows for continued independent involvement, if so desired. Several students asked for Jan Brett’s web site address and one or two brought in pictures that they had downloaded and colored at home, several days after the conclusion of our unit.

At the time this learning experience was implemented, the only access to e-mail was in the Library Media Center and Computer Lab, which are at a distance from the first grade classroom. This did not allow for students to easily participate in daily checking for Jan Brett’s reply. This could be done when Internet access is available in each classroom. It would increase the anticipation of the author’s answer and add to student’s knowledge of the e-mail communication process.

Further reading: How to Write a Lesson Plan: 7 Steps