Updated: Apr 25, 2022
Married couple Ann and John Hassett have been writing and illustrating picture books for more than twenty-five years. With more than a dozen titles released, the Waldoboro residents have become fixtures in New England children’s literature. Now, one of their best titles—The Finest Christmas Tree—has been redesigned and is being re-released by Islandport Press, just in time for the holidays. It’s time for readers to get to know this dynamic, creative duo. See below for a fun Q&A with the authors and some sneak peeks at the beautiful art in The Finest Christmas Tree.
You work as a duo—who comes up with a story idea first? Does the art inspire the writing or vice versa?
The idea for a story often begins with a pencil sketch. Somehow a story grows from that drawing. Finding the words is a little like putting together a puzzle; every word has to fit just right. That’s the hope anyway! There are days and days of sketching, doodling, erasing, scribbling, paper-crumpling, and lots and lots of looking out the window. Sometimes a story idea will almost write itself and need very few changes until completion, but those are as rare as Santa sightings. Most stories and pictures need to be tinkered with over and over until they feel right. Even then, we always find something we wish we could change.
What Christmas traditions are a favorite in your family?
Going into the woods to cut a Christmas tree is one of the best parts of the Christmas season! Even though our daughters are grown up, we try to get together to cut a tree every year. Another favorite tradition of the Christmas season is the cookies. We make dozens and dozens of them—sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles, gingerbread men, and Swedish spritz cookies. We can't eat them all, so sharing cookies is another important tradition.
What is the best or most memorable Christmas present you’ve ever received?
John’s favorite present was a Flexible Flyer sled. If you look closely, you can see him in some of the pictures in The Finest Christmas Tree. Ann's most memorable Christmas gift was Thumbelina, a beautiful baby doll with very lifelike hair. The hair never grew back, of course, after Ann gave it a thorough trim, but she loved the doll all the same.
Where do you find the most inspiration for your children’s books?
Honestly, we do it for our own amusement; it’s a lot of fun! At the same time, making picture books gives us the most authentic and discerning audience in the world—children. They are definitely not afraid to tell you what they think of your work! Also, their understanding of the world goes far beyond their reading ability, so there is the challenge of keeping the text fairly simple, but also appealing to the sophisticated emotions of children. We enjoy creating with that perspective in mind, and our favorite part of the process is sharing the books with children.
What got you started in creating books for children?
Remembering our own favorite books from when we were children, sharing them with our daughters, and telling our daughters our own stories were probably the most important inspirations. One Morning in Maine and Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey were two of our favorite bedtime books. The stories and the pictures in those two books are just perfect.