Annie’s Book stop of Worcester is happy to host children’s author, Jane Sutcliffe on our Friday Spotlight blog. Jane was part of our Carnival of Children’s Authors and Illustrators this past Saturday, April 11th.
Thank you very much for joining us, Jane! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I am the author of over two dozen nonfiction books for young readers, ranging from picture books to middle grade books. My latest book, The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814 was a Notable Social Studies book and was named a Blue Ribbon Title by the Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books. My newest picture book, Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk, will be out next year.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your work?
Many of my previous books have been biographies. Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be is not all that different. It is a biography, not of a person, but of a masterpiece of Western art, from its humble beginnings as an unwanted block of stone to its creation by the artist. As familiar as we all are with the iconic David, many people do not realize that Michelangelo was not the first artist to try to carve that particular block of marble. From the first, Michelangelo saw his David—in finished form—in the stone, and then spent three years, day and night, carving away what was not David to complete his work. The result is not only a triumph of vision but also a lesson in sheer muscular determination.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I always do extensive research before I start the writing process—sometimes too much. Research for me is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Much of my reading for Stone Giant involved not only Michelangelo but other Renaissance artists as well. In a biography collection written in the sixteenth century I came across a fascinating story about a monster painting that Leonardo da Vinci did as a teenager. The monster was supposedly so realistic that it frightened Leonardo’s father half to death. I thought it was a pretty cool story—no one thinks of Leonardo as a teenaged prankster—but it clearly did not belong in Stone Giant. There was only one thing to do. I set aside my research on the David and started writing a picture book about Leonardo and his scary painting. Leonardo’s Monster was published by Pelican in 2010.
I’ve always been a bit of a nonfiction nerd. I am hooked by the words “true story.” No matter how scary or mysterious or funny a story is, isn’t it always made better by those words?
I also love the research process in nonfiction. I know that my story is already there in all those details, just waiting to be revealed in the writing. That’s something that Michelangelo would have understood. Writing a nonfiction book really has a lot in common with sculpture. When the artist first saw the block of marble he was to carve, he saw David—his David, the David we have come to know so well. Michelangelo saw his task as simply carving away what was not David. Nonfiction writers are sculptors of words. Our job is to recognize the story that’s waiting in the research and to carve away whatever doesn’t belong. And never, EVER, to add anything extra. How cool is that?
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
So glad you asked. Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk will be published by Charlesbridge in 2016. It is a description of seeing a Shakespeare play at the original Globe, told using Shakespeare’s own words—words that are very much a part of what we say today. It is the story of how phrases like “household words” became, well, household words. And it’s pretty funny, too. Plus it features the wonderful illustrations of John Shelley, who also did the illustrations for Stone Giant. I’ve seen a sneak peak and they are awesome!
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
The usual places—bookstores, online bookstores, or directly from the publisher. I usually have a few in my trunk, too.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
Hmmm, not sure about the awesomeness part, but I’m always happy to be followed on Twitter (@jane_sutcliffe) or liked on Facebook (search for Jane Sutcliffe, Author).
Thank you, once again, Jane, for the interview and for joining us for the Carnival of Children’s Authors and Illustrators!