Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday Spotlight on children’s book author, Jane Sutton! Jane was just at our store for Small Business Saturday, so we have several signed books from her—particularly some Hanukkah titles that you can pick up just in time for the holiday!
Thank you so much for the interview, Jane! For those who arent’ familiar with you or your work, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
I’ve written 11 books for children—7 picture books, 3 middle grade novels, and one YA whose title shall remain unmentioned, lest any children in attendance get uncontrollable giggles. In all my books, no matter the genre, there is humor and subtle, non-didactic messages about the importance of empathy and acceptance of oneself and others.
Besides writing, I teach writing classes to adults and children, tutor writing, and give presentations in schools and libraries, where I share my enthusiasm for writing and everything I’ve learned since my first book was published back in 1979. I was elected Class Comedienne in high school and to Phi Beta Kappa in College, which I suspect may be a rare combination. My husband, Alan, and I live in Lexington, MA and consider ourselves beyond lucky that our grown daughter and son and their families live in the Boston area.
How would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from your books?
In all my books–from picture books with animal characters, to middle grade novels, and one YA novel––there is humor and subtle, non-didactic messages about the importance of empathy and acceptance of one’s own and others’ foibles. These characteristics are true of ESTHER’S HANUKKAH DISASTER (a purple gorilla waits until the last minute to shop and buys her friends amusingly inappropriate gifts), WHAT’S UP WITH THIS CHICKEN? (Sylvia discovers why Trudy the chicken refuses to get off her eggs), and the new edition of ME AND THE WEIRDOS (MG, from the point of view of a girl who keeps trying to “unweird” her family).
What kind of research goes into your writing? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
WHAT’S UP WITH THIS CHICKEN? –When my friend Fay, (since we were 11 years old!) told me about one of her backyard chickens that refused to get off her eggs and her research into the reason, I knew this had to be a book! I learned all I could by asking Fay questions and reading articles. I learned that some hens are broody, meaning they have a super-maternal instinct that makes them really, really want those eggs to hatch. The trouble is that backyard hens’ eggs aren’t fertilized. I created the character of a girl named Sylvia and her grandma and made Sylvia solve the problem. I had to explain this un-fertilized business in a PG way, “But we have the kinds of eggs that don’t hatch,” says Sylvia. One of the favorite facts I used in the book is that broody hens often pluck their own chest feathers to create a warm blanket for their eggs. I really enjoyed surprising Fay with the book’s dedication page: to her, of course, and an extensive author’s note about her as my inspiration.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Revise, revise, revise. Some people dislike revising, but I find it so satisfying to fine a way to improve what I already wrote. I always stress the importance of this when I talk to student groups (children and adults). I encourage people to read aloud, thereby noticing repetition of phrases and sentence structure, opportunities for adding more apt words, and of course, typos. Recently, another author clued me in to “Speech/dictate” under Settings (on my Mac, anyway). Activating this allows you to have the computer read aloud! You choose the voice and set the speed. Using this, I found countless mistakes and spots to improve while working on the new edition of ME AND THE WEIRDOS. Listening to the computer read made me feel more confident since I self-published this edition, and unlike with my traditional publishers, I’m the final proofreader.
What question do you wish interviewers would ask you, and what would the answer be?
I wish that just once, an interviewer would ask, “Did you know that you look just like Beyoncé?” And I would answer, “Yes, people often mistake me for her.” Sorry, couldn’t resist.
What has been your favorite adventure during your writing career?
Seeing my middle grade novel ME AND THE WEIRDOS transformed into the musical, ME AND THE KRINKLES. Two extremely talented high school seniors asked my permission to do this, and I conferred with them on the script and lyrics. My husband and I decided to fly out for the premiere, in Blanding, Utah (5 ½ hour drive from Salt Lake City), where I was treated like a celeb, shown the amazing natural sights in the area, met the playwrights—Eva Perkins and Ashley Berrett—and their families, spoke to high school classes about my writing process, signed programs for the middle school actors, and watched the play! It was absolutely delightful—entertaining, moving, and amazingly professional. Not only did Eva and Ashley write the script and lyrics, compose the music, and conceive the staging, they cast and directed the talented middle school actors, and even designed the posters and programs. The book, originally published as a Houghton Mifflin hardcover, Bantam paperback, and French edition, and winner of the ALA/CBC Children’s Choice and Utah Children’s Book Award, had been out of print for many years. As I said to the audience when called up on stage, it’s deeply touching to me that the heartfelt message of the humorous book I wrote so long ago, that it’s OK—and even a good thing—to be different, still has an impact. The experience inspired me to get out a new edition of the book, just released in October, with some revisions and tweaks and wonderful new illustrations by Doreen Buchinski.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Independent bookstores can order any of my in-print books, and (ahem) there are those on-line sources. My website also links to buying options.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
My website: http://www.jane-sutton.com
The website includes a blog.
Search for Jane Sutton on Facebook
Thank you again, Jane, for the great interview and for being part of our Small Business Saturday! We do still have several of Jane’s books in the store—signed!—so stop in and pick out a title or three. For a gift, or for yourself to enjoy!