Welcome today to author Jane Sutcliffe, who, as luck would have it, graciously agreed to answer some questions about writing for children. Jane has written over two dozen non-fiction books for young readers, and is an experienced presenter. Her school visit program titled How I Found Out My Teacher’s Shoe Size: Research Skills For Young Students is one I’d like to see myself!
And now, without further pomp and circumstance, I give you Ms. Sutcliffe:
Nancy: Most authors will tell you that they always knew they wanted to be a writer. But that was not the case for you! What other hats have you worn on your way to becoming a writer? Which previous job do you think was the most helpful/instrumental in steering you towards writing?
Jane: Oh, I agree that I always wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t know that that’s
what I wanted to be. So I did other things. For a time I was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home
mom to my two growing boys. It was not only my all-time favorite job, it was an education. We
read lots of books together and we had a great library story time in our town, so I was introduced to some wonderful children’s books. Thanks to my sons, I got a mini-education in great children’s literature. That’s when I decided—I want to write, too!
Nancy: How did your first publishing contract come about? What was your primary emotion
when you held a book with your name on it for the first time?
Jane: I knew that I wanted to write nonfiction and I had an idea for a biography, so I sent the manuscript to Lerner [Lerner Publishing Group – one of the nation’s largest independently owned children’s publishers]. The editor rejected it saying that they already had a book coming out on that person. But she liked my writing style and suggested I might want to write for a new biography series for early readers.
My first book was Babe Didrikson Zaharias: All-Around Athlete, published in 2000. What was
that like? Well, it’s like your first baby. You send out announcements and pass it around for
everyone to admire! By the way, I dedicated the book to my sons, because they were the start of
Nancy: Some people think of biographies as big, chunky volumes of work, yet you have written
several for early readers. Who would you say is your ‘favorite’ person you’ve researched
and wrote about?
Jane: I think whether a biography is a big chunky work or a simple picture book, it
still has to be true to the subject. That’s the challenge of writing for children, and the fun!
Probably my favorite subject to research was John Adams. He kept a diary his whole life and
wrote a good deal about his thoughts and deeds, so it made it easy for me to paint an accurate
picture of him and stay true to his character.
Nancy: What has been the farthest you’ve traveled to do research? So much is available to us at
the click of a mouse, but there has to be some fun to be had in immersing yourself in a
place/time as well.
Jane: When I was researching The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814, I
used journals and diaries extensively. I was fortunate that the majority of it was available in
digital format. But there is something so personal in holding the real journal and seeing that
person’s handwriting. There is something about seeing history in person that just gives me
goosebumps. When I traveled to Washington to do some research on the book, I was able to go to the White House to see the actual burn marks left by British soldiers in 1814. That was pretty
Nancy: Your latest book has an intriguing title: Will’s Words, How William Shakespeare Changed
the Way You Talk. What was your inspiration for this book, and what was the most
interesting thing you learned in the researching and writing of it? Did you come away with
a favorite phrase?
Jane: The original idea came from Alyssa Mito Pusey, my editor at Charlesbridge, who simply wanted a Shakespeare book since 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. I knew I didn’t want to write a traditional biography since we really don’t know much about his life. I decided to concentrate on the many Shakespearian words and phrases that have become so familiar to us, even though we may not recognize them as originating with Shakespeare—phrases like “the long and the short of it,” “with bated breath,” and “for goodness’ sake.” (The man turned “household words” into household words—how cool is that?) I thought it would be fun to weave these words and phrases into a story about Will Shakespeare and the Globe. And to keep the whole book from being too serious (what with its being about William Shakespeare and all), I kept the tone light and funny, and a little punny. One result is a book I’m pretty proud of. Unfortunately another is that I’ve become an obnoxious Shakespeare-phrase-know-it-all, and you can barely get out a “seen better days” without my pointing out, “That’s Shakespeare!” I just can’t help it, “for goodness’ sake.” But I guess “what’s done is done.” Sorry, is that “too much of a good thing?”
Well, Jane, as Mae West said, “too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
WILL’S WORDS, HOW WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE CHANGED THE WAY YOU TALK will be released on March 22, 2016. To pre-order, consider doing so at your favorite bookstore or on Indiebound.
For more information on author Jane Sutcliffe and her informative and entertaining books, including Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David And How He Came to Be (Charlesbridge) visit her website at: www.janesutcliffe.com
Thanks for sharing the short and long of it, Jane! All’s well that ends well.