Great Event, Great Store

I had so much fun at a special story time featuring An Assortment of Animals: A Children’s Poetry Anthology at The Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, MA. Nine of we poet and illustrator contributors shared our creations and inspirations with an enthusiastic audience.

I’d never been to the store before, which is charming and friendly and has a coffee shop inside! For sure, I’ll be back.

When we arrived, we found this beautiful display of the books, next to books by store co-owner and prolific author, Peter Reynolds.

All the presenters: Alice Fulgione, Brian Lies, Robin Brett Wechsler, Pam Vaughan, Deb O’Brien, Bonnie Gold, moi, Bob Thibeault, and Doreen Buchinski

Doreen Buchinski and me, with the poem I wrote and she beautifully illustrated, “The Superb Blue-Crowned Mot-Mot.” Doreen designed the anthology and is also the illustrator and designer of the new edition of Me and the Weirdos.

Here Doreen shows stages in her illustration process. Note my elephant garb, which I wore for the animal-themed event. I also wore elephant earrings and brought an elephant purse and tote bag. Why not?

An exciting surprise was the participation of Anthology cover designer and contributor Brian Lies, renowned for his Bats at the Beach series and The Rough Patch, recently announced as a Caldecott Honor Book!

Reverse Dedication

Just as I was in the midst of this series of posts about the dedications of my various books, I received one of my own! Author Josh Funk enrolled in the Writing For Children class I teach eight times, becoming a better and better writer. Three and a half years ago, he published his first book, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, and his career took off. Amazingly and thrillingly, he just came out with book number 10!!!!— It’s Not Hansel and Gretel …

,,, which he sweetly dedicated to me and two of his classmates, Ellen Cohen and Doreen Buchinski (illustrator of Me and the Weirdos!). Over time the class evolved into a critique group, with me more facilitator/alpha critique-er than teacher, so as Josh says, Ellen, Doreen and I were all with him “from the beginning.” A talented, versatile and popular author and presenter, Josh is also a lovely person.

Josh Funk, me, Ellen Cohen, and Doreen Buchinski, with our copies of It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, and Josh’s dedication

Dedication # 2

My second published book was the middle grade novel Me and the Weirdos. Whereas the new edition is dedicated to Ashley and Eva, the young composers and playwrights of the musical based on the book (see previous posts), the original book was dedicated to my parents, who were quite delighted by the dedication’s warmth and humor.

Me and the Weirdos by Jane Sutton

Original Houghton Mifflin hardcover

Original Bantam paperback

 

 

The “in moderation” was not just acknowledgment of my parents’ just-enough amount of weirdness, but also a nod to my dad’s mantra, “Moderation in all things.” To which his wise-girl daughter, moi, would occasionally say, “Isn’t that a little extreme, Daddy?”

 

First Dedication Evah! (as we say in Massachusetts)

As the headline says, here’s my very first book dedication, to my sweetheart husband,
Alan Ticotsky.

 

 

 

 

 

I thought that was a very nice message, and he was pleased. I was excited to share it with my parents as they opened my first published book, What Should a Hippo Wear? — published by Houghton Mifflin, back in 1979.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mother, though, didn’t see it the way I did. She said, with her New York intonation, “Why not a million?” Sometimes mothers need to cut you down to size, I guess. But she did have a point … And all these years later, I should thank Al for a billion reasons.

Wonderful Distraction

When I’m not posting regularly or I’m writing less often, I feel I should swat myself with a rolled-up newspaper, or even a board book. But my lapse in productivity of late has been forgivable, I’m sure you will agree, as we welcome our adorable newest family member—our granddaughter, Linny!

Our son, Charlie; our daughter-in-law, Amberly; our just hours-old new granddaughter, Linny; and our grandson, Caleb

Look, Mommy, she has hair!

Delighted big brother gets to hold little sister with Daddy Charlie and our daughter, Aunt Becky.

Al and his new granddaughter

This one makes me smile all over. Caleb and his baby sister on their first morning at home together.

Nice Ink

The Colonial Times, a newspaper in my town of Lexington, Massachusetts recently ran a lovely article about my experience bringing Me and the Weirdos back to life, inspired by its reincarnation as a musical. The reporter included details of my trip to the small town of Blanding, Utah, as well as the involvement of the illustrator and designer of the new edition, Doreen Buchinski.

The Weirdos Return

Jane Sutton

How a middle-school musical in Utah brought Lexington author Jane Sutton’s most popular book to a new generation.

 

By Jane Whitehead

“I write because I can’t be a rock star,” says Lexington-based children’s author Jane Sutton, laughing. But a musical adventure in a small town in Utah in January 2018 gave her a taste of star treatment and prompted her to publish a new version of her award-winning novel, Me and the Weirdos.

Sutton’s books include seven picture books, three middle-grade novels, and one YA novel. Back in 1981, she wrote Me and the Weirdos, the story of Cindy Krinkle, a little girl who is embarrassed by her family. (Her mother does cartwheels, her father rides to work on a bike with an umbrella while singing operatic arias, and her sister has a pet sea urchin.) The book, originally published by Houghton Mifflin, was an ALA-CBC Children’s Choice, won the Utah Children’s Book Award and sold over 90,000 copies.

“The book brought me loads of fan letters from children, and from adults who said it was their favorite book, and made them feel being different was OK,” says Sutton. But Me and the Weirdos has been out of print for decades, so in 2017 she was surprised to receive a “long, sweet email, very polite and respectful,” from two high school seniors in Blanding, Utah, Eva Perkins, and Ashley Berrett, asking her permission to turn the book into a musical, Me and the Krinkles.

As a child, Perkins had read Me and the Weirdos, a favorite of her mother’s, and thought the story would translate well into a musical. She and Berrett wrote to Sutton, not at all sure that she would reply, and “screamed with excitement” when they received her positive response.

“I, of course, said yes,” says Sutton, “and asked to look at the script.” The script and lyrics impressed her with their professionalism and smart changes to make the plot more workable on stage, with a middle-school cast. As they exchanged drafts and comments, Sutton learned that the pair held scholarships in music and drama, and had appeared in and directed other productions.

Braving the flight from Boston to Salt Lake City – in January – followed by a five and half hour drive to Blanding (population 4000), Sutton and her husband, science writer and educator Alan Ticotsky, attended the premiere performance of Me and the Krinkles on January 22, 2018, at San Juan High School.

“We were blown away by the professionalism and wonderfulness of the play, as well as the warm welcome from Eva’s and Ashley’s families and the whole town,” says Sutton. From the motel to the visitor center to the museum, Sutton was feted as “the author” from out of town, and she and Al enjoyed private tours of local natural wonders, including a visit to Bears Ears National Monument with a Navajo guide.

The excited middle school cast asked Sutton to sign everything from programs and posters to phone cases and a plaster cast. Searching online for the original book, they were disappointed only to find second-hand copies at high prices. So Sutton came home with a mission to bring Me and the Weirdos back into circulation.

For years, Sutton has taught a sold-out class on “Writing Children’s Books” for Lexington Community Education. Now she turned for advice to long-time students who have become successful authors and illustrators, Josh Funk and Doreen Buchinski. “You should just get it out there,” said software engineer and prize-winning author Funk.

In the interests of quick turnaround, controlling the editorial process, and the freedom to choose her own illustrator, Sutton decided to self-publish the book using the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. She invited graphic designer and illustrator Buchinski to design the new edition and provide new illustrations, and the two started work in April 2018.

Illustrator Doreen Buchinski with the new edition of Me and the Weirdos.

Buchinski enjoyed turning Sutton’s “rich descriptions” into graphite and wash drawings, and designed a new cover using her niece as the body-model for the heroine. But even as an experienced graphic designer, she found online self-publishing challenging. Unlike working with a printer with whom you have a personal relationship, with KDP “you don’t always get to talk to a person,” says Buchinski, so glitches that would be quickly solved in a traditional setting sometimes led to frustrating email chains.

“I’d always be finding things I wanted to change,” says Sutton, a self-described perfectionist. But by September, she had “revised, tweaked and pared” the text to her satisfaction, and by October the new edition was available in paperback and on Kindle. Sutton dedicated it to Eva Perkins and Ashley Berrett, in recognition of the creative partnership between two Mormon teenagers from Utah and a Jewish grandmother from Boston, an unlikely collaboration that’s real-life proof of the message of both book and musical, that “it’s perfectly fine to be different!”

The new paperback edition of Me and the Weirdos is available from independent booksellers and online. For more information, see www.jane-sutton.com

Hard Work and Dedication

One of the most fun things about being an author is getting to dedicate books to meaningful people in one’s life. Thinking about this, I’ve decided to share the dedications in my various books starting with the most recent.
I never would have thought of re-releasing my middle grade novel Me and the Weirdos if Ashley Berrett and Eva Perkins of Blanding, Utah hadn’t contacted me about turning it into a musical to be performed in their high school auditorium. Hence (I love that word—it’s so pretentious), I dedicated it to them:

Eva, me, and Ashley after the premiere

 

Bye Bye Hanukkah, See You Next Year!

Following up on the 2 Hanukkah events mentioned in my last post … Both were fun. Special thanks to my daughter, Becky, and to Kim at the Harvard COOP and Alex at Brookline Booksmith. Both stores have wonderful children’s departments, active with events!

I got a kick out of this —Next Saturday the Harvard COOP will host Santa, but last Saturday they had a Hanukkah story time with moi! Next Saturday Brookline Booksmith will welcome supermodel Gisele Bündchen, but last Saturday they had a special Hanukkah story reading with moi!

My friend Ellen joked, “Poor Santa, he has a tough act to follow.”

My daughter (and sunshine), Becky, helped out by holding the pictures while I read.

Oh oh! Double Jane

Why is there a fire truck in this post about my Hanukkah book reading at Brookline Booksmith? Because our adorable toddler grandson was playing with this book with noisy wheels during Grammy’s reading. That’s OK…he was an enthusiastic chanter of “NO!” when I asked questions like, “Would gloves be a good gift for a snake?”

Big Hanukkah Weekend for my Purple Gorilla (and Me)

This weekend I’m looking forward to reading my picture book about the well-meaning but shopping-challenged purple gorilla, Esther, at two Hanukkah-themed story hours:

Saturday Morning at 11 at the Harvard COOP in Cambridge, MA

Sunday Morning at 10:30 at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA

Come by for readings, games, and crafts!

ESTHER’S HANUKKAH DISASTER is available in Italian, but I’ll be reading the English version—

Esther's Hanukkah Disaster by Jane Sutton

I LOVE Answering Questions: Just Ask Me!

Before I participated in Small Business Saturday last week, Trisha Woodridge of Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester and an author herself interviewed me. I forgot all about this until just now, when I saw a link to the interview on Facebook!

The thing is … unlike most people, who dislike taking surveys, particularly during dinner, I welcome the chance to voice my opinion. I can always reheat dinner. And the comment cards you get in hotels and restaurants—they’re too small to hold all my praise and suggestions for improvement.

Trisha’s questions were particularly interesting! See for yourself.

Author Spotlight: Jane Sutton

11262018 - Sutton Hanukkah

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.

11262018 - Sutton Chicken

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: https://www.jane-sutton.com

The website includes a blog.

Email: jane@jane-sutton.com

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!