Today, I’m pleased to talk to Jane Sutton about her books, her journey as a writer, her family, and the joys and inspiration of being a new grandmother!
As someone who loves humor and was voted class comedienne in high school, what were some of the books you most enjoyed as a child and young adult?
Two of my childhood favorites were Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches an Egg and Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. As a young adult, I was drawn to Virginia Woolf novels (I know–not exactly humorous, but most comedians are prone to depression).
You write both picture books and books for older children. What inspires or influences your stories?
My childhood memories have been the basis of many of my books—experiences and feelings. What’s Up with This Chicken? was inspired by a true story my friend-since-we-were-11 Fay told me about one of her backyard hens who refused to get off her eggs. I said, “This has to be a children’s book!” So I invented characters, had the child protagonist solve the problem, and snuck in a subtle message about the importance of empathy.
As someone who always wanted to write and who achieved the goal of becoming a published author, can you briefly describe your journey?
At a young age, I was encouraged by my teachers. They would be impressed by something I wrote and send me to show it to another teacher, which really pumped me up. I was an editor of my high school newspaper and after graduating from college had a job writing for a newspaper, wrote ads and press releases, and sold some stories for reading comprehension tests. My first book, What Should a Hippo Wear? was published when I was 29. I’ve had periods where everything I wrote was selling, and periods when nothing I wrote was selling. It’s a tough market!
What’s the best part about writing books for kids?
Well, I never wanted to grow up, and when I realized it was happening whether I liked it or not, I vowed to always remember what it felt like to be a child. Writing for kids helps me do that.
You conduct school presentations and workshops for kids from kindergarten age through grade 5, can you describe a funny or poignant anecdote from one of your events?
One school had a wonderful program that paired parents and their children as writing partners. The culminating event was a presentation by me about how to make writing come alive. Then the parent-children pairs displayed their books, and it was so lovely to see how much the experience meant to the adults and the children. They also loved showing me—the big famous author—what they’d written and I could sincerely point out parts of their writing that were especially effective. The whole thing made me ferklempt.
I read that you love elephants and collect elephant-inspired items. Can you tell me about one of your favorites?
One of my favorite elephants is gray and plastic (about the size of a toaster) and lives outside, in view of our kitchen window. My mother, who died in 2004, gave him to me and named him “Sabu.” He has survived about 18 New England winters so far, sometimes getting totally buried by snow and then poking out the tip of his trunk as the snow starts to melt. My mom asked me once if the elephant made me think of her, and yes, he surely does.
Talking about your mom makes me think of the strong relationship between Sylvia and her grandmother in What’s Up with This Chicken. Can you tell me about your own family?
My husband, Alan, taught a variety of grade levels spanning grades 1-6. He served as a science coordinator, curriculum developer, and teacher mentor. He’s written and co-authored six books for educators, four focused on science instruction and two about systems thinking. Currently, he coordinates the systems thinking program at a grades 5-12 public school and also presents workshops at meetings and conferences. We met in college and have been married for 41 years!
My son, Charlie, works for a coalition made up of organizations pushing for a better transportation system in Massachusetts. He’s worked in Massachusetts public policy since graduating from college in 2007. He married the wonderful Amberly, a nurse, in 2014, and they recently had a baby!
My daughter Becky is the director of an SAT tutoring program. Her company tries to make SAT tutoring as fun and effective as possible, so they try to match the kids with tutors who have the right personality for the student’s learning style. The SAT has completely changed in the last year, so they have had to retrain all of their tutors and rewrite all their curricula. For any tutoring program, building students’ confidence is key. So much of standardized testing is psychological.
I understand Becky also writes a blog for all of us grammarians who like a laugh once in awhile called Apostrophe Catastrophes: The Worlds’ Worst. Punctuation. Can you tell me a little about how she got started?
Yes, Becky does a great job with that blog. I love the examples she posts, and her comments are hilarious! She started Apostrophe Catastrophes almost 10 years ago after seeing an errant apostrophe on a giant cake at Governor Deval Patrick’s Inauguration. She pointed it out to the catering staff, and they had no idea what she was talking about, and then she started to notice misused apostrophes everywhere! Friends and family started taking pictures and sending them to her, and eventually, strangers from all over the world started sending in pictures! The Facebook group has almost 4,000 members now! Becky says, “I guess a lot of people share my love for proper punctuation.”
You’re a new grandmother! Can you tell me a little about your grandson?
That’s a dangerous question! How much time do you have? Caleb is an adorable, cuddly little person. And he’s now a month old!
What is the best part about being a grandmother?
As a new mother, I was very anxious and questioned all my decisions. But as a grandma, there’s none of that anxiety. Being with my grandson is pure joy. And seeing how loving, confident, and tender my son and daughter-in-law are with the baby fills me even more love. And seeing him in my husband’s arms as he gazes down at him…I’m getting ferklempt again!
Have you thought about how being a grandmother might influence or inspire your future work?
You betcha! Stay tuned.
What’s up next for you?
My next book, a Passover-themed picture book, is scheduled for publication by Kar-Ben in the spring of 2018.
Since Celebrate Picture Books is a holiday-themed blog, I can’t let you get away without asking you a few holiday-related questions! So…
What is your favorite holiday?
I love Mother’s Day and Father’s Day because they are occasions for my husband and me to get together with our children. And there’s good eating involved.
Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?
The first time I hosted Thanksgiving, rather than attending one at my parents’ house, my mother gave me very, very specific instructions about what to buy. For example, there had to be 2 Butterball frozen turkeys, both between 11 and 13 pounds. The reason for 2 is so that each of the 4 grandchildren could have a drumstick. My daughter and I were rummaging through the supermarket frozen case trying to find the exact acceptable weight for exacting Grandma. Our fingers were half frozen, and I admit that I kind of dropped a turkey on my daughter’s finger. The turkeys, by the way, were quite delicious.
How has a holiday influenced your work?
The festive, joyous celebration of Chanukah shows up in my 2 Chanukah picture books: Esther’s Hanukkah Disaster (Kar-Ben) and Aiden’s Magical Hanukkah (Hallmark).
Thanks so much for chatting, Jane! It’s been wonderful getting to know you. I wish you all the best with all of your books, and am looking forward to seeing your next book!
Connect with Jane Sutton on her website and catch up with her events and other fun activities on her blog!
What’s Up with This Chicken can be found at these booksellers:
World Egg Day Review
About the Holiday
Marking its 21st birthday, World Egg Day celebrates the health benefits of the humble egg—which offers the highest quality of protein available. An important dietary component for fulfilling the nutritional requirements of people living in both developed and developing communities, the egg is a versatile food, able to be eaten on its own or as a necessary ingredient in many recipes. Eggs are essential for fetal development, healthy brain development, maintaining concentration, aiding the immune system, and more. Today, enjoy eggs your favorite way!
What’s Up with This Chicken?
Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Peter J. Welling
When Sylvia goes out to the barn to collect the chicken’s eggs, something’s up with Trudy. She squawks and screeches when Sylvia tries to reach under her, but Sylvia takes it in stride and with humor: “‘Don’t get so egg-cited!’” she says “‘I’ll get your egg tomorrow.’” But the next day Sylvia is met with the same reaction. Trudy isn’t acting like the other chickens in Grandma’s backyard; if fact, she isn’t even acting like Trudy! “‘What’s up with this chicken?’” Sylvia wonders.
While she and Grandma enjoy “omelets with eggs from Sue, Clara, Doris, and Olga,” Sylvia tells her about “stubborn Trudy.” Grandma doesn’t know what’s wrong either. The next morning Trudy is even more obstinate. Not only does she make a racket, she tries to peck Sylvia, and she puffs “herself up to twice her size.” Sylvia also notices “that Trudy left her roost just once a day to eat, drink, and poop. She was getting skinny.”
Sylvia decides Trudy must be hungry and tries to lure her off her nest by offering chicken feed, but while all the other hens “wolfed it down like chocolate,” Trudy remains firmly on her roost. Sylvia tries everything she can think of to move Trudy, but nothing works. That night she and Grandma consult The Big Book About Chickens. Here they discover that “‘Trudy is broody!’” Grandma reads on: “‘Broody hens stay on their eggs so they will hatch into chicks.’” But Sylvia and Grandma know that Trudy’s eggs are not the kind that hatch.
Sylvia realizes that Trudy just wants to be a mother, and she wishes there were some way to help her. She thinks and thinks and finally comes up with an idea. She runs to Grandma who thinks Sylvia’s plan is “an egg-cellent idea.” A few days later a box arrives with four eggs that would hatch. With thick rubber gloves, a dose of determination, and two tries, Grandma is able to lift Trudy off her nest. Sylvia makes a quick switch of the eggs, and “Broody Trudy settled down on the new eggs.”
Trudy grows thinner every day but she stays on her roost, rolling the eggs to keep them uniformly warm and even blanketing them with her own feathers. One day Sylvia hears peeping! Grandma and she are even in time to watch the fourth little chick peck its way out of its shell. They name the new “little yellow fluff balls Sophie, Danielle, Mildred, and Judy.”
Trudy is a proud and protective mother, shielding them with her wings “like a feathery beach umbrella” and teaching them how to find food and water. Trudy goes back to her regular routine and begins gaining weight. As the chicks grow they get their own nests in Grandma’s coop. But one day Judy squawks and screeches. This time Sylvia knows exactly what’s up with this chicken!”
An Author’s Note about the real-life “Broody Trudy” that inspired the story follows the text.
With a deft and delightful understanding of the puns and humor that set kids to giggling, Jane Sutton has written a fun—and informative—story for animal lovers and anyone who loves a good, natural mystery. Through the well-paced plot and action-packed description, readers learn about a particular behavioral aspect of some chickens and the clever and sensitive way that Sylvia solves the problem. The close relationship between Sylvia and her grandmother adds charm and depth to the story, and their dialogue is spontaneous and playful.
Peter J. Welling’s bright, homey illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the story. Animated Trudy shoos Sylvia away while the other chickens take dust baths, scratch for bugs, and look just as perplexed as Sylvia and Grandma. Humorous touches abound in Grandma’s choice of home décor and Sylvia’s printed T-shirts as well as in the facial expressions of the human and feathered characters. Trudy’s chicks are adorable, and readers will cheer to see Trudy fulfill her heart’s desire.
What’s Up with This Chicken is a wonderful read-aloud for younger kids’ story times and a fun romp that will keep older, independent readers guessing and wondering how it all comes out right up to the end. The likeable characters—both human and chicken—make this a book kids will like to hear again and again!
Ages 3 – 8
Pelican Publishing, 2015 | ISBN 978-1455620852
Discover more about Jane Sutton and her books on her website!
To view a gallery of artwork plus more books for readers of all ages by Peter J. Welling, visit his website!
World Egg Day Activity
Egg Carton Chickens and a Basket Full of Games
With twelve little chickens you can come up with lots of games to play! This fun craft and game activity is eggs-actly what you need to start hatching some real fun!
- Cardboard egg carton
- White craft paint
- Markers: red, yellow, black for the face; any colors you’d like for wings and eggs
- Paint brush
- Construction or craft paper in white and a color of your choice
- Cut the notched flap off the egg carton and set aside
- Cut the top off the egg carton
- Cut apart all the egg cups and trim slightly so they sit flat
- Paint the egg cups with the white paint, let dry
- Add the face, comb and wings to the chicken with the markers. Make six chickens with one color wings and six chickens with another color wings.
- From the egg carton flap cut thirteen small egg-shaped playing pieces
- With the markers, decorate twelve of the eggs in pairs—each egg in the pair with the same design
- Color one egg yellow and add a beak, eyes, and wings to make it a chick
Games to Play
Tic-Tac-Toe (2 players)
- On a 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper draw a regular tic-tac-toe board or make it fancy – like the picket fence-inspired board in the picture
- To make the fence-inspired board on a colored background, cut 2 9-inch-long x 3/4-inch wide strips of white paper, cutting a pointed tip at one or both ends. Cut 2 white 8-inch x 3/4-inch strips of paper with a pointed tip at one or both ends. Glue the strips to the background.
- Each player chooses a set of chickens with the same colored wings
- Play the game as you usually do
Find the Matching Eggs (2 or more players)
- Have one player hide one egg under each chicken
- Shuffle the eggs around and form them into three lines of 4 chickens each
- Another player lifts one chicken at a time to find matching eggs. If the eggs don’t match, put both chickens back and start again
Where’s the Chick?
- Use as many chickens and eggs as you want (fewer for younger children, more for older)
- One player hides the chick under one of the chickens and eggs under the others.
- Another player has three chances to find the chick
I’m sure you can also design your own games for your adorable chickens to play! With more chickens you can even make a checkers set or replicate another of your favorite board games!
Picture Book Review