The Prouty

If you’ve read my blog recently you know that this spring I jumped into the sport of the triathlon, wetsuit and all. While really good triathletes are really good at all three sports: swimming, biking, and running, many triathletes have one sports that was the entry point. For me, it was cycling. I’m not a Time Trial expert. I don’t go cruising down mountains at break neck speeds. I don’t have a helmet shaped like an ice cream cone. For me, cycling brings me a sense of freedom. It takes me away from my domestic responsibilities, the deadlines of school, and the stress of work. No one calls me Mom. There is no email, no reading, just the sweat and strain of attacking the hills and the rush of going down the other side.

Now I’m using all my bike training to ride in honor of Norma Fox Mazer for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in their charity ride, The Prouty. If you are a member of the kidslitosphere, you probably have read Norma’s books. If you are a VCFA alum, you may have had Norma as an advisor. I hope you’ll consider donating $5, $10, or $20 to my efforts or the efforts of my team the "Bike Writers." We are a group of VCFA students and alum who write for children: Sarah Aronson, Tami Lewis Brown, Eric Pinder and myself.

If you donate, send me a message or leave a LJ or Facebook Comment with the name of a song that inspires you. I’ll put your song on my "Inspire" playlist and listen to it while I train. If you can’t donate, post a link to this blog or my donation page on your Facebook profile or twitter about our efforts. Thanks for helping us meet our fund raising goals!

Book Review Wednesday: Don’t Call Me Sidney





Today on Book Review Wednesday, we welcome Jane Sutton and her main character Sidney. Jane’s picture book, Don’t Call Me Sidney  just launched last week and I am so happy to have her here at Creative Chaos. Jane is a New England author of seven books for children. According to her website, Jane likes to laugh, ride her bike, watch the Red Sox play baseball, do crossword puzzles, travel, and dance and sing along to rock music.

Sidney, and his friend Gabie the duck, were imaged by Italian illustrator, Renata Gallio. It may have been more appropriate to invite Sidney for a poetry Friday post. Yes, Sidney the pig is a poet– a poet with a problem. You would have a problem too, if you couldn’t find anything to rhyme with your name.

The funniest thing about Sidney’s problem is that he creates it himself. He is not poet enough to restructure his lines, instead he chooses to rename himself “Joe,” a name with plenty of rhyming possibility.  In doing this, Jane digs a deeper more meaningful problem for Sidn–, I mean Joe. Who is he really, and what’s in a name? Sidney solves his problem and revises his poetry on his own, to make a very satisfying ending.

In addition to wonderful facial and body expression, Renata Gallio creates character by giving Sidney a never-ending supply of scrap paper. Throughout the book, we see Sidney’s thought process on the papers that trail behind him or are taped to furniture, walls, and buildings.  (Like Sidney, I often have purses and pockets full of scrawled scraps. Ah… the life of the writer.) This is a wonderful example of the illustrator extending the story. Renata Gallio uses acrylics, collage, pencil and a muted palette to create Sidney and his friends.

Welcome Jane and thanks for bringing Sidney. Just a few questions:

Most picture book authors expect to wait two to three years for their manuscripts to go from contract to pub date. I understand that you sold the Don’t Call Me Sidney manuscript in 2001, but it is only just being released this week. Congratulations! Can you give us a short history of the obstacles this manuscript faced on the road to publication?

Don’t Call Me Sidney
was originally Don’t Call Me Mortimer, a sequel to The Trouble With Cauliflower, published in 2006.  When we learned the sequel wouldn’t work out, my editor and I decided that I should rewrite the text with new characters since the second book would have a different illustrator. It took a long time to find the right illustrator for the project. But she was definitely worth waiting for! Actually, I think the extra wait has made the release of the book feel all the sweeter. I’m dancing in the streets! No neighbors have called the police as yet.

Seeing an illustrator’s interpretation on a manuscript you’ve sold can be a moment full of fear and joy. Did you have any preconceived notions about Sidney? Had you imagined Sidney as a pig? How much artistic input does Dial encourage from its authors?

I originally pictured Sidney as a monkey, but that was back when he was Mortimer, who turned out to be a koala bear. When Renata Gallio took over as illustrator, I had no idea what animal she would choose. I was thrilled to see the sketches for the pig and with his friend Gabie, a duck. What I value in illustrations–besides their being pleasing to look at, funny, and clear as to what’s happening–are facial expressions. And Sidney’s emotions are very apparent via Renata’s facial expressions. I especially appreciate the love so clearly shown between Sidney and his mom. And by the way, I dedicated the book to my own son, so that aspect is especially sweet to me. Sorry, I’m getting ferklempt.

OK, I’ve recovered. You asked about artistic input encouraged by Dial from authors. I’ve had several editors at Dial, and each has been very welcoming of my input. We’ve had constructive, mutually respectful dialogue about the artwork’s depiction of text and sub-text.

Your last two books have been illustrated by overseas artists. Do you see a different aesthetic sensibility between American and European or Australian illustrators?

Wow, that’s a really interesting question, Anna. Jim Harris, the illustrator of The Trouble With Caulilfower, is an American who lives in New Zealand, but his seeing koala bears in a zoo in Australia influenced his choosing of that cute little guy for the main character, and he made his diminutive size and other features realistic. With the new book, I think that the Italian illustrator Renata Gallio’s buildings look very European, and I love them, and I want to leave for a trip to Italy immediately.

Many of your books, including Don’t Call Me Sidney, are packed with humor. How do you approach humor in a picture book manuscript? How much of the humor is a part of the original story idea and how much of your work is amping up the yucks in revision?


Another good question. You’re making me think here, Anna! Humor is always there from the beginning for me. A good laugh for me is better than (fill in the blank with a noun). As I revise, I look for opportunities to add more. I was thrilled with the additional humor the illustrator brought to the book. For example, as Sidney is thinking up more rhymeable names, she has him writing them on post-it notes, which I think is adorable.  Along with my original concept for a book, there’s always a message, but I try to be subtle about it.


Hmmm… fill in the blank with a noun? If I asked my boys they’d say toilet, underwear or poop. That works right?

What are some things that make your school programs unique? Can you give us a sneak peak at how you’ll bring Sidney to classrooms this fall?

I won’t claim uniqueness on this, but I show the kids really messy drafts as I talk about my writing process. I like to emphasize that good writing entails a lot of rewriting. Teachers love that message. They’re in the back of the room, nodding and smiling and thinking, “See? I’ve been telling you guys that all year, and now a professional writer is telling you!” My programs are interactive. I engage in dialogue with the students. It probably helps that I can use my humor and that I’m immature (or charmingly childlike, depending on your point of view), so I relate well to kids.


Since Don’t Call Me Sidney features a poetry-writing pig, I plan to offer rhyming activities—simple ones with younger children and, with older children, I’ll explore other forms of poetry and talk about how rhyming poetry can sometimes inhibit meaning. I take requests from teachers for the types of programs I offer; for example, since I’ve written four novels, sometimes I’ll do a session on character development or writing from one’s own experience. Now that teachers are pressured to meet standards, I’m giving them guidelines about my books matching those scary, looming language arts standards, plus follow-up activities they can use.

Marketing is more and more the responsibility of the author these days. What marketing events or activities are you planning around the launch of Don’t Call Me Sidney?

Dial provided a detailed kit about promotion, and I have tried to be very conscientious, bordering on compulsive, about it. I created an author’s page on Amazon, updated my website, and announced the book to alumni magazines, Facebook, and listserves.  I’m making the rounds to local bookstores and libraries with a page of reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist and Kirkus that has a bookmark stapled to it and a little note about my willingness to do events, etc. I have no dates to share yet, but hope to be doing several story hours this summer, school visits in the fall, and appearances on Letterman and Oprah (OK, those last 2 are just daydreams).


Wow! I love the idea about the bookmark stapled to the review sheet. Thanks for the advice, Jane and thanks for bringing Sidney to Book Review Wednesday. Next time you come to Maine, bring your bike and we’ll do a ride. Enjoy the launch of Don’t Call Me Sidney.

Five on Friday

1. Today begins writer’s camp weekend. I get to read some work. I’m choosing the piece I feel most uncomfortable about and hoping for some direction or spark.

2. I finished a week of LL Bean orientation and feel confident about wearing the Bean Green shirt with pride.

3. Our garden looks beautiful because my wonderful husband bought seedlings and planted and weeded and watered while I was…

4. …finishing my final writing packet of my second VCFA semester! I still need to do my end of semester evals and polish my presentation but I am essential done and looking forward to…

5. Riding in the Prouty. Now, only my family donated to my triathlon efforts on behalf of our local YMCA and I totally understand that. But I’ll be riding with a group of children’s writers on the "Bike Writer" team in honor of the amazing Norma Fox Mazer. I hope some of you will find $5 or $10 that you could donate to cancer research. Thanks so much!

Five on Friday

1. Deadlines approacheth. I’m working on a difficult revision of a picture book with civil rights information. Questions such as how to be developmentally appropriate, not be preachy, and show not tell are swirling around my computer today. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been writing for children these always seem to be the crucial questions.  Also working on my picture book presentation for the VCFA July residency.

2. My second triathlon is on Sunday morning. The experience of the first has taken away some of my pre-race jitters so I’m mostly excited. I’ve decided that triathlons are sort of like child birth. You forget the pain after you enjoy the emotional high of the finish line.

3. Good news on the job front! I’ll be teaching an integrated 5/6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies class at The Friends School of Portland coming September. The four morning a week schedule should be perfect for completing my VCFA critical thesis. (You can remind me I said this when I’m pulling out my hair in November.) LL Bean has also hired me to a retail sales job at their camping department. Stop by if you’re in Maine this summer and I’ll show you some tents!

4. My son was part of a Civil War reenactment this week. I have to say, it was a little uncomfortable watching our children in this romanticized version of war especially when we are in a war right now. We need to ask our children to contemplate the effectiveness and cost of battle to reach political ends. By teaching war do we beget more war or preclude it? What is worth fighting for?

5. Again, with the Civil War… I always felt that my understanding of this atrocious loss of life was always distilled to the lowest common denominator. "The good north was fighting to free the slaves from the bad south." As I’ve gotten older and done some study of my own, I find that the facts are much more nuanced than that. Why do we persist in teaching this distilled version?

PS: if you see me on facebook this weekend, tell me to get back to work.