Author brings history to life at Willington Public Library

By Kitty LeShay - ReminderNews
Willington - posted Thu., May. 19, 2011
Jane Sutcliffe, children’s author and biographer, reads from her most recent book, ‘Leonardo’s Monster.’ Photos by Kitty LeShay.
Jane Sutcliffe, children’s author and biographer, reads from her most recent book, ‘Leonardo’s Monster.’ Photos by Kitty LeShay.

Jane Sutcliffe, children’s author and biographer, gave her audience a glimpse of the process that occurs before those delightful and colorful children’s books reach library and bookstore shelves. Her May 12 presentation at the Willington Public Library included a reading of her most recent book, “Leonardo’s Monster,” and served as an opening to discussing the research which goes into writing books that can often be read in 10 minutes.

“Even though it took me a short time to read this book, it took me a year and a half to research,” Sutcliffe said.

Debra Linares, program director at the Willington Public Library, wanted children to meet the woman who makes extraordinary people seem very human. “I have wanted Jane to come for a long time. I would like the kids to know that anything is possible,” she said.

“Leonardo’s Monster” is about the great artist Leonardo da Vinci’s teenage years. “I thought that writing about Leonardo’s childhood and teenage years would make an interesting story,” the author said. “I love finding out about people, what influenced them during their childhoods and why they chose the paths they did," she explained. “There is special magic to a true story,” she added.

Sutcliffe’s biographies generally are written about famous people who have already died, because the biographies follow a cradle-to-grave formula. But when speaking to a group of students in Somers, Sutcliffe asked them who they would like her to write about, and they requested a book about the current president. “Who would have thought Barack Obama would be president when you see his fifth-grade picture?” Sutcliffe said.

Research takes a great amount of time. Sutcliffe tries to visit the places where her subjects lived, as well as any museums connected with their lives, and combs over primary sources. She said her favorite book is a biography about John Adams. “He kept a diary and wrote a lot about himself, which allowed me to get close to who he was,” she said. “Everyone I have written about, I have been passionate about learning about their lives.”

Sutcliffe’s series is called “History Makers” and the books are targeted to third- and fourth-grade readers.

“A good first step to becoming a writer is to be a reader. I can go to the library in Providence and find all those biographies I read as a child,” she said. Good advice to give in a library filled with written treasures.


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