Jane Cutler (1936–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1936, in New York, NY; Education: Northwestern University, B.A. (English), 1958; San Francisco State University, M.A. (creative writing), 1982. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, swimming, hiking, theater, art, music.
Agent—Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, 1501 Broadway, Ste. 2310, New York, NY 10036.
Writer, editor, and writing teacher.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, National Organization for Women, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Herbert Wilner Award for short fiction, 1982; PEN prize for short fiction, 1987; Show Me Readers Award nomination, Missouri Association of School Librarians, for Mr. Carey's Garden; Nene Reading List for Hawaii Schools nomination, for Rats!; nominations for William Allen White Children's Book Award and Mark Twain Award; Best Children's Books of the Year designation, Bank Street College of Education, for The Song of the Molimo; Master List includee, New York Public Library, 1999, and Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young Readers, Children's Book Council, Patterson Prize for Books for Young People, and Zena Sutherland Award for Children's Literature, all 2000, New Mexico Land of Enchantment Book Award, 2002–03, and Golden Kite Award nomination, all for The Cello of Mr. O; Lamplighter Award, 2002; featured author in Virginia Festival of the Book, 2005.
NOVELS; FOR CHILDREN
Family Dinner, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1991.
No Dogs Allowed ("Fraser Brothers" series), illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1992.
My Wartime Summers, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1994.
Rats! ("Fraser Brothers" series), illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.
Spaceman, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
The Song of the Molimo, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
'Gator Aid ("Fraser Brothers" series), illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1999.
Leap, Frog ("Fraser Brothers" series), illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
Commonsense and Fowls, illustrated by Lynne Barasch, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
PICTURE BOOKS; FOR CHILDREN
Darcy and Gran Don't Like Babies, illustrated by Susannah Ryan, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Mr. Carey's Garden, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1996.
The Cello of Mr. O, illustrated by Greg Couch, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.
The Birthday Doll, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
Rose and Riley, illustrated by Thomas F. Yezerski, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
Rose and Riley Come and Go, illustrated by Thomas F. Yezerski, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of adult short stories to periodicals, including American Girl, Redbook, North American Review, and the Chicago Tribune; editor and author of textbooks, encyclopedias, and developed remedial reading materials for children.
The Cello of Mr. O was adapted as a musical produced in Tokyo, Japan, 2004.
Work in Progress
Guttersnipe, an illustrated picture book for older readers; a middle-grade novel about victims of the Holocaust who fled to Shanghai.
Born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in rural Missouri, Jane Cutler has created a number of well-received novels and picture books that focus on American family life. Her highly praised books for younger children range from picture books such as The Birthday Doll to beginning chapter books in the "Rosie and Riley" series to novels for older readers, such as the award-winning The Cello of Mr. O, which Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin dubbed a "touching story about hope, courage, and the way people surprise us."
Admitting to a love of writing that began in childhood, Cutler earned a master's degree in creative writing in 1982 before putting her writing career on the back burner for over a decade while raising her three children. Eventually returning to writing, she published her first juvenile novel, Family Dinner, in 1991, and followed that up two years later with her first picture book, Darcy and Gran Don't Like Babies. As Deborah Stevenson noted of Cutler's work in a review for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, her writing "is tender and thoughtful, humorous and sensitive, but never out of reach of her young readers."
A vole and groundhog who are the best of friends are introduced in the easy-reader Rose and Riley. In three stories, readers are treated to the kindness and concern shown by the happy-go-lucky Riley as he watches his friend Little Rose worry about all manner of things, even wasting sunny days waiting for rain. The duo's adventures continue in Rose and Riley Come and Go, which contains "intriguing" wordplay and an "unassuming but puckish text" that will entrance fledgling readers, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer.
For veteran bookworms, Cutler has written several novels that feature brothers Edward and Jason Fraser. Rambunctious, likeable characters, the Fraser brothers find themselves embroiled in one humorous situation after another: from encounters with the neighborhood bully and pretending to be a dog to taking a camping trip, making the annual school clothes shopping trip, caring for pet rats, and dealing with pesky and over-attentive girls. Reviewing No Dogs Allowed, the first book in the "Fraser Brothers" series, a Kirkus Reviews critic commented that Cutler's "dialogue is on target, and the brothers make an entertaining pair," whose activities will appeal to readers who have enjoyed books by such well-known authors as Beverly Cleary and Johanna Hurwitz. Jana R. Fine also commented, in her review
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for School Library Journal, on the realistic characters and "upbeat and lightweight" tone, while in Publishers Weekly a critic suggested that although the story's tone is "surprisingly funny," the "humor masks weightier matters."
Rats!, 'Gator Aid, and Leap, Frog continue the series about third grader Edward and his older brother Jason. The plots of the novels are lighthearted and full of typical childhood antics. In Leap, Frog, for instance, when overly active first grader Charley moves in next door and adopts the Fraser family for his own, Jason's school project—hatching eggs for a school sex-ed class—is derailed and the youngster's hyperactivity begins to affect even Edward and Jason's parents. Nancy Vasilakis, writing in Horn Book, praised Rats! for its "convincing characterizations" and "lighthearted humor that will appeal to those children who have read through Beverly Cleary and are looking for more." Although Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper found Cutler's humor somewhat forced, she added that "There are still some very funny moments." 'Gator Aid was described by Horn Book critic Vasilakis as an "undemanding, light read with characters a notch or two above stereotypes," while Booklist critic Stephanie Zvirin cited the story's "pleasant comedy," and the story's "thought provoking undercurrent" about the way casual statements quickly become outrageous rumors. Leap, Frog was praised by School Library Journal contributor Debbie Stewart for its "satisfying plot, … humorous characterizations, warm and realistic family interactions, and light mood," while Todd Morning predicted that middle-grade readers would enjoy the antics of Cutler's "loving (if slightly eccentric)" fictional family in Booklist. "What makes these stories so inviting," added Maggie McEwen of the series in School Library Journal, "is Cutler's exceptional talent for describing events from the boys' rather literal point of view."
Other middle-grade novels include the historical fare My Wartime Summers and The Song of the Molimo, A first-person novel set in midwestern America during World War II, My Wartime Summers follows Ellen as she matures from a young girl into a teenager over three wartime summers during which she gradually becomes aware of the war and what it means in human terms. The Song of the Molimo takes place during the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where Ota Benga (a real historical figure) and four other African Pygmies have been put on display in the anthropology exhibit. Twelve-year-old Harry Jones and his cousin Frederick, who is in charge of caring for the Pygmies, realize that these men deserve the same respect as other humans—an enlightened view in their prejudiced society—and plan to save their new friends.
Cultural misunderstanding are the focus of Common Sense and Fowls, which finds a small neighborhood in a turmoil. One of the residents, the foreign-born Mrs. Krnc, takes pity on the local pigeons and sets out food, which attracts more of the birds to the area. Led by Mr. Gioia, who finds the messy birds problematic, a plan is hatched to send Mrs. Krnc to a retirement home, but through the help of children Rachel and Brian, a more reasonable compromise is eventually reached in a book that a Kirkus Reviews writer dubbed "thought provoking." Praising the illustrations by Lynne Barasch, School Library Journal contributor Deanna Romriell cited Cutler for her "cast of likable and interesting characters," and praised the novel's "satisfying resolution."
Highly praised for its value to young readers with learning disabilities, Spaceman introduces fifth-grader Gary. Due to his learning disabilities, Gary earned the nickname "spaceman" because he "spaces out" when under pressure, but after he is transferred to a special-needs classroom, he improves under the tutelage of a talented teacher. "Gary is a kid misunderstood and misplaced, and his dilemma is one with which many children can identify," asserted Janice M. Del Negro in her review of the novel for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Writing for School Library Journal, Janet M. Bair suggested that classroom teachers could make good use of Spaceman due to the book's ability to "encourage discussion and promote empathy towards those who have different learning styles." "This compelling story … will help increase awareness and empathy," added Lauren Peterson in her Booklist review.
In addition to novels for middle-grade readers, Cutler has also penned several picture books. In Darcy and Gran Don't Like Babies she shows how one grandmother deals with her granddaughter's feelings of jealously toward the new baby in the house, while Mr. Carey's Garden treats a more unusual topic: snails eating holes in Mr. Carey's plants. When his gardening neighbors suggest various ways of killing the snails, they are baffled at his negative response, until one night they discover the snails' secret beauty. "A succinct but beautiful lesson in tolerance and understanding" is how Judith Constantinides described this work in School Library Journal. Stephanie Zvirin also added praise in Booklist, called Mr. Carey's Garden "quiet" yet with "meaning that carries on beyond the confines of the story."
The recipient of numerous awards, The Cello of Mr. O describes the response of an elderly cellist to life in a war-ravaged community. By playing his cello amidst the ravages of war, Mr. O brings hope through his music. According to Ilene Cooper in Booklist, Cutler manages to "overlay the everyday horrors of war with a patina of hope." The author's "focus on turning calamity on its head will likely have an uplifting effect on readers young and old," enthused a Publishers Weekly critic. In The Birthday Doll when Franny receives both an old rag doll and a new, impressive talking doll as gifts from friends at her birthday party, the girl learns that a fancy exterior does not always have much depth. Calling The Birthday Doll "a surefire hit for doll lovers," School Library Journal reviewer Rosalyn Pierini also praised Cutler's portrait of "a bouncy heroine and a loving home," while a Publishers Weekly contributor deemed the picture book "a childlike and thoughtful offering."
About her works, Cutler once told Something about the Author: "My own books are built around my characters: thoughtful characters, idiosyncratic characters, humorous characters. It is people who interest me most, and the books reflect this. But, like every writer, I need also to concern myself with plot—there has to be a story, after all! Fortunately, my characters have busy, active lives, which are, like most lives, full of stories."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Rats!, p. 932; March 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Mr. Carey's Garden, p. 1268; March 15, 1997, Lauren Peterson, review of Spaceman, p. 1242; October 15,
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1998, p. 420; August, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of 'Gator Aid, p. 2056; December 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of The Cello of Mr. O, p. 782; November 1, 2002, Todd Morning, review of Leap, Frog, p. 490.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Spaceman, p. 318; October, 1998, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Song of the Molimo, pp. 55-56; August, 1999, Deborah Stevenson, "Jane Cutler."
Horn Book, May-June, 1996, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Rats!, pp. 334-335; September, 1999, Nancy Vasilakis, review of 'Gator Aid, p. 609; September-October, 2002, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Leap, Frog, p. 569.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1992, review of No Dogs Allowed, p. 1374; October 15, 2002, review of Leap, Frog, p. 1527; February 1, 2004, review of The Birthday Doll, p. 130; February, 2005, review of Rose and Riley, p. 227; March 1, 2005, review of Common Sense and Fowls, p. 285; July 1, 20005, review of Rose and Riley Come and Go, p. 733.
Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1992, review of No Dogs Allowed, p. 85; August 15, 1994, review of My Wartime Summers, p. 96; April 17, 1995, p. 62; February 24, 1997, review of Spaceman, p. 92; August, 16, 1999, review of The Cello of Mr. O, p. 84; February 2, 2004, review of The Birthday Doll, p. 76.
School Library Journal, December, 1992, Jana R. Fine, review of No Dogs Allowed, p. 80; November, 1994, Louise L. Sherman, review of My Wartime Summers, p. 102; April, 1996, Maggie McEwen, review of Rats!, p. 106; May, 1996, Judith Constantinides, review of Mr. Carey's Garden, p. 91; May, 1997, Janet M. Bair, review of Spaceman, p. 131; October, 2002, Debbie Stewart, review of Leap, Frog, p. 100; March, 2004, Rosalyn Pierini, review of The Birthday Doll, p. 156; March, 2005, Deanna Romriell, review of Rose and Riley, and Anne Knickerbocker, review of Common Sense and Fowls, p. 170.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1999, Brenda Moses-Allen, review of The Song of the Molimo, p. 112.
Jane Cutler Web site, http://www.janecutler.com (July 5, 2005).
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