Born in Lockport, NY; daughter of a high-school art teacher and painter; married 1975; children: Amanda, Christopher. Education: Vermont College, M.F.A.
Home—Montclair, VA. E-mail—[email protected].
Snow Ponies, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.
At the Edge of the Woods: A Counting Book, illustrated by Reg Cartwright, Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
Abbie in Stitches, illustrated by Beth Peck, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.
This Is the Stable, illustrated by Delana Bettoli, Holt (New York, NY), 2006.
Some Babies Sleep, illustrated by Paul Tong, Philomel (New York, NY), 2007.
Fair Has Nothing to Do with It, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.
Rain Play, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, Holt (New York, NY), 2008.
As a child, Cynthia Cotten had no intention of becoming a writer. "As I was growing up, I wanted to be a teacher, a marine biologist, a U.N. interpreter and a book translator," Cotton wrote on her home page. "I loved horses so much that, for a while, I even wanted to be a jockey." However, her mother decided that horseback riding was not a good idea, so Cotten comforted herself by reading and playing with words. She continued to enjoy reading throughout school, and following high school, she spent a year in Belgium as an international exchange student.
Cotten did not begin writing until 1981, when her own daughter was two years old. When the search for a simple retelling of the Christmas story for very young children met with no success, Cotton realized that she could probably write one. She took correspondence courses and joined a local writer's group, then attended Vermont College to earn her M.F.A. in writing for children. While still enrolled in that program, she published her first picture book, Snow Ponies.
Snow Ponies describes the day, each year, when Old Man Winter releases his snow ponies and brings winter to the world. Cotten's "brief text is rich with descriptive phrases of their antics," wrote Carol Schene of the book in a review for School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the picture book "a magical read."
Cotten's next title, At the Edge of the Woods: A Counting Book, features a rhyming refrain that describes how animals, in pairs, then trios, and then larger groups, appear in succession as the sun rises over the woods. "Children will enjoy joining in on the refrain," predicted Jody McCoy in her School Library Journal review.
Cotton leaves animals behind and turns to historical fiction in Abbie in Stitches. Featuring artwork by Beth Peck, the story introduces a girl who, despite her proper upbringing in the 1800s, would much rather read than practice embroidery on her sampler. Margaret Bush called the book a "pleasant family story" and felt that it would appeal to "those who like reading about life in other times."
Cotton's intention to retell the Christmas story gained fruition in 2006. "Sometimes I get a phrase in my head," Cotten told Cynthia Leitich Smith on Cynsations online, "and it plays itself over and over until I do something about it. In this case, it was ‘the stable, dusty and brown.’" Once she had that phrase, the rest of the story followed, and the process from writing, waiting for her publishers to choose an artist, and seeing the book published took three years. Reviewing This Is the Stable, Linda Israelson wrote in School Library Journal that Cotton's "seamless, thoughtful" text features a rhyme that "is sweet but never forced." According to Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg, "the pace is just right for participatory read-alouds." After finishing her Christmas tale, Cotten wrote the lullaby Some Babies Sleep, about which a Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that the author's use of "gentle rhymes make this perfect for bedtime."
In addition to picture books, Cotten is also the author of the children's novel Fair Has Nothing to Do with It. When readers first meet him, twelve-year-old Michael feels devastated. His beloved grandfather has died, and his father is too busy to pay attention to Michael's grief. Through an art project in school and the help of a grandfatherly neighbor, Michael finally is able to cope with his feelings of loss and sadness. Fair Has Nothing to Do with It "is touching and accurate in its portrayal of the grieving process," Nicki Clausen-Grace concluded in her School Library Journal review, while Hazel Rochman wrote in Booklist that Cotton's "dramatic portrayal of Michael's grief" is "true to the child's viewpoint."
Asked by Leitich Smith what advice she would offer to aspiring picture-book writers, Cotten replied: "Read picture books—stacks of them. Take some you like and type their texts out—it gives a feel for the rhythm and flow. Do a word count on the ones you've typed—you'll probably find they're a lot shorter than you thought. Then go read some more." On her home page, Cotten admitted that writing really is her dream job. "I love kids, I love books, I love writing—and while the words don't always come easily and there are days when I find myself looking for excuses not to sit down at my computer, there is really no other job I'd rather have."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 1, 2002, Helen Rosenberg, review of At the Edge of the Woods: A Counting Book, p. 672; September 1, 2006, Julie Cummins, review of Abbie in Stitches, p. 135; November 1, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of This Is the Stable, p. 60; April 1, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of Fair Has Nothing to Do with It, p. 44.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 2002, review of At the Edge of the Woods, p. 102; September, 2007, Hope Morrison, review of Fair Has Nothing to Do with It, p. 13.
Horn Book, November-December, 2006, Tanya D. Auger, review of This Is the Stable, p. 689.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2001, review of Snow Ponies, p. 1481; July 1, 2002, review of At the Edge of the Woods, p. 952; August 1, 2006, review of Abbie in Stitches, p. 783; November 1, 2006, review of This Is the Stable, p. 1127; December 1, 2006, review of Some Babies Sleep, p. 1218; May 1, 2007, review of Fair Has Nothing to Do with It.
Publishers Weekly, August 26, 2002, review of At the Edge of the Woods, p. 66; September 25, 2006, review of This Is the Stable, p. 70.
School Library Journal, December, 2001, Carol Schene, review of Snow Ponies, p. 97; June, 2003, Jody McCoy, review of At the Edge of the Woods, p. 98; September, 2006, Margaret Bush, review of Abbie in Stitches, p. 164; October, 2006, Linda Israelson, review of This Is the Stable, p. 95; June, 2007, Nicki Clausen-Grace, review of Fair Has Nothing to Do with It, p. 142.
Cynsations Web site,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (December 5, 2006), Cynthia Leitich Smith, interview with Cotten.
Cynthia Cotten Home Page,http://www.cynthiacotten.com (March 5, 2008).