Cutler was born in 1936 in Bronx, New York, United States. At age 6, she moved to Clayton, Missouri and attended Glenridge School, where she was encouraged to write and participate in sports and drama. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at Northwestern University in 1958 and a Master of Arts in creative writing at San Francisco State University in 1982.
Cutler is married and has three children. After graduating from San Francisco State University, she spent ten years raising her children before publishing her first book in 1991. Besides her work as a professional book writer, Cutler has taught children's writing and short story writing at San Francsico State University and Foothill College. Cutler currently lives in San Francisco, California.
Cutler primarily writes books for small children, but she has also written novels for older readers - young adults, including The Song of the Molimo and My Wartime Summers. Though Cutler often chooses serious topics for her writings, such as war, cultural differences, and learning disabilities; her works are described as "never out of reach of her young readers."
In some of her fiction books, Cutler mixes real people and events with imaginary ones. She also does researches about subjects in her works, such as studying about red-legged frog before writing Leap, Frog, and studying about World War II in Europe before writing My Wartime Summers.
Cutler's first picture book for children was Darcy and Gran Don't Like Babies, published in 1993. In 1999, she was chosen by The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books as one of the rising stars of the year.
Cutler received a Herbert Wilner Award for short fiction in 1982 and a PEN prize for short fiction in 1987. In 1994, her book My Wartime Summers became a Notable Social Studies Trade Book (NCSS/CBC). In 1996, Mr. Carey's Garden garnered her a Show Me Readers Award nomination by Missouri Association of School Librarians. Another book, Rats! was listed among Hawaii’s List of Suggested Titles for the 1998 Nene Award.
The next year, Cutler published Spaceman, which received nominations for a 2000 William Allen White Children's Book Award. Her 1999 children book The Cello of Mr. O was one of her most successful works, receiving a Patterson Prize for Books for Young People, a Zena Sutherland Award for Children's Literature, a New Mexico Land of Enchantment Book Award, and a Golden Kite Award nomination. This book was adapted into a musical in Japan.
Cutler's 1998 book The song of Molimo was nominated for a Lamplighter Award 2001-1002.