The Art of Picture Book Making Workshop: SO MUCH FUN!

DSC_5452Saturday morning I was joined by twenty enthusiastic K – 5th graders for a special workshop on the “Art Of Picture Book Making” hosted by the wonderful book-loving staff at the Cranford Public Library.

Using GOODNIGHT, ARK as the example, we took a little journey with Noah and the animals to see how a picture book idea goes from spark to publication.

DSC_5474We also explored what makes picture books special.  They are the only literary genre, with the exception perhaps of the graphic novel, in which the text and illustrations work together to tell the story.  Neither is complete without the other.

DSC_5462After looking for examples of this in GOODNIGHT, ARK the children got busy brainstorming and writing their own picture books.


DSC_5469I know they were having fun because when our time was up, no one wanted to leave!  The librarian graciously extended our work time by fifteen minutes.  Hooray for young writers and illustrators! And hooray for picture books!

Thank you, Redeemer Lutheran and Barnes and Noble!

IMG_0145I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon sharing GOODNIGHT, ARK with Redeemer Lutheran Nursery School at their Barnes and Noble book fair.

First, I introduced those stinky skunks!

IMG_0152 Then I read the story.  “All aboard!”


Afterwards there was a scavenger hunt and a Noah’s Ark themed craft.

Thank you Barnes and Noble and Redeemer for having me! I think we all had a great time!

TWO BY TWO: Counting Activities for GOODNIGHT, ARK

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Almost every little one who reads GOODNIGHT, ARK instinctively wants to count the animals that fill each colorful page.  So, seizing upon that intrinsic love, here are some fun counting activities to engage those emerging mathematicians. Enjoy!

All Aboard: After reading the opening where Noah invites the animals to board the ark, pause with your child to look for pairs of animals, counting a simple one, two, for each pair.  Extra challenge: Count ALL the animals boarding the ark.

Off to Bed Two-by-Two: For this spread, first look for pairs, counting a simple one, two per pair.   Extra challenge: Count the animals by twos ( 2, 4, 6, 8 etc.) to see how many are settling down for the night.

Now how many? (Adding on): As the story unfolds, different pairs of animals head for Noah’s bed. For each spread, count how many animals are in (or under) the bed already.  Then add on the number of newcomers.  Example:  On the fifth spread, there are two boar and two skunks for a total of four.  They are joined by two quail and two sheep. Kids can add those to the four by counting up, five, six, seven, eight.  Extra challenge:  Create number sentences to add up each new total:  4+4=8 or 4+2+2= 8.

Category Count: In this fun variation, have your little ones count by category. Example: How many animals with wings are there? How many animals with stripes How many animals with scales? How many insects?

What If? (Subtracting):  For this activity, have fun counting up your bed totals on each page and then wonder together how many would be left if a particular animal, or pair of animals, decided to head back down to their own bunks.

EXTENSION: (Inspired by my daughter who baked the cookies picture above).  Bake and decorate pairs of animal cookies. Then use them to practice all the different kinds of counting we’ve explored today. Once you’ve finished counting, have a cookie snack.

Have fun!

FINDING LOST TREASURES: Some Writerly Thoughts

TILESI’m blogging over at Pens And Brushes today on the magic of finding hidden tiles and how that inspires me as a writer.  If you have time please pop on over.  I’ll make it easy for you. Press HERE.

GUEST POST: Glean Frogs with Illustrator Julie Rowan-Zoch

FrogSleepwalkingToday it is my pleasure to have talented picture book illustrator and writer, Julie Rowan-Zoch, as my guest. Julie and I first connected when she was inspired to create the “Picture Books That Pack a P.U.N.C.H.” badge displayed on my sidebar after reading my post on that subject back in 2012.  Since then, she’s been busy, busy, and busy and just last month celebrated the publication of three board books which she illustrated:  You’re Here!, You’re One! and You’re Two! written by Karla Oceanak and published by Bailiwick Press. Congratulations, Julie!  Today she’s with us to share some creative thoughts on gleaning.  Take it away, Julie!

During hobby-time when I was in 2nd grade, Ricky Spiro brought in a live frog to dissect. It was so cool to watch him pull out the guts and examine them. Finally he pulled out the beating heart. Kinda gross, but I was totally into it! (I brought in my gum wrapper chain, by the way.)

And my interest in examining things beyond the surface remains. After I watch films, I watch the director’s commentaries. They reveal what had to be taken out, or left in to keep the heart of the movie beating. Interesting, and sometimes minute details can click with me and a story I’m working on.

Recently I watched Philomena (again!) on dvd and the interview with Judi Dench. She told of three pieces of advice she had gotten during her career, and my ears perked: Hal Prince had cast her as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, and said to her, “Do remember, if you speak in one way, you musn’t stop and sing in another.”

Days later I watched a high school kid doing a great job portraying Lester in The Addams Family musical, but he sang in a different voice. Beautiful, but completely different, and it stood out like a very sore thumb. As a viewer, I was thrown completely out of the story.

BUT that’s when it clicked into place for me: speaking and singing are forms of communication, just like text, dialogue, and illustrations. Year-by-Year Board Book Series:BailiwickI need to develop my character illustrations, to ‘sing’ in the same way as they speak too!

What else did she say? Interest piqued? Peter Hall told her, “Never think you have to play all of a person in one scene, just play an aspect of a person in each scene and with any luck, it will add up.” The third thing didn’t click, but maybe for you: “Don’t fret over what anyone says about you.” I stopped that a long time ago!

Now back to the frog and my own advice: don’t look away, perk your ears, and you might glean something!

Julie Rowan-Zoch Julie is a reformed graphic designer, turned picture book maker. Originally from New York, she spent a big chunk of her life in Germany, and transplanted to Colorado. Three board books she illustrated for Bailiwick Press released in October 2014.  You learn more about Julie and her work on her blog, Facebook and Pinterest

It’s Raining RHYMES!: A Rhyme-Based Extension Activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK

IMG_0124Identifying and creating rhymes is a great way for little ones to build phonemic awareness. With that in mind, here’s an activity that builds upon the rhymes in GOODNIGHT, ARK.

GOAL: After reading GOODNIGHT, ARK  K – 2nd grade classes will create their own rhyming storms, then use their class-generated “rhyme drops” to play some rhyming games.

Here’s how:

1. Cut several white clouds and colorful raindrops from sturdy paper. Tape or glue  two or three ribbon strands to each cloud.

2. Select several of your favorite rhyming word pairs from GOODNIGHT, ARK.

3. Print one word pair on each cloud.

4. Using the pairs from the story as examples, have kids generate other rhyming rain drops.  Hang drops from the appropriate ribbons with paper clips.

5. Once you have your storm of rhyming words, play some “Rhyme-Drop” games. Here are three to get you started.

 Match the “Rhyme Drops”:  Place six different pairs of “rhyme drops” (from different clouds) face down.  With a partner, or independently, turn two “rhyme drops” over at at time.  If they rhyme, keep them.  If not, turn them back over and try again. For added challenge, try placing more pairs face down or place them down in rhyming sets of three (triplets version).

Create “Rhyme Drop” Sentences: Use two or more of the rhyming words dangling from each cloud to write sentences.  Ex:

sheep/sleep  –  “Time to sleep, sheep.”

shark/ark  –  “Was there a shark on the ark?”

snake/awake/shake   –  “I hear a rattle-shake. I think the snake’s awake!”

Play “Rhyme Drop” Bop:  In this variation of “Duck, Duck, Goose” all the children sit in a circle on the floor (or outside). Instead of saying “duck, duck, duck”, the child who is “it” says all rhyming words.  When he/she say a word that breaks the rhyming pattern the “goose” chase begins.  Ex:  “crash, flash, sash, smash… shark!”

PUMPKIN TIME: Thoughts on Carving Stories

IMG_1284The way I see it, the stories we write are like pumpkins. The good ones are well-rounded with firm plots. They also possess a certain quirkiness, or one-of-a-kind feel, just like those jack-o-lanterns we enjoy at this time of year.

But here’s the thing. Even if you think your current pumpkin-in-progress is the best pumpkin you’ve ever written, most likely it could still use a good scooping out. Sure, extracting the extraneous goopy bits from your story will be messy, perhaps even disheartening. You may say to yourself, I’m taking out all the best parts. You may may even worry that there’s nothing left!

But, getting rid of the goop will help you hone the structural essence of your story. All those gloppy first-draft ramblings will have been scooped away. Then, to make your story glow, you will need to carve your pumpkin’s soul (i.e. face) with purpose and heart. Add jagged teeth (conflict) and a penetrating gaze (character). Maybe even carve in some goofy eyebrows (humor). Don’t rush. Savor the process. And when you are ready, light a candle and see if your story, er pumpin, glows! If it does, rejoice! If not, double check to make sure you haven’t overlooked any hidden goop. Then keep carving as necessary.

But don’t toss that goop out too quickly! For tangled in those slimy strings, you will find something precious – seeds. For various reasons, these discarded seeds didn’t fit your current pumpkin’s plot. But if saved and explored later, a special few of them may germinate into new and completely different, but wonderfully creative pieces.

Happy Pumpkin Carving all! And don’t forget to save the seeds.

FALL CRAFT: Spooky Halloween Rings

spooky halloween ringsI like making and writing crafts for many reasons. As a former teacher, I find they’re a valuable and fun way to teach kids how to follow step-by step directions. The written directions can also be used as models to teach kids how to write their own instructions. As a writer, I find they’re a refreshing change of pace from my regular writing mode. As a mom, I find they’re a  good excuse to spend special time with my kids. They are also a great activity for playdates.

So, in celebration of Halloween, writing, creativity and playdates, here’s an easy craft you can make with your kids using plastic ring tabs.

Spooky Halloween Rings


Laura Sassi

What you Need:

  • plastic ring tabs (from juice or milk cartons)
  • felt scraps: orange, black, white, green
  • black embroidery thread
  • white tacky glue
  • scissors

How to Make It: 

  1. Trace and cut out simple Halloween shapes such as a cat, pumpkin, or ghost from black, orange, or white felt. Glue these on to the round part of the plastic ring tab.
  2. For the pumpkin, cut eyes and toothy grin from black felt and a stem from green felt. Glue on.
  3. For the ghost, glue on two eyes and an oval mouth cut from black felt scraps.
  4. For the cat, cut and glue two green felt eyes. Snip four two-inch strands of embroidery thread , tying them together with a central knot. Snip the ends till the are perfect whisker length and glue in place.
  5. Once dry, slip the rings on your fingers and enjoy!


SPECIAL OFFER for TEACHERS: Let GOODNIGHT, ARK sail into your classroom with a FREE Skype Visit!

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To celebrate the release of my debut picture book GOODNIGHT, ARK, I am offering  a dozen free Skype visits which can be scheduled anytime between now and December 19th.

For each 15 – 30 minute FREE Skype visit I will:


Bring along my pet skunks (puppets) to aid in the storytelling.

Have the kids help feed the skunks (with your help and a piece of fruit or a handful of acorns)

Lead a brief interactive discussion on some aspect of the book which you can pick ahead of time. Possibilities include: story elements (setting, character, plot etc.), power of page turns, structure of picture book, use of vivid language, interactive role of text and illustrations, or another topic of your choice.

Answer student-generated interview questions. (It helps if you send these to me ahead of time.)

To set up the Skype visit, please make your request through my contact tab. Be sure to include the following important information:

Age of kids (if preschool) or class grade


Three available days/times

Topic of choice for interactive discussion

Contact info, including Skype username

I look forward to visiting your class!



Do Your Children Ever Catch YOU Reading?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis summer Pragmatic Mom ran a wonderful challenge entitled “Kids Caught in the Act… of READING!” and all summer parents sent in adorable pictures of kids caught in the wonderful act of … READING!

I love the idea of catching our children reading and ever since my children were babies, I’ve done everything in my power to get my kids hooked on books. Here we are reading before bed when they were little. Bedtime reading is more independent now, but it still happens – every night.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nonetheless, all this “catching” has gotten me thinking, how often do our kids catch us reading? Not reading to them, which is important, but reading for ourselves, on our own.

I’m certain one reason I’m a life-long reader is that as I child I saw my parents reading.  Yes, they read to me too, but I have distinct memories of my parents sitting in the living room reading, while I played, or drew, or sometimes snuggled in.  My mother would make herself a cup of tea, cut an apple into crisp wedges and then sit and savor both story and snack.  Soon, I was requesting apple wedges while I read too.

At one point when they were little, I felt guilty reading while the kids were around.  Shouldn’t I be playing with them? Or chatting with them?  Or reading to them? Yes, of course, I should, and I did. But I finally concluded there was nothing wrong with, and perhaps everything right with, taking out my book and reading while they were happily engaged nearby.

Indeed, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have great shots like these if my parents, and my husband and I hadn’t taken a little time to read in front of the kids. P4160063 P3180043IMG_1356So, grab a book or a newspaper, and read where your kids can see you.  I think you’ll find, as we have, that the reading bug is very contagious!  Happy reading all!