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

by

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:

Read GOODNIGHT, ARK.

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

Location

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!

FINDING EXTRA FUNNY BITS: An Extension Activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK

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One of the basic rules of picture book writing is that writers need to let the illustrations tell part of the story. Teachers, parents, and kids can have fun looking for this principle in action in GOODNIGHT, ARK.  This activity should have a game-like quality as you and your child hunt for extra funny bits that are only in the pictures!

To get you started, here are some great examples of how illustrator Jane Chapman uses illustration to add humor and even extra plot details to GOODNIGHT, ARK.  Look carefully, for they are subtly sprinkled throughout her rich and colorful spreads.

Extra Animals: In addition to the key players, Jane adds extra animal guests.  I found nine extra pairs. Can you?

Extra (funny!)provisions: The text makes no mention of specific provisions, leaving lots of room for Jane to add humorous extras like the canned cat food that rolls across the floor on the tippiest page in the story.  It took me several reads to notice them. What other funny provisions do you see?

Underwear!: Every child I’ve read my story to has howled at Jane’s humorous inclusion of polka-dotted boxers quietly hanging on the line to dry.  We’ve also chuckled over the toothbrush. Both nice touches, I would never have thought of. What other humorous extras can you find?

Extra Plot Layer:  I don’t want to give away the most exciting part, but a certain pair of creatures is instrumental in restoring balance on the ark. In her illustrations, Jane brings out the personality of this pair in a darling way, even hinting through their gestures that they planned the whole stinky thing.  I LOVE that extra layering!

BONUS ACTIVITY FOR KIDS: Write a story and illustrate it. Be sure to include at least one extra funny bit in the illustration that is not included in the text.  Share your story with a friend and see if they can find your extra funny bits.

Note:  A variation of this post first appeared on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog as part of her Perfect Picture Boo Friday series.

Do You Floss Your Stories?

IMG_0811Today I’m posting over at Pens and Brushes, my critique group’s new blog, on the topic of flossing our stories.  Curious? Well, then please check it out!

Special Story Time at FIRE ME UP!

IMG_0768This past Tuesday I partnered with FIRE ME UP, a ceramics and art studio in Cranford, for a very special  story time.

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First, the kids gathered for a reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK.

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But before I could even get started, that pesky little skunk of mine poked his nose out of his basket and insisted that the kids look for him and the missus on every page. For some reason, he thinks they are the stars of the book! The kids enthusiastically obliged and we all enjoyed a rollicking reading of the story.

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Then it was on to the craft – adorable ceramic elephants hand painted by the children.

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Before leaving, the children petted Stinky. They were very, very gentle so as not to cause a big stink!

The afternoon was such a hit, that I hear another one is in the works.  Stay tuned for details!

(And an extra special thanks to Rosanne Kurstedt for joining me as photographer. )

GOODNIGHT, ARK Blog Tour: FINAL Stop (And a Skype Visit Giveaway!)

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As a teacher (and later as a parent) I loved finding fun, creative extension activities for the books we were reading. More thoughts on this over at Tina Cho’s lovely blog as I make my FINAL tour stop! There’s also a giveaway especially for teachers!

GOODNIGHT, ARK Blog Tour: Stop TEN

photo 4My tour winds down this week with two last stops.  (Phew, because my arms are kind of tired from all that rowing.)  The winds are good, however, so sail on over to Leandra Wallace’s blog for an interview in which a certain French pastry (see above) is featured. What does this have to do with GOODNIGHT, ARK?  Maybe nothing, but it sure is tasty. =)

GOODNIGHT, ARK Blog Tour: Stop NINE

photoI have just had the best time being interviewed by the delightful picture book author and kid lit blogger, Tara Lazar. We chatted about skunk, wild boars, writing and more.  Please stop by.  It’s easy. Just click here!