And the winner of FEDERICO AND THE WOLF is…

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway,  a brand new copy of FEDERICO AND THE WOLF is…

betlw!!

Congratulations!  I will be in touch with you shortly so we can get the book to you.

Thank everyone who took the time to comment. And thank you to author Rebecca J. Gomez for providing today’s winning copy!

LOVE IS KIND: FIVE TIPS for Fostering KINDNESS in our Kids

I’m excited to share that a lovely little interaction on Twitter with a first grade teacher who shared how she had just read LOVE IS KIND to her students and tagged me – has resulted in an end of the year virtual school visit with the first graders at her school! I sometimes get discouraged  that all this social media socializing doesn’t seem to make a difference – but here’s a positive example of it working in a special way to make a very memorable experience for some first graders (and their parents and teachers) during these stressful times. I will let you know how it goes!

What makes this special visit extra special is that one of the very reasons I wrote LOVE IS KIND was to show in fun story form what love and kindness in action could look like. Now, in celebration of this teacher and her class, I thought it would be fun to share a few book-inspired tips to foster kindness in our kids. My hope is that they will inspire you and your little ones to follow in Little Owl’s footsteps and spread love and kindness near and far.

Tip #1: Be kind yourself. As Grammy from LOVE IS KIND would most certainly remind us, our little owls, I mean kids, are watching our every move. They are learning from us, seeing if our words match our actions. If we want them extend love and kindness to others, we must first be intentional about being kind ourselves in ways big and small.

Tip #2: Brainstorm ways to be kind. Little Owl was kind and loving every step of the way on his quest to get Grammy those chocolates, but he didn’t realize it until Grammy pointed it out. Sometimes reminders are helpful, so after reading the story, spend a few minutes brainstorming with your children some ways we can be kind to others. Consider having an older child write down your family’s ideas, then put them on the fridge as a visible daily reminder.

Tip #3: Make “good manners” a habit. Did you notice how polite Little Owl was throughout the story? And how good manners came so naturally to him? He said things like, “Have a good day!”, “Congratulations!” and “That’s nice.” I suspect Little Owl’s mama and papa and teacher were hard at work on a daily basis instilling those simple niceties. As parents (and grandparents) and caregivers, we can do the same with our kids so that when they are out and about those kind and friendly interactions are second nature.

Tip #4: Wear “kindness glasses.” I like to wrap up author visits by challenging the kids to be kind to those around them just like Little Owl. To help them remember this, I have them first hold their hands together so that thumbs and fingers touch to form a heart shape. I explain that these are their kindness glasses and I ask them to look through them every morning when they wake up and we all try it, which generates giggles all around. Then, while looking at them through my heart-shaped glasses, I challenge them to find at least one opportunity before the sun sets to extend kindness to another in an unexpected way. The silliness is part of the magic and it sets the tone for a good day. (Note: This tip pairs nicely with tip #2)

Tip #5: Catch each other being kind! Grammy caught Little Owl completely by surprise when she pointed out that he’d shown love and kindness along the way to Grammy’s house. And what was Little Owl’s reaction? He was thrilled! He realized HE was the gift and that his kindnesses towards others were better than any store-bought gift. Likewise, your children will be delighted when you notice their kind deeds. And this, I am certain, will spur them on to more and more and more! And that should make every parent’s heart sing. It sure makes mine!

Blessings to you and your kids as you lovingly instill in them hearts for spreading love and kindness.

Note: A version of this post previously appeared on Jean Matthew Hall’s delightful blog.  Please also enjoy her review of my book GOODNIGHT, MANGER, along with her rich archive of posts about both the writing and reading of picture books. And while you are there, be sure to check out her Bountiful Blessings Picture Book Series. Thank you, Jean!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts with Rebecca J. Gomez about FEDERICO AND THE WOLF (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Rebecca J. Gomez, whose brand new picture book, FEDERICO AND THE WOLF (Clarion Books), delightfully illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, releases tomorrow! FEDERICO AND THE WOLF received a lovely review from Kirkus and a starred review from School Library Journal. Rebecca’s spot-on rhyming makes the story a joy to read aloud and is a deliciously latino take on the traditional Little Red Riding Hood. As a student of Spanish, I especially appreciated her infusion of Spanish words throughout the story. Now, you are in for a special treat as she shares FIVE FUN FACTS about the book’s creation. (And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end!)

Five Fun Facts about FEDERICO AND THE WOLF

By Rebecca Gomez

1. FEDERICO AND THE WOLF sold quickly!

The manuscript sold the same year that I wrote it. I wrote the first draft in January 2017, and the offer from Clarion came the following November. I often tell kids at school visits about how slow this business can be, but ten months have never seemed so short!

2. I owe my daughter for the pico recipe.

Most of the credit for the pico de gallo recipe in the book’s back matter goes to my daughter Samantha, whose love for salsa and willingness to experiment in the kitchen with me led to the “perfect pico” recipe. We used tomatoes and jalapeños grown in our very own back yard.

3. No major revisions!

The text of this story changed very little once my editor, Anne Hoppe, got her hands on it. I was prepared to do a round or two (or three) of major revisions, but  Anne loved it as it was and only asked me to do a few minor tweaks. Based on my experiences with my previous editors, I was both stunned and relieved!

4. Elisa was on my dream illustrator list.

Elisa Chavarri was on my list of dream illustrators long before Clarion chose her to illustrate Federico’s story.  How lucky is that! I could not have asked for a better illustrator for FEDERICO AND THE WOLF. 

5. Habanero peppers are as hot as they say!

I tasted a fresh habanero pepper (mentioned at some point in the book) many years ago on a dare from my husband. I barely took a mouse-sized nibble, but I can promise you that those peppers are every bit as hot as they say! I can still feel the burn on my lips when I think about it. 

BIO:

Rebecca J. Gomez enjoys writing stories as much as she enjoys reading them. When she isn’t reading or writing, her favorite things to do are baking, creating art, and hiking through the woods with her husband and three grown children. She lives in Nebraska, where she grows a salsa garden every summer. 

On the web at:

http://www.rebeccajgomez.com

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of FEDERICO AND THE WOLF (Clarion Books, May 2020) leave a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Monday, 5/25/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced next Tuesday! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here.  

[Note: Thank you to the author for a sneak peek at the book which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

QUIET WALKS and BABY SQUIRRELS: Four Tips To Help the Writer in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew!)

On a recent walk, I noticed a squirrel scurrying up and down a tree carrying bits of thatch and leaves, to line her nursery, I guessed.  A couple weeks later this baby squirrel showed up on my porch. Could he be one her babies, I wondered? 

I don’t about you, but during this pandemic, going on walks has become a soul-nurturing necessity, so every day I strive to intentionally slow down and savor the little things. With all that’s going on the world right now, it would be easy to miss these little glimpses of joy and wonder and that would be a colossal shame. 

This deliberate slowing down has gotten me thinking about my life as a writer. I’ve discovered over time that my most satisfying writing days are those in which I pause from the hectic pace of it all to ponder chirping birds or baby squirrels (or whatever) – in other words, to allow myself to slow down enough to see the world with the child-like wonder we all once possessed.

Heaven knows, the publishing world moves slowly enough, so what’s the rush, really? Especially, when there’s so much pleasure and inspiration to be gained from pausing to see the world from the unrushed and wondrous perspective of a child!

Now, in celebration of child-like wonder and the pleasures of slowing down, I offer you:

 FOUR Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

  1. SPEND TIME with a CHILD.  There’s nothing quite as perspective changing as spending time with a little one.  Play a game together. Ask questions. Talk. See the world through their eyes. (During this time of social distancing, this can be done virtually!)
  1. CLEAR the CALENDAR for a morning. Then find a spot, preferably outside, and be still – or go on a quiet walk as I do. Listen to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or the peals of children’s laughter. Quietly follow the trail of a chipmunk. What is he doing? Where is he going? You will be amazed at how alive and fresh everything (and you) will feel!  And, if you are anything like me, you will come away with at least a dozen new writing ideas.
  1. DEDICATE an AFTERNOON to READING PICTURE BOOKS.  As soon as libraries and bookstores re-open, settle yourself down in the children’s department of your local library or at your favorite bookstore and READ!  Pick old favorites as well as newer titles.  Before long, those stories will transport you to the magical world of child-like wonder. Have a notebook handy because you never know what long-forgotten memory your reading will stir.  (And for now, go investigate the books you have on hand, or tune in to the many virtual read-alouds that are temporarily available – thanks to the generosity of many publishers – during this unprecedented time.)
  1. Investigate AUTHENTIC CHILDHOOD WRITINGS.  These can be your own childhood writings or, if you’re like me, you’ve also saved your children’s writings.  I always ask my kids permission to read through their old school journals and story folders, and they always grant it.  I’m so happy they do, because those journals, as well as my own childhood scribblings, are precious sources of authentic kid-talk and they always inspire me.

Happy Monday all! And may we each find time to stop and revel in the wonder of small joys – both new and old – and transform them into amazing new writing pieces.  

MOTHER’S DAY: An Act of Kindness Remembered

Mother’s Day, for me and perhaps for you, too, is bittersweet. On the sweet side, I feel so blessed to be a mother and I love spending the day with my children. On the sad side, my heart also hurts a bit because it reminds me of my mother, who was so wonderful, and who I still miss.  And so, in her loving memory, and with thanksgiving for the a very special editor and illustrator who both played important roles in blessing my mom in her last days, I’d like to share a special memory.  I hope it blesses you too, with the reminder of just how powerful simple acts of kindness can be. 

Here’s how this special memory unfolded:

It was October 2013 and my mother was suffering from ALS. Except for labored one or two word bursts, had lost the muscular ability to speak and was growing weaker day by day. One morning as I was praying for her – she lived 6 hours away in Virginia – it suddenly struck me that she might not live long enough to see my first book, GOODNIGHT, ARK, published. 

My mom had been a great encourager to me on this journey into children’s book writing and I’d always appreciated her artistic perspective (she was an artist) as she read and critiqued my manuscripts. She and I had been so excited to learn that Jane Chapman would illustrate, and now, I realized, she might not get the chance to see those illustrations. 

 A wave of sadness poured over me and I emailed my editor, Barbara Herndon, at Zonderkidz, to ask she if she had a sketch or illustration sample or anything that I could share with my mother while she was still able to communicate – even if only in a limited way.  Within the hour, she responded that yes, of course, she could send something  – and not just anything – she had already special ordered two folded galleys of the entire book – and when would I need them by.  

Already feeling blessed beyond measure by this act of kindness, I now added that my sister and I had a special trip planned to see our mother. In just over a week, we’d both be swooping in from our faraway homes for a special mother-daughter weekend. It was short notice, but Barbara did not hesitate. She said she would do her very best to make sure they arrived in time for that visit and immediately made arrangements for them to be ailed by overnight express to my parents in Virginia.  

The pictures here, taken by my sister, show me with my mom and dad opening the package from Barbara and then enjoying the folded galley together. 

Because Barbara responded so quickly and so kindly, my mom was able to enjoy Jane’s illustrations and she even got to communicate her love for the illustrations with Jane via a short email. Then, Jane – in her own act of kindness – sweetly responded to my mother’s thoughtful artistic reflections about Janes’ illustrations.  

It was a very special shared moment made possible by a compassionate editor who responded above and beyond the call of duty to make something special happen for a dying woman (my mom) and her daughter (me). 

I will forever be grateful for that act of kindness and it came just in the nick of time. My mom passed away a month later – and that trip with those folded-galleys turned out to be our last -and very treasured – time together. 

And now, on this Mother’s Day, if you find yourself missing your own mom, perhaps this will inspire you to dig deep and find a special memory that will bless your soul.

Take care, all!

The 2020 ANNA DEWDNEY READ ALOUD AWARD: Celebrating Books that Spark Compassion, Empathy and Connection

(Read to the end for a fun LOVE IS KIND connection.)

Per the official description “The Anna Dewdney Read Together Award is given annually to a picture book that is both a superb read-aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection. The award commemorates the life and work of author/illustrator Anna Dewdney, and celebrates her commitment to reading with young children and putting books into as many little hands as possible.”

This year’s award goes to author/illustrator Oge More for her picture book THANK YOU, OMU!

I love this book. My kids are big now, but it’s just the kind of story I would have read to my kids over and over again. It would make a wonderful addition to any book collection.  It is also a Caldecott winner and the illustrations are amazing.

Here’s my quick description: Omu has created a delicious stew and its mouth-watering aroma fills the neighborhood. Soon all sorts of visitors stop by for a taste and Omu gladly shares.  But, when it’s finally time for her dinner, she discovers the pot is empty!  Will she go to bed empty-bellied or will compassion and generosity prevail? 

You will have to read the story to find out.

You can also hear the author herself read it live this coming Friday, May 8th at 3pm ET as part of Children’s Book Week on the Every Child A Reader Facebook Page.

Now, the little bit of fun news – with a LOVE IS KIND connection:

Though not the winner, LOVE IS KIND is named as one of five honor books for this year’s award.  Isn’t that neat? Little Owl thinks so. Here’s the link to the official announcement

Hooray for stories that foster love and joy and connect us to others!  And hooray for the magic of reading aloud with children! Happy Monday! 

MOTHER’S DAY GIFT IDEA: A Printable “Love Is Kind” POEM for Mom!

MOTHER’S DAY GIFT IDEA! Transform LOVE IS KIND into an extra special Mother’s Day gift by adding this author-penned poem to the front end pages of the hardcover edition.  Simply print and affix – like a bookplate. 

Or, have your child decorate the front of a card with a drawing of Little Owl. Then print out this poem and affix it to the inside of their card, with their sweet handprinted signature at the bottom.  SAMPLE:

Either way, I thought this a fun way to celebrate the special bonds children have with their mothers and grandmothers.  Happy Mother’s Day! 

MONDAY MORNING BLESSING: A Chipped Mug

I chipped a mug today. Not just any mug. It’s a mug my mother and I bought together a few years ago. She lived in Colorado at the time and I lived in New Jersey.  She had one just like it and I when I drank from it, I would think about us sipping tea together, even though we were apart physically.  The connection I feel with that mug has only gotten stronger since she passed away.  When I sip from it as I read or write, it’s almost as if my mother is nearby, looking on in her loving way.

I think I can still use the mug for a little bit, but the crack runs long and I know that bacteria will set in and that at some point very soon I will need to set the mug aside and say goodbye do it. All this has gotten me thinking about things that are temporal versus things that are eternal.

This mug is temporal — and by that I mean it is earthly, physical, finite. Very soon it will join a remarkably large collection of other dishes that I have chipped, broken, or shattered. 

But the love I have for my mother is eternal, just as is the love I have for my family, my husband, my children, my father and my grandparents. Likewise, I know that the love God has for me and for our world is eternal and that gives me great hope in this moment in which we find ourselves. 

As we step into this week ahead, my hope for me (and for you to, if you are willing) is that we would focus on things eternal even in the midst of the temporal. 

Blessings to you!

TIME TO BAKE: FIVE tips for PAIRING PICTURE BOOKS with TASTY TREATS.

Little Owl and I want to share with you something special that illustrator Lison Chaperon created to go with our book LOVE IS KIND – a muffin recipe with adorable muffin toppers! In addition to being absolutely delicious, this LOVE IS KIND-inspired baking activity has gotten me thinking about how wonderful it is when we pair picture books with a tasty book-themed treat. 

In doing so, not only are we giving our kids the opportunity to learn some baking/cooking skills, we are helping them to connect to the story in a new and fun way.  As we nibble and chat about the book, we’re also instilling in them a framework to talk about the stories we read and an opportunity to think about how picture books relate to our lives and the world. Finally, we’re fostering good critical thinking skills as we converse with our little ones about what treat would be best paired with a particular picture book.

With all this in mind, here are FIVE TIPS for PAIRING PICTURE BOOKS with TASTY TREATS.  Enjoy!

TIP #1: Pick any picture book (Better yet, let your child pick the book.)

TIP #2: Pre-read the story so you can gather your ingredients. Once you’ve selected your picture book, take a few minutes a day or two ahead of time so that you can anticipate what types of treats you and your child might want to create to pair with the story.  This way you can be sure to have the ingredients in stock for a seamless and tasty brainstorming to baking to eating experience. 

TIP #3 As you read with your child, ponder the treat-making possibilities.It’s most beneficial (and engaging) to your budding critical thinkers if you include them in the process of deciding what book-themed treat to create, though it’s perfectly acceptable, in my opinion, to gently lead them towards the ingredients you have on hand (see step two). As you are pondering, the treat might be obvious. For example, in my third book DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, Fernando the mouse loves gumdrops, popcorn, and cheese on try toast, so those would be obvious picks. 

But…

TIP #4: Sometimes you will have to be creative!  Some picture books, however, won’t have such obvious choices. My recommendation, in these instances, is to pick a character or a defining element of the story and create a treat inspired by that.  For example, on her blog, Easy Elegant Entertaining™, trained chef and cookbook author (and mom to an adorable young budding reader) used the concept of tails in GOODNIGHT, ARK to create an adorable book-themed treat.

You can also create character-based cookies for almost any book, as my daughter did for DIVA DELORES and GOODNIGHT, ARK.

TIP #5: Have fun!  (Need I say more?)  

And if you are interested in the link to the LOVE IS KIND muffin recipe with adorable muffin toppers, here it is.  

A version of this post previously appeared on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog with a lovely review.  You can review that here, if interested.

Happy Reading and Treating!

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE Read by Author LAURA SASSI

Looking for a virtual STORY TIME with the author?  It’s very unusual for publishers to grant permission to do these kinds of storytimes. It’s their way (and mine too!) of doing something special for families and kiddos at this time when the world is topsy turvy and we are all sheltering in place due to the pandemic. I’m grateful to Sterling Children’s Books for providing this opportunity to share my favorite opera-themed picture book – DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE – as part of Sterling Storytime! It’s available for viewing (for a limited time) on their Youtube Page. If you have a copy, grab it now so you can read along with me. Then, get ready to sing and be silly!

Fun little back story: My 15 year-old filmed me reading the book on our front porch and I think she was a little embarrassed at how dramatic I was being. Her embarrassment turned to teen mortification when a passerby applauded after the finale. Delores, however, was delighted!

Extension Activities: Here a couple of links to extension activities to do post-reading. Enjoy!

Diva Delores Coloring Page and Writing Prompt

Feathered Fan: A Read. Discuss. Do! Craft

Teaching Respect with Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse

NOTE: The Sterling Story Time featuring DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books, is no longer available. But the good news is the book is still available at book stores and at your local library. If they don’t have it, you can request it, for which we would be most grateful. Happy reading! =)