10 TIPS to Foster a LOVE of READING in LITTLE ONES

  1. Make bedtime storytime a nightly ritual.  I can think of no better way to associate reading with cozy comfort and love than to snuggle up and read with your child at bedtime. It was a nightly ritual/tradition at our house with at least three picture books read each night. As the kids got older and started reading on their own, bedtime reading continued to be a favorite tradition and my son even requested a special reading flashlight because he loved it so much (and so he wouldn’t keep his little sister awake as she drifted off to dreamland in the lower bunk).

2. Have a sunrise storytime. Both my kids loved this when they were little. Since I was up early too with my tea, when they came down for that first morning hug, we often kicked off the day by reading a picture book or two together before they wandered into the back room to play. My son’s favorite sunrise storytime books were the DK Eyewitness books. We both learned so much! My daughter preferred books about fairies and mermaids.

  1. Celebrate reading as a treat rather than a chore. If you treat reading and books as something special and wondrous – your littles will grow up with that mindset as well. This means avoiding the urge to set the timer or enforcing that they read a certain number of books each day. Instead, make reading time a special time to be treasured each day. 
  1. Let your kiddos catch you reading… and have books nearby (that interest them) so they can imitate you. Kids follow our lead – humbling but true. I’m certain one reason I’m a life-long reader is that as I child I saw my parents reading. This concept is so close to my heart that I wrote a whole post about it: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/do-your-children-ever-catch-you-reading/
  1. Take a weekly trip to the library. I wrote a whole post about this too: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/ten-tips-to-encourage-little-ones-to-become-library-lovers-for-life/
  1. Bring along a bag of picture books for long car rides as a form of old-fashioned or, as I prefer to call it, timeless entertainment.  These days, with all of our devices, it’s so automatic to let your kids mindlessly and endlessly plug into their favorite entertainment programs. May I suggest, instead, opening books and reading on the road?  Even if they can’t read on their own yet, they can “read” the story aloud in their own words.  Audio books that pair with picture books are another option. When they grow up, if they are at all like my kids, they will fondly remember the books they read on the road. Reading will become part of the trip!
  1. Participate in a summer reading challenge. My favorite is the Read, Discuss, Do Summer Challenge because it’s all about having fun reading, rather than about keeping track of hours etc. Some kids thrive on that, I’m sure, but for my kids, keeping track felt very much like school and my goal over the summer was to show them that reading was fun (and a treat in and of itself – hence tip #3).
  1. Go on a picture book picnic. This is as easy including a picture book (or several) when you pack a summer lunch to take anywhere. When the kids get hungry, unfurl the picnic blanket, feast on yummy sandwiches and have an impromptu outdoor storytime.

9. Host a weekly neighborhood story time on your porch (or backyard or wherever). Have your kids help you pick two or three books to read each week, then spread out a cozy quilt and invite the neighbor kids over for stories. Add lemonade, cookies and a craft and you’ll be the hit of the neighborhood! 

10. Go on a hunt for your local Little Free Libraries. Stop and read a selection from each one. For extra fun, have each child bring along a book to donate and let them pick one to bring home. (I love doing this too!)

¡Muchas Graçias! BILINGUAL AUTHOR VISIT with LOVE IS KIND!

A couple of weeks ago I spent two delightful class periods visiting the first grade Spanish classes at Hillside Avenue School in Cranford, NJ. I popped in virtually, but the classes met in person and what fun it was to be together in this special way. 

First, with the help of Pequeño Búho (that’s Little Owl in Spanish), I introduced the Spanish edition of LOVE IS KIND:  EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO and we compared the cover to the English. 

Next, I read LOVE IS KIND in English but with lots of Spanish phrases infused including Pequeño Búho (Little Owl), Abuelita (Grammy), Conejo (Rabbit) and, of course, una caja de chocolates en forma de corazón (a heart-shaped box of chocolates)!

 After reading in English with oodles of Spanish phrases highlighted, I shared my screen so we could play a game show with Pequeño Búho as host. For the game show the children answered questions about the Spanish/English words we learned. The fun included sharing spreads from both editions (and the French edition too) and I challenged them to see if they could spot the differences between spreads of the English and Spanish. I also introduced the concept of translator and that that’s a job they could have one day. 

We ended our special time together with an enthusiastic Q&A. What a wonderful end-of-year treat for students and teacher… and author alike! And afterwards, to my utter delight, I received a special delivery from the first graders – delightfully illustrated thank you notes of Little Owl and his friends . 

Each and every one is a treasure and I now present to you a sampling. Enjoy!

NOTE: If you’d like me to come and visit YOUR school or homeschool co-op with this or another program, please reach out to me using the contact tab above and I can give you all the details.

Celebrate NATIONAL SKUNK DAY with GOODNIGHT ARK (and a QUIZ!)

Did you know that in addition to being Flag Day, June 14th is also National Skunk Day?! And since a pair of the little stinkers play an important role in GOODNIGHT, ARK, I’ve grown especially fond of the species.

So now, in celebration of skunks, not just once a year, but every day, here’s a fun quiz to test your skunk expertise.

1. TRUE or FALSE:  All skunks have black and white stripes.

2.TRUE or FALSE: A batch of baby skunks is called a litter.

3. TRUE or FALSE: Spraying that stinky mist is a skunk’s first defense mechanism.

4. Which of the following predators are IMMUNE to the skunk’s stinky spray?

A. foxes         B. coyotes             C. great horned owls       D.badgers

5. TRUE or FALSE: Bathing in tomato juice is the best remedy for “de-skunking”.

ANSWERS: (Skunk’s honor: no peeking until after the quiz.)

1. FALSE: All skunks are black and white which acts as a warning for predators to keep away. The specific fur patterning, however, varies.  Different types of skunks have different black and white patterns including stripes, spots, and swirls.

2. TRUE: Skunk babies are born in the spring. Mother skunks typically give birth to between two and ten babies per year.  The babies follow their mother around until late summer when they are ready to be on their own.

3. FALSE: Lifting the tail and spraying is a skunk’s LAST line of defense. Before resorting to spraying, skunks give several warning signs including growling, stomping feet and, finally, raising  tails and hind legs while stomping. These advanced warning signals give predators time to back-off without getting sprayed.

4. C. Great Horned Owls, and most larger birds of prey, are immune to the skunk’s stinky spray.

5. FALSE: Actually, according the Humane Society plain old tomato juice isn’t all that effective because it lacks the acidity necessary to neutralize the chemicals in the stinky spray.  Adding vinegar helps somewhat, but the best way to  “de-skunk”, according the Humane Society, is to make your own odor neutralizing home remedy.  For more on that, visit this helpful post from Humane Society.

To learn more about skunks check out these great resources from National Geographic, the University of Michigan and the Humane Society.

VIRTUAL STORY TIME: Little Owl visits OKLAHOMA!

In the totally FUN department, about a month ago my lovely publicist at Zonderkidz alerted me that Love Is Kind, Little Ewe and Goodnight Manger had all made the Oklahoma Bestsellers list. Here’s proof:

Seizing the moment, I asked my publicist if one of the indie bookstores that tally this list might be interested in having me for a virtual story time. She kindly reached out to Best of Books in Edmond, OK to ask and the answer was…. YES!

The story time took place yesterday at 1pm central. Since I’m all about natural lighting and Little Owl is all about staying cool, we picked this lovely spot by our front corner window and close to an air conditioning vent as our storytelling spot.

What was extra special about this reading, besides the fabulous lighting =), was that after the reading I got to share some neat behind-the-scenes artifacts PLUS I read excerpts from two different translations. So if you want to hear me read a snippet in Spanish and French and learn how to say “Love is kind” and “Little Owl” in those languages, here’s your chance.

I’m sharing the story time below in the hopes that you and your littles might use it for your own story time this summer. See if you can get of the book ahead of time from your favorite store or your local library. And if your local library doesn’t have it, please recommend it for purchase.

After the storytime, extend the experience with one of these extension activities or pick your own. Have fun! And if you really want to bring joy to a certain Little Owl, post a picture of your project on your favorite social outlet and tag us! We LOVE seeing kid-created book-themed art. =) NOTE: If you prefer not to click this embedded link, you can also go directly to the Best Of Books Facebook page and search their videos for this story time.

Write like a…DOG!!!

I love my early morning walks with our sweet cockapoo, Sophie. For me, it’s a chance to get some morning exercise and enjoy the freshness of a brand new day. I often have my camera with me so I can snap pictures of glorious moments – like spotting a purple orb – or discovering sidewalk chalk art drawn by a child. But for Sophie it’s all about scent and sound! Indeed, it’s first with nose and ears, not eyes, that she notices a cottontail bunny or crinkling leaf or sweet clover.  She even sniffs out long forgotten, and apparently smelly, tennis balls, hidden deep in our pachysandra.

Just for fun, I sometimes close my eyes and try to soak up the world from Sophie’s perspective. When I do, it’s amazing how heightened my other senses become. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:  flags flapping, gate hinges creaking, wild onion smells so pungent you can almost taste them,  fresh coffee wafting out the neighbor’s kitchen window, the tickle of a lady bug bare skin, and the coolness of wet grass between my toes.

As writers for young children I think we could all benefit from closing our eyes sometimes.  I don’t mean burying our heads in the sand so that our writing is sappy and disconnected from reality. Of course not. What I mean is that my writing, at least, tends towards the visual if I’m not careful. But when I’m intentional (and close my eyes) my other senses kick in and my writing is enriched. Using multi- sensory imagery is especially important in picture books and other illustrated pieces, such as poems for magazines, where the illustrations already provide plenty of visual detail. So, go ahead, close your eyes and feel those other senses kick in. That’s my plan this week. Happy writing all!

INVITATION: It’s Time for the Read. Discuss. DO! Summer Challenge!

INVITATION! I’m so excited to be a part of a fabulous reading initiative geared to families, librarians, teachers and anyone, really, who enjoys reading picture books with their kids.

Created by founder and picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez, Read, Discuss, Do! exists to help you extend the magic of story time beyond the last page by following three simple steps:

Read a book. 

Talk about the book. 

Do a simple activity inspired by the book.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, or are on social media, you may already be familiar with Read. Discuss. Do! Since its inception in 2017, Rebecca has created 60 graphics like these, offering simple, fun suggestions for extending the reading experience with your child in three fun steps.

And now she’s supercharged the whole experience by launching a website with newsletter devoted to all things #ReadDiscussDo! providing a wonderful landing place for book-themed lists, reviews, activities and more. And she’s asked a team of us to help! (Can you tell I’m excited!)

And she’s kicking things off with a fabulous summer reading challenge doesn’t involve setting the timer or counting books. Rather, it’s about connecting with your little ones through reading together and doing fun book-inspired activities. Curious about this week’s challenge? Here’s a clue. It has to do with this! Find out more about the summer challenge here. Head straight to this week’s challenge by pressing here.

Four FRUIT and VEGGIE-Themed Activities to Pair with GOODNIGHT ARK

Did you know that in addition to all sorts of extra pairs of animals (including two mice hidden on every spread) illustrator Jane Chapman has also added a yummy assortment of fruits and veggies to several of the illustrations in GOODNIGHT, ARK?  What a lovely opportunity to explore this delicious food group with your child! With that in mind, here a are FOUR fun food-themed activities to pair with GOODNIGHT, ARK.

Play “I Spy a Fruit (or Veggie)”. As you read the story with your child, be on the lookout for fruits and veggies. On the pages where you spot them, pause to play mini-rounds of “I Spy”.  Ex:  “I spy a carrot.” Take turns, seeing if the other person can find it.  For an extra challenge, instead of naming the fruit or veggie, describe it. Ex: “I spy a food that begins with B.”

Go on a fruit and veggie hunt. After reading the story, go on hunt in your kitchen (or better yet the produce section of the super market or a farmers’ market) and see if your child can spot any of the fruits and veggies they saw on the ark.

For even foodier fun, ask them what other fruits or veggies they think the animals on the ark might have liked and why? Then see if you can find them. (Make a mental note of these for reference in the next activity.)

Eat some fruits and veggies! After reading the story (and perhaps taking a trip down the produce aisle with your child), have fun brainstorming yummy snacks you could make together using the fruit and veggies depicted in the story (or the extra ones your child thought might also be enjoyed on the ark). Then prepare a fruit or veggie snack using those foods! Ex: Serve up sliced apples or bananas or carrot sticks.

For even more fun, use one of the fruits or veggies as inspiration for a simple cooking activity. Ex: Make apple pie with the apples or simmer up some carrot soup. Oven-roasted potatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper might also be fun and tasty treat. Or something better that you and your child decide upon… together!

Create stamp art using fruit and veggies. Cut a couple of oranges, apples, or even potatoes in half, then dip them in paint and use them as stampers to create beautiful works of art. Here’s a link with instructions: https://www.scholastic.com/parents/school-success/learning-toolkit-blog/how-to-use-fruits-veggies-to-make-stamps.html Enjoy! 

FOR EVEN MORE IDEAS AND ACTIVITIES (including coloring pages) check here: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/books/goodnight-ark-extension-activities/

FUN NEWS! Cover Reveal for BUNNY FINDS EASTER

Guess what? I have another new book coming out with Zonderkidz!  BUNNY FINDS EASTER, a board book, is scheduled to release February 1, 2022, just in time for Easter.

Here’s the scoop from Zonderkidz:

Inside Bunny Finds Easter, little ones will learn the true answer to “What is Easter?” alongside Bunny. The rhyming text by bestselling author Laura Sassi and adorable illustrations help children see Easter may have many fun traditions, but it is really all about celebrating Jesus and his resurrection.

Coloring eggs, wearing a lovely bonnet, joining in the fun of an egg hunt, and attending church with family are special things that are a part of Easter! But the most important thing about this holiest of seasons is remembering the reason we gather to celebrate and focusing on Jesus most of all.

Bunny Finds Easter is:

For ages 0-4.

A board book perfect for little hands, and in a size that works great for lap reading.

Ideal for Easter gift-giving and fits perfectly in an Easter basket.

A conversation starter for a discussion of the true meaning of Easter.”

Thank you, Zonderkidz publishing my next book. I had so much fun writing it and I think the board book format is jelly bean perfect! And isn’t the cover charming? Thank you, illustrator Ela Jarzabek. I can’t wait for this one to hit shelves everywhere.

Will you take a moment to pre-order your copy of Bunny Finds Easter today and mark is as “to-read” on Goodreads? Those are two wonderful and easy ways to help a new book make a lovely little splash when it releases.

Happy Reading!

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: The Lord’s Prayer (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

When I was Children’s Ministry Director at a small church, I planned a Sunday morning children’s program called PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS:  Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture. Each week, using an engaging picture book as the spark along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God. The kids enjoyed the lessons so much, that I have decided to continue with a monthly series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children.

Today’s lesson uses THE LORD’S PRAYER (Zonderkidz, 2011) illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
with commentary by Rick Warren
as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

THE LORD’S PRAYER

illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
with commentary by Rick Warren

PURPOSE:  To understand that God wants to be in conversation with us. This conversation is called prayer. Jesus thought it was so important that He showed his disciples (and us) how to pray. This prayer is called the Lord’s Prayer.  Let’s celebrate and give thanks that we can talk to God by… praying!

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: Telephone (… a communication challenge!)

Open in prayer, then explain that in today’s book, we will be learning about how we communicate with God. But first, a game to see how effective it is (or isn’t) to communicate to another through a whole line of people! To demonstrate play a few rounds of the old-fashioned classic “telephone” in which all the children sit in a circle and one child is selected to whisper something to the child beside him/her.  The whispered message is repeated around the circle and when it comes back to the originator, the group can see if the message is correct or if it got jarbled along the way. Use this as a tie-in today’s story, where we’ll be learning about how we can communicate directly with God from his very Son, Jesus!

INTRODUCE THE STORY: Begin by saying one of our greatest privileges as teachers and parents is passing along our love for the Lord with our children. And one of the ways we do this is by learning to pray together. Ask if they know what prayer is?  When do they pray?  What do they pray? Do they know that prayer is actually talking to God – directly!?! (As opposed to the way we shared our message in the game we just played.)  Do they know that God LOVES it when we pray and wants us to pray to Him?  Yes, He does! Prayer is so important to God that He had His Son Jesus teach us how to do it while he was here on earth. That prayer is called the Lord’s Prayer and it is the focus of our book today. Explain that first you will just be reading the prayer through, and then you’ll go back and think about the meaning of each part of the prayer. 

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME: After reading through the whole prayer, return to each spread. Have a child read that portion and then ponder together how the illustrations help us to understand what each part of the prayer means, using Rick Warren’s wonderful guide at the end of the book as an aid.  

Close the time by challenging the children to memorize this prayer as Jesus’ example of good praying. Then pray it together.

STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME:   The Lord’s Prayer Bookmarks

Ahead of time, type up the Lord’s Prayer using the columns feature on your computer to create long narrow text that can be cut into book mark shaped strips. Print on card stock and cut. Let the children decorate their book marks using markers and stickers. For an extra special finishing touch, punch a hole at the top and add colorful ribbon or yarn, as shown.

WRAP UP:  As children are finishing up their bookmarks – challenge them to begin memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, phrase by phrase. Then, give thanks that God loves us so very much that He even created a way for us to communicate directly with Him – through prayer.