READ OUT LOUD: GOODNIGHT, MANGER on KidLitTV

t-goodnight-mangerIt was such a treat to be on the set of KidLit TV  last month sharing in their wonderful mission “to create fun new ways to reinforce an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives”.  Here are a couple of snapshots of that special day. Each captures what I think is the the amazing gift of KidLit TV to celebrate the magic of reading through all their taped and live programs. It was an afternoon to treasure.

And now I can finally spill the beans! GOODNIGHT, MANGER is featured on KidLit TV’s delightful READ OUT LOUD program. Thank you for having me, Julie Gribble and team. Here is the link to the episode. Enjoy!

About KidLit TV. Founded by Julie Gribble,  KidLit TV, is a fabulous resource for kid lit fans of all ages. Comprised of a diverse group of parents, educators, librarians, kid lit creators, and award winning filmmakers, KidLit TV works creatively to bring great books to kids. Their self-described mission is to create fun new ways to reinforce an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They are doing a great job and have even been awarded the Parents’ Choice Gold Award! What a wonderful contribution they are making to the world of children’s literature!

 

JOINT-INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Jodi McKay and Illustrator Denise Holmes in Celebration of the Release of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?

words_coverToday I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with picture book author Jodi McKay and illustrator Denise Holmes.  WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (Albert Whitman, 2016) is Jodi’s debut work.  Denise has illustrated numerous books, but this their first collaboration.  Thanks so much for joining us today.

Synopsis: Period wants to write a story but can’t find the words, so his friends offer their help. Question Mark asks around and Exclamation Point finds some enthusiastic words from some unexpected places. Now all Period needs is an idea, but from whom?

Now for the interview with my questions bolded.

Jodi, congratulations on your debut!  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story.

Jodi: Thanks so much, Laura! The idea behind this book came from a horrible case of writer’s block. No amount of chocolate or deep breathing exercises helped me untangle a good idea for a story and I literally sat in front of my computer and asked, “Where the heck are the words?” or at least that’s the PG version. Oddly enough, that question was the spark that I needed and the concept quickly came together afterwards. Knowing that there were books already available about writing or telling stories, I knew that I needed to put a different spin on it and I wanted it to be in the form of a quirky kind of character. Cue the punctuation marks!

Denise, you have illustrated quite a few picture books. What drew you to Jodi’s WHERE ARE THE WORDS story?

Denise: I have to admit this book was new territory for me. My other books have had children as the main characters, so I have been so used to drawing kids. When my agent sent me the manuscript and I got really nervous! But after reading it a few times, the characters started coming to me and I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and illustrate this book. The words are so funny and the characters are so wonderful. I really fell in love with it!

One of the themes of this book is collaboration – coming together and combining your strengths to create a great story. This is humorously depicted in the delightful interactions between Period and his punctuation pals and in the interplay between picture and text.  How collaborative was the process for you as author and illustrator? What kind of communication was involved, if any?

Jodi: First, I would like to say that I got lucky when they chose Denise to illustrate our book. I didn’t want to say too much regarding the art because, 1. I wanted it to be a surprise, and 2. I knew she would add so much more to the story that I wouldn’t have even thought of and I didn’t want to hinder her process. There were a few times that I was given the opportunity to provide suggestions or ask questions all of which Denise graciously addressed. That was done through my editor and I’m assuming their art director, never directly to each other. Now we communicate fairly often to chat about our teacher’s guide and promotional work. She’s great!

Denise: I think this might be standard in the industry, but the editor is the middle person when it comes to working on picture books. In this case, Jordan gave me the art directions and I just went for it. I did finally get talk with Jodi after I finished the book. We have collaborated on promo materials and I look forward to collaborating on events and maybe even a follow up book! What do you say Jodi? I think Period needs to go on another adventure!

Laura: What would you like readers to take away from this story?

Jodi: Gosh, a few things really. I hope readers will see how the punctuation marks are speaking and connect that to that actual role of each mark. That is the educational component of this book and one I think is helpful for little learners. I also want kids to see what is possible when they open their eyes to what is all around them rather than just focusing on what’s in front of them. You never know what you can discover! Last, I hope children capture the importance of helping each other and working together for any cause. That piece of the story was created as a result of my own experience with the kidlit community and how helpful everyone has been over the years.

Denise: That it’s good to have friends to help you out, even if they are a little silly!

Laura: What one piece of advice would you offer to young writers/artists who find themselves staring at a blank page?

Jodi: Engage your senses to find that spark! Look in all directions, listen closely to what’s going on around you, pick up different objects to feel what they are made out of, make something that’s smell reminds you of a loved one’s cooking, eat what you made to see if you can go deeper into the memory. Take all of that and see what comes up for you. Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.

Denise: I often have days where I have artist’s block. I will step away from trying to force a drawing; go for a walk, read a book, or grab a snack and come back to it. When you get back, just start filling up the page with doodles, something will eventually come out of it.

Finally, what’s next for each of you?  Any more collaborative works in the pipeline?

Jodi: I’m still writing and working with my agent on different picture books. There is one particular that is a companion to WHERE ARE THE WORDS? and I hope it works so that I can team up with Denise again!

Denise: I have a book called Phoebe Sounds It Out (written by Julie Zwillich | Owlkids Books) coming out in April 2017 and I am working on the 2nd book in the series called Phoebe’s Day, Today. As far as collaborating, I would absolutely love to work with Jodi again. I was very inspired by her writing and would jump at the chance to work together again!

Thank you both for inspiring us with your thoughtful responses.  We wish you the best of success with this clever new picture book!

img_8920Bio: Jodi lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan with her husband, son, a couple of mischievous pets, and at least one ghost. She discovered that she loved to write when she was 8 years old, but decided to finish school before pursuing it full time. Now she is an active member of the incredible kid lit community and is proud to be represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? is set to release on December 20th and she can’t wait to share it! If you would like to chat with Jodi, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also connect with her at www.JodiMcKayBooks.com (Look for the teacher’s guide!) or by email at Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com

drawingportrait_smallBio: A native of the Detroit area, Denise graduated with a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. She has sine been a freelance illustrator working on many different projects from logos and greeting cards to magazine publications. Her other picture books include IF I WROTE ABOUT YOU, THE YOGA GAME BY THE SEA, and THE YOGA GAME IN THE GARDEN. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.  Visit her online at www.niseemade.com.

Jodi’s Blog tour:

November 14thhttps://albertwhitman.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/qa-with-jodi-mckay/

November 18thwww.KidLit411.com

December 5thhttps://laurasassitales.wordpress.com

December 12th–  http://www.karlingray.com/blog.htm

December 19thhttp://jumpingthecandlestick.blogspot.com

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Signed (and personalized) Copies of GOODNIGHT, MANGER or GOODNIGHT, ARK!

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Can’t make it to a book signing? No problem!

I am excited to announce that this year once again, in response to requests from readers for signed copies, my local indie book store, The Town Book Store in Westfield, New Jersey, will now offer signed, personalized copies of my books for sale!

If this interests you, please call them to order the book or books you want. Be sure to explain that you would like to have them signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books. Readers can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535.

Happy Reading, all!

HOLIDAY TRADITION: Deck the Halls with PICTURE BOOKS!

IMG_3632 (1).jpgOne of the things I love most about doing signings at bookstores is chatting with customers.  Often, as I am inscribing a book, customers will explain why they are buying the book and who they plan to give it to. Well, this weekend, one lovely customer got extra excited when she saw “Goodnight, Manger”.  For the inscription, she asked that I inscribe it with a simple “Merry Christmas 2016”.  Then she explained that my book would be part of her family’s most wonderful tradition – decorating the house for Christmas with picture books!

IMG_3631 (1).jpgThis tradition, she explained, began the year her first child was born. That Christmas she and her husband purchased their first Christmas picture book and displayed it as part of their holiday decor. The next year they bought a second book, the third year a third book and so on.  For almost thirty years now, she has been decorating her house for Christmas with these picture books. Each year she nestles the new book somewhere among the special collection. And every year her children dash through the house looking for the new book.  Her children are in their late 20’s now, but the they still look forward to coming home for holidays each December and searching for the newest book. I’m honored and delighted that this year “Goodnight, Manger” will be that special book!

IMG_3629.jpgI’m also wholeheartedly embracing this magical tradition! Typically, each December, I pull out a special box that holds our Christmas picture book collection and place it by our fireplace.  All month we re-read our favorites and savor some new picks as well. But, I think that having the books out on display makes their presence even more special and engaging! Don’t you?

I’ve already caught my sixteen-year-old perusing the dining room display with interest. And I’ve decided, if the family is willing, that each night that we eat together (which unfortunately is no longer every night due to after school and evening activities), one of us will get to pick a favorite to re-read for the family after dinner.

For extra fun, I’ve decked this post with pictures of several spots in my house that are now decorated – picture book style – for the holidays.  I think they warmly capture the spirit and charm of our new Christmas picture book tradition. Happy reading, all!

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And the WINNER is…

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I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway, a brand new copy of Glenys Nellist’s beautiful picture book CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD, published by Zonderkidz and illustrated by Rachel Clowes, is…

SARA!!!!!

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

Thanks again, Glenys, for giving us a heartwarming glimpse into book’s dedication. I’d also like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on this week’s post and to my daughter, once again, for lending me her snazzy hat for the drawing.

UPDATED: ‘Tis the Season for MORE Book Events!

img_3521In celebration of reading and living joyfully, I’ve added a few more events for the holiday season. Please join me, if you can.  I’d love to see you! 

Saturday November 26, 2016 10 – noon.  I’ll be reading my books and chatting with customers as part of Small Business Saturday at The Town Book Store in Westfield, NJ.

Sunday December 4th, 2016 1:30 – 4:00.  I’ll be reading GOODNIGHT, MANGER and signing books as part of Gingerbread Sunday at the Miller Cory House in Westfield, NJ.

Thursday December 8, 2016 12 – 2pm. I’ll be at the Barnes and Noble in Princeton, NJ reading and signing both books as part of a book fair. All are welcome.

Saturday December 10 2016 11- 1:30 pm.  Join me for festive readings of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER with puppets, then shop at the Cranford United Methodist Church’s Christmas Shoppe and Soup Festival. Note: The festival is open from 10 – 3pm.

Sunday, December 11, 2016 1pm. I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in Springfield, NJ reading and signing both books as part of a book fair. All are welcome.

Tuesday December 20, 2016 10am.  Join me for an interactive story time featuring GOODNIGHT, MANGER at the New Providence Library. Meet my storytelling companion–Rooster and enjoy some fun book-themed coloring pages.

Wednesday December 21, 2016 10:30am.  Join me for an interactive story time featuring GOODNIGHT, MANGER at the Garwood Public Library. Meet my storytelling companion–Rooster and enjoy a holiday craft.

Guest Post: CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD – A Glimpse into the Book’s Dedication with Author Glenys Nellist

Bestselling Zonderkidz author Glenys Nellist has a new book out called CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD. Recommended for ages 4 – 8, this delightful picture book brings the significance and wonder of Christmas to life through seven vivid Bible retellings, each gorgeously illustrated by Rachel Clowes. Today, in celebration of the book’s recent release and as part of her blog tour,  I am honored to have Glenys as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Glenys!

The only thing she ever wanted was a cottage. Instead, she got cancer.

I think about her a lot, especially since I’m the same age she was when she died. Fifty-seven. It’s no age at all.

My mum, like me, was born in a little town in northern England. How surprised she would have been to know that in 2000, I flew over the pond and emigrated to Michigan. She would have loved to visit me here. 

My mum lived a quiet, ordinary, hard-working life, managing to raise eight children, support her husband as he went to college to get his degree, and take care of a big old house. Hence her desire to live in a little cottage. But it wasn’t to be. She deserved so much—my mum. 

And so when my editor asked for my dedication for Christmas Love Letters from God, it was an easy choice. How could I dedicate it to anyone else but her—when she was the one who made every Christmas magical and memorable for me? 

Every Christmas morning, all eight of us would line up, according to age, outside the living room door. It was shut tight. My little brother, the youngest, was always the first to go in. I was fourth in line. It was an agonizing wait as we shifted from foot-to-foot, anxious to be able to peep around the door to see if ‘Father Christmas’ had been….and of course, he always had. The tell-tale bite in Rudolph’s carrot on the hearth gave it away, along with the few crumbs that remained of the mince pie we’d left for Father Christmas.

As we eight children peered expectantly around the door, the lights on our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree were always lit, the eight red socks dangling over the fireplace were always stuffed, and the room was completely bulging with toys, and tinsel, and presents piled high on every chair. It was a room full of love. That was my mum. And that was my Christmas morning. 

She never knew that I became a teacher, married a pastor and had four children of my own, or that we continued that fun tradition of lining up outside the living room door every Christmas morning. She never knew I became an author. But I hope she somehow knows that her name is on the very first page in Christmas Love Letters from God, where it so richly deserves to be.

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When you pick up that book, any book, turn to the author’s dedication and read it. You can be sure that whoever is mentioned there is a rich part of the author’s story, just like my wonderful mum was, and is, so much a part of mine.

Now for the GIVEAWAY!!!!! Zonderkidz is offering a free copy of CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD to one lucky winner. Thank you, Zonderkidz! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of this beautiful book, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Rachel Clowes, simply post a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box ) and be at least 18 years old to enter.) The contest ends Thursday, 11/24/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced next Friday. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  To see the winner, press here.

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Bio: Coordinator of Children’s Ministry for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. Zondervan children’s book author of two popular series: Love Letters from God and Snuggle Time. Glenys is a writer with a passion for God, her family, and children’s ministry. Check out her blog tour here.  Enjoy the book trailer here.  

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

 

GOODNIGHT, MANGER Review (and a little writing advice)! Plus a GIVEAWAY!

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In celebration of the release of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, MANGER, children’s author Lynne Marie had me on her blog yesterday sharing a little picture book wisdom that I gleaned in the process of preparing GOODNIGHT, MANGER for publication. And today she’s reviewing the book! Oh, and there’s ALSO a  GIVEAWAY! THREE good reasons to grab a cup of tea and head on over to Lynne Marie’s!  I’ll make it easy for you.  Press here. Thanks again for having me, Lynne Marie!

‘Tis the Season for BOOK EVENTS!

IMG_1044Please join me at one of these upcoming book events. I’d love to see you!  

Saturday November 5, 2016 1 – 4 pm.  Stop in at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA where I’ll be chatting with customers and signing books.

Tuesday, November 15,  2016 4:30 pm.  Join me for an interactive story time featuring GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER at the Fanwood Library. Meet my storytelling companions – Rooster, Stinkie and Pinkie – and enjoy some fun book-themed coloring pages.

Saturday November 26, 2015 10 – noon.  I’ll be reading my books and chatting with customers as part of Small Business Saturday at The Town Book Store in Westfield, NJ.

Saturday December 10 2016 11- 1:30 pm.  Join me for festive readings of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER with puppets, then shop at the Cranford United Methodist Church’s Christmas Shoppe and Soup Festival. Note: The festival is open from 10 – 3pm.

GUEST POST: We Don’t Grow Up, We Just GROW (Thoughts on READ ALOUD TIME) with Juliana Tyson Kissick

I am so excited to have Juliana Tyson Kissick as my guest today. We recently reconnected on Facebook, but I first met her when she was in fourth grade! She was my student. Just take a peek at that adorable class, gathered joyfully around our Thanksgiving project that year. She’s seated in the center with a very young Mrs. Sassi standing behind her.  And there she is working hard. She’s also represented by one of the little birds depicted in the delightful card my mom made for me that school year. The card is dated 1995 and the note I found with it reads:

“Mom made a terrific birthday card depicting an early January day in the new classroom. It was pouring and the power went out. I kept the kids entertained until their parents came by reading. It was a treacherous day with lots of flooding and rain.”

READ ALOUD TIME.  It was my favorite part of the day and it happened every day, right after lunch.  Actually, I think it was everyone’s favorite part of the day – a chance to be transported by storytelling to magical worlds, faraway places and different times.  And I AM THRILLED that Juliana has agreed to share a little bit about what reading books aloud has meant to her over the years.  Take it away, Juliana!

unnamedWhen Laura invited me to write on the topic of reading aloud to children in the classroom, I felt an immediate surge of energy run through my gut. It was as if my soul were demanding I leap through the computer screen, exclaiming, “There is nothing more important than reading to children in schools!!” — a good indicator that I probably had something to say on the matter. And what I came to realize over the course of writing out my reflections was how valuable and multi-faceted the benefits of “story time” really are… and most certainly not just for children.  It’s like my Jewish, anecdotally-driven father always tells me (quoting the magnificent poet, Muriel Rukeyser), “The universe, Juliana, is made of stories, not of atoms.”

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Story time. Is there a more cherished, enchanted hour in the world of a young person? The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte’s Web, The Boxcar Children, Little House On the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver…  I can remember every. single. book that was read to me (or that my classmates and I read aloud to each other) over the course of my elementary schooling. I LIVED for story time. And it wasn’t just because “story time” equated not doing math (something I still avoid, sorry Laura). No, story time wasn’t just an easy out…that’s what recess was for. And it wasn’t just because I was somewhat of a doctoral candidate in the esteemed academic discipline of Class Clownery and more or less couldn’t wait until I was allowed to give a personality (a British accent) to letters on a page… ok fine, maybe it was a LITTLE bit about that (I’m not British, for the record). But really, truly, at the heart of my love for story time was my love for adventure and meaning, adventure beyond the physical entrapments of my birthed circumstances and the moral lessons to help me make sense of it all. Story time was everything I dreamed this life could be and opened my eyes to what it already was… in other words, story time was church. It was spiritual. It transcended me. It was a gathering, a listening, an intuiting, a shared emotional rite of passage that didn’t have a right or a wrong answer. You couldn’t get a check minus in story time. You only had to be a person. And that, dear ones, is why the gift of telling story is just that–a gift. It validates the complexity of our humanity and the diverse range of our experiences, and all we have to do is breathe and listen. 

Unlike reading alone, the experience of being read to (or reading to someone) transforms written narrative into a conversation between heartstrings. When characters are given voice, when a scene depiction is read with purpose and conviction and tone, suddenly this is now a world and these are now living beings that are taking up physical and emotional space in our lives. It becomes real. And when something becomes real, like all the greatest of fiction has taught us, we conjure empathy and compassion. The characters don’t need to look like us, or talk like us, live in our hometown…heck they don’t even have to live on this planet. Story makes everything, and everyone, a worthy subject of our love and understanding. And oh how this world could use a whole lot more of that.

Just yesterday one of my best friends mentioned to me that she and her husband were reading the Harry Potter series to one other before they went to sleep… and I couldn’t help but get wholly and utterly inspired to treat my own grown-up self with the same kind of joy and validation I gave my story-loving, story-needing child self. We don’t really grow up, you see. We just grow. 

Blessings and giggles,

Juliana 

20150408_goodjuju_portraits-057Bio: It probably won’t surprise you to know that Juliana grew up to become a storyteller. She’s a multiple Ovation-nominated choreographer, actor, dancer, and founding member of Los Angeles’ very own Boom Kat Dance Theatre. After over a decade of performing professionally in Southern California, Juliana moved to San Francisco with her husband (and former boy across the literal street), Ryan. It was upon the move to Northern California that Juliana tapped into her love of visual art to further her storytelling career. In 2014, Juliana founded Good Juju Ink, an illustration design company dedicated to spreading “good juju” one funny-but-tender illustration at a time. Good Juju Ink’s greeting cards are sold online at www.goodjujuink.com and at Paper Source locations nationwide. 

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