GOOD NEWS: New Picture Book Deal!

IMG_3148I’ve been keeping this news to myself for some time now, but the announcement ran in Publishers Marketplace today, and I even spotted the book listed on the Target website, so I think I can finally spill the beans!

Here it is:

“Laura Sassi’s LOVE IS KIND, in which a little owl searches for the perfect gift for his beloved grandmother and learns about love along the way, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet, to Barbara Herndon at Zonderkidz, for publication in December 2018, by Lara Perkins at Andrea Brown Literary Agency for the author (World).”

And now, in celebration, have a virtual nibble from one of these adorable cookies baked by Miss A. (She sure knows how to decorate a cookie!)

Here’s my writerly takeaway from this latest fun news: Keep writing.  Keep subbing. Keep honing your craft. Be true to yourself and good things will come. Happy writing all!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Annie Silvestro in Celebration of the Release of her Debut Picture Book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB!

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Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Annie Silvestro, as my guest. Annie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference and I’ve enjoyed following her (and cheering her on) in her writing journey.  Her debut picture book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss and published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, releases this month. The story of a book-loving bunny who sneaks into the town library and borrows books for all his forest friends, KIRKUS REVIEWS hails BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB as a “sweet salute to reading” . And in its review, PUBLISHERS’ WEEKLY states that Annie “makes the pleasures of reading abundantly clear.”  What’s abundantly clear to me is that Annie has a gift for charming storytelling. Welcome, Annie and let’s get started.

Your love of language is evident in BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB. How was that love developed?

Thank you for saying that! I have always been a reader and my love of language goes hand and hand with that. One of the many joys of reading is recognizing that perfect word, sentence, paragraph, or passage that stands out and elevates the story.

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Author Annie Silvestro as a child.

Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey. 

I have always loved children’s literature, but it took me a while to see myself as a writer. I first attempted to write down a beloved story that my father told me growing up. I failed at that, but the experience gave me the courage to keep trying and to come up with my own ideas. Once I found the SCBWI, it was a done deal.
Do you have writing advice for children? Adults? 

For children who are writing, my best advice would be to recognize that your first draft isn’t your only draft. Writing also means lots and lots of revision.

Good advice in general is to read as much as you can. Listen and observe the world around you. Ideas are everywhere. When you are lucky enough to get one, write it down! Just as quickly as ideas can appear, they tend to disappear as well.

 BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”!  What do you like best about this exciting new stage?

It is the most amazing feeling! So far the absolute best part has been photos that friends and family have sent of their kids holding or reading my book. It is surreal and wonderful and I haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. I am feeling all kinds of grateful, too, for the support I’ve received. It’s unbelievable.

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A young fan enjoying Annie’s book!

Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.  


I wish you had asked me about Picture the Books! Picture the Books is an incredible crew of debut authors and illustrators with books coming out in 2017. It is so fun to share this journey with such a talented group! You can find us all in one place and learn about our books and more here.
as-photoBio:
Annie Silvestro is a lover of books who reads and writes as much as possible and can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup. Her picture books include BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday Books for Young Readers), MICE SKATING, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling, Fall 2017), and THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (HarperCollins, Fall 2018). Annie lives by the beach in NJ with her husband and two boys who like to read, and a cat who does not. Visit Annie online at: www.anniesilvestro.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @anniesilvestro.

Celebrating THE GREEN UMBRELLA: 10 Extension Activities!

This week I’m sharing yet another ADORABLE new picture book out just in time for Valentine’s Day. Written by Jackie Azua Kramer and charmingly illustrated by Maral Sassouni in their double debut, THE GREEN UMBRELLA (NorthSouth Books, Inc, 2017) is story of a friendly pink elephant, his green umbrella, and the imaginative friends he meets along the way.  Treat yourself to the delightful book trailer. Then help yourself to a rich serving of extension activities celebrating rain, friendship, sharing, and the power of imagination!

 

THE GREEN UMBRELLA:  10 Extension Activities 

Make umbrella valentines. With its theme of friendship and kindness, The Green Umbrella makes a perfect Valentine’s read.  Afterwards, celebrate friendship and kindness with your child by making these cute umbrella-inspired valentines using colorful paper, index cards, and those mini candy-canes that you might still have left over from Christmas!   

img_3858Be an inventor. After enjoying the story, extend the fun by having your child imagine how THEY might creatively re-purpose the umbrella if they were in the story.  Then using paper or clay, or whatever materials tickle your fancy, bring your idea to life!  (For extra fun, have have a few cocktail umbrellas on hand to be incorporated into the creation.

Put on a play.  Creatively re-enacting the story is a great way to embrace and reinforce the wonderful concepts of empathy, friendship, and imagination.  So, after reading the story, have fun retelling it using stuffed animals, puppets, or yourselves!  Don’t forget to use an umbrella as a prop!

img_3855Have an umbrella tea party. With your child’s help, fix a pot of tea (or lemonade) and arrange (or even bake) a plate of cookies.  Then grab a picnic quilt, an umbrella and, if possible, a few friends! Select a cheery spot outdoors (or indoors if it’s raining), then read and have tea under an umbrella, just the way Elephant and his friends do in the story.

IMG_3853.jpgTake a rainy day stroll.  Take advantage of the next rainy day to read the story and then take your very own stroll in the rain.  Catch rain drops on your tongue, splash through puddles, and take turns holding the umbrella for each other!  Then come inside for a book-themed rainy day snack of tea and cookies.

img_3851Shower the world with kindness (umbrella style!). Using little strips of paper brainstorm and write down 14 sweet acts of kindness.  (Ex. Hold the door open for someone; Make a card for someone; etc.)  Fold and tape the strips to the bases of little paper cocktail umbrellas.  Place umbrellas in a bowl. Each day, select an umbrella to find your surprise mission.  Then shower strangers and loved ones alike with your sweet acts of kindness.

Play umbrella hide and seek.  While one person has their eyes covered, another hides the umbrella making sure everyone else sees where it is hidden.  Then using clapping (to sound like soft rain or a raging storm) help the person whose eyes were covered to find the umbrella.  No voices allowed.  Only the pitter-patter of rain – soft if they are far from the umbrella and loud if they are close. (Warning:  This game will be a big hit!)

Play musical umbrella.  First put on your favorite children’s kindness/friendship themed album.  (We like anything Raffi at our house.)  Then, using the umbrella instead of the more traditional “hot potato”, sit in a circle and gently pass the umbrella to the music. When the music stops, everyone says one kind thing to the person holding the umbrella. Ex. You are funny.  I like your striped socks.  You make me feel welcome etc.)

Watch the book trailer. Then make your own!

Your turn!  I know I said 10, but I have a better idea! I bet you might have some, so in the comments section below, leave an idea and let’s see how many we end up with!

Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Reading! 

To learn more about Jackie, visit her website.

To learn more about Maral, visit her website.

The ROSE: A Not Too Sappy Analogy (Well, Maybe a Little)

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I first posted this “rosy” post back in 2013 – my first February blogging.  However, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it still feels as fresh and fun as ever.  Enjoy!

It was sleeting and snowing, but I decided to walk anyway. The world was black, white, and gray. Then something pink caught my eye. It was a rose, lying in the slushy street. I picked it up, for it was the perfect cheery burst of color on a dreary day. There must be some analogy to writing here, I reflected. My mind whirred with possibilities.

Nearing home, I crossed an old bridge with a wrought-iron railing. Setting my rose beneath the railing, I searched my purse for my camera to take the perfect shot of my rose set against a gray backdrop. It wasn’t there. Hurrying home, I grabbed it and invited my husband to join me on my picture-taking walk.

As we slushed along, I described my blog idea, that the rose might represent my cheery stories and poems. My husband thought for a moment, then observed, “Laura, the rose is decapitated.”

Then he mused, “And isn’t it odd to find real roses outside this time of year?”

Yes, perhaps, but that just made it more beautiful, right?

We were almost to the bridge when he asked the final blog-zapping question. “Where exactly did you find it?”

I pointed. “Up there, in front of the church.”

“Laura, there was a funeral there this morning.”

With heavy heart, I took my picture.

Once home, I set my rose afloat in a pretty bowl. And though I’ve enjoyed her beauty all week, my cheery analogy feels sappy now.

Now when I look at her all I can think is “heart”. This rose isn’t just some sugar-coated flower. She’s got backstory. First she was cut from the roots and decapitated, then tacked to a hearse, on a one-way trip to the cemetery. By chance she toppled off the hearse and was redeemed. It’s this history that makes her special and gives her dimension. It’s what gives her “heart”.

Likewise, to create heart-felt stories, we must create characters with heart, not just shallow pink rose representations. There are far too many picture books out there with one-dimensional characters. Others tend towards “cute” rather than “clever”, and those stories end up feeling sugar coated and sappy, much like my first rose analogy. But, dig a little deeper, to find the heart of your character’s problem and/or situation and you’ll have a story that resonates deeply with your reader.

Happy writing, all, and may all your stories be rosy (in the not sappy way).

GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE: Launch Party!

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There’s an ADORABLE new picture book out just in time for Valentine’s Day called GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE.  Written by Diana Murray and humorously illustrated by debut picture book illustrator, Bats Langley, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE (Sky Pony Press, 2017) is the story of an appealing young monster who wants to make his sweetheart the perfect valentine. Unfortunately, he’s also hungry! The story is funny and cute and would make a wonderful addition to your Valentine’s Day book collection.  I also find it amusing that it’s currently listed as #1 at Amazon in the category “Children’s Spine-Chilling Horror” and “Children’s Valentine’s Day Books”. That’s quite a combination – and a winning won!    

To celebrate it’s release, the AFA Gallery in SoHo hosted a monstrously delightful book launch event.  The three hour event included…

 book-themed treats…

lots of opportunity to chat with author and illustrator…img_3830

and, of course, books to be signed !

Many of Bats Langley’s preliminary sketches were also on display and for sale.  img_3832

I hope these pictures give you a sense of the magic, not only of the event, but of the book itself.  I can’t wait to share my newly signed copy with all my teacher friends as well as our children’s librarian.  Happy reading, all!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR:

Diana Murray is a poet and picture book author whose other books include City Shapes, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, and Ned the Knitting Pirate. Diana’s award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Highlights and Spider. She lives in New York City with her husband, two very messy children, and a motley crew of lizards, snails, and fish.

Bats Langley grew up in Wolcott, Connecticut and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. His art has been shown in galleries in New York City, Los Angeles, Hangzhou, China, and has even been displayed in the United States Capitol building. Mr. Langley has also been a regular contributor to Ladybug and Spider magazines. This is his first picture book. He resides in New York, New York.

GOODNIGHT, ARK: A Framing Follow-up

After my post last week about about framing my newly arrived, and oh-so-special, original Jane Chapman illustration, many of you requested that I share the outcome.  As you may recall, I spent almost two hours at the frame shop dithering over matte, frame and layout.  That dithering led me to write (for myself, mostly) a little writerly pep talk, which I certainly needed that day. I hope it was just what you needed as well. Here’s that pep talk  post, just in case you could use a writerly boost.

Now, without further ado, here’s the final framed version – first in the shop…

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and now hanging in a cozy lamp-lit corner of my living room where I can enjoy it everyday!

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This is where I’m sitting right now as I write this post and this is where I look forward to writing some more tomorrow and on Sunday.  I hope you, too, can find a nice cozy place to curl up and be creative this weekend. Happy reading and writing, all!

Marketing the SNOW BALL Way!

IMG_0607Your debut book is out! You have several copies in your hands to prove it. It’s available in stores and online. You’ve had a blog tour. Perhaps you even have a book trailer. And to your delight, the reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist etc. have started to come in and you are getting a growing number of reviews on GoodReads and Amazon.

What should you do now? I’ve found that doing book events at stores, libraries and schools has been a great (and fun) way introduce each of my books locally and beyond.

In celebration of the release of both the hardcover and board versions of each of my books, I set a goal of doing between 15 and 20 events. These included events at book stores, libraries, a local ceramics shop, and a Christmas festival. I’ve also done story times at book fairs, nursery schools, both in person and via Skype, and this year I’ve even branched out and spoken at a couple of church-based women’s events. Oh, and I was on tv! And even though Goodnight, Manger has been out for over a year now, and Goodnight, Ark has been out for two, I still try to brainstorm creative event possibilities and schedule a couple of events per month.

I arranged my first three book events by simply calling local bookstores and sending follow-up emails that included details about the book as well as a link to the book trailer. But in the big picture I’m learning that cold calls aren’t the most effective strategy.  More often than not, they don’t go anywhere.

Instead, I have found that having some connection, or someone to introduce you, works best. For example, at my first bookstore event, I met a woman who loved the book and recommended it to the director at her daughter’s preschool.  That led to my first preschool visit.  The director of that school enjoyed the visit and mentioned it at a regional preschool directors’ meeting.  That led to more events. Similarly, one bookseller thought I did a nice job presenting the story and recommended me for an in-store book fair with a local preschool. I subsequently did yet another in-store book fair at another store branch. And now, several times a year, I’m invited back to both book stores for in-store book fair events. Most of my library events have also been initiated by recommendations from people that knew of me and my book.

To use a wintry analogy on this snowy day, I would say this marketing strategy has a delightful snowball effect with each visit leading to others.  All it takes is a little effort to get the ball rolling. With that in mind, the first thing I would recommend to first time authors is to make a list of friends/colleagues you know who have connections to area bookstores, schools and libraries and see if they will make introductions for you.

imageDon’t fret if you don’t make a stunning number of sales at each event. A few sales are nice, yes, but your deeper, more lasting goal should really be about raising awareness.  As two booksellers have reminded me, a book event is really about much more than the hour or two you are physically present at the event. It’s about generating interest in your book. And see the picture (left) which shows my book on display in the window of Books and Co. (And Toys Too!), a lovely independent bookstore in Lexington, VA where I had two signings? Only ONE family came to the morning signing.  But the owner was not concerned.  Indeed, she was delighted because each day leading up to the book event (and afterwards too) customers, having seen the book in the window, came in to purchase copies.  She sold 77 the week of that event and even now, two years later, she says that my books continue to be regular sellers.

So take my snowball advice and have a ball at local book events!  It’s worth every snowflake.

CHAOS TO CALM: My First TV Interview!

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Last night I had my first tv interview on a Christian parenting show called Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner. We chatted about books, life, and faith.

Here’s Noelle’s official description of the  episode: “Children’s book author Laura Sassi is this month’s guest on my parenting TV series, Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner! The episode topic is “The Calm of Building Faith Foundations,” and Laura will weigh in on that as an author, mother, and educator. The magic that makes her stories come alive will open new avenues for sharing faith in your own home!”

If you’d like to watch the episode, here is the link.  Be sure also to enter the wonderful 10-book giveaway that Zonderkidz has authorized in conjunction with Noelle’s episode.  For details and to enter, please visit Noelle’s blog.

GOODNIGHT, ARK: Original Spread (And a Writerly Pep Talk)

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I love my porch. It’s a wonderful spot for reading, people watching, and playing board games with my kids. It’s also a great landing spot for special packages, like this sturdy parcel which landed here on Friday!

I knew this was my long anticipated birthday/Christmas gift and I couldn’t wait to unwrap it!

First, there was the bubble wrap. Next, I could  could just see the top edge in a tidy plastic encased swirl.

Finally, first through plastic…img_3782

and then – oh my – in my hand!  

img_3783-1It’s the original hand-painted spread for the “Time for bed/It’s getting dark” spread in GOODNIGHT, ARK!  I just love the details in the original – actually being able to see the layering of paint and those tiger whiskers, Jane, are just amazing!  

Thank you, Dad, for this lovely gift, and thank you, Jane for being will to part with one of these treasures!  

img_3786After oohing and aahing with my family, I took the illustration straight to my favorite local framing shop.  And Stefanie and I (Thank you, Stefanie!) spent almost two hours playing with mattes and frames and lay out options.

Now, here’s my writerly pep talk – which I very much needed on Friday, by the way. I had optimistically put $.50 in the parking meter, thinking that an hour would be ample time to select the perfect matte, frame and layout for Jane’s piece.

But after an hour, we still hadn’t found a winning combination. To be honest, I was ready to be finished, but Stephanie handed me $.50 to replenish the meter and so, even though it was raining, I dashed out to buy another hour’s time.

When I returned to the shop, waterlogged, Stephanie said something so simple, yet so wise.  Here are her words:  “Oh, good, we’ve got more time because I think you and I both know it’s not quite working yet.”  I smiled at her honesty.  And somehow, with that truth now out there in the open, it was easier to return to the quest. Indeed, shortly thereafter, tucked low on one of her revolving racks, I found a simple wooden frame that really said “Noah’s Ark” to me. Once we had that, it was suddenly clear as daylight which matte we should use.  What it took was admission that we weren’t quite there yet and renewed intent and joy in the search.  

It’s like that as writers too.  We work and work on a story, at points even hoping that it’s finished and ready to submit.  But, sometimes, it just isn’t and what that story really needs is an honest voice – maybe your own, or maybe that of your critique partner or agent – to say “Keep at it, it’s not quite working yet”.  

Then, even if your spirit feels rained on, go add money to the meter!  Keep at it. Don’t give up! Persevere!  You will make that story sing. It may just take looking at it from a new perspective, digging deep and finding a new ending twist -or bit of arc- tucked low in the recesses of your brain, waiting to be discovered. 

Happy writing this rainy  week and don’t be afraid to add extra money to that meter!

BROKEN SHELLS: Thoughts on Creating Compelling Characters

On our beach vacation, I woke early each morning to go shell hunting. I hoped to find perfectly formed shells, like the ones my grandmother collected. Instead, all I found were broken shells. At first, I was disappointed, then I spied the heart of a broken conch shell and it was love at first sight. Only the innermost swirl remained – smooth and glowing – a survivor of the sea. For the rest of the week, I collected just broken shells – each chipped and worn in its own special way – striking testaments to fantastic journeys of survival in churning seas and crashing tides.

Good characters are a lot like broken shells. If their situation is perfect and/or they have no flaws, they’ve got no reason to grow or change. Then we, as readers, have no great incentive to read their stories. We probably won’t even be able to connect to them because, face it, nobody’s perfect. Broken characters, by contrast, strike a chord deep in readers’ hearts. They give us hope that we too can overcome whatever challenges we face despite, or maybe even because of, our flaws.

This is even true of picture books. Would the classic Curious George books be such kid-hits if that little monkey weren’t so incorrigibly nosy? More recently, would David Shannon’s NO, DAVID, NO! touch the hearts of mothers and sons as deeply, if little David weren’t so perpetually in trouble? And what about Peggy Parish’s forever bumbling Amelia Bedelia, or Bernard Waber’s lovable Lyle, the crocodile, whose sickly green jealousy in LYLE AND THE BIRTHDAY PARTY touches a chord in every kid’s heart. The list of inspiringly imperfect and thus lovable picture book characters goes on and on.

My collection of broken shells now sits in a bowl by my desk, a striking reminder that the best characters we create, the ones that survive in our collective memories, are those that aren’t perfect. Thus, as a writer, I aspire to imperfection in my characters. What about you?

Note: I first posted this oldie but goodie in 2012. It’s still as relevant today as ever and I still have that bowl of shells by my desk as I write.  Happy character building all!