FIVE Tips for Using FEEDBACK PRODUCTIVELY

One of the best decisions I ever made as a writer was to be open to critique.  By this I mean showing my work to others with the express purpose of receiving feedback. Over the years, these critiques have come from a variety of sources including teachers, editors, agents and fellow writers.  

It takes courage and thick skin at times, I but opening oneself to critique is an essential part of growth. With that in mind, here are five tips for using feedback productively. These are geared to writers, but I think they apply to other situations as well. 

FIVE TIPS FOR USING FEEDBACK PRODUCTIVELY

TIP #1:  BREATHE AND BE GRATEFUL

  • Recognize that each person offering critique is doing so in spirit of being helpful.
  • Try to set aside feelings of defensiveness or sensitivity to criticism.
  • Feedback is a gift! 

TIP #2: BEFORE YOU DIG IN, RECOGNIZE THAT THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FEEDBACK

  • GLOBAL: Overarching feedback which pertains to piece in entirety, addressing issues such voice, setting, pacing, marketability, heart and more
  • STRUCTURE/STORY LEVEL: Pertains to structure of piece: rule of three, cumulative, parallel, story arc etc.
  • SENTENCE LEVEL: Focuses on details of story at sentence level. May pertain to voice, character and any elements of story. More than just grammar, but can also include grammar, word choice, meter/rhyme.
  • PRESCRIPTIVE: Gives specific suggestions for what to fix. 
  • DIAGNOSTIC: Makes observations and asks questions without prescribing specific solutions.

For more thoughts on these, visit:

https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/story-level-versus-sentence-level-thoughts-on-revising/

https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/heres-what-i-tinkle-thoughts-on-critiquing-stories/

TIP #3: GIVE EACH CRITIQUE A FIRST READ THROUGH

  • This is your chance to get an overall sense of feedback. Don’t try to react or respond. Just read.

TIP #4: DIG IN MORE CLOSELY

  • Look for types of feedback. 
  • Interact with feedback: Take notes, use a highlighter etc.
  • Look for patterns in feedback. (Are several people saying similar things?)
  • Look for the deeper message behind the comment. (Maybe, for example, what they are commenting on about an unconvincing plot development, is really grounded in an issue of theme or character.)

TIP #5:  APPLY WHAT RESONATES

After you have thoughtfully considered all the feedback, it’s time to revise!  Remember, though, that this is YOUR story.  Feedback is a gift to help you bring it to the next level.  That doesn’t mean, however, that you must apply every suggestion to your story.  Choose what resonates, always remembering, that you, ultimately, are the crafter of your own writing and that you know best the heart of your story.

Most of all, enjoy the process, because this is what we writers do. repeating the process until our stories sing!  HAPPY WRITING ALL! 

HYBRID AUTHOR VISIT: Inspiring Young Writers in Australia!

A lovely 3rd grade teacher from Australia reached out to me because her students are writing their own stories and she thought it would be special if they could meet an author and ask questions about writing. This is the second time we have done this, but with a new group of students. Before the visit she read LOVE IS KIND to them. Next, because it was hard to get a steady “live” video connection, I sent them a short video introducing myself and welcoming them to ask me questions via email. I received their questions just before they went on holiday and returned them yesterday. Once again, their questions are WONDERFUL and I thought you might enjoy reading a few of them. I’m also including a short excerpt from my video chat with them. What a marvelous use of technology and wonderful way to inspire children near and far to be readers and writers.

First, the video clip:

Next, three of their amazing questions, along with my responses.

 How much do you write in a day?

Sometimes I write a whole page. Sometimes I write a few sentences.  Sometimes, if I’m at a tricky part and have some story bits that need working through, my writing will take the form of notes or lists.  But even when I’m not writing, I’m very often thinking about writing and what is going happen next in a story I’m working on. That’s why I always keep pen and paper handy.

 In your book, Love is Kind, why do you have different lengths of text on each page?

This is a very good question. It shows you are reading like a writer! I think it’s a matter of keeping the story varied and interesting. Just as it would be very monotonous to have every single sentence be exactly the same number of words, it’s very boring to have the text on every page look exactly the same. Variety is the spice of life, and that’s true in page layout as well.

 What inspires you to write books that include morals?

It’s not that I purposely write stories with morals. It’s more that in a good story the protagonist needs to grow and learn something and be a better Little Owl, for example, by the end than he was at the beginning.  This is true of life too, isn’t it?  We hope to grow and learn as we journey along life’s way.

Finally, here’s an invitation for teachers to please reach out to me if you would like a visit – either in person, or virtually, or some sort of hybrid like this! And I still have a handful of free KINDNESS AUTHOR visits left. For more details on that visit: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2020/09/28/back-to-school-offer-celebrate-kindness-with-a-free-author-visit/

A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE: An Interview with Author Jennifer Grant

When I read the description of Jennifer’s newest book, A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE, illustrated by Gillian Whiting and published last month by Church Publishing, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview her.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

“In this beautiful book for children, a child tells her story of losing a beloved neighbor and friend. A young girl remembers playing with her neighbor’s cat, stories that her neighbor told her, and the special mementos her friend kept on a shelf above her kitchen sink, including a little blue bottle she kept to remind her of Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” A Little Blue Bottle doesn’t provide pat answers or heavy-handed messages about life or death, but allows the grieving child to articulate her loss and her love for the deceased friend, while wondering how God is near when we suffer. A gentle and insightful resource for children who are grieving, and for those who care for them.”

Wow! I sure could have used a book like this when my mother passed away a few years ago and we all, including my then 9 year old daughter and 13 year old son, were grieving. In the special connection department, I have on my window sill the little collection of blue bottles that my mother kept on her window sill. So you see, interviewing Jennifer was meant to be. Thank you Jennifer! And now, the interview with my questions in bottle blue.

First off, congratulations. A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE released on September 3oth! How has the launch been with the pandemic in full swing?

Thank you! I’m glad it is finally out! Launching a book in 2020, of course, has been very different from any of the other times I’ve released a book. 
I have a few favorite independent bookstores, including Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, IL, where I normally have book launch parties. The last one, for Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too (2019) was so much fun! My oldest and dearest friend came from out of state, my in-laws and mother from nearby, and many others were there to celebrate the book coming into the world. When I was in 7th grade, I had a special teacher who encouraged me in my writing; we’ve stayed in touch and she always comes to book launch parties in the Chicago area, which means the world to me. But this year, no launch parties… 


My husband offered to set up something on Zoom, but after attending my daughter’s high school graduation, my son’s college graduation, and birthday parties—including my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration—via Zoom, I just didn’t have the heart for it. 


As you know, one of the delightful things about writing for kids is reading to them—it’s been strange just having the book slip out into the world and not to experience it with children, in person.


Yes, I know what you mean. Virtual is better than not at all, but there’s nothing as special as in-person connecting through reading.

You write for both adults and children. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.


I always wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. In college, I took all the creative writing classes I could and then went on to grad school, studying English and Creative Writing. The kind of winding path of my career has always involved writing. I’ve written annual reports, white papers, newspaper features and columns, blog posts, articles, and books. It’s been over the past 4-5 years when I’ve turned my attention toward children’s literature.

I’m so glad you did! What inspired you to write A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE?

interior spread from A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE written by Jennifer Grant and illustrated by Gillian Whiting


A friend of mine lives near Newtown, CT, and after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I asked her whether she was finding good picture books about grief or death to read with her young children, some of whom knew kids who were murdered at their school. She said she hadn’t found anything she wanted to share with them during that time. That planted a seed in my mind; I thought it would be an honor to write a story that might offer comfort to grieving kids. The main character of Mrs. Wednesday (the older woman who dies in the book) is based on a few real-life older neighbors I’ve had, both as a child and when I was raising my kids. Certain details, like the cat hiding under the bed, are taken from real experiences with older women I’ve known. Intergenerational friendships can be so rich; I wanted to celebrate them in this book, too. 

What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book?  What other resources are available for extending the reading? 


I thought for a long time before writing the dedication to A Little Blue Bottle. I think it answers your question, and it reads: “For all who grieve—may your loneliness be eased and your hope reawakened.”

The publisher also made some downloadable activity pages related to the story. You can find them at: https://www.churchpublishing.org/littlebluebottle.

That’s a beautiful dedication for a much-needed book. Just lovely.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?


I’m currently working on two projects, and both of them will be released in Fall 2021. 


One is a book for adults, from Broadleaf Books, called Dimming the Day: Evening Meditations for Quiet Wonder. It’s a book of 20 readings about things in nature (things as ordinary as dandelions and as ornate as starling murmurations). Each short chapter tells a story, includes scientific information on the topic at hand, and ends with some poetry or a part of Scripture, and then a prompt for sleep. The idea is to change up the way we end the day—rather than doom-scrolling through the news headlines or social media, feeling a sense of wonder and awe about the natural world to relax before sleep.


The other book I’m working on is a picture book, and, again, I’m collaborating with the amazing artist Gillian Whiting, who illustrated A Little Blue Bottle. It’s a story I wrote early on in the pandemic and tells the story, for young children, about what has happened, how things have changed, and more about this time. Gillian is using a very different style in these illustrations. They’re powerful.


People can find my books online wherever they buy books or at bookshop.org, a wonderful way to purchase books and benefit independent bookstores. My writing guild, INK: A Creative Collective, has a bookshop store: https://bookshop.org/shop/INKcreativecollective.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Jennifer. Best wishes with this and all your upcoming projects.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Grant is the author of five books for adults and several for children, including the award-winning picture book Maybe God is Like That Too. A former newspaper columnist and the mother of four young adult children, she lives with her bicycle-obsessed husband and rescue dog Scarlett in the Chicago area. More at jennifergrant.com or find her on Twitter @jennifercgrant.

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST: Five Book-Themed Conversation Topics with Author Rebecca J. Gomez

Today I’m delighted to have talented picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez here in celebration of her newest release TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST, co-written with Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Hilary Leung and published by Scholastic. In addition to possessing delightful story telling skills, Rebecca has a knack for creating extension activities and discussion ideas to enhance any storytime. Today she’s sharing some ideas for fostering book-themed conversation with little ones after reading her book. The extra neat thing is that these ideas can be applied to almost any book. Take it away, Rebecca!

When I was a little girl, just about to start Kindergarten, my mother walked the short route to school with me so that, when the first day of school came, I could walk there on my own with confidence. I remember walking together down our street, making a left turn, and cresting a hill. From the top of that hill, I could see my school. It was simple.

So, on the first day of Kindergarten, with both parents at work and my babysitter tending my younger siblings, I set out to school on my own with confidence! But that confidence vanished when I reached the top of the hill and there was no school in sight! Fortunately, I was able to retrace my steps and make it back home, where I cried on the front stoop until my mother returned from work.

Rebecca as a child.

It was a frightening experience that I have never repeated since, though I have had plenty of scary moments in my life. That is something we can all relate to; being lost and/or scared is a universal human experience. That’s what makes TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST such a relatable book. And that relatability opens the door for lots of good discussions.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five discussion topics to help you get the conversation going with your kiddos after reading TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST!

FIVE BOOK-THEMED CONVERSATION STARTERS


1. Start with something simple. What was your favorite party of the book? Why? 

2. Make a life connection. Talk about a time when you were lost and/or scared. How did the situation get resolved?

3. Discuss illustration choices. Why do you think the illustrator included images of spooky shadows and glowing eyes in the pictures?

4. Talk about the story’s resolution. Mack and Rig were able to find their way once they were together again. Why do you think being together made a difference?

5. Life application! What might Mack and Rig have done differently in order to avoid getting separated? What should you do if you ever get lost? 

BONUS!!!

Here are a few activity ideas to try after reading TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST:

1. Set up a track and have a race with your own toy trucks or cars Even better, set up your own version of Rugged Ride Park!

2. Draw a map of your neighborhood or a favorite playground.

3. Print and color this coloring page.

Have fun with your TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST story time!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rebecca J. Gomez has been writing stories and poems for kids since she was five years old. She also loves to hike, draw, and play games with her husband and their three children. She also coauthored What About Moose? and Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks with Corey Rosen Schwartz. She is also the author of Federico and the Wolf. She lives in Nebraska, but you can visit her at rebeccajgomez.com.

LOVE IS KIND Author Interview on Los Angeles Public Library Blog

It’s not every day that an author, or at least THIS author, is blessed with the opportunity to be interviewed by a senior librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library!

This lovely opportunity was set in motion at the HarperCollins booth at the ALA midwinter convention this past January where I had just beforehand had a book signing for the Spanish edition of LOVE IS KIND – EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO. That, too, was a wonderful experience with a line that snaked around the corner. I loved interacting with librarians from all across the country. I think I signed 150+ books that day!

After the signing ended, I was browsing the other booths, when I got a text from my host at HarperCollinsChristian, Selene Covarrubias, that Ana Campos, Senior Librarian from the International Languages Department of the Los Angeles Public Library wanted to video record me and set up an interview for their blog. I hurried back, of course.

The video never ran because it was an invitation visit the library – which closed for in-person visits less than two months after the convention due to the pandemic. But, Selene took a picture of me being recorded, so you can see that.

Then, with the lockdown, everything on the blog was pushed back. Finally last Monday, the interview posted! And even LITTLE EWE (my upcoming book) got a mention. What a lovely situation, all around. Thank you, Ana Campos and the team at the Los Angeles Public Library blog! Now, in case you are interested in reading the interview, here is the link:
https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/interview-author-laura-sassi

ONE FINAL THOUGHT: All this library talk has gotten me thinking. If you haven’t done so already, would you mind checking to see if YOUR library owns LOVE IS KIND and EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO (or any of my books)? If they don’t, would you make a quick call to the children’s department and recommend them? Or, if you prefer, many libraries also have a “Suggest a Purchase” forms on their websites. Let me know if you do — as it would make my day.

Happy Reading!

SIDEWALK SIGNING JOY at Comfort Zone in Ocean Grove, NJ

This past Saturday, I had my first in-person event since the pandemic started. The signing took place on the wide sidewalk in front of Comfort Zone, a charming gift and book store on Main Avenue in historic Ocean Grove NJ. The event was safe and successful because of the thorough planning of store owner, Steve, as well as the patience and kindness of the customers who were so thoughtful of each other and of me – waiting until there was room to peruse the books at a safe distance from each other and me, always with masks on and only after a squirt of hand sanitizer! Thank you!

Here are a few pictures to capture the special day:

The view from my side of the table with a lovely bottle of hand sanitizer – an essential part of the event. Each pair of hands was squirted upon arrival at the table.
The view from the sidewalk. Such a lovely display! Do you like my mask?
About halfway through the event, I noticed Little Owl (the sweet protagonist of LOVE IS KIND) hanging out in the window behind me. Isn’t he darling?
After the event, I was hungry! Ice-cream for lunch is considered okay at the beach, right?

I didn’t get any pictures of me with customers, but my sidewalk visit to Comfort Zone made me realize how much I’ve missed the lovely interaction at signings like this. I got to hear so many stories of loved new little ones. I met several new “Grammies” who especially loved that the grandmother in LOVE IS KIND is called “Grammy” and I got to sign many, many books to wonderful children with names like Parker, Lani, Rylie, Earl, Lila, Mica, Charlie, Nicholas, Chase, Natalia and my favorite of the day – Sweet Baby James! And to hear the love in the grownups’ voices as they spelled the names for me was so heartwarming. Restoring to the soul!

Most of the books were purchased as gifts and it’s fun to imagine them being received. I hope each provides wonderful opportunity for new and growing families to bond and share in the joy of curling up together with a book and reading!

Thank you, all, for making my day!

FALL FUN DAY: FIVE TIPS for Celebrating Fall with Author Tara Knudson

Today I am delighted to have children’s author Tara Knudson here in celebration of the release of her most recent board book with Zonderidz, FALL FUN DAY. First, enjoy the colorful cover, illustrated by Juliana Motzko. Then, enjoy her five fun tips for things to do with your little ones after reading the book.

FIVE FUN ACTIVITIES for a FUN FALL DAY

By Tara Knudson

Thank you, Laura, for inviting me to your blog today! 

FUN FALL DAY allows the reader to step inside a fall fair with a petting zoo, pumpkin patch, hayride, and more! Even if you can’t go to a fall fair this year, there are still plenty of fun things in the book that you can do at your house or nearby. Here are five activities for a fun fall day!

GO FOR A NATURE WALK. Do the fall leaves change colors where you live? If they do, enjoy them with your kids. Shuffle through the leaves on the ground and hear them crackle and crunch! Collect the prettiest ones you can find. Make leaf piles and jump in! Where I live in Florida, the leaves do not change to the beautiful shades of red, yellow, orange, and gold that are associated with fall. I have not seen colorful fall leaves in several years and I miss the beauty of them. I hope to drive north and see some this year with my family.

PICK OUT A PUMPKIN. If you can’t make it to a pumpkin patch, it is still fun to pick out a pumpkin from a farmer’s market, your local grocery store or a roadside stand. Besides carving pumpkins, it is fun to decorate them with paint, stickers, glitter, and more.

MAKE A FALL TREAT. When I was young, we used to go to a village near Chicago named Long Grove and visit the Apple Haus. We bought and ate the most delicious apple cider donuts! You can bake apple cider donuts at home or a different fall treat with apples, pumpkin, cinnamon, maple – there are so many delicious flavors of the season.

MAKE A FALL CRAFT. This picture frame activity was created by Instagram: @glitter_on_a_dime. It is a simple fall craft that children will enjoy making. There are so many great projects online. Gather ideas and create!  Here’s the link: https://www.glitteronadime.com/fall-popsicle-stick-frame-craft/

MAKE YOUR OWN RIDE. A wagon ride may not be as exciting as a hayride, but it’s still fun. Have your kids cuddle under a blanket, feel the cool fall air, and admire the beauty of the season as you ride through your neighborhood.  

Enjoy the season everyone!

Learn more about Tara Knudson and her books here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

FREE Christmas Printable: GOODNIGHT, MANGER Coloring Page

NEW RESOURCE! Extend your GOODNIGHT, MANGER story time even more with this printable coloring page created by Zonderkidz.  

Use it to enrich your story time as:

  • a fun post-reading coloring activity
  • the template for a Christmas card
  • the picture prompt for a writing activity
  • the back drop for a class nativity set (with each child coloring one and assembling them quilt-style on a bulletin board behind the creche)

For an even fuller experience, use it with one or more of the GOODNIGHT, MANGER activities I’ve already compiled for you under the “Books” tab. Included there you will also find my very favorite extension idea that I use at all my preschool and church Christmas visits. Can you guess what it is? This!!!

Leer. Analizar. ¡Hacer!: EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO

Today I’m delighted to share a very special Read.Discuss.Do! graphic created by children’s author Rebecca Gomez for the Spanish edition of LOVE IS KIND — EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO! 

This is the same activity that she previously created in English:

A couple of week’s ago, it struck me that my Spanish language readers might enjoy this activity, so I asked Becky if she’d be up for creating a Spanish version. She said yes! It was a group effort, with special thanks to Rebecca’s husband and the Spanish team at Vida, but the final, lovely presentation is Rebecca’s. Thank you! 

Although this is the first graphic Rebecca has created in Spanish, it is far from her first Read.Discuss.Do!

This campaign (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo), which celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities, was created by Rebecca in 2017. That’s when she posted her very first #ReadDiscussDo in coordination with her picture book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?

Since then, she has created over 50 Read. Discuss. Do! graphics including one for each of my books.

Many of the graphics, as well as dozens of posts that feature either #ReadDiscussDo activities or book lists can be found on her website. She’s also planning to launch a Read, Discuss, Do! website so be on the look out for that.

In the meantime, discovering the activities is easy.  Simply search #ReadDiscussDo on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!

Thank you, Rebecca, for creating a Spanish version for this special activity. Happy reading, discussing and doing, all!

BACK TO SCHOOL OFFER: Celebrate KINDNESS with a FREE Author Visit!

LOVE and KINDNESS. They are more than just words. They are life-affirming actions that start in the heart. When extended to others, they spread joy and sweet affirmation that we each matter and are loved. They can make all the difference in a person’s day… and life. They are gifts both to be given and received. 

Since my kindness-themed picture books LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz) and DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling) made their debuts in 2018, I have been visiting local schools and libraries in-person sharing a message of kindness. 

Now, with so many classes learning via hybrid and/or virtual, I have a special invitation.  Between now and November 13th, which is World Kindness Day, I am offering a FREE 20-minute KINDNESS-THEMED author visit to TEN preschool and early elementary teachers.  If you are interested, reach out to me via the contact tab in the About section.

IMPORTANT DETAILS

For each FREE 20-minute visit I will:

  • Briefly introduce myself and describe what it means to be an author. I will also share the inspiration behind the book I will be sharing.
  • Read either LOVE IS KIND or DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE with a kindness take-away challenge for each.
  • Use puppets to aid in the storytelling.
  • Have a brief Q&A.

OPTIONAL: If you are interested in a longer virtual visit that includes a presentation of the journey a picture book takes from spark to publication, using early sketches, drafts and more, I also offer longer virtual visits that are fee-based. If a fuller visit interests you, please let me know that. My fees are reasonable and we will make the visit work to fit your budget.

Either way, I respectfully request that you or your school purchase a copy the book you select for your class library. I also request that book orders be made available to families so they can order books from the vendor of their/your choice.  I do not sell my books, but they are readily available through your favorite bookseller. I will provide a signed personally inscribed book plate for each book purchased. 

I look forward to spreading kindness in this special way this fall!  

This offer is good through November 13, 2020. Spots will fill quickly, so reach out to me soon via my contact tab in the About section. 

Happy Fall!