THREE CANS and a SPIDER: Thoughts on WRITING (and LIVING) from the HEART


Not long after my mother’s death a well-meaning acquaintance offered this condolence:  “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.” He was wrong. When you lose someone you love, you don’t get over it. Over time you adjust to it. The new reality settles in, but you don’t get over it. How could one even think that?

I no longer mourn my mother in the intense way I did in the months following her death. Still, every so often, something catches me – takes me by surprise- and I feel my heart wrench.

It happened last month when my daughter wrote her weekly reading letter to her teacher about the book she was currently reading, Charlotte’s Web. In the letter, my daughter said she understood how sad Wilbur felt when Charlotte died because she had lost someone special too (my mom). She also remarked that Wilbur would be okay, eventually, because he would always have Charlotte in his heart.

This wisdom from my sweet 10-year-old wrenched my heart, but then led to a great mommy/daughter chat about the joy of loving someone deeply and the hurt of losing them. We then gave thanks for Mattie’s life and reminisced about the wonderful hours she and Mattie spent drawing together.

My heart wrenched again this past Friday when I was, of all things, organizing my pantry. In the process of sorting and straightening, I discovered three expired cans (pictured above). See the dates written  on the sides of each can? My mother wrote those. These were cans from her pantry that made their way into mine after she got too sick to cook. And, you got it, they caught me by surprise and, suddenly, and unexpectedly, filled me anew with sadness at the permanence of her loss. Instead of stuffing those feelings back inside, I said to myself, “Okay, I’m feeling sad, so what am I going to do about it?”

And what did I too? I picked up the phone and called my sister. She wasn’t there, so I left a message. I felt better though, proud even, that I’d acknowledged that wrench in my heart.  And as I finished organizing the pantry, my mind flooded with all sorts of memories of the fun things my mom and I had done together involving, of all things, cans! I remembered taco dinners with canned beans, hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park with the kids and canned tuna fish sandwiches, and cold winter afternoon lunches with canned tomato soup – spiked with a little sherry, my mother’s favorite! And the next day, when my sister returned my call, we shared all over some of our best “mom” memories.

I believe that as writers we are called to write from the heart and thus we must be honest with ourselves about “heart” moments like these. They are the beat that keeps the heart soft and open, ready to receive and ready to give. Happy writing all!

Vroom! Ptta! Clack!: Thoughts on Vacuuming and Beating the Inner Editor

lost toy bits

Please join me over at my online critique group’s blog – PENS AND BRUSHES – for some thoughts on beating the inner editor. I’ll make it easy for you. Press here.

Celebrate POETRY with the HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN Poetry Player!

IMG_0344Highlights for Children is a monthly magazine for children ages 3 to 12. Founded in 1946, and with a circulation of about 2 million, it publishes stories, poems, crafts and articles that entertain children while also encouraging learning. In addition to the paper magazine, Highlights for Children has a fabulous website called Since we are midway through National Poetry Month, I thought it would be fun (and enlightening) to share with you a feature I recently discovered on the HighlightsKids website called Poetry Player.

With or without a subscription, Poetry Player offers readers of all ages the chance to hear poems previously published in Highlights for Children recited aloud to the accompaniment of music and a colorful illustration. To get to Poetry Player, click the Read It tab on the homepage.  This will open other tabs, including the Poetry Player.

I’ve chosen three poems from the Poetry Reader to share with you. Clicking the title will take you straight to HighlightsKids so you can enjoy the poem on their website. I’ve also included several follow up suggestions to enjoy the poems at home or in the class room. Thank you, Highlights for Children for this great resource! Enjoy all!

The Rescue by Laura Sassi (that’s me!)

After reading and listening to the poem, ask your child/class if they’ve ever seen squirrels’ nests. (They probably have. They look like bunched up balls of leaves nestled high in trees.) Ask if they’ve ever seen baby squirrels. Then take some time to “virtually” investigate a bit more about squirrels using this terrific article on squirrels from the Washington Post. As a follow up, go for a walk. Count the number of squirrels and/or nests you spot. Draw a picture and/or write a poem about your walk.

Dressed for Easter by Diana Murray 

Read and listen to the poem. The children are described as dressed in their Sunday best. What does that mean? What else is described as dressed? Can plants get dressed? Identify this as an example of personification. Then have fun sharing what your favorite parts of spring are. For added fun, draw a picture of Spring dressed in its Sunday best.

The Sense-ational Sea by BJ Lee

After reading and listening to the poem, read it aloud together in two voices with your child or class.  Then write your own Q and A poems modeled after BJ Lee’s lovely sea poem. Take turns reading them in two voices.


IMG_0343Since my kids are on break this week, I’m taking a little break from blogging. But just in case you are in the mood for a little writerly inspiration, I’d like to share with you fantastic blog I discovered while poking around the Picture Book Den, another favorite blog of mine.

Simply called Michelle Robinson – Children’s Author, this blog includes a wonderful regular feature called “Pencil Tips” in which Michelle thoughtfully and humorously advises writers on how to be good picture book writers. And as the author of over a dozen picture books, Michelle certainly knows what she is talking about. Curious? Then pop on over to Michelle’s. To make it easy, here are links to two of my favorite “Pencil Tips” (in lovely pencil orange).  Enjoy!

Pencil Tip #20:  Keep Moving Forwards

Pencil Tip #14:  Bad Writing Days

Stop by at Darlene’s…

PERCOLATORYesterday I had the nicest time over at Darlene’s blog. We chatted about GOODNIGHT, ARK and which animals on the ark kids like best. We even chatted a little bit about my next book which is scheduled to release in October. Curious? Then pour yourself a cup of coffee and pop on over.   And, thanks, Darlene, for having me!

MY LITTLE ANTIQUE IRON: Thoughts on Finishing Stories

IMG_0332Among the treasures I keep on my desk is a little antique iron. It belonged to my grandmother. Known as a “flat” or “sad” iron, which is an old word for “heavy”, my little iron has a very distinct #2 on its back.  After a little research, I learned that iron manufacturers numbered their products by size. The larger the iron, the larger the number. A #2 iron is on the small side. By the time this little iron was heating up on the stove, all the necessary lead-up work – the sewing (if it was a new garment), the washing, and the overall pressing – would have been completed. Only the last dainty details would have remained such as the delicate pressing of the lace on a collar or the little pleats on a shirt front.

Though in real life I despise ironing, I find this little iron inspiring.  To the writer in me, it signifies joy. It’s a reminder that after weeks of laboring and revising, there comes a point where my story is almost finished! The overall story is well-stitched and the time has come to delicately and attentively press through each sentence, making sure that every last comma and verb agreement are correct.

At what stage of the writing process do you find yourself today? Are you in the final, exhilerating round of pressing out every last comma, or are you still stitching away?  Either way, I hope that my little iron encourages you to press on!  Happy ironing, er writing, all!


And the Winner is…

Judd-CircusTrain-hires-FTCV-RGB-Final(2)I’m delighted to announce that the winner of this week’s special giveaway, a fresh off the press edition of Jennifer Cole Judd’s picture book, CIRCUS TRAIN (Two Lions Publishing, 2015),  is…


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

Thanks again, Jennifer, for sharing your book with us!   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. IMG_2887

Happy reading and writing, all!

Extension Activities for CIRCUS TRAIN by Jennifer Cole Judd (And a GIVE AWAY!)

Judd-CircusTrain-hires-FTCV-RGB-Final(2)Thanks so much for joining us again as we celebrate the launch of Jennifer Cole Judd’s debut picture book CIRCUS TRAIN (Two Lions Publishing).  Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. With that in mind, today I have asked Jennifer to share with us some extension activities she has developed for CIRCUS TRAIN.  Take it away, Jennifer!

Thanks, Laura. CIRCUS TRAIN lends itself to some fun extension activities. I’ll list a few here.

1. Animal Hunt. CIRCUS TRAIN is full of colorful animals. How many different animals can you find? Also, there are a few critters that show up again and again throughout the book. How many times can you spot a puppy with a pink tutu? A circus monkey with a red hat? A bright-eyed zebra?

2. Five Senses Fun. All five senses can be involved when reading CIRCUS TRAIN. Create a bubble map with each of the five senses (or just list them off!). Using the words and illustrations in the story, what are some things you can smell? See? Hear? Touch? Taste? Some examples to get you started are you might imagine the smell of popcorn, the sound of cannon fire, or the taste of pink cotton candy. Can you think of other things at a circus that aren’t mentioned in the book that you might also be able to touch, taste, smell, hear, or see?

3. Clowning Around. Count how many different clowns are in CIRCUS TRAIN. If you were a clown, what would your costume look like? Draw a picture of a clown. You might like to give him or her a name and share a silly action your clown likes to perform.

4. Vocabulary Building. There are some fun words CIRCUS TRAIN that are unique to a circus, as well as some new words that you may not recognize. Explore these vocabulary words: vendors, trapeze, ringmaster, encore, prancing, unfurling.

5. Circus Act Challenge. Have you ever been to a circus before? Which was your favorite circus act? Did you find it in CIRCUS TRAIN? If not, can you write a short rhyme about your favorite circus act? Or draw a picture of that act?

Jen Judd web picBIO: Jennifer Cole Judd writes children’s poetry and picture books. Her debut picture book, CIRCUS TRAIN, debuts this month from Two Lions Publishing. She also co-edited and contributed to AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN (Two Lions), a spooky middle-grade poetry anthology. Find out more about Jennifer by checking out her website. She can also be found on TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.

Now for the GIVEAWAY! We have one copy of CIRCUS TRAIN up for grabs! To enter for a chance to win simply leave a comment. Optional: Tell us what your favorite act in the circus is.  (Note: You must be at least 13 to enter and you may only enter once.) The contest ends Thursday, 3/26/2015 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner, whose name will be pulled from a hat, will be announced Friday. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. PRESS HERE to see who won.


Happy Birthday CIRCUS TRAIN!: An Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Jennifer Cole Judd

Judd-CircusTrain-hires-FTCV-RGB-Final(2)   Jen Judd web pic
Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Jennifer Cole Judd, whose brand new picture book, CIRCUS TRAIN (Two Lions Publishing), debuts TODAY! She is also the co-editor and a contributing poet to AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN (Two Lions), a spooky middle-grade poetry anthology. Her poems and stories have been published in a variety of children’s magazines. She and I met as critique partners in the wonderful online critique group, The Poets’ Garage. And now for the interview with my questions in festive turquoise to coordinate with CIRCUS TRAIN’s colorful cover. 
Have you always been a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.
My writerly journey definitely began when I was a wee one.  My mother still has a frayed scrap of paper of a rhyme I wrote when I was about five years old.  I wouldn’t say I was always a consistent poetry writer, but even my doodles on my homework in high school and in college were couplets and phrases and little thought-foxes, as opposed to drawings.  I studied some creative writing and majored in English literature in college, but it wasn’t until I had kids and spent weekly visits to the library, scouring the picture book and children’s poetry sections, that I started to explore the world of children’s writing.  I’ve spent the past decade tiptoeing into the world of submitting, starting with poems to magazines and joining critique groups, while having and raising my five fantastic kiddos.
What inspired you to write CIRCUS TRAIN? And what was the process from inspiration to publication like?  
The inspiration for CIRCUS TRAIN came one hot August afternoon when we took our (then) brood of four children to the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus.  Watching my preschool daughter’s eyes widen and hearing her gasp or giggle with each new act made the whole show a magical experience for me.  I came home with that imagery still in my mind, and decided to sit down and try to capture that wonder and excitement (and hopefully, just a touch of nostalgia) that radiated from my daughter that day.  I wrote it as a poem, at first, using the short, clipped verse (as Verla Kay refers to it, “terse verse”) for just a few couplets.  There’s so much to see in a circus, though, so it grew to picture book length pretty quickly.  The first version of the story didn’t have a train in it; I put it through critique groups and subbed it out only twice before I decided to hold off on it and focus on my poem writing for the time being.  That was back in 2006!  I pulled the manuscript out in 2012, and that was when the train emerged in the story. I revised it, shared it with my critique partners, and subbed it to Two Lions.  I was surprised (and thrilled!) when they acquired a few months later.
Your love of language is evident in CIRCUS TRAIN’S  rich word choice and rhythmic rhyming verse. How was that love developed? 
Thank you for the kind words! I do love the musicality of words and using poetic sound devices. I have always loved poetry, all kinds of poetry, from Emily Dickinson to Shel Silverstein.  I would also have to credit my first poetry critique group, the Poets’ Garage, for helping me shape my rhyme and rhythm skills, as well as train my “ear” to hearing that smooth rhythm. That group, in fact, was where my first publication, EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN was born, a spooky poetry anthology that I co-edited with Laura Wynkoop (and which included fourteen poets from that talented bunch!).  Being around fellow children’s poets and reading wonderful poetry continues to fuel that love. It still takes a lot of practice for me, but it’s so much fun when you find that perfect word that makes a few lines sing.
The illustrations that accompany your story are fresh and fun. Tell us a little bit about the artist.  Do you have a favorite spread? 
Melanie is amazing! She is an illustrator and designer all the way from Melbourne, Australia and does wonderful, colorful artwork. You can take a peek at more of the cool stuff she does at It is so hard to pick a favorite spread–I love the details that Melanie puts on to each page.  The first full-spread has this neat, whimsical circus ticket that floats on the breeze above the blooming, striped tent (and might show up later in the book, if you keep an eye out for it!). There are fun details on every spread!
Jennifer, thank you so much for letting us share in the book celebration today.
Connect with Jennifer Cole Judd: Find out more about Jennifer by checking out her website. She can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
For all you teachers and parents, you’re in for a treat tomorrow as Jennifer will  be sharing some fun extension activities for CIRCUS TRAIN. (There will also be a GIVE AWAY!!!!) See you then!

SCHOOL VISIT: Thank you, Bloomingdale Avenue School!

IMG_0313Last week I spent two delightful mornings visiting  K – 2nd graders at Bloomingdale Avenue School.  I visited each class for thirty fun-packed minutes. With the help of my two skunk assistants, we read the story and talked about its various characteristics including rhyme and rhythm, humor, and building suspense. Every class impressed me with their great prediction skills and their impressive word knowledge. I didn’t expect words like onomatopoeia and alliteration to roll of their tongues with such ease!

And afterwards, to my utter delight, I received a special delivery from the kindergartners – thank you notes depicting in picture and words their favorite characters.  Each and every one is a treasure and I now present to you a sampling. Enjoy!





Thank you teachers and students for a great visit! And happy reading and writing to all!