SNEAK PEEK: Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse!

IMG_5684Ready for a sneak peek at what arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon? It’s an advance copy of my newest picture book DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, delightfully illustrated by British artist Rebecca Gerlings and published by Sterling Children’s Publishing.

I’m experimenting with doing little video clips to celebrate its upcoming release (March 6th!). Here’s the first. If anyone can let me know how I can improve the resolution for the next one, I’d love that! Thank you and enjoy!

 

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IN MEMORY OF MY EIGHTH GRADE TEACHER:  Thank you, Shirley Vaux!

IMG_5668Thursday night out of the blue, while on Facebook, I was “waved” at by my ninth grade English teacher.  I’d never been “waved” at before, but it seemed fun, so I “waved” back and then she sent me a “thumbs up”.  This teacher and I reconnected on Facebook a couple of years ago when she commented on a mutual friend’s post and I decided I wanted to reach out to thank her for the profound influence she had in fostering my love of writing.  Indeed, Mrs. Rebholz was the first teacher to encourage me not to settle for the first thought that crossed my mind during discussion or when writing, but to “keep percolating” as she called it.  I’ve written a couple of posts about  the influence her challenge to “keep percolating”  has had on my writing. You can find those here and here. But I digress.

After our friendly “wave”, I decided, on impulse, to ask her if she was in contact with another special teacher from my Valley View Junior High days.  Earlier last year, I had attempted to get in contact with this teacher, but without success.  Now, here suddenly, was a new opportunity. Full of hope, I sent her this inquiry via Facebook message:

“Are you ever in touch with Shirley Vaux? She taught creative writing and I had her in eighth grade. I kept a creative journal for her in that class which I still have. I would love to reconnect with her if she remembers me.  Is she on Facebook?”

Her answer stunned me.  “Her funeral was today.  She would have loved to know your success.  Keep percolating.”

Saddened that I had waited too long to say thank you, and a little in disbelief over the sorrowful news, I quickly googled “Shirley Vaux obituary MN” and, sure enough, there it was in the Star Tribune. As I read the obituary, I marveled at what a remarkable woman Shirley Vaux was.  Not only did she teach English for years and years, but she was also (long after I graduated) the principal of my high school.  And I could tell by the obituary, that she was a beloved wife, companion, sister, mother, grandmother, and even great-grandmother.

Overcome with emotion, I decided, again on impulse, to leave a comment using the newspaper’s comment function. This is what I wrote:

“I was just tonight asking Carolyn Rebholz, who I reconnected with via Facebook, if she was in touch with Mrs. Vaux, as I wanted to reach out and thank her for the wonderful creative foundation she helped set in place for my future writing endeavors. Alas, I was just a few days too late. She was a gifted teacher and beautiful soul. I still have (and treasure) the creative journal she had us keep in her eighth grade creative writing class. Blessings to her family.”

But now, as I’ve been percolating over the whole situation, I realize I want to remember her more fully. And the way I want to honor her memory today – is by saying THANK YOU for being one of the best teachers a young, tentative writer could have!

I had the privilege of having Mrs. Shirley Vaux for a one semester creative writing class in the spring of my eighth grade year. Over the course of the semester, Mrs. Vaux opened the channels of imagination and wordplay for her students. We wrote poems, character sketches, short stories and even picture books.  But the assignment that forever shaped who I have become as a writer was her introduction of a writer’s journal. Each day for eight weeks, we were to keep a daily writer’s journal because good writers, as she explained, needed space to write freely and explore.

IMG_5659This is the journal I chose to use. Over the course of the next eight weeks, I diligently wrote in it every day. And those moments of writing were the best moments of each day. I couldn’t wait to write!  I wrote about my memories of living France. I captured snippets of conversations on the school bus. I experimented with free verse.  And each week, Mrs. Vaux, diligently and lovingly read each entry and responded!  With comments like theseIMG_5661… and these.IMG_5663

And after the eight weeks ended, I kept writing. I’m not kidding.  By the end of high school, I had filled this many journals….IMG_5664

by the end of college, this many…IMG_5665

by the end of my first eight years of teaching this many…IMG_5666

by the time my children were school age, this many…IMG_5667

and to date… this many!IMG_5668

And when I stopped teaching to raise my family, I started submitting stories and poems to magazines.  Lots and lots of magazines.. a whole thick binder of clippings worth! IMG_5669 2 And then I delved into picture books with first one… then two…then three… with one more due out at the end of next year… with hopefully more after that!

 

 

Dear Mrs. Vaux,  I am so sorry that I missed the chance to thank you for the special role you played in getting this ball rolling.  But now, I hope, that perhaps by posting this, your loved ones can know, as indeed they must already know, what a special person you were!

THANK YOU, Mrs. Vaux and rest in beautiful peace.

(Please share, if you are so moved, in the hopes that Shirley Vaux’s loved ones will know that – near and far – she is remembered fondly and with great respect.)

Sincerely,

Laura

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Introducing Diva Delores and Fernando (the Opera House Mouse!)

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In just three months Diva Delores, the star of my next picture book, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling Children’s Books, March 6, 2018) will make her debut, as will her darling sidekick, Fernando.  And all of a sudden, last week, it hit me — what will they wear?  I mean a diva can’t  just wear any old thing to her debut. And neither can her companion.  They need to look special. They need to look dazzling.  They need to take your breath away.   I realized, I better get busy!!!

So, over the holidays, with the help of a couple of sweet elves (a special thanks to Dianne Herrick and Nancy Benz!), and inspired by Rebecca Gerlings wonderful illustrations, we got Diva Delores and Fernando all dressed up and ready to go. Since I plan on attending each and every book event and school visit as well, we pulled together a little something special for me too!

Ready for a sneak peek? Enjoy!

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Both Delores and Fernando were extremely cooperative with the whole “glam” up process.  Here they are right before we got started, chilling out with the notions on Dianne’s sewing table.

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Here I am sewing on Delores’ pearls.  She was a very patient seal and the pearls look “daahling”.

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Delores was dee-lighted with Dianne’s superb sense of style in creating a dazzling headpiece. Fernando, meanwhile, was extremely patient, though he did manage to get into the cheese while Dianne was sewing the headpiece in place. (See below.)

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With headpiece and pearls in place, it was time for me to drape and sew on Delores’ boa.  After all that work, she and I decided to take a little break and practice our cadenzas.

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After a few more cheese and crackers, we were ready to return and get Fernando dressed in a snappy blue jacket.  I’m still working on his spectacles.

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And since I plan to attend Diva Delores’ many events as well, we thought it only proper that I have something dazzling to wear too.  A big thank you to Dianne for finding the shoes and to Nancy for providing the snazzy pink fascinator, not to mention the long black gloves and gaudy baubles.  The pearls were my mother’s.  See you at the opera!  =)

SIX Nativity Activities to Teach 6 – 8 Year Olds About Christmas (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

          One of my favorite Christmas memories is of watching my daughter play with the Baby Jesus that was part of our Christmas nativity. Pretending that Baby Jesus was crying, she’d gently take him out of the manger, rock him, feed him a bottle, and softly sing a lullaby or two.
         Here she is – several years ago – sweetly singing “Away in a Manger” with me after playing with the Baby Jesus. In the background (when we sway) you can even see that little nativity.

    
         Wasn’t that adorable?!  Her sweet play inspired me to write “Goodnight, Manger”, a Christmas bedtime picture book that not only serves as a fun reminder that Jesus was once a baby who cried and felt everything we feel, but which also keeps Christ, rather than Santa, as the focus during the holiday season. 
         With all this in mind, this week I am a guest over at Noelle Kirchner, The Ministering Mom’s website, noellekirchner.com,  sharing SIX Nativity Activities to Teach 6 – 8 Year Olds About Christmas , plus there’s a giveaway for one signed copy of GOODNIGHT, MANGER! I also previously shared on her blog 8 Nativity Activities to Teach Little Ones About Christmas so please check that out as well.
Thank you for having me, Noelle!!
Blessings, all!

A BOOK REVIEW By Miss A: THE WAR I FINALLY WON

Miss A. did such a lovely job on this book jacket and review that I’ve decided once again to celebrate this reluctant reader’s blossoming joy of the written word by sharing her latest book review. Our children’s librarian recommended the prequel to this book, “The War that Saved my Life”, and Miss A. loved it so much that we were both ecstatic to learn that a sequel was in the works.  “The War I Finally Won” released this past October, but the copy we read was an advanced copy.  Miss A. loves the thought that she was one of the first kids to read it and hopes that many, many more take her advice and enjoy this wonderful story. Anyway, here’s her review.  Happy Reading!

THE WAR I FINALLY WON

A review

by

Miss A.

The War I Finally Won, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is a sequel to The War That Saved My Life. In this story, Ada and Jamie are living with Susan in a cave-feeling house in Kent, England. Susan takes Ada to get surgery to heal her crippled foot. Ada’s surgery goes well, but then Lord Thorton, Maggie’s dad, brings a German girl named Ruth, for Susan to tutor. Ruth stays with Ada, Jamie and Susan in the cave house. Ada doesn’t trust Ruth because she’s German, but Ruth tells Ada that she’s from Germany but despises Hitler because she’s Jewish.

To complicate the situation, Lady Thorton also moves in with them because the soldiers need the Thorton’s house for a place for the soldiers to stay and rest. What’s even worse is that Maggies brother, Jonathan is fighting in the war and everyone is worried that he’s going to die. There’s a lot of drama in this book, and it actually helps Ada to overcome her struggles with loss, acceptance and love.

I love this book because I can relate to Ada on many levels. For example, when Ada didn’t trust Ruth, I thought she was a spy and didn’t trust her at first either. But later, as they grew to be close as sisters, I learned that trust is important to friendship. For most of this book, Ada dislikes Lady Thorton, but soon realizes that she and Lady Thorton have several things in common like lonely childhoods and feelings of loss. She realizes they are both just doing their best to survive in a tough world.  I can relate to feeling that sometimes life is tough, too. Finally, when Susan got sick and Ada felt worried and sad, I was worried about Susan too, since her friend Becky had died from pneumonia.  This is the scene when Ada finally says “I love you” to Susan. This shows that Ada has accepted Susan’s love and accepts her into her life.

I give this book five out of five stars! I thought it was sad, funny and engaging all at the same time. It was sad because there was death and loss because of the war. It was funny because everything is still so new to Ada and she often misunderstands things in funny ways. For example, she thought dragons were real.  It was engaging because the story felt so real that I didn’t want to stop reading it. Again, like the first, I recommend this book with all my heart!

THE SNOWY DAY: A Stamp-Themed Extension Activity

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Last week, I picked up the much anticipated Ezra Keats’ THE SNOWY DAY stamps from my local post office and spent the LOVELIEST little while searching for the spot in the book where each stamp appears.

Afterwards, I thought what a great activity this would be for kids – one that engages young readers with the story, builds visual matching skills, and is just plain fun.

So… if you want to give it a go with your kiddos, here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Gather your supplies. Purchase a set of THE SNOWY DAY stamps from your nearest post office and check out a copy of Ezra Keats’ THE SNOWY DAY from your local library (or purchase a copy).
  2. Explore the stamps. Spend a few minutes with your child, examining the images in the stamp collection (there are eight, that then repeat.)  Have your child describe what Peter, the boy in each stamp, is doing. This might also be a good time to explain what a stamp is. What is it used for? What does the “Forever USA” mean?  Have they ever used one? (Maybe later on they can help you affix one of the stamps to an envelope with a note or picture enclosed, and send it to someone they love.)
  3. Go on a SNOWY DAY picture hunt. Now get cozy with the book and stamps close by and READ!!! As you read, see if your children can find the spots where each stamp image appears.  (It’s fun! Enjoy!)
  4. Make your own SNOWY DAY stamps.  After reading, extend the experience even further, by letting your children pick their own favorite snowy day moment and make their own pretend stamps (on small paper).

Happy SNOWY DAY all!

And the winner of ‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS is…

Twas The Evening Cover

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of this week’s special giveaway, a brand new copy of Glenys Nellist’s and Elena Selivanova’s beautiful picture book ‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS, published by Zonderkidz, is…

AMY!!!!!

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

Thanks again, Glenys and Elena, for sharing your thoughts with us in this week’s interview. I’d also like to thank everyone who took the time to comment and to my daughter, once again, for lending me one of her snazzy hats for the drawing.

‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS: A Joint Interview with Author Glenys Nellist & Illustrator Elena Selivanova (And a GIVEAWAY!!!!!)

 

Today, I’m thrilled to be a part of the ’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS blog tour. At this stop, I’m pinching myself because I get to host author Glenys Nellist and illustrator Elena Selivanova in their first ever joint interview!  It’s always a treat to interview an author or an illustrator, but it’s extra special to have both chiming in at once, especially since Elena lives in Russia and speaks Russian! 

ABOUT THE BOOK: ’Twas the Evening of Christmas, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova and published by Zonderkidz, echoes the familiar language and rhythm of Clement Moore’s beloved poem, but instead of focusing on Santa, it focuses on Baby Jesus, who is, after all, the true hero of Christmas.

Get a preview with the book trailer, then join us for the interview below, which has been edited for clarity. I thank both women for joining me and apologize if anything was lost in my understanding of the translation.

Thanks so much for joining us today, ladies. Well let’s get started with my questions bolded.

Question #1: Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.

Elena: Ever since I can remember, I have always drawn. Perhaps, it was predestination? I was born in Siberia, but grew up south of Kazachstan.  Later I moved to Moscow, where I had an excellent education at the Moscow State University of Printing Arts which gave me incredible freedom and confidence. I studied world literature, the theory of composition, fine art, history of religion, material culture, history of costume and more. 

What a rich background you bring to the drawing table.  No wonder your illustrations sing. And let me also add from the book flap that Elena has worked for twenty years in children’s book illustration and has illustrated over 100 books!

Glenys: I have loved reading, writing and anything to do with words ever since I can remember. It all began at primary school in England, where one day a week, I was one of the lucky few withdrawn from the classroom to sit in big, comfy armchairs in the teachers’ lounge and write. When I became a primary school teacher myself, I wrote poems and stories to use in my classroom, but it wasn’t until my husband and I came to pastor a small church in the United States, that the publishing world opened up for me. It was at that little church that I began to write my own curriculum, to be used in children’s ministry, and pretty soon had this crazy dream of writing a children’s storybook Bible. It was a dream that would take me ten years to fulfill, but it was worth pursuing!

And I’m so glad you followed that dream, Glenys!

 Now, Glenys, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story?

Glenys: Well, I’m sure like many families, when my four sons were young we would gather round our candle-lit Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and read the much-loved words of Clement C Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Even though we only heard it once a year, it’s such a classic poem that we all knew it by heart. When I began writing for children, that poem popped up in my memory and I wondered if I could rewrite it, using Moore’s familiar rhythm and rhyme, but instead of basing the story around Santa, it would be based on Jesus—the real hero of Christmas.

Elena, your magnificent illustrations bring beautiful fullness to the book. What drew you to Glenys’s ’TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS story?

Elena: Probably this is the most exciting and magical story in world literature
and Glenys’s delightful accents gave a powerful impetus to the work.

And you did a glorious job!  I just love how your intricate illustrations bring Glenys’s text to life in a special way on each spread.

And now a question for both of you: What would you like readers to take away from this story?

Elena: Serenity and peace.

Glenys: I never intended this story to replace the Christmas classic, but I hope that it might be used alongside it, so that little ones won’t lose their focus on the One who would change the world. I hope they take away a real sense of the love God has for them, in sending baby Jesus to earth.

Your shared story is indeed a wonderful companion piece for the Christmas season.  I will be reading your delightful collaborative work with my Sunday School classes in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to see their eyes light up as the story unfolds in this charming new way.

Finally, since this book celebrates Christmas, do you each have a favorite Christmas tradition that you’d like to share with our readers?

Glenys: I am from England, where my four sons grew up, and so our Christmas traditions are quite different to those in the USA! (For example, in a British home, you won’t find folks decorating cookies….you’ll find them making mince pies!) But I think my favorite tradition has to be pulling Christmas Crackers at the dinner table before we eat our turkey, sprouts and roast potatoes! I think you might know these as ‘poppers’. The idea is that two of you grasp both ends of a cracker and pull. It ‘pops’ open and you get to keep what’s inside. There’s always a corny joke or two, a little plastic toy, and the iconic paper hat, which everyone in England wears for Christmas dinner. Here’s the photo to prove it…163726_186641114681398_450526_n

Elena: Every year my family waits, as eager as children, for the arrival of a huge Christmas tree (see picture below).  It’s a sparkling tree and the most charming sight ever.  It’s a great tradition in my family! 

Christmas tree

Thank you, again, Elena and Glenys, for chatting with me!  Zonderkidz sure knew what they were doing when they teamed you up for this book!  Blessings to both of you as we celebrate the Christmas season.  

Find out more about Glenys and her books here: Author Website

 See more of Elena’s beautiful art work here:  Elena Selivanova at Beehive Illustration

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!!  

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of ‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 11/30/17 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday! The GIVEAWAY is now over. A winner has been selected. Thank you to all who entered.  

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Signed (and personally inscribed) copies of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER

IMG_0069Can’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 again 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. You can also email the owner, Anne, at anne@townbookstore.com.

HAPPY THANKS-GRIEVING: Reflections on Joy in the Midst of Sadness

I lost my mother early Thanksgiving morning four years ago.

I had awakened early that morning to get a turkey in the oven for dinner at our house later that day. It was heavy and awkward, and involved lots of clean up afterwards, but I was grateful for the normalcy of the act and was looking forward, in a distracted way, to having my husband’s family over for such a traditional, time-honored meal.

But to be honest, at my deepest core, I was struggling to be thankful. The previous December my mother had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease – a heart-breaking disease that slowly kills the nerves in your body, paralyzing you till you can no longer walk, move, eat, speak.

And over the previous eleven months, I had watched my mother decline. But her prayer all that year, and mine, and we prayed it often, whether together or apart, was that she would feel Gods’s presence and that He’d give her the courage she needed to live life each day.  We also prayed for mercy and grace.

And God answered our prayers, for even as her muscles steadily atrophied, as she lost the ability to walk and to draw (she was an artist) and to speak and eat, her soul rallied. She adjusted to life, first with a scooter, and then with a wheelchair. Every day she treated herself to long rides out in the sunshine and she always had a wave and a smile for passers-by.  Indeed, I was amazed at how she was able to find the good in each day. She encouraged me to do that too.

So, drawing on her example of strength and blessing even in the midst of great challenges, I resolved that morning to give thanks. In fact, I had just written that in my journal when the phone rang. It was my father calling to say my mom had died. She had gone to bed very tired that night, but apparently fine. However, at 6 am when he went to her bed, she had gone.

In a quick change of plans, I passed the Thanksgiving off to my husband, hastily packed a bag, and drove six hours straight to be with my dad.  As I did, my daughter’s teary voice repeated in my head. “Why Mommy, why did Mattie have to die?  It’s supposed to be HAPPY Thanksgiving.  But instead it’s so SAD.”  Yes, I thought, so terribly sad.

IMG_1776Over the next few days, my dad, sister and I did all the things one has to do when someone dies. We kept ourselves busy, but as we did waves of tears would overcome us. In the evenings we’d sit by the fire alternately talking and being quiet. At one point my dad said my mom had been having panic attacks the last several nights before her death because she felt trapped in her body. So I asked him if he thought she had been afraid.  He answered, “Yes, of course she was afraid, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have courage. She had great courage. God gave that to her.” Having courage, he reminded me, isn’t living in the absence of fear. Courage is having strength as we face our fears.

That got me thinking. It’s kind of the same way with sadness. We are sad. One sure thing in life is that there will be sadness, but there will also be joy.  And just as my mother could at the same time be courageous and yet have fear, we too can rejoice, even in the midst of sadness.

Joy in the midst of sadness – light in the midst of darkness – that’s really what faith in Christ is all about.  My hope for you this Thanksgiving, for all of us really, is that wherever you find your soul this week – you will feel the presence of the One who has overcome it all.  And that just as my mother did, through God’s grace and mercy, even in the midst of her terrible circumstance, each of us will find joy and goodness even in the midst of life’s challenges.

With a heart full of thanks,

Laura