Celebrating Grandparents Day with LOVE IS KIND (a little late but that’s okay)

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing LOVE IS KIND at a special Grandparents’ Day Celebration at a local preschool. It’s a lovely pairing of story and celebration because one of the themes of LOVE IS KIND is the specialness of the bond that children have with their grandparents. Indeed, it’s Little Owl’s love for Grammy that sets the story in motion… and it’s Grammy’s love for him that brings the story to a cozy resolution.

Here’s a sweet glimpse of that bond in a special clip illustrator Lison Chaperon made to celebrate LOVE IS KIND:

I love that Little Owl and his grammy have such a sweet relationship, because it reminds me of the special bond I shared with each of my grandmothers.  I didn’t call either of them Grammy, but I most certainly shared a special connection with each that I treasure to this day.

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Me with my Nana circa 1970.

I called my paternal grandmother “Nana”and she taught me what unconditional love looks and feels like.  I will always associate the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies with her and have fond memories of sitting beside her as she did her daily crossword puzzle. She showed love in quiet, gentle ways – through hand-made gifts like crocheted throws and homemade dresses- and just quietly being.  We always knew she loved us no matter what.

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Me with Mymommie circa 2002

I called my maternal grandmother “Mymommie” because as a small child, when my mother referred to her as “Mommie” I got confused and would always say, “You?” To this my mother would smile and answer, “No, my mommie!” and the name stuck. Unlike Nana who was so quiet and gentle, Mymommie was more of the outgoing, life of the party type.  From her, I learned what it looked and sounded like to be poised and articulate. She was also a voracious reader and wonderful storyteller and I like to think that I got my love of story from her. 

Though both have passed away, I still feel a special bond to them, for in their own ways, they each helped me to become the grown up I am now. How special was their influence?

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Dedication in “Love is Kind”

Special enough that I decided to dedicate LOVE IS KIND to their memories.  Thank you, Mymommie and Nana, for instilling in me a love for life and an appreciation of the gift of love.

If you have the chance to read LOVE IS KIND either as a grandparent reading with your grandchild or as a grandchild reading with your grand, I hope you will each take a moment to let teach other know just how special you are to each other.

Happy Reading, all!

P.S. For those of you unfamiliar with the National Grandparents Day, it was officially designated as the first Sunday after Labor Day in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter. You can learn more about the day here.   

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR Spotlight: A Interview with Matt Forrest Esenwine and Fred Koehler in Celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s First Book Birthday!

Flashlight Night_hi-res coverToday I am delighted to be celebrating the first book birthday of the delightful picture book FLASHLIGHT NIGHT which released one year ago today. FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, published by Boyds Mill Press, is an engaging rhyming bedtime story written by Matt Forrest Esenwine. Paired with Fred Koehler’s spooky, yet spectacular illustrations, it captures the imagination and begs to be read again and again.  Not surprisingly, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT has received glowing reviews (pun intended).  Kirkus Reviews (who gave it a coveted star review!) describes it as a “rousing read” with “delicious language and ingenious metamorphoses.” The Horn Book praises it as “an old fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure.” I call it mesmerizing and fun!  Congratulations, team FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, and thanks so much, Matt and Fred, for joining us today to chat about the process that brought this charming book into being.  Let’s get started.

First of all, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/editing. 

30688174_10216331665152702_4983291287571529728_nMATT: Thank you so much for inviting us, Laura! I’m so thrilled to be able to chat with you and Fred about our book. To give you the short version of my journey, I’ve been a creative type and have writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first song when I was 7 or 8, and it was horrible – something about a goat on a boat being swallowed down a throat – but it was really fun to rhyme and tell a story at the same time. (You see what I did there?) Anyway, my first published poem was in a local college’s literary magazine; I was a junior in high school and it felt so cool to have a free verse poem actually published, for all the world to see. Over the years, I had a number of poems published in various  journals and anthologies, but I always felt like my style wasn’t quite right for most adult-focused publications. Then in the late ’90s I wrote a couple of children’s poems, but didn’t know what to do with them…and over the next several years more and more children’s poems started popping out of me, and I felt it was time to do something about it. So in 2009 I joined a local SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI later that year, and started sending out my one manuscript for a poetry collection…which didn’t go anywhere, but it was a good, necessary start!

fred_koehler_MFRED: Hi Laura. Great to be with you. I like to think of myself as an artistic redneck who’d rather be creating cool stuff or out fishing than just about anything else you could offer me. I started working towards a career in publishing when my second child was on the way – he just turned nine. I always knew it was tough to break in to the industry but I just kept showing up, making friends, and revising my work till they had to give me a shot. All in all, it was probably about 4 years of trying before I finally got my foot in the door. Now I’ve got seven picture and two novels with my name on the jacket, and hopefully another half a lifetime to make a bunch more.

Wow, I love how both of you have followed your passion and I spot a common theme of patience and persistence in your journeys into the field.

Now a question for Matt. Your love of language is evident in FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s  rich word choice and rhythmic rhyming verse. How was that love developed?

MATT: The simple answer is, it helps being a nerd in school! I always loved learning as a child, and would read my parent’s dictionary or encyclopedia set sometimes when I was bored. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I used to make up word searches and word puzzles and my teachers would make copies (remember the old mimeograph machines??) to pass out to the class. I suppose you could say that was my first experience being published! But as I got older I learned how much fun language could be in writing. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Jencks, introduced me to Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Chaucer, and a wide array of classic poets which really spurred me to learn and practice form, rhyme, and all sorts of other poetic devices.

Sounds familiar  – especially the word nerd part!

And now a question for FredYour spooky and dark, yet not too scary, illustrations pair perfectly with Matt’s text.  What is it about Matt’s story that drew you to the story? Also, tell us a bit about you created such a flash-lit feel in the illustrations.

flashlight-10eFRED: I often follow my gut on whether or not to accept a manuscript. I don’t read the synopsis or the art notes. I just focus on the exact words that the publisher wants on the page. If those words resonate with me, I take the project. Matt’s story for FLASHLIGHT NIGHT created an instant connection. I was a kid again, running through the woods with my friends, playing capture the flag or flashlight tag. Any time words can create that sort of visceral reaction, you know it’s something special. As for the illustrations, I was intentional about what lived “inside” the flashlight beam and what stayed “outside.” Anything outside the beam had to live in the dark and had to be part of the real world. But inside the beam, all bets were off. I did as best I could with my graphite and paper, then let Photoshop enhance the contrast between the light and dark areas.

MATT: That is probably the one thing people comment on the most, regarding the illustrations: how ingenious it was to keep the darkness reality (which is usually what kids are afraid of) and to make the light of the flashlight’s beam the fantasy.

flashlight-night-workingThe illustrations work BRILLIANTLY to enhance the text. Well done!  

Now a question for both of you. It’s always extra special for me to have both that author and illustrator here together chatting about their book.  Did you interact?  Please give us a little peek into that part of the book’s creation.

MATT: Interestingly, the editing process began even before our editor, Rebecca Davis, called me to make an offer! In Dec. 2014, 4 months after I had sent her the manuscript, I learned that the manuscript had won the New England SCBWI Peg Davol Scholarship, which afforded me the opportunity to have the manuscript critiqued by an established author; I would then be given time to revise it and have it critiqued again by an editor or agent at the New England SCBWI annual spring conference. As it turned out, one week after I had my first critique, Rebecca called to let me know she wanted to purchase my story – and during that time, I had made a couple of small but significant revisions. So I sent her the revised manuscript, and we then began tweaking things here and there over the course of the next couple months.

Although we connected on Facebook, Fred and I did not really interact with each insofar as the book is concerned; Rebecca handled the juggling act of matching text with the visuals She shared with me most of Fred’s sketches and illustrations, asking my opinion about certain things – which was greatly appreciated, since it is not a standard practice with most publishers! Some things we agreed on, others we didn’t – but as the editor, she of course had the final say. One particular change was in one of Fred’s spreads, where there was a lot going on visually – I don’t recall the specifics – and Rebecca and I were concerned that the illustration was so detailed that it took away from the flow of the story. I don’t recall if Fred remembers that at all.

Conversely, another example that stands out is the spread that reads, “Adventure lingers, stirs about,” near the end of the book. Those were not my original lines, but once we saw Fred Koehler’s illustrations we realized that what I had originally written was not going to work with his sub-narrative of the three kids on an adventure. So I had to rewrite that section in order to balance the text with what was going on with the pictures. It truly was a collaborative effort among the three of us!

FRED: My process is to take an author’s words and go sprinting off in whatever crazy direction my brain takes me. Maybe we had one or two emails back and forth? I think he got to see the concept. But otherwise, all of our communication has happened after the book went to press.

MATT: That’s true, we’ve been in touch much more since the book came out than beforehand!

Before we wrap up, what’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring children’s picture book writers/illustrators?

MATT: I know this is going to be more than one piece of advice, but I would say read as much as you can! Get a feel for what’s out there, see what people are writing, learn how they are writing it, and then try to do your own thing. I paid very close attention to detail in my story, choosing every word carefully to make it flow and rhyme and be fun to read, and I never settled for “good enough.” However, I did eschew certain standard writing rules they always teach at workshops:  I do not follow a “rule of 3’s,” there is no problem anyone has to solve, no one is given any names (in fact, there is not even a boy or girl mentioned!), and the main character, grammatically speaking, is the flashlight! So I think it’s important to note that one can bend rules or even throw out rules, as long as an editor realizes you know what you’re doing!

FRED: Here’s practical advice. Create an annual budget for your writing and give yourself permission to spend it. If you can put aside $1,000 a year, that might get you a couple of local conference or maybe an out-of-state trip to attend a bigger book-making workshop. If you want it to become more than a hobby, treat it like an investment.

MATT: That is, indeed, very good advice. I budget for one SCBWI workshop each year, plus I’ll be heading to my second Highlights Foundation workshop in October to spend 5 days with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard, I budget for my website and postcards and such, and I also set aside funds for purchasing books (not just other books, but my own, to sell). Creating books might be a lot of fun, but it’s still a business.

Thank you both so much for joining us today and happiest of birthdays to FLASHLIGHT NIGHT!

To learn more about Matt visit his website

To learn more about Fred visit his website

And now, since this is a birthday celebration, we have an extra special treat –  not ONE but TWO GIVEAWAYS!  In celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s first book birthday, Matt is offering ONE SIGNED copy of the book to one lucky winner.  And a second winner will receive an awesome packet of KidLitTV swag! (The book was featured on KidLitTV’s StoryMakers last year.  To see that episode, press here.

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win one of these book birthday treats, let me know by commenting below. All entrants will be entered in both giveaways. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident, ages 18 and up.) The giveaways end Wednesday, 10/3/18 at 12:01 am EST. The winners will be announced that day!

 

 

 

 

LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour STOP FIVE: A Simply Seven Interview!

IMG_3148 2Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Jena Benton as part of her Simply Seven Interview Series.  Interested in learning a little bit more about the backstory behind LOVE IS KIND?  Then grab one of these virtual cookies, baked by Miss A, and head on over!  I’ll make it easy for you.  Click here.  Oh, and there’s a giveaway too! Thank you for having me, Jena! I enjoyed answering your very thoughtful questions.

LOVE IS KIND: Illustrator Lison Chaperon Shares her Creative Process

I’m delighted and honored to have the illustrator for my newest picture book LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) here today to share the creative process behind her delightful illustrations.  It’s not often you get to see the process explained and shown with such detail. It’s fascinating!  Take it away, Lison Chaperon and… merci!  Enjoy!

Bonjour Laura! I’m so happy to have been chosen to illustrate your wonderful story. It was such a joy to illustrate! Your story and characters were a great source of inspiration. I’m pleased to share my creative process with you and the readers of your blog. 

When I received the manuscript, the first thing I did was to read it several times and determined the page breaks. The story is an adventure for Little Owl and for the readers so it was important to create surprise effects from one page to another.

1 page breaksThen, I worked on the character designs. I tried several techniques (ink, felt pens, pencils, watercolor…) before finding the right combination to render Little Owl’s feathers: watercolor and color pencils.

2 Little Owl Designs3 Granny Designs4 Characters DesignsOnce the look of the characters was determined, the amazing editorial team needed the cover. So I looked for cover ideas. The image had to be eye-catching, sweet and it had to capture the book message. Below are my proposals:

5 Cover sketchesHere is the sketch chosen by the team and the final art:

6 Cover final sketch7 Cover FinalThen I started the sketches. This is my favorite part! I love finding ideas, working on compositions, thinking about little details… I first storyboarded the whole story, trying different compositions through very rough tiny sketches. 

8 thumbnailsWhen I determined what worked best, I did more detailed sketches at full-scale with text.

9 Illu 1 sketch10 Illu 2 sketchI also did colored roughs to give me a first idea of the colors.

11 Illu 1 rough color12 Illu 2 rough colorOnce all the sketches were approved by the team, I went on to the final art. 

I reported the final drawings on watercolor paper (scale 110%). I wanted delicate and refined colors with a lot of nuances to express the atmosphere, the message of the story, and Little Owl’s feelings. So, before starting to paint the final art, I did several tests with the watercolor and the color pencils to find the right balance. And here is the outcome:13 Illu 1 final14 Illu 2 Final

Thank you, Lison, for sharing your process with us. I continually marvel at all that goes into illustrating a picture book and I feel so blessed that you were chosen to illustrate LOVE IS KIND!  The Zonderkidz team had great vision.  I’m thrilled that my words get to share page space with your wonderful illustrations.  

Happy reading, all!

Birthday Bash Memories: LOVE IS KIND

HOOT!  HOOT! PARTY TIME!  Yesterday afternoon, we celebrated the release my newest picture book, LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, August 2018) at lovely book store gathering with lots of enthusiastic young readers and their families.  The celebration included meeting Little Owl, hearing the story, making owl masks, taking pictures in the DIY-photo booth that Miss A. and I created, and, of course, signing books!  Thank you to everyone who came and to Barnes and Noble in Springfield for hosting the event – my fourth at their lovely store. (And I was delighted to meet people who’d learned of the event because of my efforts to spread the word through social media and old-fashioned flyers – proof that invitations work!)

Here are a few pictures that capture both the prep work and the event itself. (I just wish I’d taken a picture of the kids making their masks which were so colorful and CUTE!) It’s a SLIDE show! (I just discovered this feature.) Enjoy!

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LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour: STOP FOUR !

IMG_7643Today I am delighted to be guest blogging over at picture book author and librarian Lauri Fortino’s blog on one of my favorite topics: USING PUPPETS TO ENGAGE YOUNG READERS. Plus, you’ll get to meet Little Owl, my newest puppet storytelling companion.  (And I hear there is a giveaway, too!) Thank you for having me, Lauri.   So fly on over, friends. I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link.

12 WAYS to CELEBRATE your FAVORITE AUTHORS… CREATIVELY!

twelve ways to celebrate authors jpeg.001I originally posted these tips as a little series on my Facebook Author Page. The response to the posts was so positive and fun that I thought it might be useful to gather them all in one spot for easy reference.  Ta-DA!  Done.  =)  Happy celebrating!

TIP #1: Give their books as gifts.

TIP #2: Recommend their books to your friends.

TIP #3: Invite friends to “like” your favorite authors Facebook Author Pages.

TIP #4: Recommend their books for purchase at your school and town libraries.

TIP #5: Review their books on your blog, Goodreads, church/school newsletter etc.

TIP #6: Suggest adding their titles to your library/school’s recommended reading list.

TIP #7: Be spotted reading their books in public! (on train, at park, at café etc.)

TIP #8: Snap pics of their books “in the wild” and share on your favorite social media platform. For extra fun,tag the author.

TIP #9: Be a network facilitator. (i.e. Recommend them for author visits at your school, library etc. )

TIP #10: Thank them for writing with fan mail. (A simple note will make their day!) 

TIP #11:  Have a book-themed birthday party (for kids) or dinner party (for grownups!). 

TIP #12: Read one of their books when it’s your turn to be “guest reader” in preschool/elementary school, and/or (if your author writes for adults) recommend their book to your book club.

BOOK TRAILER: Love Is Kind (and Blog Tour Stop Three)

IMG_6892Today, I’m delighted to be guest blogger over at Christian Children’s Authors.  (Thank you, Glenys, for sharing my FIVE FUN FACTS about LOVE IS KIND both here and on your blog. Readers, if you haven’t read the post, here’s a fresh chance. And whether you have or haven’t, I thought you might also enjoy viewing the delightful book trailer Zonderkidz created to celebrate the release of LOVE IS KIND.  Thank you Zonderkidz! I’m honored to be one of your authors.  And, thank you, Glenys, for inviting me to share my FIVE FUN FACTS on not just one, but TWO fabulous blogs!

And if you’re interested in following me on the rest of the tour featuring brand new posts, make a note of the dates and places below.  Happy Thursday, all!

Love is KInd Blog Tour Schedule

SPOTTED FAWN: Thoughts on BRAND NEW Stories

IMG_7589Look what I spotted on my early morning walk. It’s a brand new fawn curled up in the dappled shade of a neighbor’s front lawn – so tiny and fresh, with soft baby chestnut colored hide and bright white spots! She’s the third such fawn I’ve discovered over the last few years, hidden – in plain sight – on the lawns of our suburban New Jersey community.

The first time I saw a fawn curled up like this with no mama in sight, I thought it might be abandoned or lost.  I’ve since learned that it’s standard practice in the deer world for a mama to leave her brand new (or nearly new) baby snuggled up like this in a quiet open space. She does this because when newly born, fawns are still wobbly and too little to keep pace with the older deer. Mama also needs to forage on her own for food so she has what she needs to properly nurse and care for her baby.

And – if you haven’t figure it out yet – yes, this sweet fawn so tender and new has gotten me thinking about writing. Seeing her this morning reminds me how, as a beginning writer, I was often tempted to submit my stories to publishers way too prematurely when what they really needed was to be left alone to rest and grow in a quiet place while I went about my business of reflection, revision and nursing those stories with plenty of quiet restful breaks in between feedings, until they were truly fit and ready to send.

I think ALL writers, seasoned and new, can benefit from this reminder every once in a while  – and what cuter way to be reminded than with the image of a sweet young fawn snuggled up in a quiet front lawn.

Happy writing… and remember not to rush the process.

GUEST POST: Five Fun BUSY BUS Facts With Jody Jensen Shaffer

IT'S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS cover from Amazon

Today I’m delighted to have my long-time friend and critique buddy, Jody Jensen Shaffer, here to share five fun facts about her newest picture book release, IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS!, illustrated by Claire Messer and published by Beach Lane Books.  Take a peek at the lovely reviews Jody’s book has received from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, then climb aboard and enjoy as she shares five behind-the-scenes facts about the book’s creation.  My favorite?  Fact #1. It’s a good reminder that patience is the name of the game in this business.  Happy reading, all!

FACT #1 The journey from idea to publication took eight years.
I got the original idea for BUSY BUS in October of 2010. I was brainstorming back-to-school stories [apparently, I like a challenge] and wondered how I could make mine stand out. When I landed on the idea of making it a school bus’s first day, I knew I was onto something. The story went through many, many revisions until it finally landed on Allyn Johnston’s desk at Beach Lane Books. Boy, was that a great day for me! In the months that followed, I worked with both Allyn and Andrea Welch.

FACT #2 I rode the bus to elementary school.
In the small town in which I grew up, the elementary school and my house were on nearly opposite sides of town. Sometimes a friend and I walked to school. But most of the time, I caught the bus in front of my house. I wasn’t always sure I would be safe riding the bus, however. There were icy mornings when I wondered if the bus would skid off the road. There were hills that I wondered if the bus could summit. To make matters worse, I was prone to motion sickness, so the shadows from the trees whizzing by my window made my stomach queasy. Thankfully, neither the bus nor I ever had an accident.

FACT #3 My school bus driver was also my neighbor.
In a small town, that happens. Taffy was my bus driver’s name, and he was also my next door neighbor. He and his wife, Dorothy, were grandparent-age, and I loved them dearly. I visited them regularly, and they always had some yummy treat to share.

FACT # 4 BUSY BUS is the “youngest” book I’ve published.
My previous picture books, PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW (illustrated by Steph Laberis) and A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (illustrated by Daniel Miyares), both have more complicated plots and complex language than BUSY BUS. So to make a first-day-of-school book fit its intended audience, I needed to simplify the language and plot. That was tough! I kept thinking there wasn’t enough conflict in the book. But I reminded myself that conflict is in the eye of the beholder, and to children just starting school, there’s plenty to fret about.

FACT #5 I asked a local school bus driver how fast a bus goes.
Before BUSY BUS went to the printer, Andrea asked me if I knew how fast a school bus went. The illustrator, Claire Messer, was working on a spread that included the dashboard of Busy Bus, and they wondered if I knew what the top speed on a speedometer should read. So on one of my morning walks not long after, I saw a school bus driver parked in a parking lot. I explained I was writing a book about a school bus, and I needed to know how fast they went. She looked and said, “This one goes to 85.” I reported that to my editor, and the rest was picture book history!

Jody Jensen Shaffer author photoJody Jensen Shaffer is an award-winning poet and the author of more than 30 books of fiction and nonfiction for children, including PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK, IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS! and more. Jody’s poetry has been published in great children’s magazines like Highlights, Ladybug, and Clubhouse Jr. Jody lives in Liberty, Missouri, and is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When she’s not writing, Jody can be found watching baseball or walking her rescue dog, Sophie. Visit Jody at jodyjensenshaffer.com or on Twitter @jodywrites4kids.