Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a LOVE IS KIND Party!

VALENTINE BLOG TOUR KICKOFF!

With its theme that love and kindness can be shown in many ways, LOVE IS KIND is a charming pick for a class or home Valentine’s Day Party. I’ve come up with more ideas than you’d ever use for just one party, so pick the activities that suit your class or home. Happy February! (Only 14 days until Valentine’s Day!)

Gathering Activities:

Play Musical Hearts.  First put on your favorite children’s kindness/friendship themed album.  (We like Raffi at our house.)  Then, using two heart-shaped boxes (or little heart pillows, if you have some) instead of the more traditional “hot potato”, sit in a circle and gently pass the hearts in opposite directions to the music. When the music stops, the children holding the hearts each say something kind to the person holding the other heart. (Ex. You are funny.  I like your striped socks.  You make me feel welcome etc.)

Play Little Owl Hide and Seek.  While one person has their eyes covered, another hides a little stuffed owl, or you could use one of the Little Owl muffin toppers without the toothpick (See link below.) Make sure everyone, except for the person with eyes covered, sees where the owl is hidden.  Then using hoos (like an owl would sound) help the person whose eyes were covered to find the little owl.  No talking or pointing allowed.  Only hoos – soft if they are far and loud if they are close. (Warning:  This game will be a big hit!)

Make Little Owl masks. Ahead of time gather feathers, crayons, glue and string. Then using the Little Owl mask printable found in the LOVE IS KIND Activity Kit, have each child create their own Little Owl Masks. (Note: I recommend printing the masks on card stock weight paper and pre-cutting for younger children.)

The Main Entertainment:

Read the book! For extra fun, have a basket of book-themed props available and after reading, have the kids re-enact the story using stuffed animals and/or themselves. Don’t forget to include three coins and three heart-shaped boxes of chocolates!

More Party Games/Crafts:

Make Valentines: Make old-fashioned Valentines using the heart coloring page in the LOVE IS KIND Activity Kit or cut your own from colored construction paper. Little Owl glued his on a doily. Decorate with markers, stickers and a personalized message.

Decorate Cookies: Prepare heart-shaped or owl shaped sugar cookies ahead of time. Then, have a cookie decorating station where kids can decorate using toothpicks, icing, sprinkles and sugar eyeballs! (To extend the love and kindness theme, consider having them prepare a plate of cookies to give a neighbor or deliver to a nursing home – along with the postcard notes below and/or valentines above.)

Write Love and Kindness Postcards: Illustrator Lison Chaperon created awesome postcard printables to celebrate the release of LOVE IS KIND. Print one (preferably in color) for each child and glue as directed. They are located in the LOVE IS KIND Activity Kit. When dry have your child write a sweet “I love you”  or “Kind thought” message to someone special – perhaps a grandparent or beloved aunt or uncle or teacher. Then affix proper postage and take a trip to the post office to mail! Or have them deliver with some of the cookies they made (above!)

Time for Treats:

Bake muffins (the link below includes a recipe for chocolate applesauce muffins that are both healthy and delicious) or choose your own muffin or cupcake recipe. Then top them with the adorable printable muffin toppers created by Lison Chaperon. Serve with juice or water. Enjoy!

Party Favor Ideas (not necessary but fun!):

Token gift card or coupon for local bookstore or chocolate shop.

Two or three heart-shaped cookies wrapped in cellophane with pink or red ribbon.

A small satchel of foil-wrapped heart shaped chocolates, again wrapped in cellophane or tissue paper and tied with colorful ribbon.

(Note: The link to the LOVE IS KIND Activity Guide is temporarily out of order. Please check back if you’d like to access that.)

STORYSTORM: Thoughts on Christmas Ornaments and Story Sparks!

Right now, I’m “undressing” our Christmas tree. It’s not one of my favorite tasks because by the time I do it the sparkle of Christmas is usually long gone. But this year is different. I’m really enjoying the process this year. And I think the difference is that tonight, as I undress the tree, my mind is whirring with “STORYSTORM” ideas.

For those of you unfamiliar with the word, STORYSTORM is the brainchild of picture book author, Tara Lazar, who wanted to create a month for picture book writers, and now writers in all genres, to focus on brainstorming story ideas for future projects. During STORYSTORM month, which takes place during January of each month, writers are inspired to brainstorm new ideas with daily blog posts by prominent and up-and-coming children’s authors. The posts are inspiring and fun to read and the challenge – to come up with one new story idea each day – is exhilerating! I’ve participated almost  every year and a couple of those story prompts have even resulted in picture books that have been published including, most recently, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!

And tonight, as I undress the tree, I can hardly keep my imagination in tow because almost every ornament on the tree has some story to tell, and any one of those stories could very well be the spark for my next bestseller! I’m joking, of course, but … not really… I mean it is possible, right?

Take a look at this ornament, for example. I bought it for my son the Christmas after he took his first ride on the Staten Island Ferry, and now my mind is flooded with memories of Staten Island boat rides, and the wonder of seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, and the wonderful bounce and rhythm of the waves as we crossed from Staten Island to the southern tip of Manhattan. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

And see this cowboy boot ornament? To you it’s just a boot, but I remember that my mom bought these (there are two) for my children the Christmas after we visited them in Colorado and they each got a pair of cowboy boots. Miss A wore hers every single day, and no matter what her attire – be it flouncy dress or blue jeans -those boots made a statement. They said, I’m here and I’m ready to make the most of whatever this day brings. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

To you this ornament might seem odd. After all, who hangs baskets filled with blueberries on their tree? My mom purchased this ornament for us in memory of fun summers picking blueberries in New England, and my mind is once again flooded with images of granite rock flanked by scrubby blueberry bushes. And my taste buds are watering at the memory of fresh baked muffins. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

Here’s my parting thought for tonight, and then I really need to finish undressing this tree. Is there an ornament on your tree, or perhaps some little trinket or artifact sitting somewhere on a shelf in your house, that is full of meaning and might just be the key to unlocking your next story or poem? Well, why are you just sitting there staring at the screen? Go find it… and write all about it because, maybe just maybe, there’s something there that will be the spark that leads to an amazing new story. Have fun!

And now back to undressing that tree. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night. =) Happy STORYSTORMING!

Rejection, Ladybugs, and Setting New Goals

2018 has been a mixed writing year for me.  I have had the joy of two new picture books releasing and all the celebration that entails including author visits – my favorite!  At the same, however, in the new picture book department,  I’ve received nothing but rejections. 

Discouraging, yes? Well, sort of, but I’ve never been one to wallow in self-pity, so as a form of “chin up” therapy for myself and because I LOVE writing short, snappy pieces, in early November, I set myself a new goal. 

Now, in addition to working on new picture book manuscripts and revising others that are still in progress, each week I have decided to write one new poem or story suitable for magazine publication – to be sent when ready. Not only does this new goal keep my creative juices flowing in fun and diverse ways, it also helps hone my picture book rhyming skills. In other words, good writing leads to good writing and that’s a good thing!

And today, guess what I received in the mail? My first acceptance in what seems like a long little while! It’s for a rhyming rebus, starring one of my favorite beetles – the ladybug. It has been accepted by Clubhouse Magazines to appear in their July 2019 issue of Clubhouse Jr! What fun it will be to see that in print!

And, now, a special thanks to Miss A. for letting me celebrate by sharing her hand-made ladybug sun catcher which hangs cheerily in my kitchen window, a sweet reminder that if rejection is starting to get you down – spread those invisible wings – and set yourself some “chin up” goals!

2018 Best in Rhyme Top 20!


I’m delighted to share that DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling Children’s Books) has been selected as one of this year’s top twenty contenders for the Best in Rhyme Award. The top 10 will be announced next month and finalists and winner will be announced in February at the KidLit TV studio! There are so many wonderful books/author/illustrators included in this list! Congrats to all and I hope you will each take a moment to add these titles to your to-read lists. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the Best in Rhyme Award, it is the brainchild of rhyming picture book author Angie Karcher.  Newer writers are often discouraged from writing in rhyme, but this Award celebrates the joyful reality that rhyming stories are alive and well, but that they must be impeccably written.  Past winners include Diana Murray, Penny Parker Klostermann and Lori Mortenson. To learn more, visit https://rhymerev.com.  

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Picture Book Author Melissa Stoller in Celebration of the Release of SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush

Today I’m delighted to have fellow picture book author Melissa Stoller as my guest.  Last year Melissa released her first chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island and her debut picture book, Scarlet’s Magic Paint Brush is about to release!  Please join me in welcoming her as we celebrate the upcoming release of this charming new book with an interview and I’ve chosen to write my questions in lovely teal to match the cover. Let’s get started. 

Thanks so much for joining us today, Melissa. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?

Thanks so much for hosting me on Laura Sassi Tales! You know I adore Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, and I look forward to adding Love is Kind to my picture book collection!    (Thank, you, Melissa, for your kind words.) 

My writing journey has many twists and turns! I am a lawyer and also worked as a legal research and writing instructor and law school career counselor. When my oldest daughter was born twenty-two years ago, I tried writing picture books and amassed a huge folder of rejection letters. I took a break and wrote a parent resource book titled The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting with your Kids Through Reading. I also concentrated on writing parenting articles. Around five years ago, I decided to get back to writing for children. I took many classes, participated in lots of workshops and writing challenges, and attended several conferences to concentrate on craft. Also, I joined several critique groups as well, and I have been a member of SCBWI since 1997! I’m so happy that my debut picture book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH, will be in children’s hands very soon!

That’s an amazing journey, with lots of twists and turns, but I can see you were following an inner map that led you to this point. I’m glad you kept at it!

The premise of Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is – what happens to a child’s creativity if a magic paintbrush suddenly disappears – is adorable.  What inspired you to create this story?  Do you, perhaps, own a magic paint brush?

Thanks, Laura! I am so excited about my debut picture book, Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, illustrated by Sandie Sonke (www.SandieSonkeIllustration.com) releasing October 16th with Clear Fork Publishing. Sandie’s illustrations are incredible and it was such a joy to see how she brought her vision to this project. I sometimes wish I owned a magic paintbrush or even a magic pen! The inspiration for this story actually floated into my mind when I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where I live. I was gazing at my favorite Impressionist paintings, a Monet specifically. I remember thinking, “What would it be like to paint like Monet? I wonder what would happen if I had a magic paintbrush?” From there, I started thinking of all the possibilities about painting with a magic brush, and then I wondered about what would happen if the magic brush disappeared.

I love that you were inspired by visiting the Metropolitan! I think visits like that to museums are wonderful sparks for all sorts of creativity. 

What would you like readers to take away from this story?

I hope readers will leave thinking about how they can foster their own creativity. And I hope they realize they don’t have to be perfect, but instead they can create their own masterpieces. Also, hopefully readers will love the sweet illustrations and will relate to Scarlet. Finally, I hope they enjoy the magical touches throughout the story!

I am most certain they will!

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

I’m a big advocate of making connections through family book clubs. On my website, (www.MelissaStoller.com), I’ll include a parent-child book club discussion guide where I’ll offer discussion questions, an art project, suggested snacks, and related enrichment activities based around the themes of the book. 

What a terrific resource!

Finally, can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects?  What’s a typical writing day like for you?

In a typical writing day, I write or revise. I like to work in drafts so my stories always have many iterations. Aside from my picture books, I also spend time on my chapter book series. My debut chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, released one year ago. Book two, The Liberty Bell Train Ride, chugs down the tracks in February, 2019. Currently, I’m working on writing book three of the series, which takes place in Washington DC and features the Library of Congress. Also, I’m very excited about my second picture book, Ready, Set, GOrilla!, illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (also published by CFP). I love Sandy’s style and I’m so excited about how she’s adding her amazing vision to this story. It’s about a little gorilla who likes racing with his pals but really loves winning. When a gopher comes to town, the race is on! I really enjoy tackling many different projects in any given day. And of course, I am always observing, trying to think of new ideas and new inspirations. Also, I enjoy spending time reviewing the work of my wonderful critique partners. I learn so much from commenting on other stories and working with my critique pals to strengthen my own words. Finally, I try to leave time every day for connecting with others in the KidLit community, whether online or in person. It’s so important to me to foster these amazing friendships. 

Thank you so much, Laura! I enjoyed answering these questions and I’m so happy to be featured on your blog today! 

It has been my pleasure!  Best wishes with the release of the book!

And readers interested in learning more, please check out Melissa’s bio as well as the many ways you can connect on the web.

melissa stoller author pictureBIO:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.

CONNECT:  

www.MelissaStoller.com

http://www.facebook.com/MelissaStoller

http://www.twitter.com/melissastoller 

http://www.instagram.com/Melissa_Stoller 

http://www.pinterest.com/melissastoller

“Scuffin” or “Mone”: 4 TIPS to TEST the TASTINESS of your STORIES

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My daughter loves creating new recipes and one of her favorite strategies in the kitchen is to take a tried-and-true favorite, and then add an unexpected twist.  Most of the time her creations are delicious, but tonight, as I’m reminiscing about her joyful kitchen spirit, I’m reminded of the time she proudly offered me her fresh out of the oven creation – “the scuffin”, as she called it, a creative combination of two favorite teatime treats – the muffin and the scone.  Sounds delish, right?

We thought so too, so before actually tasting them, we posted on Facebook this delectable-looking picture along with this tantalizing description:  

“Crispy on the outside like a scone and fluffy on the inside like a muffin…with chocolate chips too. Yum!”

Immediately, “likes” and congratulatory comments filled my Facebook timeline.  But, to our horror, when we took our first nibbles we discovered they were… awful! Thus, in the interest of full-disclosure, I added this to the post:

“…to be perfectly honest, once we tried them we both agreed that they were a little heavy and they stuck to the paper. I think, in all honesty, that they should be called “mones” instead of “scuffins” because that better connotes the feeling you have have after eating one.”

Writing can be a lot like baking. Often, the results of experimentation are successful, but sometimes instead of picture book “scuffins” we produce “mones”.  So what’s the secret to distinguishing between story drafts that are light and delicious, as opposed to “mone” inducing?  Miss A. and I are so glad you asked. Here are our suggestions:

TIP #1: Give your “scuffin”, er story, time to cool before tasting. This will allow you to remove yourself a little from the the process, so that you can discern – without so much emotion – whether your creation is light and delicious… or not.

 TIP #2: Keep track of  drafts so you know what’s working or not in each round of recipe, er story, creation, so you can add and modify intelligently. After assessing her recipe notes, Miss A. thought, perhaps, that she added too much oil to her batter, and in revising for the next batch, she used less.  The new “scuffins”, IMHO, were better, as a result. Likewise, if you keep track of changes/additions/deletions made to each draft of your story, you can more easily assess and make effective improvements.

TIP #3: Let a few trusted critiquers sample and give feedback on your latest “scuffin” in progress.  As Miss A. discovered, the feedback from a slightly more seasoned baker (me!), was just what she needed to take her “scuffin” from “mone” to “magnifique”!

TIP #4: DO NOT send to local bakeries, i. e. publishers, too soon!  Not that Miss A has even considered marketing her kitchen creations, it’s still good advice. Far too many new writers, submit their work to publishers far too quickly when patience, I have learned, is the better way… by FAR!

Well, that’s it from the Sassi kitchen today!  Happy story baking!

TEACHER APPROVED: SEVEN THINGS KIDS CAN LEARN FROM DIVA DELORES and the OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!

This week DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE received a LOVELY stamp of approval from longtime Colorado teacher and dear friend, Jeananne Wright.  Thank you, Jeananne!

Now, with her permission, taking excerpts from her note, here are SEVEN THINGS KIDS CAN LEARN FROM/ BE ENGAGED WITH as they read DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE:

First, the tactile gold glitter on the front and back covers are the perfect intro to the book. The kids can feel that and know that something wonderful will be found inside!

Second, kids might not know a thing about opera or classical music or even what a diva is!

Third, the story teaches how to rely on friends and how to be a good friend.

Fourth, it also portrays forgiveness, humility and perseverance.

Fifth, after reading, it will be loads of fun for kids to think of other things that go together, like carrots and peas, salt and pepper etc.  So the book doesn’t end on the last page.

After reading the story parents/teachers and kids can also discuss the cover, author, illustrator and on the back the captions, ISBN numbers etc.

Finally, after all that, they can even practice their tra la las in an operatic voice.  Or how about taking in an opera?  What fun!

Thank you for these wonderful ideas, Jeananne, and for giving DIVA DELORES your teacher stamp of approval.  =)  

Happy Reading, all!

 

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!

PUMPKINS: Thoughts On Carving Stories

IMG_1284This year my newly minted teen has decided that she doesn’t want to go trick-or-treating. Instead, she wants to dress up and hand out candy right here on our front porch.  And, between customers, she plans to carve her very first Jack-o-lantern (as a teen).  It sounds like a wonderful way to spend Halloween to me and it reminds me of one of my favorite fall posts from 2014.  Enjoy!

The way I see it, the stories we write are like pumpkins. The good ones are well-rounded with firm plots. They also possess a certain quirkiness, or one-of-a-kind feel, just like those jack-o-lanterns we enjoy at this time of year.

But here’s the thing. Even if you think your current pumpkin-in-progress is the best pumpkin you’ve ever written, most likely it could still use a good scooping out. Sure, extracting the extraneous goopy bits from your story will be messy, perhaps even disheartening. You may say to yourself, I’m taking out all the best parts. You may may even worry that there’s nothing left!

But, getting rid of the goop will help you hone the structural essence of your story. All those gloppy first-draft ramblings will have been scooped away. Then, to make your story glow, you will need to carve your pumpkin’s soul (i.e. face) with purpose and heart. Add jagged teeth (conflict) and a penetrating gaze (character). Maybe even carve in some goofy eyebrows (humor). Don’t rush. Savor the process. And when you are ready, light a candle and see if your story, er pumpin, glows! If it does, rejoice! If not, double check to make sure you haven’t overlooked any hidden goop. Then keep carving as necessary.

But don’t toss that goop out too quickly! For tangled in those slimy strings, you will find something precious – seeds. For various reasons, these discarded seeds didn’t fit your current pumpkin’s plot. But if saved and explored later, a special few of them may germinate into new and completely different, but wonderfully creative pieces.

Happy Pumpkin Carving all! And don’t forget to save the seeds.

LITTLE TOY CARS: Thoughts on Playing and Writing

IMG_5327I was organizing boxes in my basement this weekend and rediscovered this – it’s a box full of my childhood Matchbox cars co-mingled with my husband’s –  with some more recent additions from when my kids were little.  The youngest cars in the collection are about fifteen years old – the oldest – almost fifty!  What amazes me most about this collection is the wildly contrasting condition of the cars.

I mean, if you look at them carefully, they are all comprised of the same basic elements – wheels, chassis, colorful paint job.  And, yes, of course, all have doors, hoods, and trunks (some that open which were my favorites as a kid). Yeah, yeah, some are trucks instead of cars, but basically they all fit into the same overarching miniature toy car category.

 

And yet, through the seemingly innocent act of playing with them… look how distinctive they’ve become! My husband’s cars are all battered up. He even had to repaint his little toy ambulance, a very necessary vehicle for his play world. That’s because for him, a perfect day of play involved car races and crashes and battles over rough terrain.

IMG_5330By contrast, my perfect day of automobile play involved creating a village in the fragrant bed of pine needles that covered the craggy old roots that abutted my grandparents’ driveway. I would spend hours creating roads and story lines to go with each car as they navigated my imaginary village world, stopping for tea at imaginary tea houses and picnics along imaginary vistas. Very different from my husband’s play.

But that’s where the originality and creativity emerges, isn’t it?

IMG_3152Writing stories is a lot like playing with toy cars.  We all begin with the same basic car parts – the words – and all our stories fit into a relatively small range of car models, i.e. story structures, plot lines and universal themes.

But does that mean that originality is impossible?  Not at all.  Like children playing with toy cars, that’s where the creativity begins!  So get out those stories-in-progress this week, or grab a new little car – and then PLAY! I wonder what new play worlds will emerge this week. Happy Monday all!