Inspiration, thanksgiving

Giving Thanks: BOOK STYLE!

Every year at Thanksgiving, when all the relatives are gathered around the table ready to eat, my husband pulls out one of his favorite books. Printed in 1858 in New York, it’s a worn, but still beautiful old, leather bound copy of Book of Psalms.  As a US historian with a focus on religion in  America, it’s no surprise he treasures it.  He purchased it many years ago in the little “attic sale” corner of my grandmother’s retirement community.  Not only is it a beautiful artifact from the past that reminds us of my grandmother, it also contains familiar and wonderful words that are loved by our family.

That book – and my husband’s joy in sharing it with us each year – reminds me of the richness books add to our lives – shaping us as we grow, helping us through tough times, sparking special memories, offering joy and laughter and more.  With that in mind, maybe it’s time this weekend to give a little thanks – book style!

We’ll be doing this as family – and all ages can participate. And here are a couple that stand out in our family: 

E.B White’s Charlotte’s Web helped my then eight year old daughter process her sadness at her grandmother’s passing.

Amy Krause Rosenthal’s We are thankful for the way COOKIES: Bite-Sized Lessons led to such great conversations about living kindly and to lots of cookie baking!

My son remembers fondly the joy of reading every single Hardy Boys book – several times!  He loved them so much, that just like his daddy, he enjoyed perusing old book shops for old treasures like this 1942 edition of The Clue of the Broken Blade. 

Want to “Give Thanks, BOOK STYLE!” with your family? Here’s how it works:

Gather:  Ahead of time, let your family and friend know that as part of the Thanksgiving festivities, you will be sharing a book that you’ve been thankful for. If possible, they should bring it. 

Share: At a designated time, perhaps after the main course and before you serve up the pumpkin pie, let each person who would like share their book. 

If they need help structuring their thoughts, it might go something like this:

This is name of book and I am thankful for it because ______________.  (Possible reasons could include:  it made me laugh, it reminded me of _________, it taught me that __________, it helped me when I was feeling _________ etc. )

Then, if you want, each person can share a favorite page or passage from the book.

Celebrate: When everyone is done, celebrate the blessings of books with dessert! 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the subscribe button in the footer or sidebar. I post once or twice weekly with inspirational reflections, tips, interviews and more.

Christmas, Inspiration

TUESDAY THOUGHTS: Halos in Picture Books (Plus a Treasured Childhood Memory)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD is my first children’s book with halos. Can you spot them glowing on the cover over the heads of the Christmas family? They shine on each and every spread. I didn’t envision halos when I wrote the story, but I like them. They remind me of my childhood years spent in France. It was there that I was first introduced to these glowing nimbuses on family field trips to Notre Dame, Chartres and more. Then, and now, I find them to be artistically beautiful ways to represent both those who are divine (Jesus and God) and those who served God in special ways.  

So when I was asked what my take on them was and informed that there is currently great controversy over their inclusion in picture books, I was surprised. In my opinion, they are a joyous addition to HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, providing lovely opportunity for conversations about what they are and how they can help to remind us of God’s loving mission to redeem the world.  

Here are a couple of sweet pictures from my childhood years in France. In the first, I am standing with my mother and sister on an elegant outing. Can you guess which one I am? The second is a snapshot taken by my dad on a trip to Chartres cathedral circa 1979. My mother is on the left looking up and I am sporting a very bright red hat. My sister is running joyfully in the middle.

Now, inspired by my mom who skillfully used halos to spark conversations about God on those special outings, here are FOUR suggestions for doing just that:

  1. Set halos in historical context. I was fascinated to learn as a small child that halos in Christian art date back to the time when few could read words but all could “read” pictures and so churches were designed with biblical stories visually on display in the form of statues, paintings, and stained glass windows.  And what about those halos? As my mother explained to me, they were visual clues that the figures wearing them were either divine (i.e God or Jesus) or divinely appointed helpers with a special role to play.  
  2. Introduce the idea of SYMBOLISM.  Ask your little ones if WE wear halos?  Ask them why they think we don’t?  Ask if they think Jesus actually wore a halo? What about God?  This will be an interesting conversation…. but wherever it takes you, be sure to conclude that NO, Jesus didn’t actually wear a halo, neither does God.  Halos are the creation of artists looking for a visual way to show God – or his special helpers. They are symbols, sort of like arrows – alerting us that the wearer is either God or someone important to God’s story.
  3. Read a book with halos.  As you read HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, or another book with halos, have your little one point to the halos on each page. (Hint: They are on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.)  Ask your child how the halos look?  Do they add a sense of warmth and love to the story?  And why do they think each has a halo?  Ponder all this together, concluding that Jesus has the halo because He’s God’s Holy Son! And Mary and Joseph have halos because they were blessed to be Jesus’ earthly parents – special helpers indeed.
  4. After reading, go on a halo field trip. One of my favorite cathedral outing memories as a child was of going on halo hunts.  I think my mom did this to keep us entertained so she could listen to the tour guide, but I loved it. This is how they worked. First, we’d pick either a large window or maybe the statuary above the entrance. Next, we’d look for and count the halos. Finally, we’d see if we could figure out who the haloed figures were and how they could remind us of God’s power and love. You can do that in your community as well either by visiting a local church that has haloed figures or perhaps a museum that has a collection of medieval church art.  At Christmas time, you might even be able to spot some halos in people’s front yard nativity scenes!

Whatever your stance on halos, I pray that you and your little ones are filled with a sense of wonder, joy and thankfulness this Christmas as we celebrate the the birth of Jesus, God’s precious Son.

SPECIAL THANKS: A variation of this post appeared over at Big Books, Little Ears last week. I’d like to thank blogger/owner Kristin Wynalda for asking me this thought provoking question.

Also, Sophie, my pooch, is a bit incensed that I haven’t yet shared her interview over at Kathy O’ Neill’s delightful blog. Would you help make her happy and smooth over my oversight by popping over for a read? And maybe leave a comment for her? Here’s the link.

Inspiration, time management, Writing

LUNCH AT THE BEACH: Thoughts on SEAGULLS and WRITING

A few years ago, a friend and I took our kids for a day at the Jersey shore. It was a beautiful day with clear skies, mild surf and salty breezes. The kids spent the morning jumping waves and building sand forts. By lunch time they’d worked up hearty appetites and couldn’t wait to dig in to the delicious picnic we’d packed.

Sitting on boogie boards and towels, they unwrapped their sandwiches and took their first bites.  I, too, was about to dig in when, suddenly, I felt a nasty pinch and flapping of feathers. I screamed, just in time to look a seagull right in the eye.  He was trying to get my sandwich, but had gotten my finger instead.  Moments later, another seagull swooped in, this time successfully nabbing a chunk of my son’s sandwich right out of his hand. Looking up, we saw several seagulls circling overhead. “They’re dive-bombing us, Mom!” my son shouted. Then he and his friend stood and started stomping and waving to scare them off. It didn’t work. The seagulls kept circling and swooping.

By now the girls were screaming too. Thankfully, my friend kept her wits about her. “Sit down, everyone,” she said. “I know what to do.”  Then grabbing our boys’ towels, she covered their heads as they sat on their boogie boards, making two makeshift picnic tents.  “If you keep your sandwiches hidden, they won’t dive in,” she explained.  She made similar tent for the girls and one for herself.  And sure enough, they worked!

Just look at the boys…

and the girls….

and my friend.

Alas, I’d forgotten a towel for myself.  My solution?  My son’s orange t-shirt strategically flopped over my wide-brimmed hat provided just enough cover to thwart those nasty seagulls.

Writing sometimes feels a lot like trying to eat lunch at the beach.  I begin the day with great intentions, but as soon as I sit down to write, those seagulls start swooping in. They might not look like birds, but if I’m not careful, things like email, Twitter, Facebook, laundry and dustbunnies, can easily snatch up all my writing time.  What I need is a tent!  For me that means turning off the internet, not answering the phone, and finding a distraction-free place to write.  And if those pecking dustbunnies and flying laundry baskets still distract, I just promise them that I’ll feed them in an hour, after I finish my feeding my muse.

How about you?  Is your writing time ever besieged by seagulls?  If so, what’s your solution?

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog. I post once or twice weekly. Posts are devoted to celebrating reading, writing and life! This post first appeared August 2013 but I thought it as relevant as ever, plus I just returned from a week at the beach where there were lots of… sea gulls!

Inspiration, Writing

SAVING THE SHAVINGS: Four Writerly Reasons to Hold on to the Tossed Bits

My artistic daughter thought these pencil shavings were so beautiful she wanted me to save them.  We took this picture instead. For months I forgot about them, until I rediscovered them while browsing through old photos.

I find these lovely shavings inspiring.  As writers, our job is to whittle away at our stories, sharpening them until they shine.  But sometimes, in our haste to perfect the story or poem at hand, we foolishly toss the shavings. Those shavings, however, often contain precious marrow which, if tossed too quickly, we will later regret. So, before you hit delete or permanently toss old story bits, here are four thoughts to consider.

Oops! It Wasn’t a Shaving After All!  I can’t tell you how many times in the processing of revising, I have deleted a phrase or thought that I later regretted. Thank goodness, I learned early not to permanently delete anything when whittling a piece. Instead I “cut” the phrase or sentence that I think isn’t working and “paste” it in a repository at the end of the document. That way ALL my thoughts are captured and preserved, so if I realize later that something wasn’t a shaving after all, it’s still safe and sound in my shavings collection.

One Story’s Shaving Is Another Story’s Spark.  When working on a new piece, I like to brainstorm and write in my journal. Sometimes this takes up pages and pages. Over the years, I’ve been tempted to toss these old chicken scratchings, but I’m so glad I haven’t. Do you know how many new ideas those old notes have sparked? Shavings and shavings worth! (Bigger than the lovely heap pictured above.) My advice, then, is to find a nice box or shelf to store your old journals and unused writing bits so that one day when you feel uninspired, you can search those old shavings for the marrow of a new story or poem!

Is That a Shaving or is that a Sequel?  If a book does well, your publisher might be interested in a sequel. I keep this hopeful thought in mind when revising.  I tend to be an overwriter – infusing way more plot twists and content than a 32-page picture book can handle.  Over time, I’ve learned to put asterisks or boxes around plot twists or snippets of text that don’t fit the current story but which might be the spark for a sequel.

Save those shavings for posterity (or at least for school visits)! When speaking with students about writing picture books, they LOVE it when I can show them concrete evidence that published pieces go through many, many rounds of whittling before they are ready for print.  Here’s where those awkward early rhymes or plot twists that I wisely shaved off my story come in handy. Students love them! They also enjoy glimpses into early brainstorming notes or lists. Indeed, a thoughtful assortment of  select shavings that illustrate various truths about the writing and revising process will bring school presentations to life!

Happy sharpening all and remember to save the shavings!

(Note: I re-discovered this post from March 2016 while browsing through my blog archives. I found it inspiring so decided to post again.  I hope it inspires you, too, as you set about writing this week.)

Bible, board books, Book Launch, Inspiration

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD: Inspiration Video (Plus a Giveaway Winner!)

Every day recently, I’ve doing a little something special to get ready for my newest board book to release. Earlier this month these special efforts included producing a short video, filmed on my porch, sharing the inspiration behind HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD. Well, I just noticed that the video is now up on Paraclete’s website as well as their YouTube channel, so that means I can share it!

Enjoy the video and I hope it inspires you to pre-order copies for the little ones in your life.  You can preorder through the publisher, on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook or through the vendor of your choice. And if you want to add it to your Goodreads shelves that would be amazing.  

GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!!! It’s also time to announce the winner of last week’s giveaway of a SIGNED copy of Patti Richard’s debut picture book MRS. NOAH.  Drum roll please… the winner is… GAYLE!!! I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.  

Inspiration, Life

MONDAY REFLECTIONS:  Thoughts on Retiring a BELOVED Blog Banner

For ten years the same banner has graced my blog. If you know the story behind it, you will understand why I’m feeling a bit sad and nostalgic today as I announce that it’s time to retire the banner and indeed to update my whole blog.

Ten years ago (and I can’t believe it’s been that long) I didn’t yet have a picture book out, but it was my dream. Having a blog presence was an important early step in creating a platform in the hope that someday my dream would come true. I chose a WordPress theme, played around with color and layout, and started drafting short, upbeat posts that celebrated reading, writing and life. 

Everything was set, but one thing. I needed a banner. But not just any banner. I wanted my banner to be hand drawn and full of color and creativity to reflect the joyful spirit and whimsy of my writing. And who would be the best person to create such a banner? There was only one person as far as I was concerned, my wonderful mom.

She embraced the assignment with love. Since the blog was to be called “Laura Sassi Tales”, the same name I chose across all my platforms, she and I thought it would be fitting to have animals welcome visitors to my blog with their tails prominently displayed.  She sketched and played with color. The result?  AMAZING! I still have her early sketches and treasure them. And, I LOVE the banner.  

A mere eighteen months after creating the banner, my mom passed away from ALS. We didn’t know she was sick when I started the blog, but the disease quickly progressed and she was only able to draw for maybe a year longer. Having her banner grace the blog has been a way to stay connected because her artistry has always inspired me and she was always such an encourager of my writing.

Now WordPress has retired my theme template. That means it’s time to pick a new one. A lot has changed in terms of my career as well. I’m no longer a pre-published picture book author. My seventh book will release in three months, followed by two more in 2023 and it’s time for my blog, which also serves as my website, to have a more book-ish look. So, in the next few weeks, I will re-launch with a whole new vibe – same address and same quality content (because it turns out I LOVE blogging) – but new layout and new banner. However, even though my mother’s banner will no longer grace the blog, it will remain here in this post, for as long as I have this blog, and her spirit of love and creativity will remain in me for a lifetime.

Happy Monday all!  

Creativity, Inspiration, Life, Writing

FINDING YOUR JOYFUL SPOT: Thoughts on Parlor Pliés and Writing

My daughter, aged 17, is away at a ballet intensive for two weeks. I’m not hearing much from her except a few texts that says things like “I love it here!” and “I’m sore from all the dancing, but it’s really good!” and “The girls are nice and we are warming up to each other.” That’s all I need to hear.

Miss A has been a dancer all her life and she inspires me. And maybe because I am missing the sound of her dancing in her room (right above my little morning spot here in the living room), I decided to search “ballet” on my blog and turned up this nugget. It was just what I needed to read this morning as I jump (or perhaps dance) into a morning of writing.

Here it is… straight from the summer of 2015! Enjoy!

Right now my daughter, aged 10, is dancing around the living room to the rich music of Coppelia, a beautiful 19th century ballet. Using a dish towel as a prop, she’s flitting and twirling and swooping to the music in perfect motion. I would love to snap a photo, but she has asked me to remain in the kitchen (where I am cleaning up from supper) and I want to respect her privacy.  But, oh my, each time I peek in I am amazed. She is 100% into the moment – listening to the mood of the music and improvising as she goes.  And, wow, how her movements flow. The result is beautiful!

As a writer, I am taking note. This young budding artist is not letting the inner voices of self doubt and fear of criticism interfere one bit. Perhaps she hasn’t even recognized their pesky little voices yet.

I was never a dancer, but I have distant recollections of that beautiful innocent time when I just let my creativity flow both through writing and drawing without holding back. That phase ended for me in mid-elementary school when I suddenly became self conscious about my writing, especially at school. Thankfully, I continued to write stories and poems for my own pleasure.  Still, it took years for me to return to that safe place where I felt secure enough to really open up and let that creativity flow again.

To reach our full creative potentials, we must follow my sweet daughter’s example and reconnect with that creative sweet spot from our childhood when we felt free to create without inhibition. Will you join me this week in finding the joyful spot? Happy dancing, er writing, all!

Inspiration, Life

FATHER’S DAY WISDOM: Reflections on Taking the LONG CUT in Writing and Life

Not only has my dad always been a loving, caring father (and more recently a wonderful champion of my writing endeavors), he’s also been a life long creator of wonderful phrases that make life a little bit funnier. Memorable dad phrases include “I’m going to get my hairs cut”, instead of haircut, “Don’t worry, Daddy-do-it”, and, my favorite, “Okay, kids, we’re taking the long cut”, the opposite of short cut, which translated means, “I took a wrong turn, so now we’re going to explore”. 

On road trips as a child (and we took many), I remember my mother would often sigh and roll her eyes (in a loving way) when Dad announced that we were taking yet another “long cut” because he was a real stickler for doing it himself (i.e. “Daddy-do-it”) and refused to stop and ask for directions, unless the long cut got really, really long, or if it became apparent that we were just going in circles and even then he might not ask for directions.

But though she might roll her eyes, I think secretly she, and certainly my sister and I, came to really love and appreciate Dad’s “long cuts”. After all, without them, we might never have discovered that little out of the way village with the wonderful bed and breakfast run by a little Scottish woman who took us under her wing the time we got lost, I mean “took the long, long cut” through some Scottish countryside. 

And without one of my dad’s “long cuts” we would never have had the amazing fascination of having a picnic in a field in Spain, next to a big, big rock, only to discover the skeleton of a cow on the far side of the rock!  (Actually, my dad discovered that and wouldn’t let us look, which I for a long time I resented, but which actually I now realize he was doing to save us from losing our appetites).

And without my dad’s “long cuts” we most likely would never have found the perfect lunch spot in a meadow overlooking the Chateau de Chantilly, or have sat on a lonesome bench on a twisty mountain road with a view like this!

Looking back on my childhood, some of my favorite memories are of discovering unexpected and wonderful spots while were were taking “the long cut” between destinations.  I see now that those “long cuts” instilled in me an important life principle, for they taught me, in a wonderfully meandering fashion, that life is richer when I’m not rushing from one pre-determined destination to the next.  In fact, in my opinion, the best part of living is being willing to take the long cut and enjoy the wonderful things you discover along the way.  Thank you, Dad, for instilling that in me!

Now for the writing tie-in:  Like many new writers,  when I first started out, I expected immediate results – i.e reaching my destination without any twists or turns. And I’m embarrassed to say that in those first couple of years, as I was exploring the craft, I submitted stories and poems to publishers far too prematurely.  Now, when I look back at my earliest pieces, I’m amazed at how stilted, clumsy and rough they are.  Indeed, it wasn’t until I slowed down and really started to savor the writing process through yearsof writing daily, reading, studying the craft, attending conferences, and participating in peer critique  (in other words, taking the writerly version of “the long cut”) that I began to develop into the writer I am today (who is still ever-working on improving and expanding her craft). 

So, here is my bit of writerly wisdom for the day:  Writing is not a race to get published. It’s a beautiful “long cut” journey to be savored and enjoyed. So, take heart and be patient. Join a critique group. Attend a conference. Sign up for a writing class. Read a book about writing.  Spend time at the library reading all the picture books you can get your hands on. And, through it all, keep writing, writing, writing! The results may not fit your pre-conceived conceived timeline, but if you keep at it, I think you will find that the “long cut” journey – though not short, to be sure, – is rewarding.

(Note: This post first appeared in Fall 2019, but I’m feeling sentimental and, hey, it’s almost Father’s Day – a perfect reason to celebrate my dad.)

Edible delights, Inspiration, Life

PICKING RASPBERRIES: Thoughts on Writing and Living

It’s almost raspberry picking time again and that has gotten me thinking about, of all things, life and how we choose to live it. Almost 10 summer ago, when this blog was still brand new, I posted a writing analogy about raspberries. In that post I described how my children and I were enjoying picking raspberries up the street in a wild raspberry patch we had discovered.  I observed that even in this culture where “more” is perceived as “better”, my kids understood that part of what made the berries in this patch special was their scarcity. Each day we ate only a few and we savored each one.

Summertime writing, I observed, was a lot like raspberry picking because, with my kids home from school, time to write would be at a premium. Each day, like raspberries, I would pick a few precious moments to write. These times, I explained, would be short, but intense, and I vowed to savor each and every one.

After that post went live, my mother, who many of you will recall was in the midst if fighting a valiant battle with ALS, sent me this email which I saved and now treasure.  She wrote:

Reading your latest blog, it struck me that what you say about savoring wild raspberries is a lot like living with ALS– I try to enjoy, get the most out of, each little thing that happens — our telephone calls, John’s sweet smile (that’s my dad), a cardinal flying by, sitting at Sunnyside…..It is having appreciation for small things that makes for a happy life.

Her wise words have stuck with me, for in the big picture, we are all like my mother. No, we don’t all have ALS, but we all live in an imperfect world where bad things happen. Our hearts get wrenched. We go through difficult times. We struggle. But, if in the midst of all that, we can find something good in each day, even if it’s just a little thing or a small moment, then like my mother, I think we too, will find the secret to a happy life.

What small moments will come your way today?  Take time today to recognize them and to give thanks.  Blessings, all!

Inspiration, Picture Books, Writing

Inspired by WONDER WOMAN: FOUR Tips to Activate your PICTURE BOOK Writing Super Powers

My husband gave me a card with Wonder Woman on the front and that’s all it took to remind me of this favorite post from 2017 which offers super hero wisdom for picture book writers. Enjoy!

A few years ago I was asked in an interview if, even as a child, I always wanted to be a children’s author.  And after a bit of thought, I answered no. When I was a child what I really wanted to be was Wonder Woman! I had her twirl perfected and everything. Activating her super powers, I would spend hours with friends, or sometimes alone, creating fantastic make-believe scenarios. These were the plot lines that brought wonderful play worlds to life.

As picture book writers we, too, have super powers we can activate to create engaging stories. So now, in celebration of my first career dream as a super hero, here are FOUR SUPER POWERS we can all use to bring our picture book manuscripts to life:

The POWER of the KID-FRIENDLY PROBLEM:  Losing a favorite toy, wanting a cookie, being afraid of a storm, not wanting to take a bath. These are just a few examples of kid-friendly problems in the books we read.  A kid-friendly problems connects the reader to your story.

The POWER of PICTURES that ADD: The hallmark of picture books, of course, is that they are illustrated. But there’s more. Good picture book writers let the pictures tell part of the story. Sometimes the pictures even include important details that are not in the text. See Mo Willem’s KNUFFLEBUNNY for a great example of this, or GOODNIGHT, ARK or LOVE IS KIND (or any of my books.) As you write and revise your stories, put stars next to parts of the story that could be told (or enhanced) by the illustrations. Then consider omitting the words from the text, instead substituting a simple illustration note, but only if absolutely necessary.

The POWER of the PAGE TURN: With only a few sentences per spread, picture books include almost constant page turns. These built-in pauses provide authors a great opportunity to build suspense. Consider pausing at an exciting moment mid-sentence as you write.  What happens next?  To find out kids will have to TURN THE PAGE! (Note: creating a book dummy during revisions is a great way to figure out how you can take advantage of page turns.)

The POWER of HUMOR:  Kids love to laugh, or at least chuckle, and so do parents. So anytime you can infuse humor into your story, via text or illustration, go for it!

What SUPER POWER would you add? Let us fellow writers know in the comments. And if wanted to be a super hero when you were little, let us know that too! Happy Writing, all!