AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Laurie Wallmark in Celebration of her Latest Release – GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE

Grace cover 100dpi 3x4

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Laurie Wallmark, as my guest. Laurie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference, and I’ve been impressed by her passion for highlighting the careers and lives of notable women in the science field.  Her first book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), celebrated the life of a 19th-century female mathematician who is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer.  Her newest book, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling, 2017) celebrates the life of Grace Hopper, a 20th century female trailblazer in the field of computer programming.  Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is engaging, informative, and fun and has already earned strong reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and more. Welcome, Laurie and let’s get started.

Q: What inspired you to write Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code?

A: Since I teach computer science and am a former programmer, the early years of computing fascinate me. Grace was among the first computer scientists. I’m amazed at how her insight and creativity shaped the world of computers today

Q: There are so many fun – and fascinating – moments in this delightful picture book biography, including one particularly amusing moment involving a bug. What was your research process like? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

A: It’s interesting that you ask about that computer bug. I had always heard that Grace discovered a moth in a computer relay, which caused her to coin the word “bug.” Well in doing the research, it turns out neither part of this sentence is quite true. Grace was not the person who discovered the bug, but rather someone on her team did. And as far back as Thomas Edison, the word “bug” was used to describe a glitch in a mechanical device. Grace was the first person to use the term “computer bug,” though. This is why research is so important when writing nonfiction for children.

Q: Most of your text is written in creative nonfiction, but on many spreads you also have special text that is set apart in large and colorful fonts. Can you share with us why you chose this distinction? 

A: Grace was known for her witty sayings, and the set-apart text contains some of the most interesting ones. Because not all of her quotations would easily fit as part of the story, we chose to separate them out like this.

Q: Katy Wu’s illustrations really enhance your text. I love the mid-century funky feel she creates in each spread.  What was it like to work with Katy?

A: In general, and that was true in this case, the author doesn’t work directly with the illustrator. Instead, my notes and suggestions went through my editor and the art director. I provided Katy with lots of pictures of Grace, computer equipment, and even a math problem to show on the blackboard. I was fortunate that Sterling solicited my opinions on the illustrations. That’s not common.

Q: Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy? 

A: On the teacher page of my website (http://www.lauriewallmark.com/teachers.php), I have a discussion guide for use with this book. Among other things, it includes the following activity:

Is there some gadget or gizmo you wish existed? Write the name of your invention and what it does on a blank sheet a paper. Draw a picture of what your invention might look like. Share you invention with your classmates and describe how it works. Listen as they explain about their own inventions.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Laurie.  I wish you the best with this remarkable new book.

Laurie-Wallmark-100dpi-4x6BIO:

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code.

Follow Laurie on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurie.wallmark
Twitter: @lauriewallmark
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lauriewallmark/

 

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Mary Morgan in Celebration of PIP SITS

51XuSsIo6-L

Author-Illustrator Mary Morgan’s newest book, PIP SITS  (I Like to Read®), released last month. Published by Holiday House as part of their I Like to Read Series, it’s the sweet story of Pip, a porcupine, and the little ducklings who think he’s their mama. PIP SITS has received some lovely reviews.  Kirkus Reviews calls it “A good read for hatching new readers” and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL compliments Mary’s illustrations as “endearing”.  I’m thrilled today to have Mary as my guest. Thank you for joining us, Mary!  I believe this is the first time I’ve had an author-illustrator here to chat about a book!  Well, let’s get started.

What is the inspiration behind PIP SITS?

 I was inspired by an antique photograph of a young girl sitting in the grass with many ducklings on her lap. The look on her face was pure joy. I tried to find an original idea that would also capture the bliss children have when relating to animals. I thought about birds imprinting on whoever they first see when they hatch. I have raised baby birds and it is very interesting to have a tiny bird imprint on you. So this was how the idea of the story was hatched.

How wonderful for your readers, Mary, that you had the creative instinct to write a story based on these bits of inspiration. 

PIP SITS is not your first book. Tell us a little bit about your journey as an author/illustrator.

I was born in Chicago and grew up in Kansas City. My summers were spent in Tulsa with my grandmother where I first took art classes at the Philbrook Art Gallery and later was an assistant art teacher. I could do what I loved there, draw! My grandmother always encouraged my art with trips to the ballet and art museums. She let me keep all kinds of animals to draw from: mice, guinea pigs, chicks and even a small bat. My father’s nightly readings of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the Wind in the Willows also inspired me. I was enthralled by these books and knew I wanted to create books too.

What a wonderful way to grow up!  And I’m so glad you listened to that inner voice that said “I want to create books too!”

Since you are my first author-illustrator, I know my readers will be extra interested in hearing what your process was like as both author and illustrator in creating this story.

I wrote the story in a rough form first. Then I made many character sketches of Pip, the porcupine. After this, I imagined the scenes in the book. I drew very rough ideas of what the images would look like on each page.

Then I rewrote the story many times working out all the details. When at last I was content with the story I did the finished drawings.

I find it interesting that you wrote the story first.  I, for some reason, imagined that you would begin with sketches. But, I can see that both are integral in your creative process.  Fascinating!

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?

 My web site is www.marymorganbooks.com. On my web page there is a section called, fun page. There I show you how to make dragon pizzas, draw a dragon and help Little Mouse find another place to sleep. Here is an example…

In the book, Sleep Tight Little Mouse, Little Mouse found many places to sleep. He slept upside down with bats in a cave, inside kangaroo pouches and even in a bird’s nest. Can you think of other ways animals sleep that Little Mouse might like to try?
Make a drawing of him sleeping like these different animals.

That “Fun Page” is a treasure, Mary. I also did a little poking around, Mary, and discovered a terrific  educator’s guide for PIP SITS available at Holiday House.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books and other work for sale?

I have many projects I am working on. One is a fantasy about a young girl that migrates with the Monarchs. I hope this story will bring interest to the difficulties the Monarch Butterfly is having with its environment. I am also working on a book about a bilingual bird and another about magical tutus. My books can be bought on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mary! 

About the Author

Mary walkingAfter studying art at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Instituto de San Miguel de Allende in Mexico; Mary worked as an illustrator at Hallmark cards for ten years.

Mary illustrated her first book in 1987. In the past twenty years she has illustrated over forty books, many of which she also wrote: from Jake Baked a Cake, Sleep Tight Little Mouse to her most recent book, Pip Sits.

Mary and her husband divide their time between France, their home is in a small medieval village, Semur en Auxois, their sailboat, which is now in The Canary Islands and their families, especially their grandchildren!

 Web site: www.marymorganbooks.com

CHAOS TO CALM: My First TV Interview!

16178745_1429697637063282_6385255460452881871_o

Last night I had my first tv interview on a Christian parenting show called Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner. We chatted about books, life, and faith.

Here’s Noelle’s official description of the  episode: “Children’s book author Laura Sassi is this month’s guest on my parenting TV series, Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner! The episode topic is “The Calm of Building Faith Foundations,” and Laura will weigh in on that as an author, mother, and educator. The magic that makes her stories come alive will open new avenues for sharing faith in your own home!”

If you’d like to watch the episode, here is the link.  Be sure also to enter the wonderful 10-book giveaway that Zonderkidz has authorized in conjunction with Noelle’s episode.  For details and to enter, please visit Noelle’s blog.

JOINT-INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Jodi McKay and Illustrator Denise Holmes in Celebration of the Release of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?

words_coverToday I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with picture book author Jodi McKay and illustrator Denise Holmes.  WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (Albert Whitman, 2016) is Jodi’s debut work.  Denise has illustrated numerous books, but this their first collaboration.  Thanks so much for joining us today.

Synopsis: Period wants to write a story but can’t find the words, so his friends offer their help. Question Mark asks around and Exclamation Point finds some enthusiastic words from some unexpected places. Now all Period needs is an idea, but from whom?

Now for the interview with my questions bolded.

Jodi, congratulations on your debut!  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story.

Jodi: Thanks so much, Laura! The idea behind this book came from a horrible case of writer’s block. No amount of chocolate or deep breathing exercises helped me untangle a good idea for a story and I literally sat in front of my computer and asked, “Where the heck are the words?” or at least that’s the PG version. Oddly enough, that question was the spark that I needed and the concept quickly came together afterwards. Knowing that there were books already available about writing or telling stories, I knew that I needed to put a different spin on it and I wanted it to be in the form of a quirky kind of character. Cue the punctuation marks!

Denise, you have illustrated quite a few picture books. What drew you to Jodi’s WHERE ARE THE WORDS story?

Denise: I have to admit this book was new territory for me. My other books have had children as the main characters, so I have been so used to drawing kids. When my agent sent me the manuscript and I got really nervous! But after reading it a few times, the characters started coming to me and I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and illustrate this book. The words are so funny and the characters are so wonderful. I really fell in love with it!

One of the themes of this book is collaboration – coming together and combining your strengths to create a great story. This is humorously depicted in the delightful interactions between Period and his punctuation pals and in the interplay between picture and text.  How collaborative was the process for you as author and illustrator? What kind of communication was involved, if any?

Jodi: First, I would like to say that I got lucky when they chose Denise to illustrate our book. I didn’t want to say too much regarding the art because, 1. I wanted it to be a surprise, and 2. I knew she would add so much more to the story that I wouldn’t have even thought of and I didn’t want to hinder her process. There were a few times that I was given the opportunity to provide suggestions or ask questions all of which Denise graciously addressed. That was done through my editor and I’m assuming their art director, never directly to each other. Now we communicate fairly often to chat about our teacher’s guide and promotional work. She’s great!

Denise: I think this might be standard in the industry, but the editor is the middle person when it comes to working on picture books. In this case, Jordan gave me the art directions and I just went for it. I did finally get talk with Jodi after I finished the book. We have collaborated on promo materials and I look forward to collaborating on events and maybe even a follow up book! What do you say Jodi? I think Period needs to go on another adventure!

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

Jodi: Gosh, a few things really. I hope readers will see how the punctuation marks are speaking and connect that to that actual role of each mark. That is the educational component of this book and one I think is helpful for little learners. I also want kids to see what is possible when they open their eyes to what is all around them rather than just focusing on what’s in front of them. You never know what you can discover! Last, I hope children capture the importance of helping each other and working together for any cause. That piece of the story was created as a result of my own experience with the kidlit community and how helpful everyone has been over the years.

Denise: That it’s good to have friends to help you out, even if they are a little silly!

Laura: What one piece of advice would you offer to young writers/artists who find themselves staring at a blank page?

Jodi: Engage your senses to find that spark! Look in all directions, listen closely to what’s going on around you, pick up different objects to feel what they are made out of, make something that’s smell reminds you of a loved one’s cooking, eat what you made to see if you can go deeper into the memory. Take all of that and see what comes up for you. Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.

Denise: I often have days where I have artist’s block. I will step away from trying to force a drawing; go for a walk, read a book, or grab a snack and come back to it. When you get back, just start filling up the page with doodles, something will eventually come out of it.

Finally, what’s next for each of you?  Any more collaborative works in the pipeline?

Jodi: I’m still writing and working with my agent on different picture books. There is one particular that is a companion to WHERE ARE THE WORDS? and I hope it works so that I can team up with Denise again!

Denise: I have a book called Phoebe Sounds It Out (written by Julie Zwillich | Owlkids Books) coming out in April 2017 and I am working on the 2nd book in the series called Phoebe’s Day, Today. As far as collaborating, I would absolutely love to work with Jodi again. I was very inspired by her writing and would jump at the chance to work together again!

Thank you both for inspiring us with your thoughtful responses.  We wish you the best of success with this clever new picture book!

img_8920Bio: Jodi lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan with her husband, son, a couple of mischievous pets, and at least one ghost. She discovered that she loved to write when she was 8 years old, but decided to finish school before pursuing it full time. Now she is an active member of the incredible kid lit community and is proud to be represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? is set to release on December 20th and she can’t wait to share it! If you would like to chat with Jodi, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also connect with her at www.JodiMcKayBooks.com (Look for the teacher’s guide!) or by email at Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com

drawingportrait_smallBio: A native of the Detroit area, Denise graduated with a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. She has sine been a freelance illustrator working on many different projects from logos and greeting cards to magazine publications. Her other picture books include IF I WROTE ABOUT YOU, THE YOGA GAME BY THE SEA, and THE YOGA GAME IN THE GARDEN. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.  Visit her online at www.niseemade.com.

Jodi’s Blog tour:

November 14thhttps://albertwhitman.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/qa-with-jodi-mckay/

November 18thwww.KidLit411.com

December 5thhttps://laurasassitales.wordpress.com

December 12th–  http://www.karlingray.com/blog.htm

December 19thhttp://jumpingthecandlestick.blogspot.com

Stop by the BHPL BOOK BLOG for a FUN INTERVIEW!

13507225_10153848033924094_2368832568996490477_nIn anticipation of my GOODNIGHT, ARK story time visit at the Berkeley Heights Public Library next Tuesday, I was interviewed by the librarian! We had the nicest time chatting about writing  picture books, working with an illustrator, living in New Jersey and more. Curious? Then hop on over. I’ll make it easy. Press here.

NOTE:  The GOODNIGHT, ARK story time will take place next Tuesday, July 19th at 10:30 in the Children’s Room of the Berkeley Heights Public Library. Please join us if you can.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Interview with Jody Jensen Shaffer

Today I am delighted to have my talented friend and critique partner Jody Jensen Shaffer as my guest.  Jody and I have known each other for quite a few years now, and it’s been exciting for me to follow her writerly journey. Jody has written 27 children’s books. She’s here today in celebration of her newest release THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED with illustrations by Kelly Kennedy (Simon Spotlight, July 2016). Forthcoming titles include PRUDENCE, THE PART-TIME COW which will be published by Laura Godwin at Holt Children’s in 2017 and A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK which will be available in 2018 from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. Well, let’s get started. 
Thanks so much for joining us today, Jody. Now that re-introductions have been made, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer? 
Thanks for having me, Laura! Like many authors, I liked to write and read when I was young. When I finished high school, I went to college and got a degree in English. (I also got my first paying magazine job. But it was for adults, not kids.) Lots of folks thought I might be a lawyer. But I had other plans. I knew I wanted to teach college students how to write, so I got a master’s in English and taught for a few years, while I was working in the corporate world. When I had kids, I wanted to stay home with them, and that’s when I got hooked on children’s literature. Oh my goodness! I loved those books! I began writing seriously for children then.
THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED has been out now for just over a week.  What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I had such a good time researching the history of cookies! I hope readers will enjoy learning about it as much as I did. The history of cookies is a fascinating story of cultures and ingredients and technology and pluck. (You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean about that last part!)
This seems like a delicious topic to research.  Was a lot of cookie nibbling involved?  But, seriously, I know readers of all ages will be interested in your process for first researching and then writing the book. Can you share a few tasty tidbits with us? 
Cookie nibbling is always a part of my research, Laura, whether my topic is cookies or not! I began my research by scouring the internet and my local libraries. I dug up all the information I could about baking and cookies and spices. I actually thought I’d discover when, where, and what the Very First Cookie was. But guess what? It wasn’t even a cookie! (Again, you’ll understand once you read the book.) After I was comfortable that I had a handle on the history of cookies, I had to decide what information to put in the book and what to leave out. Since this is a book for 6-8 year olds, I wanted to be sure I was adding the right amount of sugar and not overloading them with too much salt, if you know what I mean. I’m happy with the way it turned out, and I think readers will be, too.
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?
Great question! There are all kinds of possible curriculum-extenders for this book, including studying the geography of the history of cookies, the math that recipes use, the technology of ovens, refrigeration, and factories, maybe even a little chemistry for what heat does to specific ingredients. If that’s not enough, how about how cookies are used in various cultures, including ours? The tie-ins are endlessly delicious!
Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?
Yes, there are more picture books in the pipeline! PRUDENCE, THE PART-TIME COW (Holt) releases in 2017, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin) releases in 2018, with more to follow! Readers can find my books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster, WalMart and Target. They can find me at my blog at Just Kidding and on Twitter @jodywrites4kids.
Thanks so much for having me, Laura!
Thank YOU for coming!
AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!  If you’d like a chance to win a FREE, SIGNED copy of THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLED (Simon Spotlight, July 2016) simply name your favorite cookie in the comment space below.  (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 7/14/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday!  The giveaway is now over. Press here to see the winner.

ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Jennifer Zivoin

Last week the mailman delivered the June issue of Clubhouse Jr. which includes my story “Bugged and Blue”. It begins on page 24, if you care to take a peek. The editorial team did a wonderful job with layout.  But what I especially admired was their choice of illustrator. I was immediately smitten by Jennifer Zivoin’s darling depiction of the characters and setting of my story.  In fact, I was so charmed that I looked her up online. Jennifer Zivoin earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with highest distinction from the honors division of Indiana University. She worked as a graphic designer and then as a creative director before finding her artistic niche illustrating children’s books.  This is Jennifer’s first collaboration with Clubhouse Jr. She has also illustrated 29 published children’s books and about 17 magazine stories and covers. Here’s the best news yet – she has agreed to an interview!  So without further ado, let’s get started.

IMG_2500.jpg

Have you always loved illustrating?  Tell us a little bit about your journey as an artist.

I have always loved art and drawing, but didn’t always realize that I wanted to be an artist.  In fact, when I was very young, I wanted to be an astronaut or a paleontologist!  However, when I was in 4th grade, I saw “The Little Mermaid” for the first time in the movie theater, and was absolutely captivated.  That was when I knew that I wanted to be an artist….or a mermaid!  I loved the beauty of telling stories with pictures, and began working towards that goal: sketching the human figure, exploring different illustration styles, taking classes, and researching the animation industry.  For the longest time I was convinced that I would become an animator, but towards the end of college, I realized that my true passions were the still image and being connected to creating all of the visuals for a story, not just a small piece of a larger whole.  I began my professional career as a graphic designer, and later became a creative director at a multimedia marketing firm.  All the while, I was building my illustration portfolio, building a client base, and learning the skills that I would use in running my own freelance illustration business.  My first children’s book project was the “Pirate School” young reader series, released by Grosset & Dunlap in 2007.  In 2008, I signed on with MB Artists and officially left the corporate world to pursue illustration full time.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to illustrate so many interesting projects!

I love how you depict the characters and setting of my story.  As an illustrator, how do you go about creating visually appealing and engaging spreads?

Before I draw any sketch, I begin with scribbly thumbnails, always in ink.  The idea is to quickly try out as many compositions as possible and not to get caught up in erasing or perfecting any line work.  I love to explore interesting perspectives.  My goal is to find designs that will bring out the essence of each character and capture the mood and movement of each scene.  After I design the characters and decide on a composition, it is time to work on the full size sketches.  When it is time to paint, I look for a color palette that will support the imagery in expressing the tone of the piece.

ArtworkProcessCompositeExample

What is the revision process like when illustrating? 

When the art director receives the artwork, the team must make sure that the images not only meet the visual goals for the story, but that they work functionally within the type layout.  For “Bugged and Blue” the very last sketch originally showed the roller coaster in more of a profile.  However, when it was put into the layout, it turned out not to be the best solution when text was wrapping around it.  For the revision, I changed the view to show the track in more of an “S” shape, with the head of the roller coaster coming towards the viewer.

Many of my readers are writers. From the illustrator’s perspective, what do you look for when agreeing to illustrate a piece? Do you like illustrator notes?

I enjoy being able to work on a variety of projects.  I have illustrated everything from educational work, magazine illustrations, product illustrations, museum exhibit facades, early readers and picture books.  I love when something about a project strikes a personal cord with me.  Sometimes, particularly with educational work and anything with a quick deadline, I need art notes so that I can work quickly and correctly.  However, with some of my picture books, which have longer timelines for completion, the art directors have given me tremendous freedom, with little to no art notes.  I love having the opportunity to rise to the challenge that having complete illustrative freedom allows, and always try to bring something extra to those projects, to live up to the art directors’ faith in me, as well as to try new things for myself as an artist.  However, for every assignment, no matter what the size or deadline, I try to give my clients illustrations that are beautiful and that will meet the visual goals for the project.

As a parent, writer, and former teacher, I’m always interested in how other writers/illustrators balance their time between writing, other jobs, parenthood, and life. Any tips  for productivity and balance?

I have two daughters, age 5 and 1, so finding time to work can be difficult.  I work after the kids go to bed, early in the morning, weekends, holidays….whenever I get a chance.  I have a babysitter who comes one morning a week to play with the kids while I am in the office, and I have great support from family members.  However, being a mother has changed how I have to approach a work day.  Work-at-home moms of young children rarely get long stretches of uninterrupted time to work.   Learning to paint my art digitally has made a huge difference in helping me manage work and motherhood.  If the kids give me 15 minutes, I can work for 15 minutes, save the file, and come back to the piece later.  Being able to capture short periods of time for work throughout each day adds up throughout the week and helps keep the projects moving forward.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books and other work for sale?

I am blessed to have multiple projects in the works at any given time!  Right now, I am working on illustrations to accompany as story to appear this fall in Ladybug Magazine, an educational young reader book, and a picture book with Magination Press which will be released in 2017.  My art has also recently appeared in the newest issues of Babybug and Clubhouse Jr.  For updates about other upcoming publications in which my art appears, to view my portfolio or to check out my books, visit my website at www.JZArtworks.com.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jennifer. It was wonderful having you and thanks again for so beautifully illustrating “Bugged and Blue”.

“Bugged and Blue” written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin appears in the June 2016 issue of Clubhouse Jr. magazine. (Copyright 2016, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.)

 

INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Rebecca J. Gomez (and a Giveaway!)

Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Rebecca J. Gomez, whose brand new picture book, HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (Putnam May 2017), co-authored with Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat, just released! HENSEL AND GRETEL has received lovely reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews for its top-notch rhyme and expressive illustrations. To give you a sense of the book, please take a look at the delightful book trailer.  Then, enjoy my chat with Becky below!

1. Thanks so much for joining us today, Becky.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?
      I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember being able to write. Every now and then the thought of “I should publish a book of poems someday” would enter my mind as a teen and young adult, but actually becoming an author wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. That changed in my mid-twenties after I started writing my own Bible study curriculum for the youth group my husband and I were leading. Writing curriculum led to writing stories for the youth group newsletter, which took me in directions I never thought my writing would go. With three young children at home at the time, I had plenty of inspiration, and there was no stopping me!
 2. HENSEL and GRETEL NINJA CHICKS is a fractured fairy tale. What inspired you and Corey to create this new version? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
      After the success of THE THREE NINJA PIGS and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD, Corey’s publisher asked her to write a third ninja book, but she wasn’t sure which fairy tale to ninja-fy. So, since we had been writing together for years and years, she asked me to write one with her. I had always wanted to write a new version of Hansel and Gretel, and I thought the idea of Hansel and Gretel as ninjas was ideal! I was right. And Corey was right about them being chickens. 
      Most of all, I want readers to enjoy HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS as a fun, kick-butt story. But there is also that element of working hard to reach your goal, and not giving up when things get hard or scary. 
3. I’m intrigued that you and Corey collaborated on this story.  What was it like to co-author this and your first book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?  Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about?
      Corey and I first met when she joined an online critique group I was part of back in…2005, I think. She had co-written her first book, HOP! PLOP!, and she thought that she and I would make a great team. I was hesitant to collaborate at first, but I figured it was worth a shot, especially since she already had one book deal. 
      Writing with Corey has been an incredible experience that has helped sharpen my skills as an author, especially as it comes to writing rhyming stories. She and I always begin a manuscript with a brainstorming session, and then we open up a document in Google drive and begin writing, usually from the beginning. I’ve heard that, with some collaborations, one author will write a draft, then the other author will revise it and send it back, and that continues until they have a finished manuscript. Not so with me and Corey. We generally collaborate on each line from beginning to end, draft to draft. Occasionally we will work separately if we get stuck, or if one of us feels particularly inspired, but in general we move through a manuscript together. And, in case you’re wondering, we do argue now and then. 
4. 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?
      The publisher created a story time kit with some fun ninja-themed stuff that kids will enjoy. I’ve also created my own activity pack, including a maze, a word search, and a finger puppet craft that can be used to act out the story.  
5. What’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?
      No official news yet, but there are some things brewing, both for my collaborative work with Corey and my own work. Stay tuned!
      I always like to send people to the local independent book store, but HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS is available wherever books are sold. You should also be able to find it at your local library. If they don’t have it, you can request it!

IMG_1314Bio: Rebecca J. Gomez is a picture book author whose only ninja training involved a few Karate lessons when she was in third grade and a few self-defense moves she learned from her son, a real live ninja. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and three kids. Connect with Becky on Twitter and Facebook.  You can also visit her website

Don’t forget to enter  the GIVEAWAY!!!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (Putnam May 2017), co-authored with Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat, simply post a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 6/2/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday!  THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  Thank you to all who entered.

Family M.E.S.S. – Children’s Librarian Lauren Antolino Chats about an Award-Winning STEM Program for Little Ones

IMG_2149

Each year the New Jersey State Library bestows the Best Practices in Early Education Award to four outstanding New Jersey public libraries that provide exemplary literacy programs for children from birth to six years, their families and caregivers. The award comes with a $1,000 honorarium, a certificate, and promotion of the winning library as a model program for other libraries. 

FamilyMESS_General

This year the Cranford Public Library (my local library!) was selected to receive one of four of these statewide awards for its Family M.E.S.S. (Math, Engineering, and Science Saturday) program. Children’s Librarian Lauren Antolino is the creative organizer behind Family M.E.S.S.,  a popular bi-monthly educational program where kids ages 2 – 10 and their caregivers participate in a variety of hands-on experiments and problem-solving challenges related to math, engineering and science.  

I’m delighted that Lauren has agreed to an interview today. Thanks so much for joining us, Lauren!  Let’s get started.

The Family M.E.S.S program is not only popular with your young patrons, it’s now *award* winning!  What do you think is the secret to its success?

The community! Cranford is a great town, full of parents who are interested in opportunities to learn and play with their children. We’ve found that a large number of our patrons, particularly younger children, love science, engineering, and/or math, so the interest is definitely there. Many parents are actively seeking fun, educational activities for their children, especially on weekends. One of our goals in creating the program was to engage families in “learning by doing” at the library, and it turns out they were looking for the same! 

Another huge factor, of course, is that the children who attend the program love making a mess, and parents love not having to clean it up!

Describe for us what a typical Family M.E.S.S. session looks like. 

As the name suggests, Family M.E.S.S. often involves making a mess! We provide families with stations of simple, open-ended activities: one based around math, one around science, and one around engineering. Families spend about 10 minutes at each station before rotating to the next activity. There’s typically a lot of excitement for the science station, which is always our messiest! We’ve made “elephant toothpaste,” “rainbow milk,” and DIY slime.

My favorite part of the program is listening to the conversations between the parents and children. Families are engaging in high-level conversations that I am always so impressed by. Mrs. Queenan, a lovely staff member who has been an indispensable part of the program since it started, said it best: “during the program, parents talk up to their children. They don’t talk baby talk, they enjoy being a co-teacher and learning together.”

With so many wonderful hands-on activities, it seems like preparing for Family M.E.S.S. sessions and then presenting could be quite involved.  Do you have any prep/management tips to offer other librarians and/or teachers who might be interested in engaging their young library patrons or students in something similar?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! I first heard of the idea of Family M.E.S.S. at a “STEM made Simple” class, and used it as a springboard for an ongoing program. There are so many great programs out there, it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your community. Everyone has limitations, for us, it was important to take those into account and present a version of the program that would work here. We have limited staff, which led us to add a journal that would help us easily communicate instructions. It ended up being a great addition, because families leave with everything they need to reproduce the activities at home. It also added this wonderful reading/writing component to the program, which we love!

Family M.E.S.S. is just one of many engaging programs you’ve organized for our library.  Other programs include weekly story times for all ages, including  the popular “Story Time Yoga” for ages 2 – 5.  You even have a book club for older kids called “Page Turners”. How do you decide what types of programs to put together?  Which have been the most popular?

I inherited some fantastic programs when I started here in 2014: Therapy Dogs, an amazing Summer Reading Carnival, and Story Time Yoga. Many of the other librarians and library staff have been working here for a very long time, so we spend a lot of time talking about programs that sound interesting and brainstorming ways to make them work at our library. I cannot stress enough what a valuable resource they are! We all keep an eye on the books that go out, listen to feedback from program participants, and consider programs that have been successful in the past. 

We recently had a “Minecraft Circuits in Real Life” program, created by a group called Soldering Sunday, that was a huge hit! It was an introduction to circuitry that might otherwise be a hard sell, but the Minecraft aspect caused it to quickly fill up.

Is there a final question you wish I had asked? If so, please share.  =)

“Where do you see this program going?” I’d really like to find a way to integrate technology while maintaining the parent/child dynamic that we’ve established. The library’s Friends group generously donated five iPads last year, and we’re working on finding the best way to incorporate those into the program. We’re in a good position to act as “media mentors” and guide parents in their use of media with their children, so a tech component would be a great addition! 

Thanks so much for joining us, Lauren. Three cheers for wonderful librarians and vibrant programs for kids at our local libraries!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Zonderkidz picture book author Glenys Nellist (PLUS a CRAFT and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today, in celebration of the release of the board book LITTLE LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD (Zonderkidz, 2015) I am delighted to be interviewing author Glenys Nellist.  She’s here as part of her blog tour. And since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, Glenys has also brought along a printable Valentine’s Day craft which she will share after the interview. One lucky reader will also receive a free copy of this terrific new rhyming Bible storybook for littlest readers.  Well, let’s get started.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Glenys.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What was your journey to becoming a writer?
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. There, with pencil and paper at the ready, I would write. When I became a primary school teacher myself, I used to write 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, fifteen years ago, 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!
 .
What inspired you to write LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD and then LITTLE LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD? 
When my four sons were young, a wonderful little book called The Jolly Postman was published in England. It was their favorite book, written in rhythm and rhyme, that told the story of a postman who delivers letters to nursery rhyme characters. The innovative feature of the book (which is still in print today) is that the pages are actual envelopes containing real letters. I can still remember the joy on my youngest son’s face as he reached inside the envelopes with his chubby little fingers to take the letters out. It was this book that became the inspiration for Love Letters from God. 
 
It was my editor’s idea to produce a toddler, board book version of the original, and Zonderkidz had already started work on condensing some of the stories. However, since I know the literacy value and the sheer fun of rhyming words for little ones, I thought it would be great to write Little Love Letters from God in rhyme. I took just eight of the original eighteen stories, and rewrote them as simple poems, while trying to retain some of the same language used in the original book. It was a challenging, but fun, exercise that I think turned out really well!
.
The Bible is full of stories.  How did you select which stories would be included in the original and now the board book version of LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD?
 I knew from the outset that the original book wasn’t going to be just a retelling of Bible stories. Each story had to include its own love letter from God, and a simple Bible verse…a first person promise that God might speak directly to the child’s heart, called God’s Wonderful Words to You. Since it was quite a complex project, I drew up a chart outlining each story, what the love letter might include, and what might be an appropriate Bible verse. It was working on this chart and needing to find balance without overlap that helped me see what stories, apart from the iconic, obvious choices, should be included.
When it came to choosing stories for the toddler version, I simply chose the iconic ones, that every children’s storybook Bible should include.
 .
Tell us about the illustrations. How long did they take Sophie Allsopp to complete?  Was the process of bringing your words to life through pictures at all collaborative?
 I think it took Sophie about eighteen months to complete the illustrations. My editor asked me what sort of illustrations I had envisioned, and since Sophie had done some work for Zondervan in the past, they approached her. Really, I must credit my wonderful editor, Barbara Herndon for the whimsical illustrations, and for the ‘scrapbook’ feel of the finished product…that was totally her idea! From time to time, Barbara would let me have a peek at what Sophie was doing, and of course, I was delighted. I wouldn’t have changed a thing!
 .
Let’s take a quick peek at the book trailer for the original LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD.  It really shows how beautifully the scrapbook style illustrations enhance the text. 

What’s next?  Are there more LOVE LETTERS in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?
 I’m delighted to say….YES! You can be on the lookout for CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS which will appear on the shelves later this year, and in 2017, one written especially for girls. I also have a new SNUGGLE TIME series coming out soon! Readers can find out more at the links below. Thanks so much for having me Laura!
 .

It’s been my pleasure!  And now for the craft! 

Enjoy this free, downloadable Valentine Craft which features the Good Shepherd from Little Love Letters. With special thanks to Glenys’s creative friend, Debi Weaver for her cute design.

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

.
Don’t forget to enter  the GIVEAWAY!!!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of LITTLE LOVE LETTER FROM GOD, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sophie Allsopp, simply post 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 contest ends Thursday, 2/18/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday! This giveaway is now over.  Winner has been announced.