PONDERING SNAILS with EMALINE: Four Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

FullSizeRender (1)A special part of my recent trip to England was spending time with a friend who recently moved to London with her husband and three adorable daughters. My day with Charise began with a reading of “Goodnight Ark” to her girls’ classes at their lovely school in Hampstead, a village of London.  That was a wonderful treat in and of itself and I especially enjoyed answering the children’s questions after each reading, asked in charming British accents.

 

 

The readings ended at 10:30 and I think Charise’s youngest, who is just three, was a little sad not to get to spend the rest of the day at school with her sisters. It all turned out okay, though, because in the end, since Emaline was with us, it was she who got to show me the snails.

This is how it happened. First, Emaline and her mom gave us a walking tour of Hampstead. As we walked Charise pointed several spots that will be featured in the upcoming film Hampstead starring Diane Keaton, which I now can’t wait to see.  After our walk, it was still too early for lunch so we stopped in at their home for a few minutes.

Once home, Emaline took great pleasure in showing us her garden – and that’s where I met the snails. This particular morning there were only two. “Do you think this one’s the other one’s mum?” Emaline asked as we watched them move slowly across a patio stone. “Perhaps,” I answered. “Or maybe they’re friends. Maybe they play together. What do you think?”

Then, in quiet whispers, Emaline and I watched them for the loveliest long time. And, as we crouched there, I thought how good it felt to pause from the busyness of the day to ponder snails – how they might be related, where they might be going and what they might be doing etc.

This adorable interaction got me thinking about life as a writer. I’ve discovered over time that my most satisfying days are those in which, like Emaline, I pause from the hectic pace of it all to ponder snails (or whatever) – in other words, to allow myself to slow down enough to see the world anew.

Heaven knows, the publishing world moves at a snail’s pace, so what’s the rush, really? Especially, when there’s so much pleasure and inspiration to be gained from crouching down and seeing the world – snails and all – from the perspective of a child!

Now, in celebration of three-year-olds, snails and slowing down, I offer you:

 FOUR Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

  1. SPEND TIME with a CHILD.  There’s nothing quite as perspective changing as spending time with a little one.  Play a game together. Ask questions. Talk. See the world through their eyes.
  2. CLEAR the CALENDAR for a morning. Then find a spot, preferably outside, and be still. Listen to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or the peals of children’s laughter. Quietly follow the trail of a chipmunk. What is he doing? Where is he going? You will be amazed at how alive and fresh everything (and you) will feel!  And, if you are anything like me, you will come away with at least a dozen new writing ideas.
  3. DEDICATE an AFTERNOON to READING PICTURE BOOKS.  Settle yourself down in the children’s department of your local library or at your favorite bookstore and READ!  Pick old favorites as well as newer titles.  Before long, those stories will transport you to the magical world of child-like wonder. Have a notebook handy because you never know what long-forgotten memory your reading will stir.
  4. Investigate AUTHENTIC CHILDHOOD WRITINGS.  These can be your own childhood writings or, if you’re like me, you’ve also saved your children’s writings.  I always ask my kids permission to read through their old school journals and story folders, and they always grant it.  I’m so happy they do, because those journals, as well as my own childhood scribblings, are precious sources of authentic kid-talk and they always inspire me.

Happy Monday all! And may we each find time to stop and ponder the snails this week.

A SPECIAL TREAT: Meeting JANE CHAPMAN!

IMG_5983 I’ve been on holiday in England (as the British say) this past week and have enjoyed every moment, from touring several London museums, to exploring the narrow streets of Salisbury and listening to a choral festival in the glorious Salisbury cathedral. Today and tomorrow we will explore Bath with its stunning Roman ruins.

But the jewel of the visit was getting to meet Jane Chapman yesterday.  Jane has illustrated over 100 picture books including all of Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON books, and, to my delight, both GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

It was a great honor and pleasure to meet her and her husband Tim Warnes, also a talented illustrator. Thank you for having us! And now a few pictures to celebrate the day.

First, it was quite the adventure getting to her lovely house in the heart of Dorset on roads, some of which were barely one lane wide with gorgeously thick brambles, grasses, high hedges and sometimes stone walls on either side.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by Jane and Tim and quickly settled in with some lovely conversation on their patio. They fixed a delicious homemade lunch including a chocolate pear cake that Miss A insists I ask Jane the recipe for.

After lunch, Jane showed me their studios and then we spent a lovely long while in her studio.  She pulled out her files of sketches and finals for both books. I found it very interesting to listen as she shared her process with me. It got me thinking about process too, so you can look forward to another post on when I return.

Finally, my dad snapped that nice picture of Jane, Tim and me at the top of the post. Then it was time to go. It was a wonderful way to spend the day and I hope that our paths cross again. I’d also love to do more books with Jane!

Happy Wednesday, all!

READ. DISCUSS. DO! New Social Media Campaign Celebrates READING and BEYOND!

RDDMooseThis week my author friend Rebecca J. Gomez (WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (Atheneum, 2015) and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016)) shared with me a  wonderful new reading campaign she and her co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz are working on called Read. Discuss. Do!

Read. Discuss. Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities. Rebecca got the the idea after creating an image specifically for their co-authored book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (pictured above) in the hopes that it would encourage people to think beyond the story when reading with kids. However, when Corey saw the original image, she and Rebecca decided it would be fun to take the idea further and include other authors and their books!

That’s when Rebecca contacted me to see if I’d like to create a short #ReadDiscussDo activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK.  I replied, yes, of course. And so Rebecca created an image for my book as well. Thank you, Rebecca.  The format is similar to her original except she’s replaced her website address with the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo.

RDD Goodnight ArkRebecca hopes this fun reading initiative and social media campaign will really take off, reaching parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and more.

How can authors, parents, teachers, or librarians get involved?  By tweeting and retweeting and sharing on Facebook, Pinterest etc. using the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo. We can also post story time tips using that same hashtag.  Rebecca will also be creating more sharable images for other books. If you’d like to learn more, contact Rebecca via the “School Visits” tab of her website.

Finally, I’ll end with a little hashtag hunt.  Head on over to Twitter or Facebook, type in #ReadDiscussDo and see what you find.  Have fun!

STONE STORIES: What We Write and Why

Do you have favorite stories? Ones that have profoundly changed the way you look at the world?  My childhood favorites include Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME and Kate Seredy’s THE CHESTRY OAK. But the story that’s had the biggest influence on how I view the world as a writer comes from the Old Testament. It’s found in the book of Joshua, chapters three and four. Here’s the gist of the story.

After wandering for forty years in the desert where God repeatedly provided for His people in amazing ways, yet repeatedly, they forgot His blessings, it was finally time to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. As God had done before when He parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could safely flee Egypt, He again parted the raging waters of the Jordan River so all of Israel could safely cross into the Promised Land. This time, in hopes they’d never forget His great provision, God instructed Joshua to have twelve men hoist twelve boulders from the center of the still-parted river and place them in a pile on the shore of Promised Land.  “In the future,” Joshua explained, “when your children ask why these rocks are sitting here, tell them the amazing story of how God helped us cross the Jordan River.”

The stories and poems that we write are like those stones. When read, they have the potential to leave a deep imprint in a child’s memory, serving not only as a reminder of experiences past, but offering glimpses into ways that are good, offering hope for the future, and joy in the present moment. It is my deepest wish is that the words I write, whether religious or secular, point kids towards goodness, hope, joy, and God.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about why you write?  If stories are rocks, what kinds of rocks are you writing?

(Note: This post first appeared on my blog in November 2102, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our mission as writers and thought it worth revisiting.)

Interview with Laura Sassi: Author of Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger

Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Rosie on her blog Life, Army Wife Style! Thanks so much for having me, Rosie. Please pop over, dear readers, for this fun interview! Happy reading, all!

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Signed (and personalized) Copies of GOODNIGHT, MANGER or GOODNIGHT, ARK!

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Can’t make it to a book signing? No problem!

I am excited to announce that this year once again, in response to requests from readers for signed copies, my local indie book store, The Town Book Store in Westfield, New Jersey, will now offer signed, personalized copies of my books for sale!

If this interests you, please call them to order the book or books you want. Be sure to explain that you would like to have them signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books. Readers can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535.

Happy Reading, all!

GOODNIGHT, MANGER Review (and a little writing advice)! Plus a GIVEAWAY!

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In celebration of the release of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, MANGER, children’s author Lynne Marie had me on her blog yesterday sharing a little picture book wisdom that I gleaned in the process of preparing GOODNIGHT, MANGER for publication. And today she’s reviewing the book! Oh, and there’s ALSO a  GIVEAWAY! THREE good reasons to grab a cup of tea and head on over to Lynne Marie’s!  I’ll make it easy for you.  Press here. Thanks again for having me, Lynne Marie!

VISUAL LITERACY: An Extension Activity for GOODNIGHT, MANGER

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VISUAL LITERACY:  An Extension Activity for GOODNIGHT, MANGER

by 

Laura Sassi 

The ability to interpret visual clues, i.e to read the pictures, is an important skill for pre-readers and emergent readers because it encourages a deeper level of thought and reflection, laying the foundation for strong reading later. It’s an opportunity to think about story elements like plot, mood, and character. With this in mind, here are some visual-based strategies that will enrich your child’s reading of GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

PONDER THE PLOT: As the story unfolds, each spread depicts what happens as Mama, Papa, and the animals try to soothe an overtired Baby Jesus. After reading the text on each spread, pause to ponder the pictures, making observations and predictions about the plot. Say things like: “See how Mama is hugging Baby so gently.  Do you think he will sleep?” or “Look at the manger. Is it like your bed? How is it different?” and later, as Papa rocks Baby after the angels disperse, ask: “Do you think Baby will sleep now? Why or why not?” In other words, use the pictures to dig deeper into what’s going on plot-wise.

MARVEL OVER MOOD: Jane Chapman skillfully uses color and movement to capture the changing mood of the story. As you read the story, pause to consider the mood the colors convey.  For example, the first few spreads have a yellow-orange glow which fills the pages with a sense of coziness and comfort. The characters in the opening spreads are still. Their movements are gentle. But the mood shifts as soon as Baby starts to cry. The mood becomes joyous as conveyed by the vibrant movement of angels.  And the color shifts to a joyous, pure starry-skied blue. As the spreads progress, the mood while joyous, also becomes frenetic. There is so much movement and action, that it seems that Baby Jesus will never be able to sleep. Foxes dance, sheep leap, and poor Mama looks at wit’s end.  And then, at the end, the calm, cozy orange glow returns, balanced by an awesome blue star-lit sky.

CONSIDER THE CHARACTERS’ FEELINGS:  The facial expressions of Jane’s characters are eye-opening. As you read with your child, take time to consider the feelings expressed by each characters facial expressions and even body language. Note the love in Mama and Papa’s faces as they try to soothe their tired Baby. Note the doting eagerness in Hen’s body language as she offers her feathers for Baby’s bed and the uninhibited joy of the angels as they play their instruments and sing and dance in honor of the Baby’s birth. Note the exhausted exasperation on Mama’s face as the shepherds and kings arrive. Finally, notice the wonder and love on the faces of human and beast as they gather round for their closing lullaby.

EXTENSION:  Apply these visual-based reading strategies to each new picture book you read.  Have fun!

SPOTLIGHT: Holiday Cards by Martha South

img_3357My mother was a storyteller.  Like I am, but not exactly. While I use words, my mother used pictures to tell her stories. Her stories didn’t take the form of books. No, they came in the shape of paintings and sketches and – best of all – cards!

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Any occasion, large or small, provided the perfect excuse for a card.  Birthdays, Christmas, first days of school, births of grand babies, you name it… she made cards. Each card featured her signature birds – but the story each card told was one-of-a-kind.

Over the years several stand out as favorites of mine.

 

For example, I have always loved the birthday card she made for my husband the year our son turned two. The inside reads, “Lessons the Professor hoped he would never have to teach.” Then, there’s the year my son, then age three, got inventive and made himself some firefighter boots out of toilet paper rolls.  My mom had a field day with that!

img_3353But one of my all-time favorites is this – a magical Christmas card featuring a little bonbon dancing with the Nutcracker.  Inspired by my daughter who was dancing her first Nutcracker that year as a little bonbon, it turned out to be the last Christmas card my mom made for her – and one of the last cards she designed before her ALS made it too hard for her to hold the pencils. Even though she made it when she was already sick, to me, the card sparkles with the magic of Christmas and it fills me with joy.

One of my mom’s dreams was to start her own card business. And to honor that dream, my sister has set up a card business in her memory. Now in celebration of Christmas and in honor of my wonderful mom, she has added a couple of holiday cards to the collection, one of which is this delightful Nutcracker card.

If you are in the market for holiday cards to send out this season, we  would be honored if you considered sending some cards designed by Martha South. To see the cards and learn more about ordering please visit http://www.marthasouth.com.

As an extra incentive, my sister is offering free shipping for a limited time  if you use the promo code “HOLIDAYS”. Thanks, Julie!  The promo code can be entered in at Checkout. Right above “Payment Information,” there will be a blue link called “Use Gift Card or Promo Code”. Click on this, and then enter “HOLIDAYS”.

Blessings all!

Happy Book Birthday! GOODNIGHT, MANGER (board book edition)

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Hip hip, hooray!

It’s on its way!  

GOODNIGHT, MANGER, the board book,

releases today! 

With sturdy pages and a padded cover, the board book version of GOODNIGHT, MANGER is terrific for littlest readers who want to turn the pages themselves. With full text, it’s a good size– perfect for showing off all the wonderful details in Jane’s illustrations.

Interested in a signed copy?  Here’s how:  Call The Town Book Store in Westfield, NJ to order the book or books you want. Be sure to explain that you would like to have them signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books. Readers can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535.

It’s also available at your favorite local or online bookstore! Happy Reading, all!