SNAIL MAIL BLESSINGS CHALLENGE: The Cursive Conundrum

TRUE STORY! The first two Snail Mail Blessings Challenge cards I sent to my first two young recipients – ages 10 and 13 – had to be read to them by their mother. Why? I wrote them in cursive and they couldn’t decipher the script!

I should have anticipated this. After all, when I sign books at events, I always print the message for the child. And even my own children, ages 16 and 21, have a hard time deciphering the sweet notes their Great Aunt Gayle sends them. In fact the only words my own children know how to do in cursive are their signatures – and they had to really work to master those.

When I taught fourth grade, 20+ years ago, my favorite part of the day (and the kids’ too) was right after recess. I’d have the day’s cursive practice up on the chalk board waiting for them and they’d get out their cursive books and, after reviewing the letter or letter combo of the day, they’d practice while I read aloud to them from wonderful books like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Summer of the Monkeys, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This daily read-aloud/cursive time took up only about 20 minutes per day and we treasured it. And at the end the kids had not only mastered cursive, they also had been enriched by the magic of read-aloud time.

I, too, learned cursive in school as an eight year old. My photo for they day – an entry from my third grade journal- is proof. That cursive has really helped me over the years – particularly when I was taking notes and, now, as I write. Oh, yes, it’s possible, to take notes on a lap top or to type a story directly into a computer. Certainly it’s faster and infinitely more legible. However, there is something about writing long-hand that makes the concepts I am writing about stick better in my mind. And what’s the fastest way to write long-hand? Using cursive because the letters connect and so you don’t have to lift the pen off the page for each letter.

I have two questions for you (and me) as we write our snail mail blessings this week. First, will you use print or cursive? Second, if you are a parent to a child, will you consider teaching them cursive since it is no longer part of the public school curriculum? There are workbooks you can still order to help you. And, it doesn’t have to mean just one more thing you need to add to an already busy day. You can weave it into your read-aloud time! (Because you are doing that, right? You should. It’s a wonderful family practice that your children will treasure for years.)

I regret not infusing cursive into the rhythm of my own children’s days. But I think my daughter might just choose to learn it on her own. She loves the elegant look of cursive. She also is a devoted long-hand notetaker. I hope she does.

Happy Snail Mail Blessing this week! Let me know how it goes and if you use print or cursive.

Writing Thoughts: FAIRY Edition!

Miss A and I just returned from a special overnight visit to my sister’s new house in Pennsylvania so the kids could have some much anticipated cousin time!  Since it it was our first time being together in a while we decided to surprise them with a special project – building a fairy garden!  

Finding the perfect spot was easy – I mean just look at the wonderful antique planter.  Next, everyone, including me picked a wooden dwelling to paint. There was lots of chatting and giggling and imagining as we painted. 

Once everything was dry, it was time to build the garden, adding a river and even a dangling precipice for the gazebo. Doesn’t it look wonderful? 

Now, inspired by my life-long fascination with fairies (which has clearly rubbed off on my daughter and her cousins) here are three fairy-themed writing posts to inspire your creativity and foster some writing skills in your little ones. 

Fairy Post #1: One of my favorite early morning activities as a child visiting my grandparents was to tiptoe across their dewy lawn in search of fairy wash. Do you know what I’m talking about?  Find out in this oldie-but-goodie: FAIRYWASH: Capturing Ideas Before They Evaporate.

Fairy Post #2: A few years ago, my daughter and I (this was at the height of our own fairy garden building frenzy) were delighted to discover the most amazing fairy forest at Boxerwood Gardens in Lexington, VA.  See how that inspired my writing in this special post: BOXERWOOD FAIRY FOREST: Learning from the Experts.

Fairy Post #3: Find out how I used my daughter’s love of our fairy garden to foster letter writing skills in my reluctant reader and writer in this sweet post: HAPPY SPRING: Time to Write Fairy Letters!

Happy Writing, Fairy Style!

SNAIL MAIL BLESSINGS: Fostering KINDNESS the Old-Fashioned Way

In this age of instant texts and emails, I’ve been missing the special connection of a different kind of correspondence – the old-fashioned hand-written note. 

Beginning in my tweens through my twenties, I regularly wrote hand-written notes. Some were condolence letters. Some were thank you notes. Most were letters to friends in places I’d previously lived.  Many were letters to my now-husband of 29 years! All were written from the heart and they were my favorite way to connect across the miles.  

Each letter began with a connection point where I reminded the recipient how much I missed them or had been thinking about them. Then I would ask a question or two about how they were doing. Next, I’d share some of the meaningful things that were going on in my neck of the woods, often continuing a conversation thread from a letter I’d received from them.  I’d close with a reminder once again of how much they meant to me and how I looked forward to hearing from them. 

Looking back, I see there was an art to those letters and a special connection built through the bond of writing – an art and connection that I fear we are only a few texts and social media posts away from losing forever.

So now, with September just around corner, I’ve decided to shake the dust off my stationary stash and develop a new habit of writing one old-fashioned note once a week to someone special.

Would you like to join me in this letter writing journey, which I’m calling “Snail Mail Blessings”?  If so, please let me know in the comments section so we can encourage each other along the way.

Getting started is easy. Just grab paper, pen, a stamp and an envelope. Find a comfortable spot to write. Pause quietly for a moment and see if someone comes to mind – an old classmate perhaps, or a special aunt or uncle you haven’t written to in awhile. Maybe you know someone who needs a little boost of encouragement this week. Your heart will tell you when you’ve got the right person for this week. 

Then write the letter and send it the old-fashioned way- via snail mail.  

I hope that this challenge is a blessing to your week, as I know it will be to mine. And be on the look out in coming weeks for more thoughts and inspiration for ways we can bless those around us (and be blessed in return) through the simple act of writing letters and sending them the old-fashioned way.

Snail Mail Blessings to your and yours!

Laura 

DOWN THE SHORE: Thoughts from the Beach to Inspire Your Writing

My family and I just returned from a lovely week at the beach or “down the shore” as they say here in New Jersey. Our destination was Surf City on Long Beach Island. It’s a long, narrow island and we enjoyed watching the sun rise, beachside, and set, bayside, almost every day.

Here’s a little glimpse of my morning coffee and quiet time spot. I read and wrote in my journal here every day except for the one stormy morning we had. On that morning, I opted to stay in our cozy cottage instead.

Spending the week “down the shore” was good for this writer’s soul and my various activities reminded that this is not the first time I have found writerly inspiration at the beach.

So now, while I can still almost feel the sand between my toes and inhale that wonderful salty air, I’d like to share three posts from the past that came to mind as I enjoyed the week through writerly eyes.

Every day, at least once, I walked along the ocean’s edge looking for shells. As a result, I now have a new collection of shells on my dining room table. Many are broken, but all are beautiful in their own way and they remind me of this seashell inspired post from 2012: BROKEN SHELLS: Thoughts on Creating Compelling Characters.

The abundance of seagulls eager to snatch up sandwiches from unsuspecting beach-goers, made me smile/cringe as I remembered this writerly post inspired by some greedy seagulls on visit down the shore in 2013: LUNCH AT THE BEACH: Thoughts on Seagulls and Writing.

Finally, the discovery of these delightful painted stones, colorfully arranged around a street post, reminded me of this post from 2012 about visualizing our stories as stones. Not beach-themed, per say, but called back to mind when I spotted these stones. Here it is: STONE STORIES: What We Write and Why.

And now, as we step into this new week, I wish you the best as you write and create!

FIVE Traits That Make PICTURE BOOKS Perennial Favorites

Summer time reminds me that I LOVE perennials, those wonderful plants that bloom in my garden, season after season, where they are enjoyed by all, again and again. My favorites include my butterfly bush, the daisies, the echinacea, and black-eyed susans.

The joy of seeing my perennials bloom more gloriously than ever has gotten me thinking about how picture books – the good ones – are like perennials too, enjoyed by generations of kids and caregivers. So, what makes a picture book a perennial favorite?

I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface, but here are FIVE characteristics that I think elevate a picture book to perennial status.  What would you add? 

NOTE: This is my first time doing a post like this. What do you think? For comparison, see a previous version I posted in the summer of 2019: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2019/07/03/picture-books-what-makes-a-perennial-favorite/

Write like a…DOG!!!

I love my early morning walks with our sweet cockapoo, Sophie. For me, it’s a chance to get some morning exercise and enjoy the freshness of a brand new day. I often have my camera with me so I can snap pictures of glorious moments – like spotting a purple orb – or discovering sidewalk chalk art drawn by a child. But for Sophie it’s all about scent and sound! Indeed, it’s first with nose and ears, not eyes, that she notices a cottontail bunny or crinkling leaf or sweet clover.  She even sniffs out long forgotten, and apparently smelly, tennis balls, hidden deep in our pachysandra.

Just for fun, I sometimes close my eyes and try to soak up the world from Sophie’s perspective. When I do, it’s amazing how heightened my other senses become. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:  flags flapping, gate hinges creaking, wild onion smells so pungent you can almost taste them,  fresh coffee wafting out the neighbor’s kitchen window, the tickle of a lady bug bare skin, and the coolness of wet grass between my toes.

As writers for young children I think we could all benefit from closing our eyes sometimes.  I don’t mean burying our heads in the sand so that our writing is sappy and disconnected from reality. Of course not. What I mean is that my writing, at least, tends towards the visual if I’m not careful. But when I’m intentional (and close my eyes) my other senses kick in and my writing is enriched. Using multi- sensory imagery is especially important in picture books and other illustrated pieces, such as poems for magazines, where the illustrations already provide plenty of visual detail. So, go ahead, close your eyes and feel those other senses kick in. That’s my plan this week. Happy writing all!

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Four Tips for Making PAGE TURNS in Picture Books IRRESISTIBLE!

The lovely 1920s house across the street from our home recently sold and now it is being renovated. They are doing a good job and I am confident the house’s final “new look” will still retain the integrity of the original and be in keeping with the feel of the neighborhood. The particulars of what exactly the renovated house will look like, however, are still a mystery and the neighborhood is abuzz with curiosity.  

At the end of every day, the workers stop. And shortly thereafter, curious passers-by, out for their evening strolls, pause to inspect the latest work. Several times, I’ve been out while they are pausing and we’ve pondered together questions like:

“Do you think they’ll add a big porch across the front the whole front?”

“Are they going to bump out the back too?”

“How do you think they’ll pitch the roof?”

“What kind of siding will they use?”

This end of day anticipation over what will happen next reminds of page turns in picture books, for both have the power to spark excitement in the onlookers/readers. With that in mind, here are FOUR sure-fire TIPS for using page turns in picture books to spark curiosity and make it irresistible for readers to turn the page.

TIp #1: Pause mid-sentence at the page turn. This is a strategy often used in picture books and, if done well, it adds suspense and wonder to the story. Use an ellipsis or em dash to indicate that the rest on the sentence will be on the next page. Here’s an example of this strategy in use from Matt Forrest Esenwine’s and Fred Koehler’s delightful FLASHLIGHT NIGHT (Boyds Mill Press, 2017): 

Tip #2: Provide a clue in the illustration as to what might happen next. This tip is really more for the illustrator than for the author, but it’s a fun one that really prompts little ones to “read” the pictures for clues for what might happen on the next page.  CAUTION: Be judicious in your manuscript about prescribing things for the illustrator. However, if an illustration note is vital to the story, it’s okay to note it in a succinct illustrator note.  

For example, for my debut picture book GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014), it was important to know that the skunks (never mentioned in the text) are included in the host of creatures that crowd Noah’s bunk, so I simply said in an illustration note something like:  (ILLO: including skunks).  Then, illustrator Jane Chapman used her expertise to incorporate a pair of sleeping skunks into every spread so that when they finally wake up, it’s a clue as to what will happen when readers turn the page and one that makes turning the page irresistible. Here it is:

Tip #3: Use the rhyme (if yours is a rhyming picture book) to incorporate clues as to what will happen when the reader turns the page.  This is one of my favorite page turn strategies. It’s really a variation of tip #1, but instead of just pausing the text mid-sentence at the page turn, you add the extra layer of having the rhyme pair split at the page break so that anticipating what the second rhyme might be becomes a game as to might happen after the page is turned. Here’s a fresh and fun example from Corey Rosen Schwartz’s, Rebecca J. Gomez’s and Hilary Leung’s rompin’ tale TWO TOUGH TRUCKS (Orchard Books, 2019):

Tip #4: Ramp up the page turn moment with a question. This strategy is not as common and its freshness comes in its sparse use. When used sparingly, it will definitely make the reader want to turn the page. Here’s an example of it being used well in a spread from author Glenys’ Nellist’s and Sally Garland’s picture book LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT (Beaming Books, 2020): 

Now it’s YOUR turn.  What tips would you add to my list?  Happy Writing, all!

Write2Ignite PICTURE BOOK MASTER CLASS: Explore Picture Books with Laura Sassi

Want to explore picture books with me? I’m honored to be the Master Teacher at Write2Ignite Conference Spring Picture Book Master Class taking place virtually Saturday, April 24th, 2021 from 9am to 5pm and today on their blog, you’ll get a sense of what we’ll be doing in each of the three workshops. Plus there are two books up for grabs: LOVE IS KIND and EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO. Details about the workshop, including registration, and how to enter the giveaway are all in their post! Here’s the link:

How to Write Picture Books – DIVA Style!

February 8th is OPERA DAY! And since DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is all about opera, I thought it would be fun to re-share a favorite post inspired the book’s protagonists, Delores and Fernando. My opera-loving duo made their opera debut when the book released in 2018, but as any well-trained diva knows, singing on stage is just the final thrill. What comes before that?  Hours and hours, even years of hard work! But is it all worth it? You bet!

Now celebrations of opera and divas and picture books, here are five tips to help you write picture books – diva style!

  1. Go to the opera… a lot!

If you are going to be an opera star, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the glorious world of opera by attending operas, listening to opera music, and all-around saturating yourself in all things opera.  Likewise, if you want to write  picture books, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the world of picture books.  For me, this means making regular trips to the children’s section of my library, or my favorite local bookstore, and reading, reading, reading!  I read with two purposes:  first, just for the pleasure and joy of it, and second… to learn. That’s why I always bring along my writerly opera glasses and a notebook so that I can thoughtfully ponder and record what makes each opera (i.e. picture book) sing… or not.

  1. Rehearsal is important.

If you want to be a diva, you have to spend time rehearsing and developing your craft. For opera stars, I imagine this means a daily routine of warming up with scales, practicing a variety of pieces, working on voice projection etc. Similarly, if you want to to write picture books, you have to be willing to invest the time and effort into writing daily. My daily writing routine includes free writes (my version of scales), as well as working on a variety of poems, blog posts and the handful of picture book manuscripts I’m working through at any given moment. 

  1. Control those crescendos.

I’m not an opera expert, but it seems to me that in the field of opera, like in the field of picture book writing – less is more!  I mean divas don’t just cut loose and sing at the top of their lungs willy-nilly!  No, they artistically control their voices so that it plays a magical role in telling the opera’s story. Likewise, as a picture book writer – and especially as one who loves to rhyme – I work hard to control my crescendos so that every word, sound, phrase, action, magically moves the story forward.

  1. Be confident, yet humble. (i.e. be willing to learn from others)

Confidence is good, but if you want your singing, er writing, to shine,  I’ve learned over the years that confidence must be tempered with an open heart, open mind, and gracious spirit when receiving constructive feedback.  As a young writer I thought my writing was fabulous! But now that I’m more seasoned, I look back on those early pieces and cringe. They would definitely have benefitted from a little more humility and willingness to productively process and put into place suggestions from more experiences writers! 

(Which leads me to my last bit of advice.) 

  1. Everything’s better with a buddy!

As Diva Delores discovers at the opera house, the journey to success is just all-around better with a buddy. Likewise, I’ve found that the picture book writing journey wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family, my talented agent, and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my last bit of advice for writing picture books – diva style! – is to find a buddy or two to encourage you and help you grow along the way.

Note: A version of this post first appeared on Darlene Beck Jacobson’s lovely blog. She’s been kind enough to host me for the release of each and every one of my books. Thank you, Darlene!

SAVE THE DATE: A Picture Book Master Class with Laura Sassi

I’m so excited to be teaching the Master Class on Picture Writing for the Write2Ignite Conference for Christian Writers of Children’s and Young Adult Literature this coming April 24, 2021. Taught virtually – so writers from near and far can attend – it’s going be a day full of learning and fun – all while stretching our story-telling skills. To learn more about the Write2Ignite Master Class programs as well as the story of how this wonderful non-profit came to be, check out their website and blog. Registration details coming soon via their website. I hope you’ll join me!