RIBBIT! THE TRUTH ABOUT FROGS: An Interview with Author Annette Whipple

Children’s author Annette Whipple is celebrating a book birthday this week! Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs, her newest book in the Truth About Series, published by Reycraft, released this Tuesday. Like her other books in the series, this one is chock full of fascinating facts presented in a kid-friendly, engaging way. The accompanying photographs are beautiful and the layout is appealing to both kids and grown ups. I give it a froggy thumbs up! And now, in the extra special category, I’m delighted to have Annette here today for a bookish interview with my questions in bold.

First, congratulations on this newest book in your series from Reycraft. Please tell us a little bit about the series and how you came to write it and how you landed on the topic of frogs in particular.

Thanks so much, Laura! It’s great to be back! The Truth About series began with Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls. It took me year to figure out how to write it so it would be of interest to readers. I finally landed on the question-and-answer format and added the humorous sidebars. I knew I loved the structure and thought readers (and publishers) would, too.

Since then Reycraft and I have discussed additional books to make it a series. In 2021 we added Woof! and Scurry! Now we have Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs, too. Frogs was on my list of animals that are diverse enough to include tons of beautiful photographs. I knew they were cool before, but I didn’t realize just how TOAD-ally awesome they are until I began researching.

What a great series!  And I agree that the question-and-answer format works beautifully.  It also pairs well with something kids are famous for – asking questions! 

Speaking of kids, the kid in me really enjoyed the illustrated “Leaping Legs” feature of the book. Can you explain what those are and how you came up with them?

Each page spread includes an illustrated sidebar called “Leaping Legs.” In it, the frogs talk and share a bit more information with the reader—often in a humorous way. During my brainstorming process, I knew I wanted to add a bit of humor to the books, but I also didn’t want the main text to be silly or funny. I love layers of text and sidebars in other books. That’s when I realized an illustrated sidebar would be perfect—especially with the animals talking.

I think my readers will be curious about what your research process was like for this book. Did you meet a lot of frogs along the way?

I used my typical resources: books, websites, scientific journals, and YouTube. My favorite website was https://amphibiaweb.org/. I also met up with a herpetologist with the Delaware Nature Society. 

He clarified some questions I had and we definitely met some frogs. It was early enough in the spring that wood frogs and spring peepers were the main attraction. But we spotted lots of eggs and heard the calls of a lot of frogs—even in the daytime. 

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?

Oh, I love this question because frogs are so much fun and really an easy way to celebrate curiosity! I created a frog teacher guide (which is also great for home use). I included 19 frog ELA and STEM activities. And it’s free!

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I’m excited to say that Meow! The Truth About Cats will come out in the fall! You can see Meow’s cover in this trailer for The Truth About series. (It’s quick!)

I don’t have any official news to share about additional titles, but I hope to tell something in an upcoming newsletter and on social media sooner than later. 😊 

Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs and all of my books are available wherever books are sold. Ask for them at your favorite local bookstore or find them at online retailers. I’d love it if you’d request your local library to carry Ribbit! 

Thanks so much for having me, Laura! If your readers want to learn more about me or check out my resources for writers and educators, they can hop over to my website at www.AnnetteWhipple.com .

Thanks for joining me here today, Annette. I am requesting your books for purchase at my library!

COVER REVEAL: Rosanne L. Kurstedt’s AND I THINK ABOUT YOU (Plus an Interview!)

THURSDAY JOY! Picture book author Rosanne L. Kurstedt has a new picture book releasing this September with Kids Can Press and the cover is just starting to pop up on the web, so I asked if she’d be my guest for a cover reveal and interview. She said yes!  

First a little introduction: 

Written by Rosanne L. Kurstedt and illustrated by Ya-Ling Huang, AND I THINK ABOUT YOU poignantly captures the love and connection shared by a working mama bear and her cub. During the day, they are apart, but they are always thinking of each other. Told with the feel of a letter (or love song) from mama to child, it is just the kind of story I would have loved to snuggle up with with my own kids when they were little. Rosanne’s warm text pairs nicely with Ya-Ling’s dreamy watercolor illustrations. It’s delightful.

And now, the interview:

Laura: Thank you for joining me here today, Rosanne. What inspired the story?

Rosanne: The story was inspired by a bedtime ritual my older son and I developed.

Laura: I love how a simple bedtime ritual turning into a special bonding tradition.  It makes me remember fondly some of the seemingly little things I did with my kids, that became rituals or traditions of their own kind – but none exactly like this. 

Laura: What are you most excited about for its release in September?

Rosanne: There are so many things I’m excited about – but what I’m most excited about is connecting with families—hearing them talk about the book and also learning about some of the rituals they’ve developed. 

Laura: Thanks again for joining me here today, Rosanne. I can’t wait for the book to release. I am certain it will spark rich conversation, not only at your visits, but also afterwards, as parents and children use your delightful story as a spark to build their own special together-time traditions.

Learn more about Rosanne and her books here:

Website: https://www.rlkurstedt.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RLKurstedtAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rlkurstedt/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RLKurstedt

BOOKS THAT SPARK Podcast Interview (And a Winner!)

This week it was my pleasure to be interviewed by podcast host Terrie Hellard-Brown. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning. 

Terrie has interviewed many authors including Glenys Nellist, Annette Whipple, Danielle Hitchen and more. Recent topics include Helping our Children Have Hearts of Thankfulness and Preparing for Advent.  And in our podcast we chat about Pointing Kids to God.

Here are a view visual nuggets to whet your appetite.  And here is a link to the podcast. Enjoy!

For more information about Terrie, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com.

And now for the WINNER of last week’s two-bundle giveaway! I’m delighted to announce that the winner one copy of each Glenys Nellist’s two new books, TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT and I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY, is  

Sarah M…

Congratulations! I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you. Thanks again, Glenys, for your Christmas-y guest post. I’d also like to thank Zonderkidz for providing the winning copies. Happy Tuesday, all!

SIMPLY CHRISTMAS: An Interview with Christian Author Tama Fortner

This week, I’m delighted to chat with Tama Fortner, an author of multiple faith-based books for children and adults. Today we are celebrating the release of her newest title with Ink and Willow, a Christmas devotional for mothers called Simply Christmas: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Reclaiming the Peace of the Holidays

Here’s the publisher’s description, which doubles as an invitation to read the book: 

Allow Simply Christmas to be your personal invitation to slow down and savor the beauty of the manger this year. These thirty-one devotions are not dated, so you’re welcome to begin reading anytime–whether that’s on December 1, Christmas Eve, the day after Thanksgiving, or the middle of July–without even a smidgen of guilt or shame.

Accompanied by seasonally inspired full-color photographs, this thirty-one-day devotional brings a bit of calm to each day through a short reflection and Scripture, together with points to ponder and fun ideas for simplifying your Christmas traditions. 

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I didn’t follow the instructions exactly, because I couldn’t resist and sat down and read the whole book in one sitting. What a delight! I plan to follow the suggested slower approach starting the day after Thanksgiving.

Now, without further ado, grab a cup of tea, or hot cocoa to match the cover, and join me as I chat with Tama with my questions bolded.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write Simply Christmas: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Reclaiming the Peace of the Holidays.

My name is Tama Fortner, and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I’m a wife, a mom, an occasional author, and an always daughter of the King. I’ve been married to my husband, Jeff, for twenty-three years now. We have two college-age kiddos who have grown up much too fast for their mama’s liking. And I am the proud owner of the world’s laziest dog, who also doubles as a foot warmer.

For as far back as I can remember I have loved words—reading them and writing them. I love the way they “click” together to share a message, to communicate thoughts and feelings. One of my all-time favorite books is Little Women, which I discovered back in the third grade. At the ripe old age of eight, I decided I would be like Jo—even going so far as to set up a cardboard-box writing desk in the back of my childhood closet. Now, as a wife and mom, combining my love of words with my love for God and for my family just seems natural.

You and I are kindred spirits! I’m so glad you followed your passion to share God’s love with your words.  

What is your greatest desire for the moms who read this book? 

I remember one year, getting to the end of Christmas Day and staring at the mounds of crumpled wrapping paper, empty boxes, and scattered bows. And I thought to myself, Is this it? This can’t be it. There’s supposed to be joy—have I missed the joy? It’s not as if we’d had a terrible Christmas. It was wonderful in so many ways. But I wanted more—and the “more” I wanted was more God. I also realized that wasn’t just going to happen. I was going to have to be a bit more intentional with my time, with my nos and yeses, and I was going to have to learn to hold onto that joy even in the midst of the holiday chaos.

With Simply Christmas, I want to encourage moms to reconnect with the real reason we celebrate Christmas: the birth of Christ. I want to equip them with some tools, some tricks and tips—mostly ones I’ve learned the hard way—that will help them find and hold onto the joy. And I want to give them permission to slow down and savor this time with their loved ones and their Savior.

I couldn’t resist and read your book straight through and it’s wonderful! I can’t wait to slow down and re-read it one day at a time this advent season.

Do you have a favorite devotional in the 31-day line up?  Why is it your favorite?

That’s a little like picking a favorite child, isn’t it? But one of my favorites is Day 18. It’s about Mary and the verse from Luke 2:19: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (niv). Keep in mind that this treasuring and pondering takes place after a less-than-comfy trip to Bethlehem, childbirth amongst the animals, and a flock of shepherds bursting into praise the Little One whose crib has been fashioned from a manger. I love it because Mary is a mom, collecting memories, treasuring, and pondering in the midst of all the chaos. She’s taking time to sift out what matters most, and she’s holding it close to her heart. Over two thousand years later, I think that’s what moms are still longing and trying to do.

Yes, indeed. I think that longing is timeless and that your book will most certainly resonate with mom all stages of motherhood – from moms of teeny tinies to moms of teens and beyond. 

You are also the author of several faith-based picture books including the joyful Christmas Is Coming! How can parents use this sweet book and others to point little ones to God?  Any specific tips?

It’s so important to spend time with God every day—and for our littles (and not-so-littles) to see us making that a priority. Of course, the more time we’re able to spend in His Word and in prayer, the better. But we’re moms, and our schedules aren’t entirely our own. So let’s fill our lives with resources—like verse-a-day apps, like Simply Christmas, Christmas Is Coming!, and your own Goodnight, Manger. Devotionals allow us to “grab” a verse and a quick thought to carry with us through the day. Picture books bless us with not only a chance to share a story about God, but also sweet snuggle time. Let’s grab every opportunity to pour God’s message into our lives and into our children. Because that’s where we find the Joy—in treasuring and pondering Him.

Amen! Now, just for fun, let’s close with a non-book-related question. What is your favorite mom Christmas memory?

It’s difficult to isolate just one. There’s this sort of collage that runs through my mind—images of smiles, of lights and trees, of singing carols and Christmas plays. There were the giggles and the rush to jump in bed when the official NORAD Santa Tracker showed his sleigh getting close to Nashville. There’s the annual making of the gingerbread house—always small and always slightly lopsided (check out Day 5 of Simply Christmas to see why that matters). There’s the sound of my children’s voices reading the real Christmas Story from Luke. There’s the feeling of holding littles in my lap and the wonder of their hugs and love now that they’re big. In short, I feel like I’ve gathered this whole collection of memories. And like Mary, I treasure and ponder them.

And leads me to something I want to encourage mom’s to do as they get ready for this Christmas: start by thinking back over past Christmases. What are the memories you treasure? What made you and your loved ones smile? I’m betting it wasn’t the perfect tree, the perfect present, the perfect dinner, the perfect . . . anything. It’s the smiles, the laughter, the love—of God, of family, of friends. Yes, right in the middle of the chaos. Focus on those things this year. Skip the comparison, the perfection, and let it simply Christmas.

This is WONDERFUL closing advise for all my readers and me too!  Thank you, Tama, for joining us today and for listening to that little voice that said, “Write!”

About the Author:

Tama Fortner is a bestselling writer with more than 40 titles to her credit. As a ghostwriter, she has collaborated with some of the biggest names in Christian publishing to create inspirational books for children, teens, and adults. But her greatest accomplishments happen in a happy little home on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her family and an incredibly lazy dog who doubles as a foot warmer. For more information, visit www.tamafortner.com


[Note: Thank you to Ink and Willow for sending me an advanced copy which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.
]

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Henry Herz in Celebration of the Release of I AM SMOKE

Today I’m delighted to host Henry Herz, author of many children’s books, including, most recently, I AM SMOKE (Tilbury House Publishers, 2021) which released two days ago. Illustrated by Mercè López, smoke itself acts as narrator in Herz’s story, telling us how it has served humankind since prehistoric times in signaling, beekeeping, curing and flavoring food, religious rites, fumigating insects, and myriad other ways. The book has already earned a Kirkus starred review, been listed in School Library Journal‘s The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2021, Kirkus’s 150 Most Anticipated Fall Books, and Children’s Book Council’s September 2021 list of anticipated bestsellers.

And now for the interview, with my questions bolded.

Welcome, Henry. You write for a variety of ages and in a variety of genres. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.

I was an engineer by education and profession. About fifteen years ago, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. They were too little for watching most of the fantasy movies. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would create a fantasy book for them. That decision led me to discover my love of writing for kids.

If smoke were to narrate some lessons I’ve learned along my writerly journey, it might say:

  • I proofread over and over, but my manuscript still contains typos.
  • I must be in touch with my emotions to write, but I must develop a thick skin to handle the unavoidable rejection by agents and publishers. 
  • I must develop innovative concepts, but my books must fit into what publishers view as  marketable categories.
  • I must submit my manuscript at some point, but I always want to make one more revision.
  • I am eager to move ideas from my head to paper, but I must be patient while waiting for publisher responses.

What inspired you to write I AM SMOKE?

I’m inspired by many things in the natural world. I love how much personality dogs possess. I’m amazed that you can cut a piece off of a succulent, stick it in the ground, and grow a brand new succulent. That’s like making a whole new person from just a finger! The range of defense mechanisms employed by animals is amazing—from camouflage to squirting ink to being poisonous to mimicking predators. 

I find the use of fictional elements to convey facts a great way to engage with young readers and teach them without them realizing it. Fiction can be the melted cheese we pour on top of the broccoli of nonfiction. There are some picture books with anthropomorphic characters, but I’d never seen smoke treated as a character. And who better to explain the various ways in which people have employed smoke over the ages and across the world than smoke itself?

How does one research smoke? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you?

 I researched wood smoke and discovered it’s primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor. That got me thinking about the water cycle. Then it hit me that trees sequester carbon they extract from breathing in carbon dioxide. Eureka! Smoke has a “cycle” too. Fire releases wood’s molecules. Water eventually rains down and trees extract the carbon from the air to grow more wood. The “smoke cycle” became the framework within which I shared some of the many ways smoke has been used to fumigate homes, communicate over distances, cover unpleasant smells, aid beekeepers, flavor and preserve foods, participate in religious ceremonies, and heal. 

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?

I don’t have any extension activities developed, but I would like to point out that in addition to its obvious chemistry (STEM) linkage, I Am Smoke can also be used to initiate conversations around history, geography, religion, and social studies.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I have a sci-fi/humor middle grade novel on submission and am revising a fantasy middle grade novel. I just became an editor for a small publisher, Running Wild Press. That should yield some interesting projects. My forthcoming books and stories include:

  • Denver Horror Collective’s adult horror anthology, THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR, will include my short story, Demon Hunter Vashti.
  • Launching in 2022 my contemporary magical realism early chapter book, THE MAGIC SPATULA from Month9 Books with co-author Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien.
  • Launching in 2022 the middle-grade #ownvoices anthology from Albert Whitman & Co., COMING OF AGE, including my sci-fi/humor short story, Bar Mitzvah on Planet Latke.
  • Launching in 2022, the young adult horror anthology from Blackstone Publishing, THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE, including my short story, Cheating Death.
  • Highlights for Children has purchased two more of my stories, but I don’t know when those will come out. 

Thanks for having me!

Thank YOU for being my guest and for using your writing talents to create great books for kids.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Henry Herz is the author of 11 traditionally published children’s books, eight children’s short stories, and over 20 adult short stories. He is co-editor of two children’s anthologies: THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE (Blackstone Publishing, YA) and COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES (Albert Whitman & Co., MG).

CONNECT ON THE WEB:

Website: https://www.henryherz.com 

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/HenryLHerz 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Henry.Herz 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/henry_herz/

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: It’s Time for a Read, Discuss, Do! Interview with Tina Cho

I’m so excited to be a part of a fabulous reading initiative geared to families, librarians, teachers and anyone, really, who enjoys reading picture books with their kids. 

Created by founder and picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez, Read, Discuss, Do! exists to help you extend the magic of story time beyond the last page by following three simple steps: 

Read a book. 

Talk about the book. 

Do a simple activity inspired by the book.

And now she’s supercharged the whole experience by launching a website with newsletter devoted to all things #ReadDiscussDo! providing a wonderful landing place for book-themed lists, reviews, activities and more. And she’s asked a team of us to help! (Can you tell I’m excited!)

And today on ReadDiscussDo.com, I am interviewing my friend and children’s author Tina Cho. Tina and I met through our online critique group and I have enjoyed each and every one of her books. I even created a Picture Book Sundays lesson for her MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS which you can find here. In today’s interview she shares her thoughts on connecting with kids through books, the benefits of reading picture books, and more! You’ll also get a little peek into her newest book THE OCEAN CALLS: A HAENYEO MERMAID STORY.

I hope will take a moment to pop on over for the interview and explore the website. Maybe you’ll even decide to sign up for the newsletter. That way you’ll be first in line for all the wonderful things we have planned for the fall. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.

Happy Reading, Discussing… and Doing!

GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU: An Interview with Author Janna Matthies

This week, I’m delighted to chat with Janna Matthies, a picture book author, who like me, writes books for both the mainstream and faith-based markets. And today, we are celebrating the release of her newest board book God’s Always Loving You, published by WorthyKids and illustrated by Airin O’Callaghan.

Here’s the publisher’s description: 

This powerful little book is filled to the brim with hope and comfort. Simple, child-friendly verse outlines relatable moments of crisis, uncertainty, and fear common to a child’s life, and asks who helps us in each of those scenarios. “God, that’s who” is the reliable answer, forming a pattern kids will quickly pick up on. Each answer reinforces the book’s deeply comforting message: God is always there for us. He loves us, He knows us, and He cares about our needs.

This is such a needed message in today’s world. Thank you, Janna for writing it and thank you, WorthyKids, for publishing it!  And in the extra neat department, Janna will be mailing one signed copy of the study to one lucky reader, so be sure to check out the details for that at the end of the post. And now, grab a cup of tea and join me as we chat with Janna with my questions bolded.  

Thank you so much for joining me today, Janna. Let’s dig right in. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write God’s Always Loving You.

When I’m not writing children’s books, I’m a music teacher for grades PreK, K and 1st, and I see all kinds of troubles touch the lives of my students. I also recently walked through a 3-year leukemia battle with a dear friend and her family. So I became interested in writing a book that brings hope and reassurance to kids going through hard times. But I didn’t want to offer platitudes or empty promises, because God’s ways aren’t that simple. My aim was to hone in on the absolute promise that God and His loving presence are always with us. 

As one who has been through hard times with my own kids, I’m grateful that you dug deep to write this book, but, oh my, what a tall order. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?

As I mentioned, I was focused on “the hard times,” but my editor—Melinda Rathjen at WorthyKids—suggested I add a couple stanzas featuring good times, too. At first I was hesitant, not wanting to dilute the impact for readers truly in the valley. But I followed her suggestion, and in the end agreed that the positive stanzas give balance and a vision for the gifts of peace, joy and redemption. I’m grateful to Melinda and also to the fantastic illustrator, Airin O’Callaghan, for her heart-felt, creative partnership.

Yes, I agree!  The balance makes the message even richer. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read God’s Always Loving You?  

The book is essentially a series of questions, all answered by the refrain, “God, that’s who.” My greatest desire is that readers would see God himself as the answer, and that they’d find His presence to be enough in the midst of whatever they’re going through. It’s natural when we’re down to focus on the thing that we want, the specific answer to prayer that we’re awaiting. My personal hope is that I’d learn more and more to focus on God as the answer, and to trust that the rest will follow.

Besides reading wonderful books such as this, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids? 

In my experience as a mom, teacher, friend, I find that living life authentically in front of kids is critical. Let them see you take quiet time with God, pray in the good and bad times, need others to support you in your own faith journey. Include them in family devotions/movies/book discussions where they can express real feelings and questions. And notice teachable moments when they’re open to hearing stories of your own high and low points as a believer.

These are great and very do-able suggestions. Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

Yes! My next picture book, HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, coming spring 2022), is illustrated by Christine Davenier and features an impromptu parade of little musicians in the moonlight. Two more books are currently in contract phase, and a variety of others are being shopped around by my agent.

For buying options and to learn more about Gods’s Always Loving You, click here.

Please like and follow me on:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JannaMatthies

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Janna-Matthies-417157575128412

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janna.matthies/

And visit my website at http://jannamatthies.blogspot.com

Thank you, Janna, for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully. And now for the promised giveaway!

HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary signed copy of God’s Always Loving You, simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Janna, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Friday, 7/23/2021 at 11:59 pm EST. 

Counting through the Week with LITTLE EWE (and Little Owl too!)

May is in full bloom here in New Jersey and Little Ewe and I (and Little Owl too, as you will see below) have been joyfully counting our way through the week with FIVE wonderful book sharing opportunities! Here’s a roundup of the meadows we visited this week. Thank you for having us!

Meadow #1: VIRTUAL AUTHOR VISIT to Minnesota! Little Ewe and I kicked off the week with a kindergarten author visit at Gethsemane Lutheran Church and School. After a very interactive and enthusiastic reading, each and every kindergartner asked a question. They also wanted me to let illustrator Tommy Doyle know how much they loved his drawings of sheep. I kindly passed the message on, of course, much to his delight. Thank you for having us!

Meadow #2: FRONT STEP STORY TIME. On Tuesday, Little Ewe and I shared LITTLE EWE with the preschoolers at St. Michael’s School in Cranford. They counted along with Little Ewe each step of the way and made wonderful animal sounds – including hooting owls and, of course, sheep! We all enjoyed being outside on such a sunny spring morning. Hooray for front steps and stories!

Meadow #3: VIRTUAL LOVE IS KIND VISIT to Michigan Little Ewe made a brief appearance, but this visit with the k – 8th graders at South Olive Christian School was Little Owl’s chance to shine as I used LOVE IS KIND to show the kids how a book goes from inspiration to publication. Something extra special about this visit is that I actually know one of the teachers – we taught together way back in early 90s when we both just starting our teaching careers. How wonderful it was to reunite via zoom!

Meadow #4: LITTLE EWE BLOG INTERVIEW. This week I am delighted to be hosted by children’s author Mindy Baker in celebration of the release of LITTLE EWE (Beaming Books, 2021). What inspired me to write LITTLE EWE? What’s my writing process like? Find the answers to these and other fun questions in Mindy’s interview. Oh, and there’s a giveaway for one fresh-off-the-press copy of LITTLE EWE! Thank you, Mindy!

Meadow #5: On Wednesday, was interviewed on Instagram LIVE! by one of our local indie bookstores, The Book House in Millburn NJ. This is part of their Local Love Wednesday’s series where they chat with a local author. We chatted about all my books, and I even got dressed up for the occasion – sort of. Curious? Here’s the link. Enjoy!

BREATHE: An Interview with Author Laura Alary (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Laura Alary, author of Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time. Published by Paraclete Press and gorgeously illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, Breathe explores the comings and goings of Jesus and the Spirit through retellings of the biblical stories of Ascension and Pentecost, interwoven with contemporary reflections from the point of view of a child. Not only is Laura’s newest book a must-have resource for fostering meaningful faith conversations with our kids, Laura herself is a gem and her wisdom and love for God shine through her answers. My daughter and I plan to read Breathe together as part of our summer porch mama/daughter devotional time. Maybe you will decide to do something similar with your kids. Now, having planted that seed, here’s the interview with my questions bolded.

First off, thank you so much for creating this beautiful book that helps kids (and grown ups too!) grasp the wonder of God’s presence in their lives. What inspired you to share this story with the world?

Thank you, Laura, for your encouraging words, and for your interest in Breathe. What inspired me to write this book? There are two answers. The first is that I had already written two books about the circle of the Church year (Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas and Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter) and I wanted to complete the series. However, it took me a few years to figure out what to do with Pentecost.

Both Look! and Make Room follow a similar pattern: they move through seasons of preparation (Advent and Lent) toward big celebrations (Christmas and Easter). But Pentecost doesn’t really have a getting ready time, and its connection to what follows (what we usually call Ordinary Time) felt anticlimactic to me. We often speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church and celebrate with a cake and candles—all fun, but at the end of the day it can feel like you pack the party decorations away and life goes back to normal. I figured there had to be more to Pentecost than that. 

In the end, what helped me was looking at Pentecost in the context of the whole circle of the church year. I started to see the first half of the year—so full of stories and celebrations about the life of Jesus—as its own kind of getting ready time. We spend months letting these stories fall into us like seeds in soil. Then the Spirit breathes life and warmth into those seeds and they start to germinate. Pentecost becomes the threshold to a new season of growth and transformation, when we begin to bring those stories to life in our own place and time. In other words, Breathe looks at Pentecost as part of a much bigger story. 

That brings me to my second reason for writing Breathe. Years ago I wrote a book called Mira and the Big Story. In it, one of the characters says to another, “Whenever you hear a story, you must ask yourself: What is this story doing to me? Is it making me bigger or smaller?” As a writer, I am continually thinking about how we are shaped by the stories we tell. I ask myself: What kinds of stories does our world need? I think we are desperately in need of stories that awaken us to how intimately connected we are to one another, to other living things, and to our environment. I wrote Breathe to be such a story.  

Your writing is breathtaking – somehow managing to be kid-friendly with vivid, relatable imagery and yet soul-provoking for grown-up readers as well. How did you manage to strike this balance so beautifully?

Wow! That’s such a beautiful compliment. Thank you, Laura. Your question points to two qualities I value highly: simplicity and depth. Holding these qualities together is harder than it seems. I always begin with too many words. But I know that silence and space are essential for making meaning. So I am getting better at saying more with less.

When I write, I start with the assumption that children have big ideas and big questions. What they don’t have yet is a big vocabulary—the language to articulate some of the things they observe and wonder about. So I try to anticipate what some of their questions might be (and pay attention when they ask them), explore those questions deeply, then distill everything into a simpler form. To switch from a chemical metaphor to an electrical one, my dad, who is an electrical engineer, once jokingly called me a step-down transformer because I can take a “high voltage” idea and convert it into a form children can actually receive. 

How do I go about that? 

One thing I do is begin with my own wondering. When I am preparing to write I practise a kind of imaginative openness and jot down all the questions that arise for me about an idea or situation (especially the ones which have no definite answers). That stretches my imagination and keeps me honest. 

Another thing I do before I put pen to paper is ask myself: what is this story about? What is its core meaning? If I can’t answer that in a sentence, I know I am still too muddled to start writing. This helps with simplicity and clarity. 

Finally, while I am writing, I read every word out loud. Because most of my books will be read aloud, I need to know how the words sound, not just how they look on the page. I think that helps keep everything fresher and more vivid. 

The concept of breathing and breathe is woven throughout your book. Even the title is BREATHE!  Tell us about that.

I am actually really proud of the title. It seems simple, but there is a lot to it. As with Look! and Make Room I tried to capture the essence of the book in a word or two. 

For one thing, spirit and breath are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek (and other languages), so the title plays with that etymological connection and alludes to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. 

Breathe is also a subtle reference to the practice of mindfulness. When people are stressed or anxious we often remind them to breathe, because connecting with our breath helps settle those swirling thoughts and feelings so we can see more clearly. I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety over the years and learning to use my breath this way has been so helpful to me in many situations. If you look for it, you will notice that mindfulness is a theme throughout Breathe.

Finally, the title points to something universal: everyone and everything that lives, breathes. This past year we have been made more aware than ever of how precious our breath is. That simple act of inhaling and exhaling is an experience we all share—until it is taken away. So the reference to breathing is part of that larger theme of connectedness. 

Before reading your book, I’d never heard of the concept “growing time” but it’s an essential and wonderful part of your message. Can you share with my readers what it is in a nut shell? (They’ll have to read the book for the full version.)

The Growing Time is a phrase used in Godly Play to talk about the part of the liturgical year we usually call Ordinary Time (the time between Pentecost and the start of Advent). It stretches from late May or early June all the way to late November or early December. In the northern hemisphere, this liturgical season coincides with late spring, summer, and autumn—a time for planting, growing, tending, and harvesting. I love the name The Growing Time because it captures some of the energy of this transformation is happening all around us—and inside us. There really is nothing ordinary about this time! 

What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book? Are there any other resources available for extending the reading? 

One of the things I tried to do with Breathe is introduce themes that can be extended in other ways. Instead of reading the book straight through, you could read a section, then take it deeper through activities or picture books that develop specific ideas or themes.

For instance, you could read the sections on learning to pray with the wind and your breath, and write your own breath prayers, blow bubbles, or make prayer flags. Or you could explore mindfulness practices with the help of books like Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey and Anni Betts (Rodale Kids, 2017) and Sitting Still Like a Frog by Elin Snel (Shambhala, 2013). 

Another example of this is reading the sectionthat describes planting a butterfly garden for bees and monarch butterflies. The book moves from talking about how butterflies migrate to human migration. You could carry the conversation further with a book like Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (Orca Books, 2016). Then you could make your own stone art inspired by the book. Or plant your own butterfly garden. 

What Grew in Larry’s Garden (by Laura Alary and Kass Reich, Kids Can Press, 2020)is a picture book based on a true story about a teacher whose Kindness Project helped his students grow community alongside their tomatoes. Its themes—kindness, gratitude, cooperation—all connect really well with The Growing Time. This book might even inspire young readers to get outside this summer and grow things!

My biggest hope for Breathe is that readers will come away with a deeper sense of belonging and connection—to one another, to other living things, to the world we share, and to the Spirit who enlivens everything. Out of this awareness flows a way of living. Seeing our connection to the natural world prompts us to take more responsibility for caring for our environment. Seeing our connection to other people leads to acts of justice, hospitality, and kindness. 

It all boils down to love. The more we love, the more we can see the divine presence in things. Or maybe the seeing leads to the loving. But love shows itself in how we live. So I guess that is my biggest hope—that the stories I write will nudge us toward becoming more loving people. 

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I’m happy to say I have several new books in process. One of them is a non-fiction book about food webs—with a bit of a mystical slant! Like Breathe, it has a message about connectedness, but it expresses it through the language of science. 

I am also really excited about my two picture book biographies about pioneering women astronomers (Maria Mitchell and Cecilia Payne). Those stories are both in the hands of illustrators right now. There are a few other manuscripts out there looking for homes—so I am hopeful there will be even more books to come!

All my books are available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or bookshop.org (or directly from the publishers). If you can find them at a local bookstore, so much the better. And if they don’t carry the books, you could always put in a request!

About Laura:

Laura has loved books since she was barely big enough to clamber up the steps to the bookmobile that rolled into her Halifax neighborhood once a week. At school, she made her own books out of manila paper, mucilage and crayons. The first story she can remember writing was about a little girl who kept spilling paint and having to figure out how to turn the messes into pictures (a good rule for life).

These days, Laura considers herself very lucky to work in a beautiful library and write her own books. They look more professional than the homemade ones, but the joy of creating them is much the same. Laura also loves to sing, play guitar (a work in progress) and try to keep up with what her three children are reading. She makes her home in Toronto where, along with clover and a whole lot of dandelions, she does her best to grow kindness.

Links:

Website: https://lauraalary.ca

FB: https://www.facebook.com/lauraalaryauthor

IG: https://www.instagram.com/laura.alary/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraAlary1

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!!  

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of BREATHE, written by Laura Alary and illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Friday, May 14th, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST. This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.

[Note: Thank you to Paracelete Press for the opportunity to preview the book with a digital ARC that I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

PICTURE BOOK MASTER CLASS: Interview 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. And today, as way of introduction, they’re interviewing me on their blog! I hope you’ll pop on over to check it out. Registration details are included at the end of the post… and there’s a giveaway! Here’s the link: