Meet Laura Sassi: Cardinal Rule Press Author Interview Series

Yesterday I participated in my first Facebook LIVE Interview. Hosted by the delightful Maria Dismondy of Cardinal Rule Press, our 10 minute chat was part of their Winter Author Interview Series. Here’s their pitch for the series:

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a children’s author? Or maybe you are interested in hearing how award-winning authors got their start?

CEO of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press, Maria Dismondy,is hosting an interview series this winter with children’s book authors. Find out the inside scoop on how their journey began and hear about a day in the life of an author! We hope aspiring writers, classrooms and other fans nationwide will enjoy this exciting series!

I LOVE the mission of this series and thoroughly enjoyed being interviewed. You can check out their list of upcoming interviews here. Maria also hosted a Fall series and those interviews can be the Cardinal Rule Press blog.

LOVE IS KIND Valentine Blog Tour: STOP THREE

One of the reasons I wrote LOVE IS KIND was to show in fun story form what love and kindness in action could look like. And today I’m excited to be the guest of picture book author Jean Matthew Hall. Please join me over at her blog as we chat about ways to foster kindness in our kids. My hope is that our conversation will inspire you and your little ones to follow in Little Owl’s footsteps and spread love and kindness near and far. (Oh, and there’s a giveaway plus Jean has created a beautiful bookmark freebie!) I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY Interview with Debut Author Tara Knudson!

Today, in celebration of the release of her debut board book CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY  (Zonderkidz, 2018) I am delighted to be interviewing author Tara Knudson.  This adorable cookie-themed book will have you in the spirit of the holidays in no time! Thank you so much for joining us, Tara. Let’s get started.

First off, congratulations! CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY has been out for just over six weeks. How has the launch been?

Thank, you Laura. I’m so happy to be featured on your blog! I can’t believe that CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY has been out for six weeks already. The launch has been exciting! I have loved reading my first book to young children and seeing their joy when I turn the pages. What a special experience!

As the countdown to Christmas begins, I am busy scheduling readings of CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY at schools, libraries, bookstores, and holiday events. It’s such a festive and magical time, and I’m so happy my book can be part of it all.

I have to agree that there is something extra special about having holiday-themed book during this festive season. It sounds like you are enjoying every moment of it.

Have you always been a writer/rhymer? Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.

It has been a long journey! My Creative Writing folder from second grade is one of my prized possessions. Reading my first stories makes me laugh. Growing up, they were always special to me, but I did not know yet that I wanted to be a writer. 

I started writing poetry when I was in high school. As I dealt with the problems and frustrations that adolescence can bring, I often wrote poems to express my feelings. 

After college, I became a Spanish teacher and I often used children’s picture books in the classroom. I would spend hours at bookstores searching for favorite ones. It was during that time that I fell in love with picture books and decided that I wanted to write them.

In pursuit of my goal, I won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship that allowed me to take a break from teaching and live in Barcelona, Spain for a year and experiment with writing for children. I wrote many poems and rhyming stories for children. I continued to write after my return to the U.S. As years passed, I sold articles and poems to children’s magazines and continued to work on my picture book manuscripts as I took care of my two sons. Then, I signed with an agent who helped me sell my first book.

Such a long journey, but your passion for writing and persistence shine through.

 What inspired you to write CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY?

When my youngest son was in preschool, one of the kids in his class had an egg allergy. I baked egg-free sugar cookies that all the children could enjoy and used cookie cutters to make festive shapes to celebrate different holidays throughout the year. One day, when I was on a walk, the story came out in my head. I rushed home and typed the first draft on the computer. I had a good feeling about it!

While the recipe that is included with the book is not egg-free, I hope people with allergies can tailor the recipe to meet their needs.

That’s how ideas come to me too.  That’s why I always try to have my phone or a small notebook handy. I’m glad you rushed home and wrote it down!

The illustrations really add to the cozy cookie baking feel of your rhyming text. Tell us a little bit about the artist.  Do you have a favorite spread? What makes it your favorite?

The illustrations really are cozy! Pauline Siewert created them. She lives in England and she has illustrated many children’s books. She does beautiful work! 

My favorite spread is the one where the bears are mixing the dough and using the cookie cutters. They are sweet scenes of a mother baking with her child. I love the flour on the bear’s face and also the mouse on the cookie cutter. I did not notice the mouse until after I read the book a couple of times. When I read to children, I tell them to look and see what the mouse is doing in the story. He tells a story of his own and he is very funny. Everyone enjoys him!

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

My next children’s book, EASTER EGG DAY, will be published by Zonderkidz in February, 2020. I’m very excited! Once the holidays are over, I plan to finish other writing projects that I have started.

Interested readers can buy CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY at independent booksellers as well as online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, Zondervan, and others. Whether they read the book in a library or purchase a copy of their own, I hope CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY inspires readers to make cookies or bake together this season and build beautiful family traditions.

How exciting that you have another book in the pipeline… and I hope many more beyond that!   Thanks so much for stopping by today. And now, just for fun, please comment with the name of your favorite holiday cookie.  =)

Tara Knudson is a former teacher who has been writing poetry and stories since she was a young girl growing up in Chicago. Her published work can be found in children’s magazines, greeting cards, calendars, and a poetry anthology for teens. Christmas Cookie Day is Tara’s first picture book.

WEDNESDAY’S BOOK: LOVE IS KIND Radio Interview (And a Winner!)

Dq2pILBX0AE4cJH.jpg-largeThis week it was my pleasure to be interviewed by radio host Care Baldwin for her program, Wednesday’s Bookmark, a weekly show that celebrates books. The interview aired October 31st at 4:30 EST on Family Radio CHRI 99.1 fm, Canada’s largest Christian family radio station.  Thank you, Care, for being such a great host!  I had a wonderful time.  Here’s the link for the interview. Please stop by.  =)

I’m also delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway, a brand new copy of Mindy Baker’s debut Christmas picture book, MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, published by Zonderkidz, and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk is…

Emmie!!!!!

Congratulations! I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.

Thanks again, Mindy, for an illuminating interview. I’d also like to thank Zonderkidz for providing the winning copy. Happy Friday, all!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Mindy Baker in Celebration of her Debut Picture Book MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have debut Zonderkidz picture book author Mindy Baker here as my guest to chat about her Christmas story MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT.  Here’s the adorable flap copy:  “Can one tiny church mouse find a way to bring Christmas spirit to his little town when Parson gets sick and the usual Christmas Eve service is cancelled?”  You will have to read to find out, and when you do, I think you fall in love with this heartwarming picture book story just as much as I have.  I can’t wait to share it with my Sunday School kids!  And now… the interview!

Thanks so much for joining us today, Mindy. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?

My husband and I have been married for almost 23 years, and we have three children. My oldest daughter is a sophomore in college, and I have a daughter who is a senior in high school and a son who is a freshman in high school. I love being a wife and mom! 

I am also a high school Spanish teacher at a public high school in our area. I enjoy my relationships with my students—they keep my life “muy interesante!”  You can check out my classroom via my “teacher Twitter.” The address is @srabakerhse. 

Another unique thing about me is that I have been able to travel to almost thirty different countries for various reasons. I LOVE experiencing different cultures and am thankful for all of the amazing experiences that I have had along the way in my travels. If you want to hear some crazy travel experiences, ask me…I can talk for hours about my trips!

 

I have always loved writing, but about ten years ago I decided to take a few classes in writing specifically for children and that is how I began to learn about writing picture books. It has been quite a journey, but I truly love writing. It is a creative outlet for me and very relaxing and rewarding.

Wow, what a rich bank of experiences you bring to the writing table!  I always so fascinating to see all the different paths that can lead to writing.

What inspired you to write Mouse’s Christmas Gift?

I had originally seen a publisher’s wish list that included “books that explained the meaning of Christian holidays.” Although this was not the publisher that ended up buying my manuscript, it was what inspired me to begin shaping my story. 

Also, I love Christmas, and I collect nativity sets and church ornaments. It is the running joke in my family that even though they have “banned” me from buying any more nativity sets, somehow the collection keeps growing! 

IMG_4194

Nativity from Mexico

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Nativity from Ecuador

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Nativity from Israel

Honestly, my stories seem to grow from idea seeds or mind pictures. With this story, there were several elements that kept swirling around in my brain. 

–The Christmas Eve service at our home church has always been something special to me, and spiritually significant in my life. 

–The element of family and community, like at a church pitch-in dinner, or get-together with family/friends when everyone brings a dish to share.  I wanted to capture that feeling of “togetherness” or “connectedness.”   

–The idea of light in a dark world, or being a light in a dark world, one person trying to make a difference. I wrestled with how to show this in the manuscript. 

–I have always found stories including mice to be endearing and charming.

So…all of that…somehow became this story!

And you did a wonderful job of bringing all those elements together!  I can’t wait to share you story with my Sunday School classes – which I will be doing next month. They’ll be reading the story and then building it out of Legos!

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

There are several messages that I hope shine through.  The most obvious message is that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Without his birth, there would be no Christmas. The second is that even someone small can make a big difference.  Mouse never loses hope, and his acts of setting up the nativity set in the church and lighting a candle in the window set off a chain reaction in the village. A third lesson is that a Christmas celebration is not about how much money you spend. There is beauty in simplicity. I hope that readers uncover even more lessons as they read and connect with the story of Mouse.

These are all wonderful messages – and so beautifully and seamlessly woven in to a rich story.  

Tell us about the illustrations. How long did they take Dow Phumiruk to complete?  Was the process of bringing your words to life through pictures at all collaborative?

As you said, the illustrator of the book is Dow Phumiruk. She told me that it took her about ten months to complete the illustrations for Mouse’s Christmas Gift. A Twitter acquaintance commented that I “struck gold” when Zonderkidz selected Dow to be my illustrator, and I whole-heartedly agree.  Everything Dow draws has a magical quality, and I love the warmth conveyed in the cover, and throughout the entire book. It invites you to curl up and enjoy the story of Mouse.  I am in awe of what she has done with the illustrations. If you are interested, you can connect with her through her website at www.artbydow.com.  

Honestly, Dow and I did not collaborate on the illustrations. Once I submitted the manuscript, Dow and the art team at Zonderkidz took it from there. However, I was delighted at how beautiful the book turned out. I am so thankful and honored to be paired with Dow for this project.

I’m delighted at how the book turned out too. It’s very appealing.

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

I wrote a teaching guide for Mouse’s Christmas Gift that will be offered as a free download on the Zondervan website in just a few weeks. I am very excited about that!  Click here for the teacher guide. 

I have been working on several other projects and Mouse’s next adventure, but only time will tell if those manuscripts will make their way into the world. I certainly hope they do! Mouse’s Christmas Gift can be found on Amazon.com, Christian Books Stores, Barnes & Noble, and the Zondervan website. 

Thank you so much, Mindy, for giving us the lovely glimpse into the story from the author’s point of view. And, I don’t think it’s too early to wish you a very Merry Christmas!  

And now for the GIVEAWAY!

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, written by Mindy Baker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 11/1/18 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday 11/2/18!

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR Spotlight: A Interview with Matt Forrest Esenwine and Fred Koehler in Celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s First Book Birthday!

Flashlight Night_hi-res coverToday I am delighted to be celebrating the first book birthday of the delightful picture book FLASHLIGHT NIGHT which released one year ago today. FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, published by Boyds Mill Press, is an engaging rhyming bedtime story written by Matt Forrest Esenwine. Paired with Fred Koehler’s spooky, yet spectacular illustrations, it captures the imagination and begs to be read again and again.  Not surprisingly, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT has received glowing reviews (pun intended).  Kirkus Reviews (who gave it a coveted star review!) describes it as a “rousing read” with “delicious language and ingenious metamorphoses.” The Horn Book praises it as “an old fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure.” I call it mesmerizing and fun!  Congratulations, team FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, and thanks so much, Matt and Fred, for joining us today to chat about the process that brought this charming book into being.  Let’s get started.

First of all, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/editing. 

30688174_10216331665152702_4983291287571529728_nMATT: Thank you so much for inviting us, Laura! I’m so thrilled to be able to chat with you and Fred about our book. To give you the short version of my journey, I’ve been a creative type and have writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first song when I was 7 or 8, and it was horrible – something about a goat on a boat being swallowed down a throat – but it was really fun to rhyme and tell a story at the same time. (You see what I did there?) Anyway, my first published poem was in a local college’s literary magazine; I was a junior in high school and it felt so cool to have a free verse poem actually published, for all the world to see. Over the years, I had a number of poems published in various  journals and anthologies, but I always felt like my style wasn’t quite right for most adult-focused publications. Then in the late ’90s I wrote a couple of children’s poems, but didn’t know what to do with them…and over the next several years more and more children’s poems started popping out of me, and I felt it was time to do something about it. So in 2009 I joined a local SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI later that year, and started sending out my one manuscript for a poetry collection…which didn’t go anywhere, but it was a good, necessary start!

fred_koehler_MFRED: Hi Laura. Great to be with you. I like to think of myself as an artistic redneck who’d rather be creating cool stuff or out fishing than just about anything else you could offer me. I started working towards a career in publishing when my second child was on the way – he just turned nine. I always knew it was tough to break in to the industry but I just kept showing up, making friends, and revising my work till they had to give me a shot. All in all, it was probably about 4 years of trying before I finally got my foot in the door. Now I’ve got seven picture and two novels with my name on the jacket, and hopefully another half a lifetime to make a bunch more.

Wow, I love how both of you have followed your passion and I spot a common theme of patience and persistence in your journeys into the field.

Now a question for Matt. Your love of language is evident in FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s  rich word choice and rhythmic rhyming verse. How was that love developed?

MATT: The simple answer is, it helps being a nerd in school! I always loved learning as a child, and would read my parent’s dictionary or encyclopedia set sometimes when I was bored. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I used to make up word searches and word puzzles and my teachers would make copies (remember the old mimeograph machines??) to pass out to the class. I suppose you could say that was my first experience being published! But as I got older I learned how much fun language could be in writing. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Jencks, introduced me to Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Chaucer, and a wide array of classic poets which really spurred me to learn and practice form, rhyme, and all sorts of other poetic devices.

Sounds familiar  – especially the word nerd part!

And now a question for FredYour spooky and dark, yet not too scary, illustrations pair perfectly with Matt’s text.  What is it about Matt’s story that drew you to the story? Also, tell us a bit about you created such a flash-lit feel in the illustrations.

flashlight-10eFRED: I often follow my gut on whether or not to accept a manuscript. I don’t read the synopsis or the art notes. I just focus on the exact words that the publisher wants on the page. If those words resonate with me, I take the project. Matt’s story for FLASHLIGHT NIGHT created an instant connection. I was a kid again, running through the woods with my friends, playing capture the flag or flashlight tag. Any time words can create that sort of visceral reaction, you know it’s something special. As for the illustrations, I was intentional about what lived “inside” the flashlight beam and what stayed “outside.” Anything outside the beam had to live in the dark and had to be part of the real world. But inside the beam, all bets were off. I did as best I could with my graphite and paper, then let Photoshop enhance the contrast between the light and dark areas.

MATT: That is probably the one thing people comment on the most, regarding the illustrations: how ingenious it was to keep the darkness reality (which is usually what kids are afraid of) and to make the light of the flashlight’s beam the fantasy.

flashlight-night-workingThe illustrations work BRILLIANTLY to enhance the text. Well done!  

Now a question for both of you. It’s always extra special for me to have both that author and illustrator here together chatting about their book.  Did you interact?  Please give us a little peek into that part of the book’s creation.

MATT: Interestingly, the editing process began even before our editor, Rebecca Davis, called me to make an offer! In Dec. 2014, 4 months after I had sent her the manuscript, I learned that the manuscript had won the New England SCBWI Peg Davol Scholarship, which afforded me the opportunity to have the manuscript critiqued by an established author; I would then be given time to revise it and have it critiqued again by an editor or agent at the New England SCBWI annual spring conference. As it turned out, one week after I had my first critique, Rebecca called to let me know she wanted to purchase my story – and during that time, I had made a couple of small but significant revisions. So I sent her the revised manuscript, and we then began tweaking things here and there over the course of the next couple months.

Although we connected on Facebook, Fred and I did not really interact with each insofar as the book is concerned; Rebecca handled the juggling act of matching text with the visuals She shared with me most of Fred’s sketches and illustrations, asking my opinion about certain things – which was greatly appreciated, since it is not a standard practice with most publishers! Some things we agreed on, others we didn’t – but as the editor, she of course had the final say. One particular change was in one of Fred’s spreads, where there was a lot going on visually – I don’t recall the specifics – and Rebecca and I were concerned that the illustration was so detailed that it took away from the flow of the story. I don’t recall if Fred remembers that at all.

Conversely, another example that stands out is the spread that reads, “Adventure lingers, stirs about,” near the end of the book. Those were not my original lines, but once we saw Fred Koehler’s illustrations we realized that what I had originally written was not going to work with his sub-narrative of the three kids on an adventure. So I had to rewrite that section in order to balance the text with what was going on with the pictures. It truly was a collaborative effort among the three of us!

FRED: My process is to take an author’s words and go sprinting off in whatever crazy direction my brain takes me. Maybe we had one or two emails back and forth? I think he got to see the concept. But otherwise, all of our communication has happened after the book went to press.

MATT: That’s true, we’ve been in touch much more since the book came out than beforehand!

Before we wrap up, what’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring children’s picture book writers/illustrators?

MATT: I know this is going to be more than one piece of advice, but I would say read as much as you can! Get a feel for what’s out there, see what people are writing, learn how they are writing it, and then try to do your own thing. I paid very close attention to detail in my story, choosing every word carefully to make it flow and rhyme and be fun to read, and I never settled for “good enough.” However, I did eschew certain standard writing rules they always teach at workshops:  I do not follow a “rule of 3’s,” there is no problem anyone has to solve, no one is given any names (in fact, there is not even a boy or girl mentioned!), and the main character, grammatically speaking, is the flashlight! So I think it’s important to note that one can bend rules or even throw out rules, as long as an editor realizes you know what you’re doing!

FRED: Here’s practical advice. Create an annual budget for your writing and give yourself permission to spend it. If you can put aside $1,000 a year, that might get you a couple of local conference or maybe an out-of-state trip to attend a bigger book-making workshop. If you want it to become more than a hobby, treat it like an investment.

MATT: That is, indeed, very good advice. I budget for one SCBWI workshop each year, plus I’ll be heading to my second Highlights Foundation workshop in October to spend 5 days with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard, I budget for my website and postcards and such, and I also set aside funds for purchasing books (not just other books, but my own, to sell). Creating books might be a lot of fun, but it’s still a business.

Thank you both so much for joining us today and happiest of birthdays to FLASHLIGHT NIGHT!

To learn more about Matt visit his website

To learn more about Fred visit his website

And now, since this is a birthday celebration, we have an extra special treat –  not ONE but TWO GIVEAWAYS!  In celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s first book birthday, Matt is offering ONE SIGNED copy of the book to one lucky winner.  And a second winner will receive an awesome packet of KidLitTV swag! (The book was featured on KidLitTV’s StoryMakers last year.  To see that episode, press here.

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win one of these book birthday treats, let me know by commenting below. All entrants will be entered in both giveaways. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident, ages 18 and up.) The giveaways end Wednesday, 10/3/18 at 12:01 am EST. The winners will be announced that day!

 

 

 

 

LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour STOP FIVE: A Simply Seven Interview!

IMG_3148 2Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Jena Benton as part of her Simply Seven Interview Series.  Interested in learning a little bit more about the backstory behind LOVE IS KIND?  Then grab one of these virtual cookies, baked by Miss A, and head on over!  I’ll make it easy for you.  Click here.  Oh, and there’s a giveaway too! Thank you for having me, Jena! I enjoyed answering your very thoughtful questions.

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE Blog Tour: Stop SEVEN

spring book eventsFor today’s stop on the DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE blog tour, we have a special treat – a JOINT interview with illustrator Rebecca Gerlings! Joint interviews are extra special because they require extra coordination – especially when the illustrator is from the UK and the author is from NJ!  Thank you for having us, Kidlit411!  Here’s the link so you can pop on over.  (Oh, and there’s a giveaway too!) Happy reading!

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse BLOG TOUR: Stops FOUR and FIVE!

IMG_6273The official Diva Delores Blog Tour continued yesterday and again today with stops at Vivian Kirkfield’s PICTURE BOOKS HELP KIDS SOAR blog.  Yesterday, DIVA DELORES was featured as Vivian’s Perfect Picture Book Friday pick  and today I’m featured today on her Will Write for Cookies series weighing in with my thoughts about cookies, of course, as well as some hopefully tasty insights into why I write for kids, who my favorite favorite authors were as a kid and more. Oh, yes, and there’s a giveaway as well!

Please pop over. There are cookies!

*Delightfully decorated cookie (shown above) created by Miss A!

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse BLOG TOUR: Stop THREE

Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Melissa Stoller over at her blog.  Her format is the “3 Question Interview” and for one of the questions I talk about glasses – special glasses (pictured above). Curious?  Then, grab a cup of tea and head on over. That’s what I’m doing.  I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link. Thanks, Melissa for having me!