A REAL FRIEND: An Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Jennifer Wolfthal

Join me in welcoming picture book author, Jennifer Wolfthal, whose debut picture book, A REAL FRIEND (Clavis Publishing), is out this month! Kirkus Reviews hails it as “A feel-good read about a friendship that feels real, indeed” and by School Library Journal calls it “A well-told, relatable story about friendship, fighting, and making up for children everywhere.” And here’s my reaction: Playfully illustrated by Judi Abbott and told with lovely gentle humor with a message that’s universal, this story of friendship and struggle is a winner. It would make a terrific addition to your class or home libraryAnd now for the interview with my questions in bold

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jennifer. I love your sense of imagination and ability to tell a story from an authentic-feeling kid perspective. Please tell us a little bit about your journey into the book world. How did you become a writer?

Thanks for having me, Laura! I’ve always loved writing. When I was a kid, my parents and I often wrote letters to each other when we were apart. To this day, I have bags full of letters. Whether I was writing poems, stories, or in journals, I was always most comfortable communicating through writing.

As an adult, I was thankful for the opportunity to teach fourth grade for eight years. Writing is huge in fourth grade, and it was a chance for me to share this passion with my students. It’s also when I developed a love for picture books. I started this author journey by reading lots of picture books to my own children and analyzing their structure. I also read books on the craft of writing for children, joined SCBWI, wrote many manuscripts, and revised a lot! I got critiques, endured the rejections, and ultimately got my first acceptance through Clavis about a year ago. Having your first book published in the middle of a pandemic and major election definitely has it’s difficulties, but you could also see it as a little rainbow in the storm.

Yes, a lovely rainbow! And your response is a wonderful reminder that patience and endurance are important parts of the author’s journey.

What inspired you to write A Real Friend?

There were times during my classroom years where I felt more like a referee than a teacher! 🙂 Best friend drama was always at the top of the list. It seemed like every other day kids were declaring, “you’re not my best friend anymore”. Only to be playing together the next day. Lol. When brainstorming ideas for a story, I knew this was a topic kids could relate to that I wanted to write about in a fun and imaginative way. 

Ah, yes! The best stories come from kid-tested, heart-felt moments like these. I’m glad you made note of the idea and found a fun way to turn it into a story.

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

Even though friends have their ups and downs, friendship is a gift to be treasured. And real friends – always stick together. 

Perfect!

A Real Friend is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”? What do you like best about this exciting new stage? 

It feels great! There’s definitely a relief in being familiar with the process. Before this year, I didn’t know much about book publishing, creating launch teams, visiting blogs, etc. Now that I have a better understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing world, I can focus more on what I love – writing stories!

Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.

Fun question, Laura! Here’s one: What’s something about you not many people know? Now I feel like I should answer it. Lol. Before I married my husband, I wed – Micky Mouse! My aunt dressed me up as a bride, and we had a ceremony and all. Ha! Ha! (Don’t tell Minnie.) 

Thank you so much for joining us today and best wishes with this lovely new book.

Biography: Jennifer Wolfthal graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education. She has been a certified teacher for the past fourteen years. She is also an internationally published author. Her debut picture book, A Real Friend was published in the USA in November 2020 (Clavis Publishing). Corabelle’s Butterfly is due to be released in 2021 (Doodle and Peck). She is a member of SCBWI and enjoys developing her craft through online courses and critique partners.  

You can find her on the web at:

www.jenniferwolfthalbooks.com

www.instagram.com/jenniferwolfthal

[Note: Thank you to Clavis Publishing for an advance copy of this book 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.]

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Celebrating HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES and A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE with Children’s Author KAREN ROSTOKER-GRUBER

Today I am thrilled to interview talented children’s book author Karen Roster-Gruber in celebration of not one, but TWO 2020 releases. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES, illustrated by Holly Sterling and published by Kar-Ben Publishing is a cheery board book celebrating Tu B’Shevat—Jewish Arbor Day. Told in song-like verse, it captures the joy of planting a tree with three diverse children working together to get the job done. A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE, illustrated by Kristina Swarner and published by Albert Whitman, is Karen’s delightful retelling of an old Yiddish folktale. Told in a combination of prose and spot-on cumulative verse, it had me smiling with each page turn. Kristina Swarner’s illustrations, rendered in ink and watercolor with lots of texture and humor, work well with Karen’s charming text to capture the feel of a traditional folktale, but with modern humor.

Both are delightful and would make wonderful additions to your home or school library. I will be recommending them for purchase at my local town library. Now, the moment, you’ve all been waiting for — the interview with my questions in bold.

Congratulations on the release of both of these fabulous books.  Let’s start with A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE.  I’m smitten with this cumulative tale based on a Yiddish folktale. What inspired you to retell it? Is there anything special about the names Earl and Marge?

My parents are named Earl and Marge and I finally got to use them in a book!  I tried getting my grandmother’s name in there as well, but the publisher took it out.  Her name was Zelda.

I wanted to reimagine a Yiddish folktale and make it a story that everyone could enjoy, so I took out the Rabbi and the Yiddish words, and added in a wise woman because times have changed.

I also wanted to make the tale a bit more lyrical.  I added a touch of rhyme–a repeated refrain, which kids love.  Kids also like when they can predict something. 

Right now this tale is perfect, as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl, stuck in a too-small space with their cats, dogs, and kids during COVID; It’s too crowded!

HA! Yes, we can all relate to that cooped up feeling. That’s for sure!

The illustrations by Kristina Swarner mirror perfectly the folksy, whimsical feel of your text.  Can you offer any tips for caregivers for how to make the most of this pairing?  (Ex:  stop and count, play “find the…” etc?)

Everytime I look at my book, I find things that I didn’t see before.  Illustration-wise, the only thing I can take credit for is the  duck on the front cover taking a bite out of the letter “A” in the word “FOLKTALE.”  The duck was already on the roof in the sketches and sooooo very close to the letter “A,” that I thought it would be hysterical.  I called my editor and she agreed. 

She told the illustrator and it was done.  

There’s also a toilet paper scene that quacks me up!

Many people I know are telling me that they have their kids counting the ducks, the horses, and the goats on each page. And, asking them to find certain things–like the duck in the toilet or the mouse underneath the bed. 

 I tell people to take notice of the fabric on the wise woman’s dresses, the drapes, and the wise woman’s chair.  Look at the patterns on the wallpaper.  And, to pay close attention to what appears in the wise woman’s windows. It will give the children an idea of what the wise woman will say to Farmer Earl next.  Her plants grow in each instance as well.

In addition, the cats in the book are not amused with all of the ducks, horses, and goats coming into the house, so their facial expressions are a killer.

Here’s the toilet paper scene: 

I agree. There are SO many ways young readers can delight in the joy of discovering the many details in both illustration and text.

Oh my goodness, life is good. Two books out in the same month – each as darling as the other!  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES.

In the past, I’ve had two books come out in the same year, but I’ve never had two come out in the same month!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES came about because I was invited to a luncheon sponsored by the PJ Library.  When they told us what they were looking for, they said that they needed good board books.  So, I went home and looked in my file for the many board books that I had written.  I found one called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” I sent it to the PJ Library and won a 2000 author incentive award.  Then my agent found a publisher for it.  

(For my first 14 books I didn’t have an agent though.  For these two I did.) 

You certainly have a gift for rhythm and rhyme. Both stories shared today have very distinct rhythmic voices and rhyme patterns. As an author, how do you decide the verse style you will use for a given story?  

It literally happens to me at 3am.  With A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE, after reading countless folktales from all over the world and settling in on two, the next morning I wrote this on a sticky note.  That note became the repeated refrain for the book.

I can relate to that! Good thing you keep sticky notes and a pen by your bedside. This has been such a lovely chat, Karen. In closing, where can interested readers find your books? 

You can order both of these books from any bookstore near your house. 
If you want signed copies, though,  I signed extra copies at my local bookstore: The Bookworm.  To get a signed copy here’s their number.  They can ship anywhere. 908-766-4599.  

BIO: Karen Rostoker-Gruber is a multi-award-winning author of over 16 books with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, was named a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Children’s Literature Award from the Church and Synagogue Library Association. Her books Bandit (Marshall Cavendish 2008), Bandit’s Surprise (Marshall Cavendish 2010), and Ferret Fun (Marshall Cavendish 2011) all received starred reviews in School Library Journal; Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Dial 2004) and Bandit were both International Reading Association Children’s Book Council Children’s Choices Award recipients;  three of her books, Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo(in 2005), Bandit (in 2009), and Ferret Fun (in 2012) were all chosen for the 100 Best Children’s Books in the Bureau of Education and Research’s Best of the Year Handbook.  Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-DooandFerret Fun were nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award; Bandit was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award; and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was a Dollywood Foundation selection two years in a row (in 2007 the Dollywood Foundation bought 73,579 copies and in 2008 it bought 88,996 copies). Karen’s book, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, published by Apples and Honey Press, a division of Behrman House, was named a PJ Library book selection in July of 2017 and went out to 21,000 4-year-olds in the US and Canada. Karen’s latest books, Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen) and A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale (Whitman), will both be out in 2020.  Karen is an active member of SCBWI, has twice co-chaired the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature’s One-on-One Conference, and is one of the co-founders of The Book Meshuggenahs.  http://www.karenrostoker-gruber.com

[Note: Thank you to Kar-Ben Publishing and Albert Whitman for the sharing ARCs 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.]

HYBRID AUTHOR VISIT: Inspiring Young Writers in Australia!

A lovely 3rd grade teacher from Australia reached out to me because her students are writing their own stories and she thought it would be special if they could meet an author and ask questions about writing. This is the second time we have done this, but with a new group of students. Before the visit she read LOVE IS KIND to them. Next, because it was hard to get a steady “live” video connection, I sent them a short video introducing myself and welcoming them to ask me questions via email. I received their questions just before they went on holiday and returned them yesterday. Once again, their questions are WONDERFUL and I thought you might enjoy reading a few of them. I’m also including a short excerpt from my video chat with them. What a marvelous use of technology and wonderful way to inspire children near and far to be readers and writers.

First, the video clip:

Next, three of their amazing questions, along with my responses.

 How much do you write in a day?

Sometimes I write a whole page. Sometimes I write a few sentences.  Sometimes, if I’m at a tricky part and have some story bits that need working through, my writing will take the form of notes or lists.  But even when I’m not writing, I’m very often thinking about writing and what is going happen next in a story I’m working on. That’s why I always keep pen and paper handy.

 In your book, Love is Kind, why do you have different lengths of text on each page?

This is a very good question. It shows you are reading like a writer! I think it’s a matter of keeping the story varied and interesting. Just as it would be very monotonous to have every single sentence be exactly the same number of words, it’s very boring to have the text on every page look exactly the same. Variety is the spice of life, and that’s true in page layout as well.

 What inspires you to write books that include morals?

It’s not that I purposely write stories with morals. It’s more that in a good story the protagonist needs to grow and learn something and be a better Little Owl, for example, by the end than he was at the beginning.  This is true of life too, isn’t it?  We hope to grow and learn as we journey along life’s way.

Finally, here’s an invitation for teachers to please reach out to me if you would like a visit – either in person, or virtually, or some sort of hybrid like this! And I still have a handful of free KINDNESS AUTHOR visits left. For more details on that visit: https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2020/09/28/back-to-school-offer-celebrate-kindness-with-a-free-author-visit/

A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE: An Interview with Author Jennifer Grant

When I read the description of Jennifer’s newest book, A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE, illustrated by Gillian Whiting and published last month by Church Publishing, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview her.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

“In this beautiful book for children, a child tells her story of losing a beloved neighbor and friend. A young girl remembers playing with her neighbor’s cat, stories that her neighbor told her, and the special mementos her friend kept on a shelf above her kitchen sink, including a little blue bottle she kept to remind her of Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” A Little Blue Bottle doesn’t provide pat answers or heavy-handed messages about life or death, but allows the grieving child to articulate her loss and her love for the deceased friend, while wondering how God is near when we suffer. A gentle and insightful resource for children who are grieving, and for those who care for them.”

Wow! I sure could have used a book like this when my mother passed away a few years ago and we all, including my then 9 year old daughter and 13 year old son, were grieving. In the special connection department, I have on my window sill the little collection of blue bottles that my mother kept on her window sill. So you see, interviewing Jennifer was meant to be. Thank you Jennifer! And now, the interview with my questions in bottle blue.

First off, congratulations. A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE released on September 3oth! How has the launch been with the pandemic in full swing?

Thank you! I’m glad it is finally out! Launching a book in 2020, of course, has been very different from any of the other times I’ve released a book. 
I have a few favorite independent bookstores, including Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, IL, where I normally have book launch parties. The last one, for Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too (2019) was so much fun! My oldest and dearest friend came from out of state, my in-laws and mother from nearby, and many others were there to celebrate the book coming into the world. When I was in 7th grade, I had a special teacher who encouraged me in my writing; we’ve stayed in touch and she always comes to book launch parties in the Chicago area, which means the world to me. But this year, no launch parties… 


My husband offered to set up something on Zoom, but after attending my daughter’s high school graduation, my son’s college graduation, and birthday parties—including my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration—via Zoom, I just didn’t have the heart for it. 


As you know, one of the delightful things about writing for kids is reading to them—it’s been strange just having the book slip out into the world and not to experience it with children, in person.


Yes, I know what you mean. Virtual is better than not at all, but there’s nothing as special as in-person connecting through reading.

You write for both adults and children. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.


I always wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. In college, I took all the creative writing classes I could and then went on to grad school, studying English and Creative Writing. The kind of winding path of my career has always involved writing. I’ve written annual reports, white papers, newspaper features and columns, blog posts, articles, and books. It’s been over the past 4-5 years when I’ve turned my attention toward children’s literature.

I’m so glad you did! What inspired you to write A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE?

interior spread from A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE written by Jennifer Grant and illustrated by Gillian Whiting


A friend of mine lives near Newtown, CT, and after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I asked her whether she was finding good picture books about grief or death to read with her young children, some of whom knew kids who were murdered at their school. She said she hadn’t found anything she wanted to share with them during that time. That planted a seed in my mind; I thought it would be an honor to write a story that might offer comfort to grieving kids. The main character of Mrs. Wednesday (the older woman who dies in the book) is based on a few real-life older neighbors I’ve had, both as a child and when I was raising my kids. Certain details, like the cat hiding under the bed, are taken from real experiences with older women I’ve known. Intergenerational friendships can be so rich; I wanted to celebrate them in this book, too. 

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


I thought for a long time before writing the dedication to A Little Blue Bottle. I think it answers your question, and it reads: “For all who grieve—may your loneliness be eased and your hope reawakened.”

The publisher also made some downloadable activity pages related to the story. You can find them at: https://www.churchpublishing.org/littlebluebottle.

That’s a beautiful dedication for a much-needed book. Just lovely.

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


I’m currently working on two projects, and both of them will be released in Fall 2021. 


One is a book for adults, from Broadleaf Books, called Dimming the Day: Evening Meditations for Quiet Wonder. It’s a book of 20 readings about things in nature (things as ordinary as dandelions and as ornate as starling murmurations). Each short chapter tells a story, includes scientific information on the topic at hand, and ends with some poetry or a part of Scripture, and then a prompt for sleep. The idea is to change up the way we end the day—rather than doom-scrolling through the news headlines or social media, feeling a sense of wonder and awe about the natural world to relax before sleep.


The other book I’m working on is a picture book, and, again, I’m collaborating with the amazing artist Gillian Whiting, who illustrated A Little Blue Bottle. It’s a story I wrote early on in the pandemic and tells the story, for young children, about what has happened, how things have changed, and more about this time. Gillian is using a very different style in these illustrations. They’re powerful.


People can find my books online wherever they buy books or at bookshop.org, a wonderful way to purchase books and benefit independent bookstores. My writing guild, INK: A Creative Collective, has a bookshop store: https://bookshop.org/shop/INKcreativecollective.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Jennifer. Best wishes with this and all your upcoming projects.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Grant is the author of five books for adults and several for children, including the award-winning picture book Maybe God is Like That Too. A former newspaper columnist and the mother of four young adult children, she lives with her bicycle-obsessed husband and rescue dog Scarlett in the Chicago area. More at jennifergrant.com or find her on Twitter @jennifercgrant.

LOVE IS KIND Author Interview on Los Angeles Public Library Blog

It’s not every day that an author, or at least THIS author, is blessed with the opportunity to be interviewed by a senior librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library!

This lovely opportunity was set in motion at the HarperCollins booth at the ALA midwinter convention this past January where I had just beforehand had a book signing for the Spanish edition of LOVE IS KIND – EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO. That, too, was a wonderful experience with a line that snaked around the corner. I loved interacting with librarians from all across the country. I think I signed 150+ books that day!

After the signing ended, I was browsing the other booths, when I got a text from my host at HarperCollinsChristian, Selene Covarrubias, that Ana Campos, Senior Librarian from the International Languages Department of the Los Angeles Public Library wanted to video record me and set up an interview for their blog. I hurried back, of course.

The video never ran because it was an invitation visit the library – which closed for in-person visits less than two months after the convention due to the pandemic. But, Selene took a picture of me being recorded, so you can see that.

Then, with the lockdown, everything on the blog was pushed back. Finally last Monday, the interview posted! And even LITTLE EWE (my upcoming book) got a mention. What a lovely situation, all around. Thank you, Ana Campos and the team at the Los Angeles Public Library blog! Now, in case you are interested in reading the interview, here is the link:
https://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/blogs/lapl/interview-author-laura-sassi

ONE FINAL THOUGHT: All this library talk has gotten me thinking. If you haven’t done so already, would you mind checking to see if YOUR library owns LOVE IS KIND and EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO (or any of my books)? If they don’t, would you make a quick call to the children’s department and recommend them? Or, if you prefer, many libraries also have a “Suggest a Purchase” forms on their websites. Let me know if you do — as it would make my day.

Happy Reading!

Thoughts on Finding One’s LIFE PURPOSE: An Interview with Pastor Noelle Kirchner

Today I have pastor, tv host, blogger, and Christian author Noelle Kirchner as my guest. For several years now I’ve been blessed by Noelle’s thoughtful reflections on Christian faith, motherhood, and life which can be found on her popular blog NoelleKirchner.com. And now, Noelle has published an amazing six-step study which offers just the dose of encouragement and grounding that I’m longing for during this season of uncertainty and worry. I have already ordered several as gifts for friends and family because I think they would make a perfect foundation for starting the fall rooted in the awareness and joy of God’s love for each of us!  

Now, you’re in for a treat as I interview Noelle in this behind the scenes peek at how this special study came to be.  I know you will be blessed.  And in the extra blessing department, Noelle 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.  

Now for the interview with my questions in bold.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best.

My first book, How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best, is now available on Kindle and in paperback through Amazon. I wrote it as a six-week individual or group study to help people connect with and live their God-given life purpose. I got the idea for my book years ago, largely because I am working in a way that I never imagined, but that feels right. As a pastor, I believe my position is a calling, but I do not believe that calling is exclusive to it. God needs ministers, people who want to serve him, in every field, and I wanted to write something that enables everyone to experience the thrill of embracing their calling or purpose.

Coincidently—or providentially, this book was scheduled to publish during the COVID–19 pandemic. With so many people out of work or living in flux, it is especially timely. As people reconsider where they live, what they do, what they want for their families, and how they occupy their time, my book can provide needed discernment, inspiration and hope. I learned as a New Yorker during September Eleventh that with tragedy also comes opportunity.

2. Your book is organized into six chapters, each examining what you describe as the “six steps of living our purpose”.  How did you discover these steps?  Are they universal?

I devised the book’s steps through reflection, preaching, writing, and filming about life purpose over the course of several years. As I crafted the end-of-chapter study materials, I marveled at how several interviews from my TV show involved purpose, even when it wasn’t planned. God helped me craft my book in ways that I didn’t even recognize at the time. It’s a testament to God’s great purpose—he’s active in each of our lives planting seeds along the way!

After writing my book, I compared my steps to others online. I found many alternative lists to be spiritually-lacking or void of the Christian perspective. Instead, I believe life purpose is highly spiritual. It’s one powerful way that we can experience the Creator’s love. Life purpose allows us to discover how God uniquely calls each of us by name—plus, following him can elicit our greatest joy!

3. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?

Time! Setting aside the time to write a book was a discipline with children, but I found the sacrifice to be life-giving. It’s an honor to share my heart with readers in a book, a forum where I can dig deeper than an article or blog post.

Another challenge when writing this book was finding the right publisher. Two parties expressed interest, but in the end, I decided to use Amazon’s services. That allowed me to push my book in more formats, like the Kindle version, which really helps my media-driven study questions come alive! I think the next era in Bible studies will be more interactive like this one, engaging and entertaining readers while communicating poignant messages.

4. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book?  What other resources are available for extending the reading? 

My greatest desire for readers is that my book helps “fuel their fire” for God. That was the theme of my church’s confirmation class when I was in high school, and it’s an image that continues to stick with me. When we as believers are on fire for Christ, our entire lives not only give God glory, but they witness to the power of his glory at work in us. I want each of our lives to be a testament to all that God can do!

Scripture is the best resource on life purpose. I just wrote a blog post on five important scripture promises on purpose for the children’s book author Glenys Nellist. I am also fond of theologian Parker Palmer’s book on life purpose entitled Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. In fact, I quote one of my favorite passages, which involves a touching moment with his granddaughter, in my book!

5. What’s next? Do you have any more projects in the works? 

Yes! My ministry spans media and writing, so I have projects on both fronts. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode of my faith and parenting TV series this fall on helping to navigate back-to-school anxieties, especially with COVID–19. I will be talking with a popular tween author and psychologist duo. I must note that your episode on the show (Episode #4), Laura, remains popular—it’s had almost 6K views!

Really, Noelle? Wow, that’s amazing. I highly recommend all the episodes. So much heart and effort is put into each one. (And now back to Noelle.)

Also, as a new writer for Crosswalk and long-standing writer for iBelieve, I will continue publishing faith articles and devotions online. My recent articles for each respectively are the 7 Biblical Characteristics of Risks Worth Taking and A Prayer for a New Purpose for a New Day, which both tie into my new book. Next, I will be writing a piece for iBelieve entitled “Why Jesus’ Plan for Your Child Is So Much Better.” The best way to read new articles or watch new episodes is by subscribing to my website!

Thank, you, Noelle, for inspiring us!

HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary copy of How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best, simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Noelle, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 9/17/20 at 11:59 pm EST.  NOTE: THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED. THE WINNER IS ANNOUNCED HERE.

[Note: Thank you to Noelle for a sneak peek at the book 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: Michelle Lord Chats about THE MESS THAT WE MADE

Today I am delighted to welcome one of my first critique partners, Michelle Lord, for an interview to celebrate the release of her recent picture book THE MESS THAT WE MADE, published by Flashlight Press and gorgeously illustrated by Julia Blattman. I spotted her book at the ALA Mid Winter Meeting this past January and not only snapped this picture, but also enjoyed savoring every word and illustration. Written in flawless rhyme, echoing the traditional “This is the House that Jack Made,” Michelles’ story offers teachers, librarians and caregivers a wonderful way to engage children in issues of preservation- specifically relating to the world’s oceans. Now for the interview, with my questions in bold.

Welcome, Michelle. Please tell us a little bit about your journey into the book world. Have you always been a writer? 

As a child, I loved to read and escaped into a book whenever I could. I wrote and illustrated my first book, Freddy the Fly, at age five. I returned to writing when my own children were young. I read many picture books in those days (and still do), and admired the artful combination of words and pictures. I decided to give it a try…  

I joined SCBWI, took classes, went on retreats, and learned as much as I could about writing for children. Lee & Low Books published my first book in 2006. I belong to a critique group of wonderful women who help take my writing to the next level. My kids are now all in their twenties, and I’m still working to find the right combination of words to tell a good story.

Congratulations on the release of your beautiful new picture book with Flashlight Press.  What inspired you to write THE MESS THAT WE MADE? 

Thank you! Kids inspired me to write this book. I feel terrible that they will inherit such a mess! The ocean is vital to all of our lives. Humans depend on the ocean for the air we breathe—it produces more than half of the world’s oxygen. Millions of plants and animals make their home in the ocean and provide us with needed food and medicine. Besides, who doesn’t love splashing through the surf or listening to waves crash ashore at sundown? We must appreciate and take care this precious resource—the ocean. 

Can you tell us about the illustrator? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread? 

My editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, and I had various back-and-forth emails regarding the type of illustration that would best fit my story. An illustration style that wasn’t too cartoony was important to me because of the subject matter. Shari wanted to find an illustrator who had a mastery of light. When Shari sent samples of Julia Blattman’s work, I agreed that her style art complimented my text. When I finally saw the completed illustrations, I was amazed by the beautiful illustrations Julia created! The images really moved me from sadness to triumph as the characters work their way through the story. Art is powerful.

One of my favorite illustrations in THE MESS THAT WE MADE shows seals swimming around their plastic-free environment after the characters have cleaned up the mess that we made. The text reads, “We protest the boat of welded steel, collect the nets and free the seal, that eats the fish…” This image gives me hope.

 Your book stunningly brings into focus the pressing need to protect our seas. Can you offer any advice for teachers/parents for how they can use this book to spark meaningful conversation and action with their kids?

Some people may think that children are too young to learn about the devastation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I believe children should learn the reality of plastic pollution. Most of us don’t think about how our daily choices impact the planet—that the plastic bag from the grocery store could end up in the ocean. I hope my book gives children a glimpse of the harm plastic causes for sea life. If THE MESS THAT WE MADE can start conversations about environmentalism and inspire people to create change, I’ve accomplished my goal. Children have the power to make a difference in their world. Julia’s illustrations alone motivated me to think more about plastic use in my own life. 

The backmatter contains calls to action, things kids and families can do to fight ocean pollution. One suggestion is cut down on single-use plastics. Children, parents, and educators can also look up the locations of ocean garbage patches on the map provided, or discover how long it takes for common things we use to decompose.

Plastics that are used one time before being discarded are called single-use plastics. Items like water bottles, grocery bags, and food baggies are single-use plastics and compose approximately 40% of ocean trash. If each of us enacted a few changes, we could make a big difference. We can help save our oceans if we forgo straws, drink from reusable water bottles, and pack snacks in reusable containers. 

During this time when many of us around the world are wearing disposable masks and gloves, please dispose of these in the trash instead of on the ground. Reusable masks with or without a filter create less waste. Stay well!

Thank you, Michelle! And now for a final treat, enjoy listening to this recording from the publisher of the author herself reading the book!

About the author: Michelle Lord is the author of several books for children including Paterson Prize Honor Book A Song For CambodiaNature Recycles, and Animal School: What Class Are You? She lives with her family in New Braunfels, TX. Find her on the web at https://michellelordbooks.com.

GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL: An Interview with Picture Book Author JEAN MATTHEW HALL plus a GIVEAWAY!

Today I am delighted to welcome debut picture book author Jean Matthew Hall as my guest with an interview as we celebrate the release of her picture book GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL, published by Little Lamb Books and beautifully illustrated by Olya Badulina. The book is part of the four part Bountiful Blessings series. And this interview is part of a larger blog tour. To check out the full tour list, visit Jean’s blog at https://jeanmatthewhall.com/gods-blessings-of-fall/.

Thank you for joining us today, Jean. Let’s get started with my questions in autumn orange to match the beautiful fall palette of your book’s charming cover.

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

As a child I enjoyed drawing and designing more than writing. As an adult I found myself writing many articles and handbooks for my job. It became fun. Then, when I started writing stories it really became fun!

I started writing for publication around 2007. I’ve been studying and having some success since then. God’s Blessings of Fall is my first picture book to be published. This manuscript was one of the first I worked on. I wrote the first draft in 2009.

Writing for publication is a S-L-O-W process. There is much to learn.

You are so right about the slowness of the process, but good things are worth waiting for and working towards patiently. Thanks for for that reminder, Jean!

What inspired you to write God’s Blessings of Fall?

I am enamored with God’s created world. I enjoy observing the changes in the seasons. So, following the adage “write what you know”, watching my four-year old grandson running around the yard chasing leaves on a crisp autumn day was the spark for this story.

I’m so glad you were intentional and recognized his joyful play as the spark to a story.

Can you tell us about the illustrator? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

Olya Badulina lives in Russia with her husband and two children. She used her favorite medium for God’s Blessings of Fall –watercolors. She has illustrated books for authors around the world.

My favorite spread is the first one in the book. The animals are adorable throughout the book, but the barn, the golden fields and falling leaves just shout fall to me.

It was surreal holding the book and seeing the animals and scenes that had been living in my head for years. I felt both proud and humble at the same time. It was a feeling of real accomplishment to see my vision and the illustrator’s vision come together to make a lovely book.

In my experience that feeling never gets old!

What advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids?

Live your faith in front of your kids. Let them witness your faith living and at work in your day-to-day life. It shouts authenticity to them. And THAT is what attracts your children to live that kind of faith-filled life. Be careful that your words line up with your actions and attitiudes.

Beautiful advice! Yes!

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline? Where can readers find your books?

God’s Blessings of Fall is the first in the four-book Bountiful Blessings series. Books featuring the other seasons will come over the next 18 months. I also have several holiday stories trying to find homes with interested publishers. Praying that will happen soon!

Thanks, Laura, for helping me share the good news about God’s Blessings of Fall.

Thank YOU, Jean, for sharing your story here and along with your wonderful wisdom for laying good faith foundations for our little ones. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I look forward to seeing your other books on shelves everywhere!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jean Matthew Hall has spent most of her life singing songs, reading books, playing games, cutting, coloring and gluing with children of all ages. And, she loves it! Creating encouraging board books and picture books is her idea of fun, but her favorite times are spent with her eight grandchildren. 

Jean’s picture book God’s Blessings of Fall debuted in September 2019. It is the first in her Bountiful Blessings series about the four seasons.

You can contact Jean or learn more about her here:

Website/Blog www.jeanmatthewhall.com

Facebook Jean Matthew Hall Author

Twitter Jean_Hall

Pinterest JeanMatthew_Hall

Now for the GIVEAWAY! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL (Little Lamb Books, September 2019) simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 10/31/19 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced that Friday! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here. Thank you to all who entered.

THE WONDER THAT IS YOU: An Interview with Best-Selling Author Glenys Nellist PLUS a GIVEAWAY!

Today I’m delighted to have best-selling picture book author Glenys Nellist as my guest to chat about her new release THE WONDER THAT IS YOU, illustrated by Aurelie Blanz and published by Zonderkidz.  Here’s the captivating flap copy:  “Every parent dreams of celebrating the arrival of their new child. This heartwarming picture book captures the moment that dream comes true. Filled with tender emotion and joy, THE WONDER THAT IS YOU is the perfect way to tell your little one how much they are loved.”   This dreamy picture book will surely tug at the heartstrings of parents and parents-to-be.  Get a sneak peek with this delightful book trailer and then enjoy the interview with my questions in green to match the cover!

Thank you for joining us today, Glenys. Even though you are a return guest, I think my readers would love to hear again a little bit about yourself and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.


Hi Laura! Thanks for having me! I’m originally from England, where I was a primary school teacher, and I’ve always loved writing. But It wasn’t until 2000, when I relocated to the United States with my husband, who is a pastor, that my publishing journey really began. I became a Children’s Ministry Director at our small church and part of my job was to buy curriculum. It was expensive, and so I decided to write my own. As I was writing Bible stories for the teachers to use, the idea came to me to try to write a children’s Storybook Bible. I actually gave up half way through, but my husband encouraged me to finish it. LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD was my first book, published five years ago. I’ve never looked back since.

What inspired you to write THE WONDER THAT IS YOU?


On the night my eldest son was born, thirty-five years ago, I fell asleep in my hospital bed in England with my baby son in the crib beside me. During the night I had THE most amazing dream. I was flying upwards in the dark and landed on a rooftop, where I swung my legs like a little girl, overflowing with happiness because my baby had been born. I clearly remember seeing the moon and the stars, and it was as if they were rejoicing along with me. THE WONDER THAT IS YOU captures the idea that perhaps all creation rejoices when a new baby is born, or joins the family. The strangest thing about this story is that when my husband came, three days later, to take us home, I glanced back at the hospital as we were leaving It was only then that I saw the flat roof above, and recognized all the windows I had flown past that night. I realized that THIS was the building I had been sitting on that night. As crazy as it seems, I know that it was no dream. It was real.

Wow, what an amazing dream! I love the image of all creation rejoicing at the birth of each precious child.


The illustrations really add to the dreamy feeling of your lovely lyrical text. Tell us a little bit about the artist.  Do you have a favorite spread? What makes it your favorite?


French illustrator Aurelie Blanz is wonderful! I just couldn’t believe how she had taken my words and brought them to life in such breathtaking images. Honestly, every spread is amazing, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be the one that accompanies these words: It felt as if my love took flight And soared into the air, And joined creation’s welcome song As you were lying there. In this spread, a girl is flying high with the butterflies.. that’s ME!

Since the wonder and awe of being new parents is one of the beautiful themes of the book, I wondered if you had any advice for brand new parents who might be feeling exhausted/overwhelmed – albeit overjoyed.


Well, as one who had four children under the age of five, I remember well the feeling of exhaustion that can overwhelm moms as they juggle daily tasks. But I would say, in spite of the challenges and daily grind, try to enjoy your time with your little ones as much as you can. It truly does fly by! Read a lot. Laugh a lot. Spend time doing things together and make memories, because no one can take your memories away. 

Wonderful advice! Hard to do sometimes, in the midst of the exhausted moment, but so worth it.

Finally, this has been a very busy year book-wise for you. Tell us a little bit about your new books. Are there any upcoming projects in the works? 

 
With six titles published this year, 2019 has been my busiest year to date! Later this year I have two board books coming out in my Good News series, published by Discovery House. GOOD NEWS! GOD MADE ME! and GOOD NEWS! IT’S CHRISTMAS! will hit the shelves October 2nd. Then, in 2020, along with the board book version of THE WONDER THAT IS YOU, I have two picture books coming with Beaming Books that I’m really excited about. LITTLE MOLE FINDS HOPE will release in February, followed by LITTLE MOLE’S LITTLE GIFT in the fall. I sometimes can’t believe how all this happened… but it did, and I am so very grateful.

It’s been a prolific journey! I can’t wait to read each and every of your upcoming titles and wish you continued success. Thank you for stopping by today.

GLENYS NELLIST: Glenys Nellist was born and raised in a little village in northern England. The author of multiple children’s books, including the bestselling ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas and the popular series Love Letters from God and Snuggle Time, her writing reflects a deep passion for helping children discover joy in the world. Glenys lives in Michigan with her husband, David.

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

Author Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

And now for the giveaway! (Thank you, Zonderkidz!) 

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  copy of THE WONDER THAT IS YOU written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Aurelie Blanz, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must have U.S. street address (no P.O. Boxes) and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Tuesday 9/10/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day!  THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here.

Happy Book Birthday! GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME: An Interview with Author Amy Houts and a GIVEAWAY!

Join me in welcoming talented picture book author, Amy Houts, whose brand new picture book, GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME (Beaming Books), debuts TODAY! This charming faith-based story is a soothing read, and a great conversation starter with little ones about God’s protective care. With sparse text and clever rhymes, it’s a delight. I can’t wait to share it with my Sunday School kids! And now for the interview with my questions in bold

1.Thanks so much for joining us today, Amy, and congratulations your newest faith-based picture book. Is it true that this is your 70th published book! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your prolific journey into the world of children’s book writing.

Thank you, Laura, for having me. Yes, it’s true that I have over authored over 70 children’s books. Most of them were written on assignment for educational publishers. They often ask for a series of books on a specific topic or featuring a specific character. For example, I wrote four books about pets (dog, cat, rabbit, and goldfish) for a South Korean publisher, Compass Publishing. I was asked to write five books featuring the cartoon character, Dora the Explorer. So, it adds up! Plus, I’ve been writing for many years beginning when I was at home with my baby girl, Emily. Now Emily is a busy mother of three young children.While I love writing on assignment, a book based on my own, original idea, such as God’s Protection Covers Me, means so much.  

2. GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME charmingly depicts God’s constant care over, not just children, but all creation. What inspired you to write GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME using animal homes as your concrete visual?

I was inspired to write this book because of the concern I feel as a mother and grandmother. I’m a worrier! But I longed to feel calmer. Looking to God for strength, knowing that He protects us, heart and soul and spirit, gave me comfort. Often, writing helps me work through my feelings. The comparison of an umbrella keeping the rain off and a roof overhead seemed to me to be the perfect symbol to explain to a child (and to myself) how God’s protection works. The text is soothing and reassuring. 

This excerpt is from God’s Protection Covers Me by Amy Houts, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, published by Beaming Books, used by permission.

3. David Creighton-Pester’s illustrations are delightfully concrete and colorful to match your simple, yet comforting, text. Can you tell us a little bit about him? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations?  Do you have a favorite spread?

David Creighton-Pester is an illustrator and graphic designer from Hamilton, New Zealand, where he lives with his wife and two young children. His website https://wanderingbert.com/ states that his interest in art started early: “Inspired as a child by picture books, animation, and all things arty, David spent endless hours drawing crazy characters and coming up with silly stories.”

I’m overjoyed that my editor at Beaming Books paired my text with David’s artwork. The first time I saw the cover and interior spread, I couldn’t help smiling. David gave life to my words. His child-like style and vibrant colors welcome the reader in.  

My favorite spread shows mother and son under the umbrella—nearly home as rain pours down—while the dog and a mouse watch from their protective covering. The rhythm and rhyme of the text is how I began writing the book: “Like a roof protects a house or a crawl space for a mouse…”

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

Start with something kids know or are familiar with (like an umbrella) and move to something unfamiliar or harder to explain (like God’s protection). Similies and comparisons help to illustrate a concept. Focus on a feeling, like peace, comfort, or safety, and how that relates to something physical like drinking hot cocoa, being wrapped in a blanket, or watching the rain out the window. 

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

I’m always working on picture book manuscripts in all stages of development from a few lines, to a first draft, to polishing, to submission. Upcoming in 2020, four books written on assignment for educational publisher, Rubicon/Pearson, will be released. You can also read and act out my Bible fingerplays in each 2019 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine. My books are sold through amazon.comchristianbook.combarnesandnoble.com, and more. Visit my website http://amyhouts.com to find out more about my work. 

Thank you so much for stopping by and for writing this delightful book! (And readers, don’t forget to enter the giveaway below.)

Photo by Bob Delsol

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Houts is an award-winning author of over 70 children’s books, cookbooks, and board games that feature family themes of love and friendship, holiday celebrations, and early learning concepts. Her books include The Giant Book of Bible Fingerplays for Preschoolers(Group Publishing), which features 101 fingerplays, Bible stories, and Scripture verses. It’s a joy for Amy to share Bible truths and God’s love with young children through her writing. Amy and her husband, Steve, live in rural Northwest Missouri,an hour from Steve’s family farm. They are the parents of two grown daughters and three grandchildren.

Twitter: @AmyHouts Instagram: @AmyHouts

And now for the giveaway! (Thank you, Amy!) 

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  copy of GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME written by Amy Houts and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must have U.S. address and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Tuesday 5/28/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. TO SEE WHO WON PRESS HERE.

Facebook: Author Amy Houts