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

IMG_4191

Nativity from Ecuador

IMG_4197

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 SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Picture Book Author Melissa Stoller in Celebration of the Release of SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush

Today I’m delighted to have fellow picture book author Melissa Stoller as my guest.  Last year Melissa released her first chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island and her debut picture book, Scarlet’s Magic Paint Brush is about to release!  Please join me in welcoming her as we celebrate the upcoming release of this charming new book with an interview and I’ve chosen to write my questions in lovely teal to match the cover. Let’s get started. 

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

Thanks so much for hosting me on Laura Sassi Tales! You know I adore Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, and I look forward to adding Love is Kind to my picture book collection!    (Thank, you, Melissa, for your kind words.) 

My writing journey has many twists and turns! I am a lawyer and also worked as a legal research and writing instructor and law school career counselor. When my oldest daughter was born twenty-two years ago, I tried writing picture books and amassed a huge folder of rejection letters. I took a break and wrote a parent resource book titled The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting with your Kids Through Reading. I also concentrated on writing parenting articles. Around five years ago, I decided to get back to writing for children. I took many classes, participated in lots of workshops and writing challenges, and attended several conferences to concentrate on craft. Also, I joined several critique groups as well, and I have been a member of SCBWI since 1997! I’m so happy that my debut picture book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH, will be in children’s hands very soon!

That’s an amazing journey, with lots of twists and turns, but I can see you were following an inner map that led you to this point. I’m glad you kept at it!

The premise of Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush is – what happens to a child’s creativity if a magic paintbrush suddenly disappears – is adorable.  What inspired you to create this story?  Do you, perhaps, own a magic paint brush?

Thanks, Laura! I am so excited about my debut picture book, Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, illustrated by Sandie Sonke (www.SandieSonkeIllustration.com) releasing October 16th with Clear Fork Publishing. Sandie’s illustrations are incredible and it was such a joy to see how she brought her vision to this project. I sometimes wish I owned a magic paintbrush or even a magic pen! The inspiration for this story actually floated into my mind when I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where I live. I was gazing at my favorite Impressionist paintings, a Monet specifically. I remember thinking, “What would it be like to paint like Monet? I wonder what would happen if I had a magic paintbrush?” From there, I started thinking of all the possibilities about painting with a magic brush, and then I wondered about what would happen if the magic brush disappeared.

I love that you were inspired by visiting the Metropolitan! I think visits like that to museums are wonderful sparks for all sorts of creativity. 

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

I hope readers will leave thinking about how they can foster their own creativity. And I hope they realize they don’t have to be perfect, but instead they can create their own masterpieces. Also, hopefully readers will love the sweet illustrations and will relate to Scarlet. Finally, I hope they enjoy the magical touches throughout the story!

I am most certain they will!

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

I’m a big advocate of making connections through family book clubs. On my website, (www.MelissaStoller.com), I’ll include a parent-child book club discussion guide where I’ll offer discussion questions, an art project, suggested snacks, and related enrichment activities based around the themes of the book. 

What a terrific resource!

Finally, can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects?  What’s a typical writing day like for you?

In a typical writing day, I write or revise. I like to work in drafts so my stories always have many iterations. Aside from my picture books, I also spend time on my chapter book series. My debut chapter book, The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island, released one year ago. Book two, The Liberty Bell Train Ride, chugs down the tracks in February, 2019. Currently, I’m working on writing book three of the series, which takes place in Washington DC and features the Library of Congress. Also, I’m very excited about my second picture book, Ready, Set, GOrilla!, illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew (also published by CFP). I love Sandy’s style and I’m so excited about how she’s adding her amazing vision to this story. It’s about a little gorilla who likes racing with his pals but really loves winning. When a gopher comes to town, the race is on! I really enjoy tackling many different projects in any given day. And of course, I am always observing, trying to think of new ideas and new inspirations. Also, I enjoy spending time reviewing the work of my wonderful critique partners. I learn so much from commenting on other stories and working with my critique pals to strengthen my own words. Finally, I try to leave time every day for connecting with others in the KidLit community, whether online or in person. It’s so important to me to foster these amazing friendships. 

Thank you so much, Laura! I enjoyed answering these questions and I’m so happy to be featured on your blog today! 

It has been my pleasure!  Best wishes with the release of the book!

And readers interested in learning more, please check out Melissa’s bio as well as the many ways you can connect on the web.

melissa stoller author pictureBIO:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.

CONNECT:  

www.MelissaStoller.com

http://www.facebook.com/MelissaStoller

http://www.twitter.com/melissastoller 

http://www.instagram.com/Melissa_Stoller 

http://www.pinterest.com/melissastoller

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!

 

 

 

 

GUEST POST: Five Fun BUSY BUS Facts With Jody Jensen Shaffer

IT'S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS cover from Amazon

Today I’m delighted to have my long-time friend and critique buddy, Jody Jensen Shaffer, here to share five fun facts about her newest picture book release, IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS!, illustrated by Claire Messer and published by Beach Lane Books.  Take a peek at the lovely reviews Jody’s book has received from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, then climb aboard and enjoy as she shares five behind-the-scenes facts about the book’s creation.  My favorite?  Fact #1. It’s a good reminder that patience is the name of the game in this business.  Happy reading, all!

FACT #1 The journey from idea to publication took eight years.
I got the original idea for BUSY BUS in October of 2010. I was brainstorming back-to-school stories [apparently, I like a challenge] and wondered how I could make mine stand out. When I landed on the idea of making it a school bus’s first day, I knew I was onto something. The story went through many, many revisions until it finally landed on Allyn Johnston’s desk at Beach Lane Books. Boy, was that a great day for me! In the months that followed, I worked with both Allyn and Andrea Welch.

FACT #2 I rode the bus to elementary school.
In the small town in which I grew up, the elementary school and my house were on nearly opposite sides of town. Sometimes a friend and I walked to school. But most of the time, I caught the bus in front of my house. I wasn’t always sure I would be safe riding the bus, however. There were icy mornings when I wondered if the bus would skid off the road. There were hills that I wondered if the bus could summit. To make matters worse, I was prone to motion sickness, so the shadows from the trees whizzing by my window made my stomach queasy. Thankfully, neither the bus nor I ever had an accident.

FACT #3 My school bus driver was also my neighbor.
In a small town, that happens. Taffy was my bus driver’s name, and he was also my next door neighbor. He and his wife, Dorothy, were grandparent-age, and I loved them dearly. I visited them regularly, and they always had some yummy treat to share.

FACT # 4 BUSY BUS is the “youngest” book I’ve published.
My previous picture books, PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW (illustrated by Steph Laberis) and A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (illustrated by Daniel Miyares), both have more complicated plots and complex language than BUSY BUS. So to make a first-day-of-school book fit its intended audience, I needed to simplify the language and plot. That was tough! I kept thinking there wasn’t enough conflict in the book. But I reminded myself that conflict is in the eye of the beholder, and to children just starting school, there’s plenty to fret about.

FACT #5 I asked a local school bus driver how fast a bus goes.
Before BUSY BUS went to the printer, Andrea asked me if I knew how fast a school bus went. The illustrator, Claire Messer, was working on a spread that included the dashboard of Busy Bus, and they wondered if I knew what the top speed on a speedometer should read. So on one of my morning walks not long after, I saw a school bus driver parked in a parking lot. I explained I was writing a book about a school bus, and I needed to know how fast they went. She looked and said, “This one goes to 85.” I reported that to my editor, and the rest was picture book history!

Jody Jensen Shaffer author photoJody Jensen Shaffer is an award-winning poet and the author of more than 30 books of fiction and nonfiction for children, including PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK, IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS! and more. Jody’s poetry has been published in great children’s magazines like Highlights, Ladybug, and Clubhouse Jr. Jody lives in Liberty, Missouri, and is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When she’s not writing, Jody can be found watching baseball or walking her rescue dog, Sophie. Visit Jody at jodyjensenshaffer.com or on Twitter @jodywrites4kids.

GUEST POST: FIVE Fun FACTS about RICE FROM HEAVEN from Debut Picture Book Author Tina Cho

RicefromHeaven cover

Today I have the pleasure of celebrating the release of a very special new book by my long-time critique partner and friend, Tina Cho.  The book is beautifully titled RICE FROM HEAVEN:  The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans.  It’s illustrated by Keum Jin Song and published by Little Bee Books/Bonnier Publishing USA. I had the privilege of seeing this amazing story in early draft form and now to see it in final published form is, well, amazing!  RICE FROM HEAVEN is an engaging story of giving, told with grace and heart, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. It’s only been out for a day and already it has received lovely reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.  And now to celebrate it’s release, Tina has agreed to share with us FIVE FUN FACTS that will leave you wanting to read the book… NOW! Taking it away, Tina!

Five Fun Facts about Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans

by Tina Cho

1. Rice from Heaven is based on true events even though the characters in the story are fictional. 

In May 2016, I helped North Korean refugees send rice in balloons over the border of South Korea into North Korea. These refugees attend a North Korean refugee church in Seoul, where my colleague tutored them in English. I asked if I could help with this event. The father in my book is based on the North Korean refugee pastor; however, he had a son rather than a daughter.

2. Rice from Heaven got me an agent!

I emailed Rice from Heaven and a picture book biography to Adria Goetz. She loved both and signed me on. Get this—about a year later, her father went to North Korea on humanitarian business!

3. Rice from Heaven sold eleven months after it was first written.

After I helped the refugees on May 2nd, 2016, I wrote the first draft of my story on May 9th and shared with my critique groups. The 17th draft sold eleven months later, much changed from the first draft.

4. I didn’t write the back matter.

Rice from Heaven has extensive back matter. Facts about North Korea, South Korea, and fun facts about each. My publisher, Little Bee Books, wrote it. I, however, got to proofread it and make sure it was all accurate. After all, I have lived here eight years and am married to a Korean national. 

5. Rice from Heaven didn’t originally have a subtitle.

My editor wanted a subtitle so that people would clearly know what this book was about. Writing a subtitle is hard! Together we came up with a list of about 6-10 titles. The publisher chose in the end. I suppose it’s all in the marketing.

Thanks for having me, Laura!

And thank you, Tina, for sharing this story with the world!

tinaflowerBio: Tina Cho is the author of three picture books– Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books/Bonnier Publishing August 2018), Korean Celebrations (forthcoming Tuttle 2019) and Breakfast with Jesus (forthcoming Harvest House 2020). Although she grew up and taught in the United States, she currently lives in South Korea with her husband and two children while teaching at an international school.  Learn more about Tina at tinamcho.com

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Lindsey McDivitt, Author of NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY

IMG_7041.JPG

Today I’m delighted to be interviewing picture book author Lindsey McDivitt in celebration of her debut picture book NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY. Published by Sleeping Bear Press and beautifully illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewe, NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY is an engaging picture book biography of the life of Gwen Frostic. Told with perfect pacing, it’s a celebration not only of the beauty and importance of respecting nature, but also of the strength of living with and overcoming disabilities. This is a must-have book and would make a great addition to any collection.  It’s a charming, thoughtful read and I loved it! Now, without further ado, please join me for this special interview with Lindsey with my questions in green to fit the nature theme.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Lindsey and congratulations on your delightful picture book debut. What inspired you to write Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story?

I so appreciate this opportunity, Laura! It’s pretty exciting to see my first picture book in print!

I grew up in Minnesota and my friends and I adored Gwen’s nature inspired greeting cards in high school in the 70’s. They matched our budding interest in the environmental movement so new back then.

When I moved to Michigan about 9 years ago I learned Gwen was from Michigan. When I later learned her printing shop was still open up north I began searching for information about her. The shop looked so fascinating in the brochure I spotted.

I love that you’ve been interested in the environmental movement since your teens and how that early love led you to choose Gwen as the focus of this book. What a great example of following your passion!

Once you decided that you wanted to tell Gwen’s story in picture book form, what was your research process like? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

Very quickly I learned that Gwen had surmounted many challenges in her long life and I realized what an amazing role model she could be for both kids and adults. After working with stroke survivors for years in my earlier career, I knew the tenacity and perseverance required to surmount physical disability and Gwen never let it hold her back from her goals. 

I was really excited when I learned Gwen Frostic had been recognized in so many ways in her home state of Michigan, especially in an era when women were not encouraged to be business women. Gwen made millions of dollars as an artist! And at the same time she did what she could for our natural world when it was threatened. That was astonishing!

And you have continued that recognition and celebration of Gwen’s amazing life contributions through your book and now it and Gwen are being celebrated  yet again- as this amazing billboard you shared on social media attests. It’s the first billboard for a picture book that I’ve ever seen and I love it!

IMG_0001

Most of your text is written in creative nonfiction, but on many spreads you also have special text that is set apart in large and colorful fonts. Can you share with us why you chose this distinction? 

The special text you mention is mainly direct quotes from Gwen Frostic. The 22 books she wrote and illustrated herself were a gold mine of information. They really gave me a window into her feelings. It was the art director at Sleeping Bear Press that set the quotes apart in such a distinctive style I believe.

Eileen Ryan Ewen’s art invites the reader to step into nature through Gwen’s eyes in such a warm and charming way.  What was it like to work with Eileen?

Many people don’t realize that the illustrator is given lots of freedom to interpret the text. Author and illustrator rarely collaborate directly. In fact it’s not encouraged by the publisher. So it was fascinating to finally see first Eileen’s sketches, and then the art in color! I feel so fortunate! They are just magical—really drawing the reader into Gwen’s world.

Yes, Lindsey, that has been my experience as well.  And, Eileen did a wonderful job! She was the perfect pick for your story.

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

There is a nature art activity in the back of the book that I hope kids will try. Also, some beautiful activity sheets are available both at my website and the publisher’s—Sleeping Bear Press.

These are WONDERFUL resources.  Be sure to check them out, dear readers!

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

I do have another picture book biography under contract and I’m working on revisions with that editor. It will hopefully come out in a year or so. And many manuscripts in various states! Some I’m beginning to submit with fingers crossed—both fiction and non-fiction.

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story is available in all the usual venues. I’d encourage readers to please consider ordering it from their local independent bookstore if it’s not on their shelves.

Oh, yes, I do think it’s important to support our wonderful local indies whenever possible and ordering books through them is a wonderful way to do just that!

 Thanks so much for this lovely interview, Lindsey. I wish you the very best and look forward to reading more of your books.

lindsey_thumbnailLearn more about Lindsey by connecting on the web:

FINALLY…. a VERY SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY to VISIT WITH LINDSEY!
If you are an educator, scout leader, etc. and are interested a free 20 minute Skype visit for your classroom or group with Lindsey, please indicate so in the comments below.  One lucky name will be drawn from the interested parties on Sunday, 8/5/2018 at 10 pm EST so be sure to comment before then.  (Must be at least 18 to enter.) Winner will be announced the following week and then I will put you in contact with Lindsey to work out the timing.

Keynote Speaker Tami Charles’ Words of Wisdom

My wonderfully talented author friend Tami Charles was the keynote speaker at this past weekend’s NJSCBWI Annual Conference. She was so inspiring and this lovely post by author Naomi Gruer captures the spirit and light of her speech so well! Be inspired!

Bmore energy

Author Tami Charles

Charles delivering her keynote speech at the NJSCBWI18 conference.

Inspiration for Everyone

Tami Charles, whose middle grade novel Like Vanessa debuted in March, delivered a keynote speech at the NJSCBWI18 conference this past weekend.

She talked about the value of hope. “Somewhere between no and yes lies hope.”

She talked about rejections. “The word no has empowered me, broken me, and put me back together again.”

She talked about persistence. “You keep writing. You don’t stop.”

And she said, “Step into your greatness.”

Thanks, Tami, for words of wisdom that ring true for me as a writer and also for anyone trying to reach a seemingly insurmountable goal.

Click here to watch a short video about Charles and Like Vanessa. Take one guess which book I’m buying as gifts for some important tween girls in my life.

In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa…

View original post 109 more words

GUEST POST: FIVE Fun FACTS about TWO FUN NEW BOOKS from Best-Selling Author GLENYS NELLIST! (AND A GIVEAWAY!)

20180409_154659 (2)

Today I’m delighted to feature the wonderful Glenys Nellist as my guest. Glenys is the author 12 fabulous books – including her best-selling LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD series with five books out and more on the way.  She’s also the author of the adorable SNUGGLE TIME series.  Last December, she was here for an interview to celebrate the release of her clever and gorgeous ‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS, a heart-warming Christmas tale told to the cadence of Clement C. Moore’s famous poem. And today we’re here to celebrate the release of two darling rhyming board books that celebrate the special bonds between and mothers/children and fathers/children. With simple rhyming text and sweet illustrations, these are sure to be a perennial hit.  And now, as a fun way of introducing the books, here’s Glenys with FIVE FUN FACTS about the books. (And be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of the post!) Take it away, Glenys!

FIVE Fun Facts About GOD MADE MOMMY SPECIAL & GOD MADE DADDY SPECIAL

by Glenys Nellist

FUN FACT #1: They Weren’t my Idea!

That’s right—you did read that correctly… GOD MADE MOMMY SPECIAL and GOD MADE DADDY SPECIAL were not my idea! Almost three years ago I pitched a new children’s book manuscript to my editor and anxiously awaited her response. When it came, it went something like this:  

Hi Glenys, thanks for submitting your new book proposal. Unfortunately, it’s not a good fit for us at the moment. However… I am looking for new titles featuring mommies & daddies. If you have any ideas for those sorts of books, I’ll be happy to take a look.

Any author would be crazy not to give their editor what they are looking for… and the books were born! Now, whenever my editor and I meet for lunch, I always ask her this five-word question: What are you looking for? Then I come home and try to write it.

FUN FACT #2: Why the Mommy Cover Has a Heart-Shaped ‘O’…

Take a peek at the cover of GOD MADE MOMMY SPECIAL…

20180510_162058.jpg

Can you guess why the ‘O’ is heart-shaped? It’s because in England, where I’m from, and where I’ll shortly be marketing the book, we don’t say Mom. Instead, we say Mum. So the marketing team at Zonderkidz decided to shape the ‘O’ so that it could also be seen as a ‘U’. Aren’t they clever?

FUN FACT #3: The Books Can Be Used in a Fun Guessing Game

One of my favorite things to do as an author is to visit schools and read to children. With these books, I’ve found a wonderful guessing game that children LOVE to participate in. Before showing them the pictures, I read each poem and they have to guess the animal. Listen carefully, I tell them. The clues are in the words. 

Try it with your little one. Read this poem and have them guess the daddy animal. (Answer below)

Come and meet my daddy

He stands up nice and tall.

And even though he’s on one leg,

I’ve never see him fall.

Every time I wobble,

He helps me stand up straight.

God made Daddy special—

He’s really, really great!

FUN FACT #4: The Illustrations are Better Than I Imagined

It’s a very scary thing for an author to hand their manuscript over and trust that the illustrator will be a good fit. I needn’t have worried at all with these books!  Estelle Corke did a FABULOUS job, especially with Daddy Skunk, which is my favorite part of the daddy book! 20170621_161622.jpg

FUN FACT #5: There Might Be a Grandma and Grandpa Version in the Wings…

Sshh… don’t tell anyone, but I already have GOD MADE GRANDMA SPECIAL and GOD MADE GRANDPA SPECIAL written in my head! Depending on sales of the mommy and daddy books, then I’m hoping that Grandma and Grandpa will be joining them on the shelves… fingers crossed for that!

Thank you, Glenys, for those five fun facts.  And best wishes for your continued success! 

AUTHOR PHOTOBIO: Coordinator of Children’s Ministry for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. Zondervan children’s book author of twelve titles, including two popular series: Love Letters from God and Snuggle Time. Glenys is a writer with a passion for God, her family, and children’s ministry. Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

 

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  two-book bundle that includes one copy each of GOD MADE MOMMY SPECIAL and GOD MADE DADDY SPECIAL both written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Estelle Corke, 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 Monday, 5/21/18 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day!

Finally… the answer to the poem in FUN FACT #3 is:  Daddy Flamingo!

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE Blog Tour: FINAL STOP!

IMG_6392“Rain drops on roses and whiskers….” Ahh, I never grow tired of singing “My Favorite Things” from THE SOUND OF MUSIC. And now I’m singing away because I just LOVE the theme of the last and final stop of the DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE blog tour. Thanks so much, Kerry Aradhya of Picture Books and Pirouettes, for putting together this lovely and creative post ! Happy reading all!

 

GUEST POST with DANNA SMITH: My Journey from Reading Little Golden Books to Writing Them

Springtime Babies Cover HRFinally, spring is in the air!  I hear the birds chirping at sunrise. There’s a robin family building a nest in my neighbor’s tree.  The cherry blossoms are about to burst. It’s perfect timing to welcome today’s guest blogger, picture book author Danna Smith, in celebration of the release of her new springtime book, SPRINGTIME BABIES, published by Little Golden Books. Today she’ll be sharing her journey from reading Little Golden Books as a child to now writing them! Thank you so much for stopping by, Danna.  Take it away!

Wonders of NatureMost Americans can remember growing up with Little Golden Books, those little gems that captured our hearts at the store while our parents shopped. Books like The Poky Little Puppy, Scuffy the Tugboat and my favorite, Wonders of Nature, caught our attention with their distinctive gold foil spines, colorful illustrations, and exciting adventures. The first 12 Little Golden Book titles hit the shelves in 1942 during wartime when picture books were expensive, and money was scarce. At 25 cents, Little Golden Books were affordable for everyone. Today, with hundreds of titles available they continue to delight, and are still affordable—at about the price of a greeting card!

Little Golden Books aren’t just for children; adults love them too. Collectors rummage through piles of books at thrift shops and garage sales looking to find that illustrious 25 cent first edition to add to their collection. I have a small but beloved collection of my own.

Springtime Babies Cover HRImagine my delight when my agent called with news that I had an offer from Little Golden Books and then again with offers for three more books! I had to pinch myself! I remember scribbling my name in many Little Golden Books throughout my childhood. Reading was a joy and these little books were like friends. Joining the Little Golden Book family of authors and artists is a dream come true.

While I had initially written Springtime Babies as a picture book, it turned out to be perfect for Little Golden Books. Editor and author, Diane Muldrow, worked with me to cut the text from 32 pages to 24. Next, it was time for the illustrator to work her magic. When I saw the sketches and then the final color images, I was in love! Artist, Takako Fisher, did a fantastic job. I couldn’t be more pleased with her adorable, chunky animal (and human) babies.

springtime babies. pig is in a puddle

Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Takako Fisher

Springtime Babies. Babies with the farmers

Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Takako Fisher

Golden Books works about three years out which means if you sold a manuscript today in 2018, the book would most likely publish in 2020 or 2021. If you want to try your hand at writing a Little Golden Book, my advice is to draft a conceptually strong story perfect for a young audience of 2–5-year-olds. Your manuscript should be highly visual (illustratable) and original or at least have a fresh take on a familiar subject. A hook that can tie into an event or special day such as Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day is also a plus. Be sure to study the Little Golden Books line to make certain your idea is fresh. Paginating your manuscript in the way you see it published will not only help you better visualize your story but will help the editors see your vision. If your agent calls you with an offer, pinch yourself then get ready to revise!

BIO:
Danna birds nest 2017

Danna Smith is the author of a dozen books for children. Her next Little Golden Book, Rocket-Bye Baby: A Spaceflight Lullaby releases in January 2019 followed by The Colors of Summer (May 2019) and The Colors of Winter (Oct 2019).  Danna is currently living in Northern California, where she is hard at work on her next book. You can find more about her and her books online here:

Website: www.dannasmithbooks.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dannasmith8

Book Review Blog: https://picturebookplaylist.com/blog/