A Christmas READ. DISCUSS. DO!: Celebrate the Nativity with a Picture Book and A Puppet Show!!

This post is inspired by children’s author, Rebecca Gomez’s wonderful Read. Discuss. Do! initiative where she pairs a picture book with an engaging follow-up discussion starter and activity. Check out the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo for a wealth of creative book-themed ideas!

Now for my special Christmas edition:

Pairing a faith-based Christian picture book with an activity is a great way to spark meaningful conversations with our kids about what Christmas is really all about – Jesus!  With that in mind, here’s an activity that I created for my Sunday school kiddos last year. The activity was given as a gift, wrapped in paper and included the finger puppets along with the instructions. I instructed them not to open until Christmas Eve, but you could modify that to meet your needs.  However, keep in mind that they liked the mystery of not being able to open the gift right away. It added to the excitement.  Afterwards, I heard back from families that it was a big hit!  I think what the kids liked best about this nativity-themed activity was that it was phrased as a “special Christmas assignment” and what parents liked best about it was that it brought the significance of Christmas into the conversation in an engaging, kid-friendly way.  

If you choose to recreate this “SPECIAL CHRISTMAS ASSIGNMENT” for your family, Sunday school class, or homeschool co-op, here’s what you will need.

  1. First, ahead of time, make or order some simple nativity themed puppets – one set per child or one set per family. I ordered mine from Oriental Trading.  
  2. On sturdy paper, type up the instructions – as seen in the picture above.
  3. When it’s time to open the gift, be sure to have several of your family’s favorite nativity-themed picture books on hand.  Of course, I would LOVE if you included my nativity-themed picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER in the mix and here are a few other suggestions (both new and old) to get you started:

GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz) written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jane Chapman.

THE LITTLE SHEPHERD (Beaming Books) written by Elizabeth Jaeger and illustrated by Irene Montano

WHO IS COMING TO OUR HOUSE? (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers) written by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Ashley Wolff

‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS (Zonderkidz) written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova

CHRISTMAS IN THE MANGER (HarperFestival) written by Nola Buck and illustrated by Felicia Bond

GOOD NEWS! IT’S CHRISTMAS! ( Our Daily Bread) written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Lizzie Walkley

4. After reading and talking about the book, give your children the gift of time and creative materials like Legos, blocks, cardboard, markers etc. to plan their puppet show.  

5. Watch their nativity-themed productions, then marvel together at the wonder of Jesus – the real gift of Christmas!

CLOSING THOUGHT: What nativity-themed picture books would you add to my list? Thank you!

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS: The Inspiration behind GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Last week I had the honor of sharing my writing journey before a delightfully packed hall of residents and guests at Kendal at Lexington, the vibrant continuing care community where my dad lives.  The talk was enjoyed by all (me included, once I got over my butterflies), especially because it was accompanied by a colorful slide show.  The favorite slide by far was this one depicting two tender moments that inspired me to write GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

On the left, my daughter, then two, gently cares for her new baby doll, given to her by my mother on her birthday. It was with the same tenderness, just a couple of months later (and for several Christmases beyond that as well), that she would care for the little Baby Jesus that was part of our nativity set.  She’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.”  Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying. But, he was human (and God) and so he must have cried.  (And in GOODNIGHT, MANGER, He does!)

On the right, you can see what a noisy and unhappy participant my sweet daughter was in the Christmas Pageant held at her school when she was three. Moments after this picture was snapped, I scooped Miss A. up and enjoyed snuggling with my little angel while we watched the nativity story unfold together. There were plenty of angels that day, so it was just fine that she sat out, and the NEXT year she was happy to participate. I think, at barely three, she was overwhelmed by the packed chapel – just as Baby Jesus, in my story, was also overwhelmed by the bustling stable.

A third inspiration experience, not pictured above, was the sweet memory of singing lullabies to Baby Jesus with my kids. Miss A. and I even recorded ourselves doing it once, so we could share the moment with my parents who lived half a country away. You can see it here:

Finally, GOODNIGHT, MANGER was prompted by a personal desire to write a fun Christmas-themed book that would center on Christ, rather than Santa, in what has become a very secularized Christmas season. I wanted to write a Christmas story that would be fun for anyone to read, but which would point them in the direction of Jesus – the real gift of Christmas.

Here’s my closing thought for the day: With only six weeks or so until Christmas, now is the time, before the hustle-bustle of the holiday season sets in, to be thoughtful and intentional about how you will share the story of Christmas with your little ones. 

With this in mind, over the course of the next few weeks, I will be sharing ideas new and old describing different ways families, teachers etc. can share the Christmas story with their children in vibrant and engaging ways. And I, of course, would be honored if GOODNIGHT, MANGER makes your list of Christ-focused stories to share with your children this Advent Season.  Blessings all! 

STORYSTORM: Thoughts on Christmas Ornaments and Story Sparks!

Right now, I’m “undressing” our Christmas tree. It’s not one of my favorite tasks because by the time I do it the sparkle of Christmas is usually long gone. But this year is different. I’m really enjoying the process this year. And I think the difference is that tonight, as I undress the tree, my mind is whirring with “STORYSTORM” ideas.

For those of you unfamiliar with the word, STORYSTORM is the brainchild of picture book author, Tara Lazar, who wanted to create a month for picture book writers, and now writers in all genres, to focus on brainstorming story ideas for future projects. During STORYSTORM month, which takes place during January of each month, writers are inspired to brainstorm new ideas with daily blog posts by prominent and up-and-coming children’s authors. The posts are inspiring and fun to read and the challenge – to come up with one new story idea each day – is exhilerating! I’ve participated almost  every year and a couple of those story prompts have even resulted in picture books that have been published including, most recently, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!

And tonight, as I undress the tree, I can hardly keep my imagination in tow because almost every ornament on the tree has some story to tell, and any one of those stories could very well be the spark for my next bestseller! I’m joking, of course, but … not really… I mean it is possible, right?

Take a look at this ornament, for example. I bought it for my son the Christmas after he took his first ride on the Staten Island Ferry, and now my mind is flooded with memories of Staten Island boat rides, and the wonder of seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, and the wonderful bounce and rhythm of the waves as we crossed from Staten Island to the southern tip of Manhattan. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

And see this cowboy boot ornament? To you it’s just a boot, but I remember that my mom bought these (there are two) for my children the Christmas after we visited them in Colorado and they each got a pair of cowboy boots. Miss A wore hers every single day, and no matter what her attire – be it flouncy dress or blue jeans -those boots made a statement. They said, I’m here and I’m ready to make the most of whatever this day brings. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

To you this ornament might seem odd. After all, who hangs baskets filled with blueberries on their tree? My mom purchased this ornament for us in memory of fun summers picking blueberries in New England, and my mind is once again flooded with images of granite rock flanked by scrubby blueberry bushes. And my taste buds are watering at the memory of fresh baked muffins. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

Here’s my parting thought for tonight, and then I really need to finish undressing this tree. Is there an ornament on your tree, or perhaps some little trinket or artifact sitting somewhere on a shelf in your house, that is full of meaning and might just be the key to unlocking your next story or poem? Well, why are you just sitting there staring at the screen? Go find it… and write all about it because, maybe just maybe, there’s something there that will be the spark that leads to an amazing new story. Have fun!

And now back to undressing that tree. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night. =) Happy STORYSTORMING!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2018!

Wishing you all good things as we celebrate the joys of the season. I’m taking a break for Christmas to be with my family but look forward to seeing you all with new posts in 2019. Blessings all, Laura

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: SIX Nativity Themed Activities for Older Kids (Ages 6 – 8)


My Christmas bedtime story, about trying to put a weepy baby Jesus to sleep in a very noisy stable, was inspired by watching my then preschooler play with the sturdy little nativity we take out each Christmas. Her sweet play led to some wonderful kid-friendly conversations about the true meaning of Christmas. Inspired by that, I recently shared 8 Nativity Activities to Teach Little Ones about Christmas. Today I’m delighted to share six more ideas — this time for slightly older children. Enjoy!

  1. Play “What’s Different at the Manger?” Begin by arranging your family’s indoor nativity with your children, taking time to name and explain the significance of each figure in the nativity. Reflect together at the wonder of the Christmas story. Then, take turns having one family member be the “finder.” The “finder” leaves the room, while the “changer” changes one small thing in the nativity. The “finder” returns. Will he/she be able to figure out what’s different? Take turns until everyone has a chance at both roles. 
  2. Ask 20 Questions “Nativity” Style. First, gather around the nativity with a stack of index cards. Then, brainstorm together single-word components of the nativity. Examples include a manger, Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and a star. Have the children write a word on each card. Then shuffle the cards. One person selects a card. Without seeing that card, the others must guess what the word is by asking YES/NO questions. After twenty questions, the round is over and the person with the card can share what their word was.
  3. Compare Stories. Pick a nativity-themed picture book to read together. Then compare it to the actual account of the Christmas story from the Bible. See if your children can find three ways the picture book is similar/different from the Bible story. The picture book, for example, may reconsider the story from a different point of view — such as the POV of the animals in the beloved nativity-themed picture book Who Is Coming to Our House? Or it might imagine “what would happen if…” such as in my Goodnight, Manger where I imagine what might have happened if baby Jesus cried. Be sure to wrap up the discussion with the reminder that the deeper truth behind each picture book is that Jesus, our savior, is the amazing gift of Christmas.  
  4. Build Your Own Nativity. This is a big, fun project that can be done individually or as a group and will occupy a nice bit of an afternoon (perhaps while you put your feet up and sip some tea). First, have your children list all the parts needed for a nativity. Next, have the kids decide what their building materials will be — Legos, clay, felt, cardboard? The possibilities are plentiful. Third, decide who will build what (if you are working together). Finally, build! Afterwards, have the children take turns retelling the story using their own handmade nativity.
  5. Go on a Nativity Hunt. Here’s an engaging STEM activity that will get you and your children outside on a crisp day. Walk around your neighborhood (or drive around town) looking for nativity lawn scenes. Younger children can name the figures you see and older children can keep a tally of each distinct finding. Their tallies, for example, could include the number of stables, stars, angels, sheep, and baby Jesus figurines they find. Afterwards, they can create a colorful pictograph to show their results. Be sure to wrap up the conversation with praise and thanksgiving that Jesus loves us and came to save us, and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.
  6. Create a Nativity Book of Poems! A Family Book of Nativity Poems is a great way to celebrate Christmas and create a family heirloom at the same time. Using sturdy drawing paper, have one child design the front cover. Another can design the back cover. Each page of the book will contain an illustrated poem. Using the index cards you created for activity #2, have each child select a nativity-themed word. That word will become the subject of their poem.  Have them write the title of the poem — the word — across the top of the page. Then let each child decide on their poetic form. The poem could be as simple as a deeply felt phrase:  
    Example: (for angels) “The angels sang for joy! La, la, la, LA!!!”
    Or, they might choose an acrostic:
    Example: (for Mary)
    Mother of Jesus Amazing grace Resting by the manger You smiled at Jesus’ face
    Finish off each poem with a beautiful illustration and bind everything together with ribbon through punched holes. 

A version of this post previously appeared on Noelle Kirchner’s amazing blog .  Thank you, Noelle, for having me and for letting me share here!

12 Days of Christmas Books Giveaway: GOODNIGHT, MANGER

I’m excited to be teaming up with Christian Children’s Authors in a special 12 Days of Christmas Books Giveaway. The giveaway is their way of saying Merry Christmas and it’s your only chance to win a copy of GOODNIGHT, MANGER this holiday season, so I hope you’ll head on over for a peek at my post and all the others!  I’ll make it easy for you. Here is the link

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: 8 Nativity Activities to Teach Little Ones about Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas memories is watching my daughter play with the Baby Jesus that was part of our Christmas nativity. All through December she’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.”  Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying. Her sweet play inspired me to write “Goodnight, Manger”, a Christmas bedtime picture book that not only serves as a fun reminder that Jesus was once a baby who cried and felt everything we feel, but which also keeps Christ, rather than Santa, as the focus during the holiday season.   Now, inspired by GOODNIGHT, MANGER, here are:

8 Nativity Activities to Spark Meaningful Conversations about Christmas with Preschoolers


1. Play “I Spy…an angel!” Identify the figures in the Christmas story using the nativity as your playground. After you “spy” each figure, ask simple questions like “Who was Mary?” or “What were the shepherds doing that night?”


2. Play “I Count… three sheep!” Preschoolers love counting. After each count, think about how everyone in the nativity was looking forward to meeting Baby Jesus. Ask them what they think about that.


3. Play “Where is Baby Jesus?” In this variation of hide and seek, take turns hiding Baby Jesus in the nativity (or beyond). Each time you find Him, marvel about how exciting it must have been to see God’s promise for a Savior fulfilled in the birth of a special baby – Jesus!


4. Re-enact the Nativity. Using Luke 2:1-20 as your guide, re-enact the Christmas story using the figurines. Add animal sounds and alleluias to bring the story to life. For extra fun, you can also retell your nativity-themed picture books (such as Goodnight, Manger, for example) using figurines. Be sure to always link back to the all important message that Jesus is the gift of Christmas.  


5. Sing Carols. While holding the appropriate figurines, sing carols that relate to the nativity story.  For example, pretend the angels are flying as you sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Have the wise men march as you sing “We Three Kings.” Place Baby Jesus in the manger as you sing “Away in a Manger,” etc.


6. Care for Baby Jesus. Just as my daughter did, let your child take care of Baby Jesus. Pretend to gently rock and feed him. Maybe even sing him a tender lullaby. Then be amazed together – that God loves us just like we love little babies. He cares for us and comforts us. His biggest gift ever? Sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world.


7. Make your own nativity figurines. Little ones love anything hands on, so roll up your sleeves and make sheep, shepherds, angels and more using whatever materials you fancy. Play dough, felt, glue, paper, crayons and even blocks are all perfect materials for a fun afternoon of nativity building. 


8. Go on a Nativity Hunt. Here’s a fun activity that will get you and your children outside on a crisp day. Walk around your neighborhood looking for nativity lawn scenes. Name the figures you see and celebrate! This also makes a good activity to keep children busy and engaged while running errands in the car.

A version of this post previously appeared on Noelle Kirchner’s amazing blog .  Thank you, Noelle, for having me and for letting me share here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What inspired you to write CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Signed Picture Books!

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Signed picture books make wonderful keepsake gifts for the little ones in your life.  And now you can give signed copies of  DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, LOVE IS KIND, GOODNIGHT ARK or GOODNIGHT MANGER even if you can’t make it to a signing. Here’s how – and their are TWO options.

OPTION 1: I am excited to announce that this year once again, in response to requests from readers for signed copies, my local indie book store, The Town Book Store in Westfield, New Jersey, will again offer signed, personalized copies of my books for sale.

If this interests you, please call them to order the book or books you want. Be sure to explain that you would like to have them signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books. Readers can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535. You can also email the owner, Anne, at anne@townbookstore.com.

OPTION 2: If you would prefer to order the books through your own local bookstore (which is wonderful too!), you can contact me via the contact tab (which is nestled under the About heading) and I can send you signed and personalized bookplates.  You will need to send me a business sized SASE (stamped and self-addressed envelope) and the names you want inscribed, but we can figure that all out via email. It’s that easy!

Happy reading and gift giving!

 

‘Tis the Season: Holiday Book Events with Laura Sassi

Holiday Book Events 2018 2

Saturday November 24, 2018 1 – 3 pm.  I’ll be reading my books and chatting with customers as part of Small Business Saturday at The Town Book Store in Westfield, NJ.

Sunday December 2nd, 2018 2:00– 4:00.  I’ll be reading LOVE IS KIND & signing all my books as part of Gingerbread Sunday at the Miller Cory House in Westfield, NJ.

Saturday December 8 2018 11- 1:00 pm.  Join me for festive readings of all my books with puppets, then shop at the Cranford United Methodist Church’s Christmas Shoppe and Soup Festival. Note: The festival is open from 10 – 3pm.

Books available for purchase & signing at all events.  

(Cash or check only December 2 & 8)