FROSTED WINDOW PANES: The Magic of Picture Books – CHRISTMAS Edition

There’s a scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS in which Laura and Mary spend a magical morning etching pictures in the frosted windowpanes of their little cabin using Ma’s thimble.  As a child I wanted to try that, but our windows were too well-insulated to gather frost. Imagine my delight, then, a couple of winters ago, to discover thick frost completely covering the old-fashioned windows of our detached garage. For several days back during that frosty cold spell, I was itching to take my thimble and do a little ice etching of my own.  And that’s exactly what I did one day, using my keys, instead. Doesn’t it look magical?

Like window frost begging to be etched, good picture books invoke in me a nostalgic return to childhood and a reminder of the simple joys in life.  When my children were younger, our days were enriched by reading picture books. What a treat it was to curl up together on the sofa with a stack of books. The joy we found in those books was not flashy or over the top, but simple and deep. We cheered on Mike Mulligan and Maryanne, from Virginia Lee Burton’s MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 1939), to dig a little faster and a little deeper, and afterwards, scurried outside do our own digging in the snow.  And Sam McBratney’s GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU (Candlewick, 2005) evoked such warmth that we held our own matches to show how much we loved each other.

If you’re feeling downtrodden by the heavy-ness of life right now, may I suggest heading straight to your child’s book shelf?  Or, better yet, with the Christmas season soon upon us, perhaps it’s time to take out that box of Christmas-themed picture books you have stored in the attic (if you are like me).  Dust them off, and put them out so all can enjoy.

That’s what our family is doing this holiday season. Each night after dinner, starting on Thanksgiving, one family member will choose a book from the box to read-aloud to the rest of us. It will be our dessert!

As we read, I am certain that it won’t take long to feel that magical nostalgia, for picture books hold within their 32-pages, a much-needed reminder that our deepest joys are found in the simple pleasures of life.

Need help getting started?  Here are a few of my Christmas favorites (old and new and in no particular order):

ANGELA AND THE BABY JESUS, written by Frank McCourt and illustrated by Raul Colon (Simon and Schuster, 2007)

MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, written by Mindy Baker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Zonderkidz, 2018)

WHO IS COMING TO OUR HOUSE, written by Joseph Slate and illlustrated by Ashley Wolff (G.P. Putnam’d Sons, 1988)

LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS, writtten by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland (Beaming Books, 2020)

THE SWEET SMELL OF CHRISTMAS, written by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by J.P. Miller (Golden Books, 1970)

SOMETHING FOR CHRISTMAS, written and illustrated by Palmer Brown (Harper and Row, 1958)

and of course…

GOODNIGHT, MANGER, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by the wonderful Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz, 2015)

CHRISTMAS SEASON Offer: GOODNIGHT MANGER Story Time with the AUTHOR!

‘Tis the season for… CHRISTMAS STORY TIME WITH THE AUTHOR!!!! One of my favorite parts of Christmas is making GOODNIGHT, MANGER author visits at local preschools and churches, but with this pandemic and all, I’m missing my usual busy line-up! That has given me a wonderful idea.

From now through Christmas, I am offering free 15-minute GOODNIGHT, MANGER author visits to TEN special groups – ideal for preschools, church ministries, homeschool coops and more. These can be in–person or VIRTUAL which means I can visit near or far!

If you are interested, reach out to me via the contact tab in the About section.

IMPORTANT DETAILS:

For each FREE 15-minute GOODNIGHT, MANGER visit I will:

  • I introduce the story with the help of Rooster, my puppet. 
  • I engage the children in an interactive reading.
  • Ponder together who the real give of Christmas is — Jesus! 
  • Close by singing a lullaby to Baby Jesus.  

BONUS: Here’s a coloring page plus a whole host of follow-up activities to extend the fun after reading the book together.

REQUEST:  The visit is free, but I respectfully request that you purchase a copy the book for your class library and let families know that they can purchase copies as well. I do not sell my own books, but they are available through the major online vendors as well as your favorite local indie book stores. To help spread word to families, I can provide an order form for schools/groups to collect and order as a group from the vendor of your choosing. Or you can simply let families know that they can purchase books on their own by providing a link to the local or online vendor of your choice. Either way, be sure keep a list of first names for book inscriptions and, as a thank you, I will provide a signed and personalized book plate for each book purchased!

I look forward to spreading Christmas joy in this special way. 

This offer is good through January 1, 2021.

Joy to you!

LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT: Six Extension Activities for 4 – 8 Year Olds (Plus a GIVEAWAY)

Today I am delighted to feature  LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, Glenys Nellist’s charming companion to LITTLE MOLE FINDS HOPE which I featured earlier this year. Published by Beaming Books and illustrated by Sally Garland LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT is a hearfelt tale of kindness and generosity set in motion by a mushroom! It would make a lovely edition to your family’s Christmas book collection.

Enjoy the book trailer. Then, in celebration of the book’s release, and in the hope of sparking kindness this holiday season and beyond, here are SIX extension activities for LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT.

Make a book-themed decoration. Add a festive reminder to your Christmas tree that kindness is the best gift of all by challenging your child to make a mushroom ornament designed by them! I chose felt, yarn, and buttons for my ornament, but there’s no limit to the creative options. Think egg carton, construction paper, clay, paper mâché! The possibilities are endless! Have fun!

Have a kindness celebration. After reading LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, celebrate kindness by encouraging your child to do something kind for someone in their family or class. Make cards, deliver food to a shelter, or bake cookies and deliver them to a neighbor who could use a little extra love and care.

Do a Read. Discuss. Do! Author Rebecca Gomez has created a delightful reading extension initiative called Read.Discuss.Do! Here’s one she created for LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT. To find others for a wide variety of favorite titles, search the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo on social media.

Have your child read to you! After several cozy readings of the story, let your littlest ones re-read the book to you using the pictures as clues. Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. So, snuggle up and enjoy being “read” to. (Older kids who can read on their own, can also enjoy investigating the illustrations ways the pictures also tell part of the story.)

Tromp through rain, or snow, or sleet. Wintry weather plays an integral role in this story and your children will delight in experiencing it first hand with some fun, exploratory walks through different weather conditions. Maybe they’ll even spot Little Mole or Little Chipmunk!

Make a tasty mushroom treat. At the end of the story Little Mole and his mama enjoy a tasty mushroom treat. Mushroom dishes are not high on a child’s want-to-eat list, but this could be an opportunity to grow their palettes with a mushroom (of the store-purchased variety only) dish. At our house, stuffed mushrooms baked with yummy cheese and breadcrumbs or crumbled sausage, for example, are a hit for ALL ages. A quick google search and you’ll find a whole host of recipes. Enjoy!

BONUS:  Check out the publisher’s website for an activity pack to accompany the story, chock full of book-themed activities.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS (Beaming Books, October 2020) 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 is sponsored by Beaming Books and ends Monday, 11/9/20 at 11:59 pm EST. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The WINNER is announced here.

[Note: Thank you to Beaming Books for this complimentary 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.]

FREE Christmas Printable: GOODNIGHT, MANGER Coloring Page

NEW RESOURCE! Extend your GOODNIGHT, MANGER story time even more with this printable coloring page created by Zonderkidz.  

Use it to enrich your story time as:

  • a fun post-reading coloring activity
  • the template for a Christmas card
  • the picture prompt for a writing activity
  • the back drop for a class nativity set (with each child coloring one and assembling them quilt-style on a bulletin board behind the creche)

For an even fuller experience, use it with one or more of the GOODNIGHT, MANGER activities I’ve already compiled for you under the “Books” tab. Included there you will also find my very favorite extension idea that I use at all my preschool and church Christmas visits. Can you guess what it is? This!!!

SUMMER ON THE PORCH STORY TIME CRAFT: Egg Carton Creatures Inspired by GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Hooray for summer mornings, good books and cozy porches – perfect for story time! With that in mind, each Tuesday throughout July I have hosted Summer Story Time on the Porch (and a Craft!) on my Facebook Author page. Today is the last one. 

This week’s story time features GOODNIGHT, MANGER. It’s bedtime in this rhyming Christmas story, but between adoring animals, itchy hay, angels’ joyful singing, and three kings bearing noisy gifts, there’s too much commotion. GOODNIGHT, MANGER humorously weaves together the comforting and familiar routines of bedtime with the special magic and wonder of the manger story. I do hope you will join me for the reading. You can get there by clicking my Facebook picture in the sidebar of this blog. 

Now for the craft:

Inspired by illustrator Jane Chapman’s colorful depictions of the animals around the manger, today’s craft is to create our own stable creatures using egg cartons, paint, glue, and any other little add-ons you have on hand. As you can see by the samples made by my young assistant, the results are ADORABLE!

Here are the steps for creating your own:

  1. Read GOODNIGHT, MANGER and marvel at all the different creatures that illustrator Jane Chapman has included in the stable.

2. Next, take an empty recycled cardboard egg carton and cut the egg holders apart. Save the lid for extra bits.  

3. Then look through the illustrations in GOODNIGHT, MANGER again. How could your child transform your egg carton pieces into animals inspired by Jane’s art?

4. Shape your creature by arranging one or more cardboard egg cups together to form a body. Cut extra pieces from the lid to make heads, ears, legs… whatever!  For extra fun, use scraps of this and that to make each stable creature unique. For example, I used feathers and my sweet young assistant used cotton balls, glitter and more! Tip:  Glue the basic shape together first and let dry completely before painting and adding your extra bits. 

Tip:  Glue the basic shape together first and let dry completely before painting and adding your extra bits. 

5. TAKE A PICTURE!  I’d love to see your children’s egg carton creations, so take a picture and send them to me so I can share the pictures on social media and my blog and we can all enjoy each other’s creativity!

The virtual story time has expired, but you can still read the book! It’s available at your favorite book seller and local library. And if they don’t have it, you can ask that it be ordered.

The Christmas Memory That Inspired GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Have you ever wondered what inspired the author to write your favorite Christmas picture books? Well, we can’t answer to every story, but this week I’ve teamed up with fellow Christmas picture book authors Glenys Nellist, Mindy Baker, Crystal Bowman and Elizabeth Jaeger to present five days of “What Inspired the Story?” where we’re each sharing a short video clip describing a Christmas memory or tradition that inspired us to write our books.

Today it’s my turn today to share the inspiration behind GOODNIGHT, MANGER. And if you want to be sure to hear all the others, I invite you to like/follow me and the others on Facebook and Twitter. That way you’ll be sure to see all five of us share our stories because I’ll be sharing everyone’s inspirational clips all week. Enjoy!

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