The nominees for the 2021-2022 Iowa Goldfinch Award, which is given annually by the Iowa Association of School Librarians, have been selected and DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE made the list! For the complete round up of nominees plus links to the book trailers for each click here.
February 8th is OPERA DAY! And since DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is all about opera, I thought it would be fun to re-share a favorite post inspired the book’s protagonists, Delores and Fernando. My opera-loving duo made their opera debut when the book released in 2018, but as any well-trained diva knows, singing on stage is just the final thrill. What comes before that? Hours and hours, even years of hard work! But is it all worth it? You bet!
Now celebrations of opera and divas and picture books, here are five tips to help you write picture books – diva style!
Go to the opera… a lot!
If you are going to be an opera star, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the glorious world of opera by attending operas, listening to opera music, and all-around saturating yourself in all things opera. Likewise, if you want to write picture books, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the world of picture books. For me, this means making regular trips to the children’s section of my library, or my favorite local bookstore, and reading, reading, reading! I read with two purposes: first, just for the pleasure and joy of it, and second… to learn. That’s why I always bring along my writerly opera glasses and a notebook so that I can thoughtfully ponder and record what makes each opera (i.e. picture book) sing… or not.
Rehearsal is important.
If you want to be a diva, you have to spend time rehearsing and developing your craft. For opera stars, I imagine this means a daily routine of warming up with scales, practicing a variety of pieces, working on voice projection etc. Similarly, if you want to to write picture books, you have to be willing to invest the time and effort into writing daily. My daily writing routine includes free writes (my version of scales), as well as working on a variety of poems, blog posts and the handful of picture book manuscripts I’m working through at any given moment.
Control those crescendos.
I’m not an opera expert, but it seems to me that in the field of opera, like in the field of picture book writing – less is more! I mean divas don’t just cut loose and sing at the top of their lungs willy-nilly! No, they artistically control their voices so that it plays a magical role in telling the opera’s story. Likewise, as a picture book writer – and especially as one who loves to rhyme – I work hard to control my crescendos so that every word, sound, phrase, action, magically moves the story forward.
Be confident, yet humble. (i.e. be willing to learn from others)
Confidence is good, but if you want your singing, er writing, to shine, I’ve learned over the years that confidence must be tempered with an open heart, open mind, and gracious spirit when receiving constructive feedback.As a young writer I thought my writing was fabulous! But now that I’m more seasoned, I look back on those early pieces and cringe. They would definitely have benefitted from a little more humility and willingness to productively process and put into place suggestions from more experiences writers!
(Which leads me to my last bit of advice.)
Everything’s better with a buddy!
As Diva Delores discovers at the opera house, the journey to success is just all-around better with a buddy. Likewise, I’ve found that the picture book writing journey wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family, my talented agent, and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my last bit of advice for writing picture books – diva style! – is to find a buddy or two to encourage you and help you grow along the way.
Note: A version of this post first appeared on Darlene Beck Jacobson’s lovely blog. She’s been kind enough to host me for the release of each and every one of my books. Thank you, Darlene!
There’s something magical about picture books. For starters, their size is just right for reading snuggled together your child or grandchild. And, when done well, the intentional intermingling of image and text to tell a story is sure to captivate both child and caregiver. Indeed, a good picture book can be enjoyed again and again – with new discoveries unfolding with each reading.
For example, it wasn’t until our seventh or eighth reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK, that my daughter discovered the toothbrush sitting on the window sill and then we laughed and laughed at the idea of Noah brushing the animals’ teeth. Similarly, it was with great joy after several readings that she later noticed that Chipmunk’s Chocolate Shoppe in LOVE IS KIND sells organic chocolate which made Little Owl’s gift seem just that much more special.
And among the many extra little details I hope readers will notice in my newest release, LITTLE EWE, are the many opportunities for counting things like frogs on logs and spider webs!
Perhaps you and your little ones have also noticed extra little details and wonders as you read and re-read your favorite books.
Well, today, I’d like to share another little extra that I never paid much attention to as a child or even during my many years reading bedtime stories with my kids. I’m talking about the end papers. For those of you who aren’t as book geeky as I am, those are the papers at the very front and end of the book. One of half of these end-spreads are pasted to the front and back covers of the book and help to secure the interior pages which have been bound together and set in the spine of the cover.
Now that I’m aware of them, I’m smitten! I mention them at school visits and I always begin the reading of a new book by investigating them. Sometimes they are plain, but more often than not, they have illustrations or designs. And when they do, those illustrations or designs connect to the story in some fashion.
For example, the end papers of the popular KARATE KID (Running Press Kids, 2019), written by Rosanne L. Kurstedt and illustrated by Mark Chambers provide a charming clue that the book might just be about different karate poses! And the end papers of the delightful TEA PARTY RULES (Viking, 2013), written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K. G. Campbell provide wonderful opportunity to predict with children just where this story will take place and what it might be about.
Now, here’s a fun game to play your kids. Have them find their favorite picture books and – before reading the book again – open up to the end papers and see if you they can figure out how the end paper illustrations connect to the story. To get you started, I’ve included a collage below with the end papers for four of my books. Can you guess which end paper goes with which book? If so, what’s the connection? Have fun! (Answers below.)
And the answers (but you still have to figure out the connection).
Have fun investigating the end papers of your favorite books and don’t forget that to make a game of figuring out the connections!
LOVE and KINDNESS. They are more than just words. They are life-affirming actions that start in the heart. When extended to others, they spread joy and sweet affirmation that we each matter and are loved. They can make all the difference in a person’s day… and life. They are gifts both to be given and received.
Since my kindness-themed picture books LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz) and DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling) made their debuts in 2018, I have been visiting local schools and libraries in-person sharing a message of kindness.
Now, with so many classes learning via hybrid and/or virtual, I have a special invitation. Between now and November 13th, which is World Kindness Day, I am offering a FREE 20-minute KINDNESS-THEMED author visit to TEN preschool and early elementary teachers. If you are interested, reach out to me via the contact tab in the About section.
For each FREE 20-minute visit I will:
Briefly introduce myself and describe what it means to be an author. I will also share the inspiration behind the book I will be sharing.
Read either LOVE IS KIND or DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE with a kindness take-away challenge for each.
Use puppets to aid in the storytelling.
Have a brief Q&A.
OPTIONAL: If you are interested in a longer virtual visit that includes a presentation of the journey a picture book takes from spark to publication, using early sketches, drafts and more, I also offer longer virtual visits that are fee-based. If a fuller visit interests you, please let me know that. My fees are reasonable and we will make the visit work to fit your budget.
Either way, I respectfully request that you or your school purchase a copy the book you select for your class library. I also request that book orders be made available to families so they can order books from the vendor of their/your choice. I do not sell my books, but they are readily available through your favorite bookseller. I will provide a signed personally inscribed book plate for each book purchased.
I look forward to spreading kindness in this special way this fall!
This offer is good through November 13, 2020. Spots will fill quickly, so reach out to me soon via my contact tab in the About section.
Hooray for summer mornings, good books and cozy porches – perfect for story time! With that in mind, each Tuesday throughout July I will be hosting Summer Story Time on the Porch (and a Craft!) on my Facebook Author page. Here’s the schedule:
This week’s story time features DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, an ode to cooperation and the joy of performance starring a new diva seal and the little mouse who wants to help her, but she thinks she deserves bigger help than a mouse! I do hope you will join me! You can get there by clicking my Facebook picture in the sidebar of this blog.
Now for the craft:
Inspired by Rebecca Gerlings’ delightful depiction of Diva Delores being showered with bouquets these tissue paper bouquets are easy to make and fun to give away.
Here are the steps for creating your own:
Read DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE and perhaps have a quick discussion about the tradition of throwing bouquets to performers on stage. Hint: It’s a way to show admiration and love.
Gather five chenille sticks, a little glue, twenty 4” squares of colorful tissue paper in assorted colors, a bit of ribbon or yarn and a small piece of paper folded in half to make a note.
For each flower, stack four tissue squares. Using thumb and fingers, pinch the center to create the base to a flower, as shown.
Wrap the end of a chenille stick tightly around the pinched base of the flower, using a tiny dab of glue to secure. Bend the stick so its upright, like a stem.
Gently fluff and the tissue paper flower, snipping the corners to make them rounded, if you choose.
Once you have five flowers, arrange them in a colorful bouquet, tying with ribbon or yarn.
Finally, add a card, then “shower” someone you love (to use the wording from the story) with the bouquet.
FOR EXTRA FUN: Take a picture of your child’s finished bouquet. With your permission, and I will double check to make sure I have it, I will share the pictures on Facebook and my blog so we can all enjoy each other’s creativity!
NOTE: Facebook Live reading of DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books, is no longer available. But the good news is the book is still available at book stores and at your local library. If they don’t have it, you can request it, for which Delores, Fernando and I would be most grateful. And if you’d like us to come to a reading for your class or library or organization, reach out to me via the contact tab above. I’d love to hear from you.
Looking for something fun to do with the kiddos this summer – virtually? How about joining me on the porch every Tuesday at 10am throughout the month of July for a live reading of one of my books. Meet my storytelling companions – Stinky and Pinky, Diva Delores and Fernando, Little Owl and Rooster – and enjoy a special craft! I thought this an engaging way to add a little extra fun into what’s turning into a stay-at-home summer for many.
INTERESTED IN PURCHASING A COPY of one of my books? The books are available wherever books are sold, but if you live locally, and want to show support for an indie bookstore — The Town Bookstore if Westfield, NJ is offering 10% off any of my books (for a limited time only). Simply mention that you attended a Summer Story Time on the Porch with Laura Sassi. If you’d like the books signed, mention that when you call and we’ll make it happen! The phone number for The Town Book Store is (908) 233-3535. You can also email Anne, at email@example.com
If you live long-distance and want a signed copy, you can still order from The Town Book Store, though there will be a shipping fee. Or, you can order from the vendor of your choice and let me know so we can make arrangements for a signed book plate to be sent to you.
Looking for a virtual STORY TIME with the author? It’s very unusual for publishers to grant permission to do these kinds of storytimes. It’s their way (and mine too!) of doing something special for families and kiddos at this time when the world is topsy turvy and we are all sheltering in place due to the pandemic. I’m grateful to Sterling Children’s Books for providing this opportunity to share my favorite opera-themed picture book – DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE – as part of Sterling Storytime! It’s available for viewing (for a limited time) on their Youtube Page. If you have a copy, grab it now so you can read along with me. Then, get ready to sing and be silly!
Fun little back story: My 15 year-old filmed me reading the book on our front porch and I think she was a little embarrassed at how dramatic I was being. Her embarrassment turned to teen mortification when a passerby applauded after the finale. Delores, however, was delighted!
Extension Activities: Here a couple of links to extension activities to do post-reading. Enjoy!
NOTE: The Sterling Story Time featuring DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books, is no longer available. But the good news is the book is still available at book stores and at your local library. If they don’t have it, you can request it, for which we would be most grateful. Happy reading! =)
Delores is DEE-LIGHTED to be featured on Dawn Prochovnic’s blog today – just one month after DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE’s first book birthday – as part of Dawn’s Birth of a Book Series. Eager to find out how this spotlight-loving little seal became a DIVA? Then, pop on over. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link: Birth of a DIVA!
Thank you to Best In Rhyme Award committee member, Linda S. Mai, for taking the time to interview me as part of Angie Karcher’s 2019 Best In Rhyme Author Interview Series. I am thrilled that DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling Publishing) won First Honor Book and DELIGHTED to see rhyming picture books CELEBRATED in this lovely way!
Here’s the link if you want to pop over for a quick (and hopefully inspiring) read. Happy rhyming!