PICTURE BOOKS and END PAPERS: Thoughts and a GAME!

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!

GOODNIGHT, MANGER Virtual Visit with Jane Chapman!

It began with a simple email to Jane Chapman, illustrator of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER. In my note I wished her a Merry Christmas and mentioned how blessed I felt to have several Christmas storytime events in place for December, despite the pandemic. I said how sharing our book, GOODNIGHT, MANGER, about putting a fussy, overtired baby Jesus to sleep in a very busy stable, has become one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. I mean, really, I can think of nothing better than sharing the good news of Jesus through story! It’s how I came to know Jesus – through someone telling me the story!

Her answer was simple: “Just a thought, but if you ever want me to turn up at a virtual GM Christmas story time and the time zones aren’t too far apart, I’d love to come! xo, Jane”

My response? “Oh, my goodness, that would be so special!!! I’d love that!”

New Providence Children’s Ministry Director, Christine Voegeli, was delighted with the idea of expanding the virtual story time we had already arranged to include a visit with Jane. All the children from church were invited, as well the kids from the church affiliated preschool and kindergarten- and even a few friends and family from far away. We had a great turn out!

Here are a few pictures of the event, just for fun. Merry Christmas everyone!

Christine opened us in prayer, then I introduced the story with my puppet companion Rooster. I also had several figures from our nativity set by my side so I could share the inspiration behind the story. If you’re curious, here’s a post about that.

Next, Jane read the story to us with perfect pacing and heart. What a blessing! And we all loved her British accent, of course.

Then it was time for the drawing lesson. I’m omitting their sweet faces for privacy, but please just imagine how entranced and sweetly intense the children were, each in their own little box, as Jane instructed us step by step how to draw our mice And after each step, she asked the children to hold up their mice and they did. It was virtual engagement at its best!

And here are some finished drawings by the kids (and one by me.)

After the drawing lesson, I shared how to make the Wide Awake Baby Jesus crafts that each child had picked up at the church ahead of time. Here’s the link, if you want to make one.

We closed with a short prayer. Then, no one wanted to get off, so we all lingered a bit, enjoying each other’s company. A lovely way to spend an afternoon. Thank you to all who came, and especially to Jane, who made her special appearance all the way from England.

Wide Awake Baby Jesus: A Christmas Ornament Inspired by GOODNIGHT, MANGER

AUTHORS SHARING ORNAMENTS! This week I’m teaming up with picture book authors Mindy Baker, Jill Roman Lord and Tama Fortner to present FOUR days of book-themed ornaments inspired by our Christmas themed picture books. Each day this week, families can pop over to our Facebook and Instagram pages to hear a little bit about each book and then do the craft!  Today is my day! I just finished sharing my ornament online and thought I would take a minute to share the clip here and then provide more detailed instructions for the ornament.

Enjoy the short video. Then scroll down for the instructions.

Wide-Awake Baby Jesus

A Christmas Ornament Inspired by

GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Story Summary: It’s bedtime for baby Jesus, but who knew a stable could be so loud? Mama, Papa, and all of the animals try to lull the baby to sleep, but between itchy hay, angels singing, and three kings bearing gifts, it’s too noisy. Cuddle up as everyone tries working together to shepherd Baby into peaceful dreams.

Now, to make the ornament:

  1. Gather your materials. (Feel free to substitute with items you have around the house). To make mine I used: 1/2 large craft stick, a small square of cloth, a 9″ bit of twine, a 7″ bit of colorful ribbon, a circle of gold sparkly paper, two google eyes, marker, glue and scissors.

2. Glue the ribbon loop for hanging ahead of time. (See picture.) This makes assembling the rest easier.

3. Refer back to the story as you add the remaining parts to the craft stick, using the experience as an opportunity to talk about Jesus, the real gift of Christmas. I suggest using the following order:

4. As you wrap and glue the fabric square around the body say, “This reminds us of the quilt Mary used in the story to keep Baby Jesus warm”.

5. As you tie the twine around the body say, “This itchy twine reminds us of the itchy hay in the manger on that Christmas so long ago.”

6. As you use markers to add hair, lips and those ten little toes at the bottom say, “These remind us that Baby Jesus wiggled toes and cried sometimes, just like you did when you were little.”

7. As you glue on the google eyes say, “This reminds us of what a hard time Baby Jesus was having falling asleep in the story.”

8. As you glue the gold halo behind the head say, “This halo reminds us that Baby Jesus is God’s son – sent to earth to be our Savior. He’s the real gift of Christmas.

ADVENT REFLECTION: Joy in the Simple Things

As we begin this advent season, it strikes me that my favorite holiday memories don’t involve expensive gifts or lavish decorations or endless busy-ness. Indeed, my favorite memories are very simple, but priceless, and they are a good reminder to me not to get so caught up and worried in making the season grand that we miss the simple joys along the way.

With that in mind, here are four memories of simple joys I’ve experienced at Christmas.

Memory #1: When I was in third grade, we moved to Paris, France. For Christmas that first year we flew home to spend the holiday with my grandparents in the US. When we arrived, my sister and I were dismayed to discover that the tree didn’t have a single ornament on it! My grandmother wasn’t much on saving things and must have felt that as empty-nesters they weren’t going to bother with the fuss of storing ornaments. So, taking out crayons and drawing paper, my sister and I made all the ornaments which my mom strung with yarn and we hung on the tree. There were angels in high heels and stars and santas. For tinsel, we strung popcorn. It was the best tree ever!

Memory #2: My sister and I loved putting on plays when we were little and for Christmas one year we decided to have our own pageant. My teddy bear played the role of Jesus, I was Mary, my sister was the angel, and a couple of friends played the shepherds. However, we needed a Joseph so we enlisted my dad. He did a great job wearing his plaid bathrobe and a dishtowel tied snuggly with with ribbon on his head. He was kind of big and clumsy (sorry dad), but that was part of the magic!

Memory #3: Fast forward to when my daughter was little, her favorite part of Christmas was taking Baby Jesus out of our little plastic nativity set and playing with him. In her play, Jesus would be crying and so she’d feed him with a bottle and gently carry him. Then she’d sing him a lullaby and put him down for a nap in the manger. FUN FACT: It’s this sweet memory that inspired me to write my picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER because before her sweet play, I’d never imagined Jesus crying in the Christmas story.

Memory #4: My mother passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2013. When Christmas came a month later, we were still deeply grieving. None of us felt like getting a big Christmas tree, so we had little live tree that I later tried planting, but it didn’t survive. But even in the midst of that sad Christmas emerged a now a favorite memory which is a reminder to me that even in difficult circumstances, there’s joy to be found in the little things. That little thing, for me, was that on Christmas Eve that year after supper, all five of us (my husband, my dad, and our two kids, then ages 9 and 13) put on our winter coats and boots and our hats and mittens and we tromped outside. It was a chilly but clear night and for a delightful hour we caroled. We stopped at houses of friends and houses of strangers and sang our hearts out. We weren’t the most beautiful choir, but it didn’t matter. Whole families came out on their porches to listen. With big smiles they wished us a Merry Christmas and it was just what our aching hearts needed. Here’s a fuzzy picture of that night:

Thank you for joining me on this sentimental journey down Christmas memory lane. I hope my memories inspire you to reflect on some of the simple joys you’ve experienced over the years. If you have a memory to share, and feel inspired to share it, I’d love to hear it. Blessings all!

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!

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.

Summer Story Time on the Porch with Author Laura Sassi

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 anne@townbookstore.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.

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!