Best in Rhyme Top 10 Interview: Laura Sassi

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!

Meet Laura Sassi: Cardinal Rule Press Author Interview Series

Yesterday I participated in my first Facebook LIVE Interview. Hosted by the delightful Maria Dismondy of Cardinal Rule Press, our 10 minute chat was part of their Winter Author Interview Series. Here’s their pitch for the series:

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a children’s author? Or maybe you are interested in hearing how award-winning authors got their start?

CEO of the publishing company, Cardinal Rule Press, Maria Dismondy,is hosting an interview series this winter with children’s book authors. Find out the inside scoop on how their journey began and hear about a day in the life of an author! We hope aspiring writers, classrooms and other fans nationwide will enjoy this exciting series!

I LOVE the mission of this series and thoroughly enjoyed being interviewed. You can check out their list of upcoming interviews here. Maria also hosted a Fall series and those interviews can be the Cardinal Rule Press blog.

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 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.

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse BLOG TOUR: Stop SIX

Version 2Interested in learning a bit more about the highs and lows of my writing journey, upcoming projects and more? Need a few words of writerly encouragement?  Then, head on over to today’s thoughtful interview at the The Writers’ Rumpus. I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link. Thanks for having me!

INTERVIEW Fit for a DIVA: Thank you, 365 Cranford Westfield NJ!

Diva Delores and I are dee-lighted to share with you our first LOCAL interview. Pasted above is the fun promo clip, realtor Sharon Steele posted on Instagram. And here’s the link to the actual interview. Thank you for having us, Sharon!

And TODAY is our BOOK BIRTHDAY!!!  Happy Reading, all!

Happy Birthday Diva Delores! **

CHAOS TO CALM: My First TV Interview!

16178745_1429697637063282_6385255460452881871_o

Last night I had my first tv interview on a Christian parenting show called Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner. We chatted about books, life, and faith.

Here’s Noelle’s official description of the  episode: “Children’s book author Laura Sassi is this month’s guest on my parenting TV series, Chaos to Calm with Noelle Kirchner! The episode topic is “The Calm of Building Faith Foundations,” and Laura will weigh in on that as an author, mother, and educator. The magic that makes her stories come alive will open new avenues for sharing faith in your own home!”

If you’d like to watch the episode, here is the link.  Be sure also to enter the wonderful 10-book giveaway that Zonderkidz has authorized in conjunction with Noelle’s episode.  For details and to enter, please visit Noelle’s blog.

Stop by the BHPL BOOK BLOG for a FUN INTERVIEW!

13507225_10153848033924094_2368832568996490477_nIn anticipation of my GOODNIGHT, ARK story time visit at the Berkeley Heights Public Library next Tuesday, I was interviewed by the librarian! We had the nicest time chatting about writing  picture books, working with an illustrator, living in New Jersey and more. Curious? Then hop on over. I’ll make it easy. Press here.

NOTE:  The GOODNIGHT, ARK story time will take place next Tuesday, July 19th at 10:30 in the Children’s Room of the Berkeley Heights Public Library. Please join us if you can.

ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Jennifer Zivoin

Last week the mailman delivered the June issue of Clubhouse Jr. which includes my story “Bugged and Blue”. It begins on page 24, if you care to take a peek. The editorial team did a wonderful job with layout.  But what I especially admired was their choice of illustrator. I was immediately smitten by Jennifer Zivoin’s darling depiction of the characters and setting of my story.  In fact, I was so charmed that I looked her up online. Jennifer Zivoin earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with highest distinction from the honors division of Indiana University. She worked as a graphic designer and then as a creative director before finding her artistic niche illustrating children’s books.  This is Jennifer’s first collaboration with Clubhouse Jr. She has also illustrated 29 published children’s books and about 17 magazine stories and covers. Here’s the best news yet – she has agreed to an interview!  So without further ado, let’s get started.

IMG_2500.jpg

Have you always loved illustrating?  Tell us a little bit about your journey as an artist.

I have always loved art and drawing, but didn’t always realize that I wanted to be an artist.  In fact, when I was very young, I wanted to be an astronaut or a paleontologist!  However, when I was in 4th grade, I saw “The Little Mermaid” for the first time in the movie theater, and was absolutely captivated.  That was when I knew that I wanted to be an artist….or a mermaid!  I loved the beauty of telling stories with pictures, and began working towards that goal: sketching the human figure, exploring different illustration styles, taking classes, and researching the animation industry.  For the longest time I was convinced that I would become an animator, but towards the end of college, I realized that my true passions were the still image and being connected to creating all of the visuals for a story, not just a small piece of a larger whole.  I began my professional career as a graphic designer, and later became a creative director at a multimedia marketing firm.  All the while, I was building my illustration portfolio, building a client base, and learning the skills that I would use in running my own freelance illustration business.  My first children’s book project was the “Pirate School” young reader series, released by Grosset & Dunlap in 2007.  In 2008, I signed on with MB Artists and officially left the corporate world to pursue illustration full time.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to illustrate so many interesting projects!

I love how you depict the characters and setting of my story.  As an illustrator, how do you go about creating visually appealing and engaging spreads?

Before I draw any sketch, I begin with scribbly thumbnails, always in ink.  The idea is to quickly try out as many compositions as possible and not to get caught up in erasing or perfecting any line work.  I love to explore interesting perspectives.  My goal is to find designs that will bring out the essence of each character and capture the mood and movement of each scene.  After I design the characters and decide on a composition, it is time to work on the full size sketches.  When it is time to paint, I look for a color palette that will support the imagery in expressing the tone of the piece.

ArtworkProcessCompositeExample

What is the revision process like when illustrating? 

When the art director receives the artwork, the team must make sure that the images not only meet the visual goals for the story, but that they work functionally within the type layout.  For “Bugged and Blue” the very last sketch originally showed the roller coaster in more of a profile.  However, when it was put into the layout, it turned out not to be the best solution when text was wrapping around it.  For the revision, I changed the view to show the track in more of an “S” shape, with the head of the roller coaster coming towards the viewer.

Many of my readers are writers. From the illustrator’s perspective, what do you look for when agreeing to illustrate a piece? Do you like illustrator notes?

I enjoy being able to work on a variety of projects.  I have illustrated everything from educational work, magazine illustrations, product illustrations, museum exhibit facades, early readers and picture books.  I love when something about a project strikes a personal cord with me.  Sometimes, particularly with educational work and anything with a quick deadline, I need art notes so that I can work quickly and correctly.  However, with some of my picture books, which have longer timelines for completion, the art directors have given me tremendous freedom, with little to no art notes.  I love having the opportunity to rise to the challenge that having complete illustrative freedom allows, and always try to bring something extra to those projects, to live up to the art directors’ faith in me, as well as to try new things for myself as an artist.  However, for every assignment, no matter what the size or deadline, I try to give my clients illustrations that are beautiful and that will meet the visual goals for the project.

As a parent, writer, and former teacher, I’m always interested in how other writers/illustrators balance their time between writing, other jobs, parenthood, and life. Any tips  for productivity and balance?

I have two daughters, age 5 and 1, so finding time to work can be difficult.  I work after the kids go to bed, early in the morning, weekends, holidays….whenever I get a chance.  I have a babysitter who comes one morning a week to play with the kids while I am in the office, and I have great support from family members.  However, being a mother has changed how I have to approach a work day.  Work-at-home moms of young children rarely get long stretches of uninterrupted time to work.   Learning to paint my art digitally has made a huge difference in helping me manage work and motherhood.  If the kids give me 15 minutes, I can work for 15 minutes, save the file, and come back to the piece later.  Being able to capture short periods of time for work throughout each day adds up throughout the week and helps keep the projects moving forward.

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

I am blessed to have multiple projects in the works at any given time!  Right now, I am working on illustrations to accompany as story to appear this fall in Ladybug Magazine, an educational young reader book, and a picture book with Magination Press which will be released in 2017.  My art has also recently appeared in the newest issues of Babybug and Clubhouse Jr.  For updates about other upcoming publications in which my art appears, to view my portfolio or to check out my books, visit my website at www.JZArtworks.com.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jennifer. It was wonderful having you and thanks again for so beautifully illustrating “Bugged and Blue”.

“Bugged and Blue” written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin appears in the June 2016 issue of Clubhouse Jr. magazine. (Copyright 2016, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.)

 

Family M.E.S.S. – Children’s Librarian Lauren Antolino Chats about an Award-Winning STEM Program for Little Ones

IMG_2149

Each year the New Jersey State Library bestows the Best Practices in Early Education Award to four outstanding New Jersey public libraries that provide exemplary literacy programs for children from birth to six years, their families and caregivers. The award comes with a $1,000 honorarium, a certificate, and promotion of the winning library as a model program for other libraries. 

FamilyMESS_General

This year the Cranford Public Library (my local library!) was selected to receive one of four of these statewide awards for its Family M.E.S.S. (Math, Engineering, and Science Saturday) program. Children’s Librarian Lauren Antolino is the creative organizer behind Family M.E.S.S.,  a popular bi-monthly educational program where kids ages 2 – 10 and their caregivers participate in a variety of hands-on experiments and problem-solving challenges related to math, engineering and science.  

I’m delighted that Lauren has agreed to an interview today. Thanks so much for joining us, Lauren!  Let’s get started.

The Family M.E.S.S program is not only popular with your young patrons, it’s now *award* winning!  What do you think is the secret to its success?

The community! Cranford is a great town, full of parents who are interested in opportunities to learn and play with their children. We’ve found that a large number of our patrons, particularly younger children, love science, engineering, and/or math, so the interest is definitely there. Many parents are actively seeking fun, educational activities for their children, especially on weekends. One of our goals in creating the program was to engage families in “learning by doing” at the library, and it turns out they were looking for the same! 

Another huge factor, of course, is that the children who attend the program love making a mess, and parents love not having to clean it up!

Describe for us what a typical Family M.E.S.S. session looks like. 

As the name suggests, Family M.E.S.S. often involves making a mess! We provide families with stations of simple, open-ended activities: one based around math, one around science, and one around engineering. Families spend about 10 minutes at each station before rotating to the next activity. There’s typically a lot of excitement for the science station, which is always our messiest! We’ve made “elephant toothpaste,” “rainbow milk,” and DIY slime.

My favorite part of the program is listening to the conversations between the parents and children. Families are engaging in high-level conversations that I am always so impressed by. Mrs. Queenan, a lovely staff member who has been an indispensable part of the program since it started, said it best: “during the program, parents talk up to their children. They don’t talk baby talk, they enjoy being a co-teacher and learning together.”

With so many wonderful hands-on activities, it seems like preparing for Family M.E.S.S. sessions and then presenting could be quite involved.  Do you have any prep/management tips to offer other librarians and/or teachers who might be interested in engaging their young library patrons or students in something similar?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! I first heard of the idea of Family M.E.S.S. at a “STEM made Simple” class, and used it as a springboard for an ongoing program. There are so many great programs out there, it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your community. Everyone has limitations, for us, it was important to take those into account and present a version of the program that would work here. We have limited staff, which led us to add a journal that would help us easily communicate instructions. It ended up being a great addition, because families leave with everything they need to reproduce the activities at home. It also added this wonderful reading/writing component to the program, which we love!

Family M.E.S.S. is just one of many engaging programs you’ve organized for our library.  Other programs include weekly story times for all ages, including  the popular “Story Time Yoga” for ages 2 – 5.  You even have a book club for older kids called “Page Turners”. How do you decide what types of programs to put together?  Which have been the most popular?

I inherited some fantastic programs when I started here in 2014: Therapy Dogs, an amazing Summer Reading Carnival, and Story Time Yoga. Many of the other librarians and library staff have been working here for a very long time, so we spend a lot of time talking about programs that sound interesting and brainstorming ways to make them work at our library. I cannot stress enough what a valuable resource they are! We all keep an eye on the books that go out, listen to feedback from program participants, and consider programs that have been successful in the past. 

We recently had a “Minecraft Circuits in Real Life” program, created by a group called Soldering Sunday, that was a huge hit! It was an introduction to circuitry that might otherwise be a hard sell, but the Minecraft aspect caused it to quickly fill up.

Is there a final question you wish I had asked? If so, please share.  =)

“Where do you see this program going?” I’d really like to find a way to integrate technology while maintaining the parent/child dynamic that we’ve established. The library’s Friends group generously donated five iPads last year, and we’re working on finding the best way to incorporate those into the program. We’re in a good position to act as “media mentors” and guide parents in their use of media with their children, so a tech component would be a great addition! 

Thanks so much for joining us, Lauren. Three cheers for wonderful librarians and vibrant programs for kids at our local libraries!