CHAOS TO CALM: My First TV Interview!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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!

OFF THE BOOKSHELF: A “Goodnight, Manger” Radio Interview

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Friday morning I was interviewed live on WMPC 1230AM, America’s oldest continuously operating Christian radio station.  Based in Michigan and hosted by Greg Bullen, OFF THE BOOKSHELF is a regular featured program which offers listeners in-depth author interviews. It was an honor (plus a lot of fun) to be Greg’s guest.  If you’d like to listen to the 13 minute segment, press here and scroll down to “Goodnight, Manger” – An Interview with Laura Sassi.

 

TIPS for SUCCESSFUL Author/Illustrator Bookstore Events: An Interview With Watchung Booksellers’ Liane Freed

Liane Freed Watchung BooksellersIf you happen to be in Montclair, New Jersey on a Saturday morning, stop in at Watchung Booksellers and you will find the children’s area abuzz with the happy sound of children enjoying the Saturday Morning Author/Illustrator Storytime Series.  These popular weekly gatherings are organized by Liane Freed. Easygoing and friendly, Liane clearly loves her job and has a knack for getting kids excited about reading. In addition to Saturday storytimes, she also organizes weekly Mommy and Me storytimes.  She’s here today to share some tips for successful author/illustrator readings and signings at bookstores.  Welcome, Liane.  Let’s get started.

LAURA:  Your Saturday Morning Author/Illustrator Series has a consistently good turn out.  What do you think is the secret to its success?

LIANE:  A huge part of our success is that we have a community that supports us and values the joy and importance of reading to their kids. Another reason is that we are able to get wonderful authors and illustrators to participate in our series. This support from our community and the authors in the NJ/NY area is a major benefit. We actually started our Author/Illustrator Saturday Morning Storytime Series as a way to thank our customers, big and little.

Storytime with Peter Brown

Storytime with Peter Brown

LAURA:  The author and illustrators you host each have their own styles of presenting. What are the characteristics of the most memorable storytimes you have ever hosted?

LIANE: I love how each presenter’s style reflects their unique personalities. There are so many different ‘best story times’ but they all include more than just the author reading their own book. We’ve had authors add music, props, crafts, and even performances  to the presentation.  One author’s book was about ballet dancing so we had dance students from a local dance studio demonstrate ballet moves. Then the kids even had the opportunity to try out some of the moves.  They had so much fun.

Storytime with Marilyn Singer

Storytime with Marilyn Singer

Something as simple as  having the kids repeat words and sounds from the book adds greatly to any storytime presentation.

It is also wonderful when authors will read their favorite picture book along with their own book. The kids love this, especially if it is a book that they are familiar with.

Authors who are also illustrators  have a huge advantage during storytime because they can do drawings with the kids.  It is magical to watch the characters from the book being created with just a few lines of a sharpie.

Storytime with Mike Curato

Storytime with Mike Curato

One of the best presentations by an author/illustrator was when he drew a story from the kids’ suggestions. The kids loved it and I loved hearing their constant giggling. Another illustrator added a short ‘drawing workshop’ to his presentation. He had the kids draw a face with just simple shapes. The kids could not believe what they were able to create.We once had an  illustrator draw portraits of all the kids for them to take home. From the looks on their faces you knew they all felt very special.

It also adds to the success of the storytime when an author can team up with the illustrator.

As you can see, there are so many ways to enhance a simple story time so that it is a memorable event for the kids.

LAURA: Do you have any tips or recommendations for a successful storytime to offer first-time presenters?

LIANE: I like to tell first time presenters that doing storytime is like putting on a show. Not just any kind of show but a show for kids. So, what does this mean? This means that one should be animated and silly and just have as much fun as one can have. That is one of the key things, have fun!! If the presenter is having fun then chances are  the kids will have fun too.

LAURA: How do you feel about including crafts as part of the storytime experience? Any advice for which types of crafts work best?

LIANE: Crafts are a wonderful addition to any storytime. Our space is small so the best type of crafts are easy and tidy ones with few pieces involved. Stickers are a wonderful thing to use, you do not need glue or tape that can get messy and do damage to merchandise in the store. Before bringing in a craft the presenter should check with the bookstore to see if they have space for that kind of activity.

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

Storytime with Laura Sassi

Storytime with Laura Sassi

LIANE:  I would just like to add that an author should never be too disappointed if there is a small turn out or few sales at the event. Obviously the author and bookstore would rather have a large turn out and many sales but we have noticed that there is an increase in sales of the book after the event. Doing an event is not just a fun morning with the kids but a huge marketing tool. Customers who were unable to attend often come into the store  after the event and ask about the book that they knew was being featured that weekend at storytime. It is not just a storytime but a way to market an  author and their book. In advance of a storytime we post the event in our newsletter, on our website, on Facebook and Twitter. The event can also get picked up by local media. It is a win win for the author and the bookstore.

Saturday story time is one of my favorite times of the week. And I just want to thank  you and other authors who have come to Watchung Booksellers. Our NJ/NY authors  along with our customers, are all a part of our bookstore community.

LAURA:  And thank YOU, Liane, for stopping by.  This has been a very special, informative time together.

Press HERE to learn more about the Author/Illustrator Storytimes and other programs at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, NJ.