Read. Discuss. Do!: LOVE IS KIND Jelly Bean Jars

RDD Love is Kind

Today I’m delighted to continue the WORLD KINDNESS DAY celebration with this adorable Read. Discuss Do! graphic created by children’s author Rebecca Gomez.  The Read. Discuss Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) campaign celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities.  It is my hope today this LOVE IS KIND Read. Discuss. Do! will inspire you and your little ones to spread love and kindness wherever you go!   Happy reading, discussing and doing!

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Mindy Baker in Celebration of her Debut Picture Book MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have debut Zonderkidz picture book author Mindy Baker here as my guest to chat about her Christmas story MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT.  Here’s the adorable flap copy:  “Can one tiny church mouse find a way to bring Christmas spirit to his little town when Parson gets sick and the usual Christmas Eve service is cancelled?”  You will have to read to find out, and when you do, I think you fall in love with this heartwarming picture book story just as much as I have.  I can’t wait to share it with my Sunday School kids!  And now… the interview!

Thanks so much for joining us today, Mindy. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?

My husband and I have been married for almost 23 years, and we have three children. My oldest daughter is a sophomore in college, and I have a daughter who is a senior in high school and a son who is a freshman in high school. I love being a wife and mom! 

I am also a high school Spanish teacher at a public high school in our area. I enjoy my relationships with my students—they keep my life “muy interesante!”  You can check out my classroom via my “teacher Twitter.” The address is @srabakerhse. 

Another unique thing about me is that I have been able to travel to almost thirty different countries for various reasons. I LOVE experiencing different cultures and am thankful for all of the amazing experiences that I have had along the way in my travels. If you want to hear some crazy travel experiences, ask me…I can talk for hours about my trips!

 

I have always loved writing, but about ten years ago I decided to take a few classes in writing specifically for children and that is how I began to learn about writing picture books. It has been quite a journey, but I truly love writing. It is a creative outlet for me and very relaxing and rewarding.

Wow, what a rich bank of experiences you bring to the writing table!  I always so fascinating to see all the different paths that can lead to writing.

What inspired you to write Mouse’s Christmas Gift?

I had originally seen a publisher’s wish list that included “books that explained the meaning of Christian holidays.” Although this was not the publisher that ended up buying my manuscript, it was what inspired me to begin shaping my story. 

Also, I love Christmas, and I collect nativity sets and church ornaments. It is the running joke in my family that even though they have “banned” me from buying any more nativity sets, somehow the collection keeps growing! 

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Nativity from Mexico

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Nativity from Ecuador

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Nativity from Israel

Honestly, my stories seem to grow from idea seeds or mind pictures. With this story, there were several elements that kept swirling around in my brain. 

–The Christmas Eve service at our home church has always been something special to me, and spiritually significant in my life. 

–The element of family and community, like at a church pitch-in dinner, or get-together with family/friends when everyone brings a dish to share.  I wanted to capture that feeling of “togetherness” or “connectedness.”   

–The idea of light in a dark world, or being a light in a dark world, one person trying to make a difference. I wrestled with how to show this in the manuscript. 

–I have always found stories including mice to be endearing and charming.

So…all of that…somehow became this story!

And you did a wonderful job of bringing all those elements together!  I can’t wait to share you story with my Sunday School classes – which I will be doing next month. They’ll be reading the story and then building it out of Legos!

What would you like readers to take away from this story?

There are several messages that I hope shine through.  The most obvious message is that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Without his birth, there would be no Christmas. The second is that even someone small can make a big difference.  Mouse never loses hope, and his acts of setting up the nativity set in the church and lighting a candle in the window set off a chain reaction in the village. A third lesson is that a Christmas celebration is not about how much money you spend. There is beauty in simplicity. I hope that readers uncover even more lessons as they read and connect with the story of Mouse.

These are all wonderful messages – and so beautifully and seamlessly woven in to a rich story.  

Tell us about the illustrations. How long did they take Dow Phumiruk to complete?  Was the process of bringing your words to life through pictures at all collaborative?

As you said, the illustrator of the book is Dow Phumiruk. She told me that it took her about ten months to complete the illustrations for Mouse’s Christmas Gift. A Twitter acquaintance commented that I “struck gold” when Zonderkidz selected Dow to be my illustrator, and I whole-heartedly agree.  Everything Dow draws has a magical quality, and I love the warmth conveyed in the cover, and throughout the entire book. It invites you to curl up and enjoy the story of Mouse.  I am in awe of what she has done with the illustrations. If you are interested, you can connect with her through her website at www.artbydow.com.  

Honestly, Dow and I did not collaborate on the illustrations. Once I submitted the manuscript, Dow and the art team at Zonderkidz took it from there. However, I was delighted at how beautiful the book turned out. I am so thankful and honored to be paired with Dow for this project.

I’m delighted at how the book turned out too. It’s very appealing.

What’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I wrote a teaching guide for Mouse’s Christmas Gift that will be offered as a free download on the Zondervan website in just a few weeks. I am very excited about that!  Click here for the teacher guide. 

I have been working on several other projects and Mouse’s next adventure, but only time will tell if those manuscripts will make their way into the world. I certainly hope they do! Mouse’s Christmas Gift can be found on Amazon.com, Christian Books Stores, Barnes & Noble, and the Zondervan website. 

Thank you so much, Mindy, for giving us the lovely glimpse into the story from the author’s point of view. And, I don’t think it’s too early to wish you a very Merry Christmas!  

And now for the GIVEAWAY!

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, written by Mindy Baker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 11/1/18 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday 11/2/18!

GUEST POST: Five Fun BUSY BUS Facts With Jody Jensen Shaffer

IT'S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS cover from Amazon

Today I’m delighted to have my long-time friend and critique buddy, Jody Jensen Shaffer, here to share five fun facts about her newest picture book release, IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS!, illustrated by Claire Messer and published by Beach Lane Books.  Take a peek at the lovely reviews Jody’s book has received from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, then climb aboard and enjoy as she shares five behind-the-scenes facts about the book’s creation.  My favorite?  Fact #1. It’s a good reminder that patience is the name of the game in this business.  Happy reading, all!

FACT #1 The journey from idea to publication took eight years.
I got the original idea for BUSY BUS in October of 2010. I was brainstorming back-to-school stories [apparently, I like a challenge] and wondered how I could make mine stand out. When I landed on the idea of making it a school bus’s first day, I knew I was onto something. The story went through many, many revisions until it finally landed on Allyn Johnston’s desk at Beach Lane Books. Boy, was that a great day for me! In the months that followed, I worked with both Allyn and Andrea Welch.

FACT #2 I rode the bus to elementary school.
In the small town in which I grew up, the elementary school and my house were on nearly opposite sides of town. Sometimes a friend and I walked to school. But most of the time, I caught the bus in front of my house. I wasn’t always sure I would be safe riding the bus, however. There were icy mornings when I wondered if the bus would skid off the road. There were hills that I wondered if the bus could summit. To make matters worse, I was prone to motion sickness, so the shadows from the trees whizzing by my window made my stomach queasy. Thankfully, neither the bus nor I ever had an accident.

FACT #3 My school bus driver was also my neighbor.
In a small town, that happens. Taffy was my bus driver’s name, and he was also my next door neighbor. He and his wife, Dorothy, were grandparent-age, and I loved them dearly. I visited them regularly, and they always had some yummy treat to share.

FACT # 4 BUSY BUS is the “youngest” book I’ve published.
My previous picture books, PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW (illustrated by Steph Laberis) and A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (illustrated by Daniel Miyares), both have more complicated plots and complex language than BUSY BUS. So to make a first-day-of-school book fit its intended audience, I needed to simplify the language and plot. That was tough! I kept thinking there wasn’t enough conflict in the book. But I reminded myself that conflict is in the eye of the beholder, and to children just starting school, there’s plenty to fret about.

FACT #5 I asked a local school bus driver how fast a bus goes.
Before BUSY BUS went to the printer, Andrea asked me if I knew how fast a school bus went. The illustrator, Claire Messer, was working on a spread that included the dashboard of Busy Bus, and they wondered if I knew what the top speed on a speedometer should read. So on one of my morning walks not long after, I saw a school bus driver parked in a parking lot. I explained I was writing a book about a school bus, and I needed to know how fast they went. She looked and said, “This one goes to 85.” I reported that to my editor, and the rest was picture book history!

Jody Jensen Shaffer author photoJody Jensen Shaffer is an award-winning poet and the author of more than 30 books of fiction and nonfiction for children, including PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW, A CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK, IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS! and more. Jody’s poetry has been published in great children’s magazines like Highlights, Ladybug, and Clubhouse Jr. Jody lives in Liberty, Missouri, and is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When she’s not writing, Jody can be found watching baseball or walking her rescue dog, Sophie. Visit Jody at jodyjensenshaffer.com or on Twitter @jodywrites4kids.

LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour: STOP TWO!

9780310754893_imageToday children’s author Glenys Nellist is featuring LOVE IS KIND on her lovely blog.  Head on over there to read her review. Then keep reading as I share FIVE FUN FACTS about WRITING THE BOOK!  (Oh, and there’s also a giveaway!) So grab that cup of tea and head on over.  Happy reading, all!

And here’s the complete list of stops I’ll be making.  I hope you will join me each step of the way.  =)

Love is KInd Blog Tour Schedule

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Lindsey McDivitt, Author of NATURE’S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY

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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!

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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.

SNEAK PEEK: Love Is Kind (my newest picture book with Zonderkidz!)

Ready for a sneak peek at what arrived on my porch this afternoon? It’s an advance copy of my upcoming picture book LOVE IS KIND, delightfully illustrated by French artist Lison Chaperon and published by Zonderkidz. I just love the world Lison has created to set the story.  Each spread is more adorable than the next!  Thank you, Lison, for your creative whimsy and thank you, Zonderkidz, for publishing! I can’t wait for this one to release on August 7, 2018.   Happy reading, all!

LOVE IS KIND: Meet Little Owl!

67b2733c-1893-444b-bd74-cc780cde2842-11991-000007ad5ce2077dI haven’t received my advanced copy of LOVE IS KIND, so I can’t yet give you a proper advanced “flip through” of the book, but I think you’ll enjoy this delightful video clip, created by illustrator Lison Chaperon, introducing Little Owl, the sweet protagonist of LOVE IS KIND.  All Little Owl really wants is to get his grammy a box of chocolates, but his attempts keep getting thwarted.  In the process, though, he learns the true meaning of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. Real love, as it turns out, isn’t found in a box – even one filled with chocolates. Now without further ado, meet Little Owl!  (Isn’t he adorable?)

 

FUN NEWS: LOVE IS KIND Cover Reveal!

9780310754893_image.jpgGuess what? I have another new picture coming out soon with Zonderkidz!  LOVE IS KIND is scheduled to release August 7, 2018,  which, gulp, is almost right around the corner.

Here’s the scoop from Zonderkidz:

“Love Is Kind, written by bestselling author Laura Sassi and illustrated by Lison Chaperon, tells the sweet story of Little Owl who discovers the real meaning of love on his quest to find his grammy the perfect gift. Told in simple prose, this heartfelt and humorous picture book is a sweet reminder that real love isn’t found in a box – even one filled with chocolates.  Love Is Kind takes a charming and gentle approach to teaching kids the true meaning of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13, while celebrating the bonds that kids have with their grandparents, and the many forms that love and happiness can take.”

Thank you, Zonderkidz publishing this next picture book (and I am especially excited about this one because LOVE is a message we can never hear enough about)!  And isn’t that Little Owl standing in that heart-shaped pile of leaves adorable?  I’ve seen the interior spreads too, and each illustration is cuter than the next. I can’t wait for this one to hit shelves everywhere.

Happy Reading!

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! **

FUN MAIL: Picture Book Proofs!

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Look what arrived on my porch yesterday afternoon! A package from Sterling containing the proofs for DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!  I’d seen the illustrations in little images on my computer screen, but seeing them full size and on paper makes my heart sing!

My daughter and I spent a nice long while exploring each and every page and enjoying all the little details that I hadn’t noticed before, such as Rebecca’s wonderful use of scratchy strokes to capture the old opera house floors and Delores’ extremely expressive whiskers.

Next stop, (I think), the printer!  Thank you, Sterling, and thank you, Rebecca Gerlings, for making this project a reality. I can’t wait for this Diva and her charming Opera House Mouse to make their debuts.  (Only 5 month and two weeks from now, but who’s counting? =) )