PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: Dream Big my Precious One (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

When I was a Children’s Ministry Director at the satellite branch of our church, I planned a Sunday morning children’s program called PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture. Each week, using an engaging picture book as the spark along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God. The kids enjoyed the lessons so much, that I have decided to write an occasional blog series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. Today’s lesson uses DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE (Worthy Kids, 2021), written by Jill Roman Lord and illustrated by Brittany E. Lakin as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE

by Jill Roman Lord

PURPOSE:  Using DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE,  Jilll Roman Lord’s delightful ode to a child imagining all the possibilities for what they might be and do, this lesson will celebrate the dreams God places in each child’s heart, dreams that not only bring them joy, but spread God’s love to others.  

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: When I Grow Up… (building challenge)

Open in prayer, then explain that it’s time for a game – a guessing game! Ask the children to quietly think about what they want to be when they grow up, but not say it out loud.  Instead, have them give you a thumbs up once they’ve thought of something.  (If needed you can have a whisper conference to help those can’t think of something.)  Then, explain that they will have five minutes (or time of your choice) to build their “when I grow up” dream out of Legos.  Once the dreams are built, give each child a chance to present their project, allowing for guessing and then the reveal. 

INTRODUCE THE STORY: 

Marvel at all the wonderful dreams the children have for their futures, then introduce the story by showing the book cover. Have someone read the title. What do they see on the cover?  What do they think the book will be about? Dreams!  Future hopes! Possibilities! And what might this have to do with God?  Ponder together.Then read the story.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME:

After reading the story, have a round of “popcorn-style” responses (no hand raising needed) to see how many dreams they can remember from the book. Did they had a favorite?  Then remind them of what you asked them before reading: What do our dreams have to do with God?  Ponder the possibilities together, then open the story book again to reread the three precious spreads remind us that:

 1) GOD is the one who plants dreams in our hearts because and HE is the one who grows us lovingly along the way;

2) that we can count on God to guide us we follow the dreams He plants; and

3) the dreams GOD plants in our hearts will not only bless us, but will BLESS others as well!

And where can we find God’s promises that all this is true? In the Bible!

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME: 

Wrap up the discussion by digging into scripture together to find God’s promises of love and hope as they relate to our dreams.  Use these verses to get you started: 

1 Chronicles 28:20 Jeremiah 29:11 Joshua 1:9 John 6:26

Special note: For first grade and up, I recommend having several children’s bibles on hand so children can work in pairs to find the verses. They LOVE this and in the process learn how to locate biblical passages by book, chapter, and verse – a rewarding and important foundational skill for future bible study.

STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME:   Dream Big, My Precious One Paintings

Ahead of time, decoratively print the words “Dream Big, My Precious One” in thick yellow crayon on sheets of water color paper, one per child. Then get out crayons, watercolors and paint brushes, so children can create their own Dream Big, My Precious One images inspired by the Brittany E. Lakin’s gorgeous illustrations. First, have them draw what they dream of doing/being with crayons. Encourage them to use bright colors and to press firmly.  When they finish, have a supervised water color station where, using a thick brush, they apply a color-popping coating of blue water color paint.  

Another option: 

Download Free Activity Sheets on the Worthy Kids DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE book page. (Scroll down to find it. ) 

WRAP UP: As children are finishing the activity – give thanks for each child and the dreams God has planted in their hearts. Close in prayer.

TAKEAWAYS from the Write2Ignite Picture Book Master Class

On Saturday, it was my joy to lead a day-long virtual Picture Book Master Class sponsored by the faith-based non-profit Write2Ignite. We opened the day with prayer and a thought-provoking devotional on listening given by organizer Jean Hall. Over the course of the day, attendees participated in three workshops led by me with follow-up break out sessions for each. At the end of the day, attendees were asked to share their biggest takeaways from the experience. And what a delight to read them this morning over on the Write2Ignite blog. And what was my biggest takeaway? Hmmm… it’s hard to pick. Here are a few:

  • There’s a sense of encouragement in gathering with other children’s authors to discuss and celebrate picture books. As many attendees noted, they ended the day (tired) but excited about taking their writing in new directions and maybe even pulling out some old stories to give them a new chance with a fresh eye. I, too, feel refreshed and ready to dig back into my writing- inspired by the energy of our day together.
  • The day re-affirmed for me what I’ve known for a long time – that the kid lit community is a wonderfully warm and supportive one. It was a delight to gather with this group – who all share a heart for writing faith-inspired stories. Thank you for having me!
  • My last takeaway is that as writers on this journey, we are always still learning. I may have been the Master Teacher for the day, but I step into this week re-energized to keep on learning and growing as a writer. That’s why this summer, I’m excited to share that I will expanding my Picture Book with P.U.N.C.H. blog series to include even more structures. I can’t wait to dig in to stacks and stacks of picture book mentor texts to unlock and discover what makes picture books shine. I hope you will join me.

And now, I hope you will grab a cup of tea and pop over to the Write2Ignite blog to see what others took away from our special day: https://write2ignite.com/2021/04/26/takeaways-from-the-master-class-on-picture-books-heres-what-you-learned-by-carol-baldwin/

FIVE Simple Steps for Using Faith-Based PICTURE BOOKS to Point Little Ones to God

At my school visits this spring, both virtual and in-person, I’ve noticed that little ones quickly pick up on several things when we LITTLE EWE together. First, they immediately identify with Little Ewe, the sweet protagonist, who is so keen to explore the world around her, despite the Shepherd’s call. Second, they are very sad when Little Ewe gets lost and overjoyed when she is found again. This concept of being lost and then found is a big deal in their life experience and something almost all can relate to. Finally, almost intuitively, they seem to understand the book is somehow “about God.”


All this reminds me what a precious opportunity we have, as our children’s shepherds, to point them to Jesus and God using picture books, such as LITTLE EWE, as the conversation spark. With that in mind, here are five simple steps for using faith-based picture books to point little ones to Jesus and God.

 
Step # 1: Think ahead of time what faith principles are best drawn from the picture book at hand. With LITTLE EWE, for example, you could talk about God’s faithful care of us or how He wants to find us when we are spiritually lost. 


Step #2: Read the story with the goal to enjoy it! The faith message you want to instill will come later, but you to don’t want to make it so heavy-handed that the pure joy of reading the story is lost.  So, for example, as you read LITTLE EWE, enjoy counting along as she explores her world. Pause along the way to explore the illustrations and ponder together how Little Ewe might be feeling as she gets further and further from Shepherd.

 
Step #3: Connect the story to their world. This step is intertwined with the one above.  Both as you read the story and after as you ponder it, ask your little ones questions that will connect them to the story. For example, with LITTLE EWE, you might ask, “Have you ever been lost?”  “How did it feel to be found?”  “Who are the shepherds in your life?”  Trust me, these will generate lots of great discussion.


Step #4: Move from the concrete to the spiritual with a simple question or two.  This is when you will draw on your goal that you set in step one. The questions will vary, of course, depending on the book you have read together.  For LITTLE EWE, your questions could be, “Who do you think is the greatest shepherd of all?”  and “Why do you think Jesus wants to find us when we are lost?”  “What do we have to do?”  (Listen to His call and obey!)  “Why?”  (Because He loves us!)


Step #5: Wrap up your special story time in prayer, thanking God for stories like, LITTLE EWE, or whatever book you are reading, that remind us about God’s love for us.  This is a sweet opportunity both to model prayer with your child and also to let them add to the prayer in their words.  

NOTE: This post first appeared as a guest post over at Christian author and speaker, Sally Matheny’s blog. Here’s the link. You might also enjoy her other inspiring posts and reviews.

LITTLE EWE: Feasting on FIGS!


One of the sweet distractions Little Ewe encounters on her day of exploring in my book LITTLE EWE (Beaming Books, 2021) is figs! And I just love how illustrator Tommy Doyle has captured their green-purple hue and deliciousness in his illustration of Little Ewe rejoicing as figs tumble after seven sparrows land on twigs.

 
The inclusion of figs in the story was not by chance. As part of honoring the biblical retelling, I wanted every encounter Little Ewe made to be rooted in the Mediterranean terrain where the original parable, told by Jesus, took place. And if you look them up, you will discover that sparrows, figs, and yes, even badgers, all resided or grew in the countryside Jesus knew and loved.

 
I also picked figs because, as a child, I didn’t even know they existed, except in the form of a fig bar, a favorite childhood cookie of mine. It wasn’t until I was all grown up that I had my first taste of an actual fig. I remember the moment vividly. We had moved to New Jersey and my Italian-American neighbor, whose mother had a fig tree on her property, shared a bowlful with us. Oh, my goodness, one bite and I was in heaven!


However, my picky-eater daughter who was about five at the time was sure she wouldn’t like them because they looked funny to her. Finally, after much joyful animated eating on my part, she agreed to nibble one. She loved it. In fact, just one fig wasn’t enough. She wanted more and more! It was a figgy feast!


Thus, it was also with picky-eaters in mind that decided to include figs in my story. 


At our house, we like to pair books that we read with treats made from foods mentioned in those books.  So, if you, like me, relish opportunities to broaden your picky-eaters palettes, may I suggest pairing LITTLE EWE with a bowl of figs? Or, if they are not in season, how about fig jam or dried figs or a fig cookie!


Happy Figgy Feasting!

Note: These figgy thoughts were first shared on the Beaming Books blog. Here’s the link. While you are there, you might also enjoy their other book-themed blog posts. Be sure also to check out their LITTLE EWE book page which includes a free downloadable activity kit, plus links to your favorite on-line vendors.

TEACHER APPROVED: Eight Lessons to Cherish from LITTLE EWE

This week LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP received a LOVELY stamp of approval from longtime Colorado teacher and dear friend, Jeananne Wright. Thank you, Jeananne!

Please enjoy as she shares “Eight Lessons to Cherish from LITTLE EWE”. Use one, two or as many as you would like to spark sweet conversations with your little lambs about how they (and all of us, really) are very much like Little Ewe, in need of our Shepherd’s comfort and love and also so very blessed by the many shepherds (with a small s) that God has placed in our lives – like parents and teachers and more!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the free downloadable activity kit that I created and Beaming Books produced. It can be found here.

LITTLE EWE is published by Beaming Books and available wherever books are sold. If you purchase it through Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc., please consider leaving a review. Or leave a review Goodreads. Reviews help a book gain visibility. Thank you so much.

PARENTS! TEACHERS! KIDMIN! Download Your FREE Activity Kit for LITTLE EWE!

Reading LITTLE EWE is just the beginning.

Here is the link to the FREE downloadable LITTLE EWE activity kit designed especially for you and your preschooler. The kit includes six pages of ideas for discussion, activities, crafts, coloring pages and a maze. It can be found by visiting the book’s page on the Beaming Books website. You’ll find it at the end of the book’s description. Here’s the link. Enjoy!

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Four Tips for Making PAGE TURNS in Picture Books IRRESISTIBLE!

The lovely 1920s house across the street from our home recently sold and now it is being renovated. They are doing a good job and I am confident the house’s final “new look” will still retain the integrity of the original and be in keeping with the feel of the neighborhood. The particulars of what exactly the renovated house will look like, however, are still a mystery and the neighborhood is abuzz with curiosity.  

At the end of every day, the workers stop. And shortly thereafter, curious passers-by, out for their evening strolls, pause to inspect the latest work. Several times, I’ve been out while they are pausing and we’ve pondered together questions like:

“Do you think they’ll add a big porch across the front the whole front?”

“Are they going to bump out the back too?”

“How do you think they’ll pitch the roof?”

“What kind of siding will they use?”

This end of day anticipation over what will happen next reminds of page turns in picture books, for both have the power to spark excitement in the onlookers/readers. With that in mind, here are FOUR sure-fire TIPS for using page turns in picture books to spark curiosity and make it irresistible for readers to turn the page.

TIp #1: Pause mid-sentence at the page turn. This is a strategy often used in picture books and, if done well, it adds suspense and wonder to the story. Use an ellipsis or em dash to indicate that the rest on the sentence will be on the next page. Here’s an example of this strategy in use from Matt Forrest Esenwine’s and Fred Koehler’s delightful FLASHLIGHT NIGHT (Boyds Mill Press, 2017): 

Tip #2: Provide a clue in the illustration as to what might happen next. This tip is really more for the illustrator than for the author, but it’s a fun one that really prompts little ones to “read” the pictures for clues for what might happen on the next page.  CAUTION: Be judicious in your manuscript about prescribing things for the illustrator. However, if an illustration note is vital to the story, it’s okay to note it in a succinct illustrator note.  

For example, for my debut picture book GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014), it was important to know that the skunks (never mentioned in the text) are included in the host of creatures that crowd Noah’s bunk, so I simply said in an illustration note something like:  (ILLO: including skunks).  Then, illustrator Jane Chapman used her expertise to incorporate a pair of sleeping skunks into every spread so that when they finally wake up, it’s a clue as to what will happen when readers turn the page and one that makes turning the page irresistible. Here it is:

Tip #3: Use the rhyme (if yours is a rhyming picture book) to incorporate clues as to what will happen when the reader turns the page.  This is one of my favorite page turn strategies. It’s really a variation of tip #1, but instead of just pausing the text mid-sentence at the page turn, you add the extra layer of having the rhyme pair split at the page break so that anticipating what the second rhyme might be becomes a game as to might happen after the page is turned. Here’s a fresh and fun example from Corey Rosen Schwartz’s, Rebecca J. Gomez’s and Hilary Leung’s rompin’ tale TWO TOUGH TRUCKS (Orchard Books, 2019):

Tip #4: Ramp up the page turn moment with a question. This strategy is not as common and its freshness comes in its sparse use. When used sparingly, it will definitely make the reader want to turn the page. Here’s an example of it being used well in a spread from author Glenys’ Nellist’s and Sally Garland’s picture book LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT (Beaming Books, 2020): 

Now it’s YOUR turn.  What tips would you add to my list?  Happy Writing, all!

LITTLE EWE: Illustrator Tommy Doyle Shares his Creative Process

I’m delighted and honored to have Tommy Doyle, the illustrator for my newest picture book LITTLE EWE (Beaming Books, 2021), here today to share the creative process behind his wonderful illustrations. After he describes his process, enjoy a nice selection of several early sketches and their final colored counterparts. Take it away, Tommy!

Thank you, Laura, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my process for Little Ewe. I immediately identified with Little Ewe when I read the story and I loved how children can also learn counting throughout her journey.

The first thing I do when I start a new book, is read the script and the notes a couple of times over a few days so my brain starts creating pictures in my head. 

One of the first thing that stood out was that there was another part of the story that was just as important as Little Ewe, her environment. Knowing that made me realise I had to do a good visual research to help me gather all the inspiration I needed. So before starting on the pencils, I went on several image banks and gathered pictures related to each of Little Ewe’s encounter.

I then spent a couple of days on my iPad Pro sitting on the couch creating the storyboard. Once the storyboard was approved, I moved onto the colouring part. 

I also wanted the reader to visually feel the mood and emotions of each spread as they got further into the story. There are a lot of fun moments but also some moments where you can feel that sense of distress. I wanted to have each moment as strong as each other so that in the end we really feel that moment of resolution and joy. 

You did a wonderful job, Tommy! I love each and every spread and so do the little ones I have shared the story with at school visits. I especially love how you use color to capture the varying moods on each spread. The result is fantastic. Thank you, again, for sharing your process.

Now let’s enjoy a sampling of pencil sketches and final art. Can you spot any differences? Enjoy!

ABOUT TOMMY DOYLE: Tommy is a Senior Illustrator and graphic designer based in Melbourne, Australia. Originally from Montreal, Qc Canada, he now resides in Australia.He’s worked in the industry for over 20 years. Illustration is a big passion of his and he finds it is an effective and creative way to communicate a message or an emotion. His work is bold and rich in simplicity. He loves playing with shapes and textures, mixing digital and traditional mediums. Learn more about Tommy at https://www.tommydoyle.com

Where was LITTLE EWE this week?

Little Ewe and I leaped into spring with great joy this week. After what seemed like a long winter, how wonderful it has been these past few days to hear the birds chirping at dawn, to see daffodils and crocuses, and to have four wonderful book sharing opportunities! Here’s a round up and I hope you grab a cup of tea and doing a little jumping from meadow to meadow, er, I mean blog to blog, with me and enjoy what each stop has to offer.

Meadow #1: GARDEN AUTHOR VISIT! On Tuesday I had my first in-person school visit in over a year at Calvary Nursery School and Child Care. The visit took place outdoors at a good social distance and everyone was wearing masks. The children were great listeners and empathized greatly with Little Ewe during her time of being lost. Everyone was relieved when Shepherd found her and it sparked great discussion over times they have been lost and how wonderful it felt to be found. It was the highlight of my week. Here’s a collage that captures the morning:

Meadow #2: INTERVIEW! On Wednesday, Little Ewe and were invited to Pastor Noelle Kirchner’s blog. Noelle is a TV host, pastor, writer, and mother of three boys. She’s also the author of an amazing bible study which I featured on my blog last fall. In my interview with Noelle this week, I answered questions such as “What inspired me to write LITTLE EWE?” and “Do I have a favorite tradition for celebrating Easter with my family?” I also shared several picture books have I found that successfully point children to God. I hope you hop on over to find the answers. Here’s the link. =)

Meadow #3: GUEST POST: FIVE SIMPLE STEPS FOR USING PICTURE BOOKS TO POINT LITTLE ONES TO GOD. A big thank you to blogger, writer, and speaker Sally Matheny for hosting me on her blog this week as I shared a topic close to my heart: using picture books to spark meaningful faith conversations with our little ones. Earlier this month she also reviewed LITTLE EWE. You can find the review here and the guest post here.

Meadow #4: REVIEW! 12 Things to Love About Laura Sassi’s LITTLE EWE Last, but not least, leap on over to picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez’s blog for her thoughts on LITTLE EWE. Thank you, Rebecca!

Write2Ignite PICTURE BOOK MASTER CLASS: Explore Picture Books with Laura Sassi

Want to explore picture books with me? I’m honored to be the Master Teacher at Write2Ignite Conference Spring Picture Book Master Class taking place virtually Saturday, April 24th, 2021 from 9am to 5pm and today on their blog, you’ll get a sense of what we’ll be doing in each of the three workshops. Plus there are two books up for grabs: LOVE IS KIND and EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO. Details about the workshop, including registration, and how to enter the giveaway are all in their post! Here’s the link: