How to Write Picture Books – DIVA Style!

February 8th is OPERA DAY! And since DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is all about opera, I thought it would be fun to re-share a favorite post inspired the book’s protagonists, Delores and Fernando. My opera-loving duo made their opera debut when the book released in 2018, but as any well-trained diva knows, singing on stage is just the final thrill. What comes before that?  Hours and hours, even years of hard work! But is it all worth it? You bet!

Now celebrations of opera and divas and picture books, here are five tips to help you write picture books – diva style!

  1. Go to the opera… a lot!

If you are going to be an opera star, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the glorious world of opera by attending operas, listening to opera music, and all-around saturating yourself in all things opera.  Likewise, if you want to write  picture books, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the world of picture books.  For me, this means making regular trips to the children’s section of my library, or my favorite local bookstore, and reading, reading, reading!  I read with two purposes:  first, just for the pleasure and joy of it, and second… to learn. That’s why I always bring along my writerly opera glasses and a notebook so that I can thoughtfully ponder and record what makes each opera (i.e. picture book) sing… or not.

  1. Rehearsal is important.

If you want to be a diva, you have to spend time rehearsing and developing your craft. For opera stars, I imagine this means a daily routine of warming up with scales, practicing a variety of pieces, working on voice projection etc. Similarly, if you want to to write picture books, you have to be willing to invest the time and effort into writing daily. My daily writing routine includes free writes (my version of scales), as well as working on a variety of poems, blog posts and the handful of picture book manuscripts I’m working through at any given moment. 

  1. Control those crescendos.

I’m not an opera expert, but it seems to me that in the field of opera, like in the field of picture book writing – less is more!  I mean divas don’t just cut loose and sing at the top of their lungs willy-nilly!  No, they artistically control their voices so that it plays a magical role in telling the opera’s story. Likewise, as a picture book writer – and especially as one who loves to rhyme – I work hard to control my crescendos so that every word, sound, phrase, action, magically moves the story forward.

  1. Be confident, yet humble. (i.e. be willing to learn from others)

Confidence is good, but if you want your singing, er writing, to shine,  I’ve learned over the years that confidence must be tempered with an open heart, open mind, and gracious spirit when receiving constructive feedback.  As a young writer I thought my writing was fabulous! But now that I’m more seasoned, I look back on those early pieces and cringe. They would definitely have benefitted from a little more humility and willingness to productively process and put into place suggestions from more experiences writers! 

(Which leads me to my last bit of advice.) 

  1. Everything’s better with a buddy!

As Diva Delores discovers at the opera house, the journey to success is just all-around better with a buddy. Likewise, I’ve found that the picture book writing journey wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family, my talented agent, and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my last bit of advice for writing picture books – diva style! – is to find a buddy or two to encourage you and help you grow along the way.

Note: A version of this post first appeared on Darlene Beck Jacobson’s lovely blog. She’s been kind enough to host me for the release of each and every one of my books. Thank you, Darlene!

SAVE THE DATE: A Picture Book Master Class with Laura Sassi

I’m so excited to be teaching the Master Class on Picture Writing for the Write2Ignite Conference for Christian Writers of Children’s and Young Adult Literature this coming April 24, 2021. Taught virtually – so writers from near and far can attend – it’s going be a day full of learning and fun – all while stretching our story-telling skills. To learn more about the Write2Ignite Master Class programs as well as the story of how this wonderful non-profit came to be, check out their website and blog. Registration details coming soon via their website. I hope you’ll join me!

PICTURE BOOKS and END PAPERS: Thoughts and a GAME!

There’s something magical about picture books. For starters, their size is just right for reading snuggled together your child or grandchild. And, when done well, the intentional intermingling of image and text to tell a story is sure to captivate both child and caregiver. Indeed, a good picture book can be enjoyed again and again – with new discoveries unfolding with each reading.  

For example, it wasn’t until our seventh or eighth reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK, that my daughter discovered the toothbrush sitting on the window sill and then we laughed and laughed at the idea of Noah brushing the animals’ teeth. Similarly, it was with great joy after several readings that she later noticed that Chipmunk’s Chocolate Shoppe in LOVE IS KIND sells organic chocolate which made Little Owl’s gift seem just that much more special.

And among the many extra little details I hope readers will notice in my newest release, LITTLE EWE, are the many opportunities for counting things like frogs on logs and spider webs!

Perhaps you and your little ones have also noticed extra little details and wonders as you read and re-read your favorite books.

Well, today, I’d like to share another little extra that I never paid much attention to as a child or even during my many years reading bedtime stories with my kids. I’m talking about the end papers. For those of you who aren’t as book geeky as I am, those are the papers at the very front and end of the book. One of half of these end-spreads are pasted to the front and back covers of the book and help to secure the interior pages which have been bound together and set in the spine of the cover.  

Now that I’m aware of them, I’m smitten! I mention them at school visits and I always begin the reading of a new book by investigating them. Sometimes they are plain, but more often than not, they have illustrations or designs. And when they do, those illustrations or designs connect to the story in some fashion. 

For example, the end papers of the popular KARATE KID (Running Press Kids, 2019), written by Rosanne L. Kurstedt and illustrated by Mark Chambers provide a charming clue that the book might just be about different karate poses! And the end papers of the delightful TEA PARTY RULES (Viking, 2013), written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K. G. Campbell provide wonderful opportunity to predict with children just where this story will take place and what it might be about. 

Now, here’s a fun game to play your kids.  Have them find their favorite picture books and – before reading the book again – open up to the end papers and see if you they can figure out how the end paper illustrations connect to the story. To get you started, I’ve included a collage below with the end papers for four of my books. Can you guess which end paper goes with which book?  If so, what’s the connection?  Have fun! (Answers below.)

And the answers (but you still have to figure out the connection).

Have fun investigating the end papers of your favorite books and don’t forget that to make a game of figuring out the connections!

THE SNOWY DAY: A Stamp-themed Extension Activity

I was delighted to discover on the USPS website that one my all-time favorite stamp designs featuring illustrations from Ezra Keats’ classic THE SNOWY DAY is still available! Later this morning (perhaps as it flurries) I will scurry down town to our local post office to see if I can get some for my Christmas cards.

When they first released in 2017 I likewise hurried down to the post office and purchased my first stamp booklet inspired by this beloved children’s book. I remember that afternoon spending the LOVELIEST little while searching for the spot in my childhood copy of THE SNOWY DAY where each little stamp scene originated.

Afterwards, I thought what a great activity this would be for kids – one that engages young readers with the story, builds visual matching skills, and is just plain fun.

So now, on this wintry December morning, I’m once again sharing a step-by-step plan for a fun stamp-themed activity inspired by THE SNOWY DAY. Enjoy!

  • Gather your supplies. Purchase a set of THE SNOWY DAY stamps from your nearest post office (or on their website) and check out a copy of Ezra Keats’ THE SNOWY DAY from your local library (or purchase a copy).
  • Explore the stamps. Spend a few minutes with your child, examining the images in the stamp collection (there are eight, that then repeat.)  Have your child describe what Peter, the boy in each stamp, is doing. This might also be a good time to explain what a stamp is. What is it used for? What does the “Forever USA” mean?  Have they ever used one? (Maybe later on they can help you affix one of the stamps to an envelope with a note or picture enclosed, and send it to someone they love.)
  • Go on a SNOWY DAY picture hunt. Now get cozy with the book and stamps close by and READ!!! As you read, see if your children can find the spots where each stamp image appears.  (It’s fun! Enjoy!)
  • Make your own SNOWY DAY stamps.  After reading, extend the experience even further, by letting your children pick their own favorite snowy day moment and make their own pretend stamps (on small paper).

Happy SNOWY DAY all!

Note: I first posted a variation of this oldie-but-goodie in December 2017. It was a favorite post then and I hope it will be enjoyed this time too.

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

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

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

Wide-Awake Baby Jesus

A Christmas Ornament Inspired by

GOODNIGHT, MANGER

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

Now, to make the ornament:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROSTED WINDOW PANES: The Magic of Picture Books – CHRISTMAS Edition

There’s a scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS in which Laura and Mary spend a magical morning etching pictures in the frosted windowpanes of their little cabin using Ma’s thimble.  As a child I wanted to try that, but our windows were too well-insulated to gather frost. Imagine my delight, then, a couple of winters ago, to discover thick frost completely covering the old-fashioned windows of our detached garage. For several days back during that frosty cold spell, I was itching to take my thimble and do a little ice etching of my own.  And that’s exactly what I did one day, using my keys, instead. Doesn’t it look magical?

Like window frost begging to be etched, good picture books invoke in me a nostalgic return to childhood and a reminder of the simple joys in life.  When my children were younger, our days were enriched by reading picture books. What a treat it was to curl up together on the sofa with a stack of books. The joy we found in those books was not flashy or over the top, but simple and deep. We cheered on Mike Mulligan and Maryanne, from Virginia Lee Burton’s MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 1939), to dig a little faster and a little deeper, and afterwards, scurried outside do our own digging in the snow.  And Sam McBratney’s GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU (Candlewick, 2005) evoked such warmth that we held our own matches to show how much we loved each other.

If you’re feeling downtrodden by the heavy-ness of life right now, may I suggest heading straight to your child’s book shelf?  Or, better yet, with the Christmas season soon upon us, perhaps it’s time to take out that box of Christmas-themed picture books you have stored in the attic (if you are like me).  Dust them off, and put them out so all can enjoy.

That’s what our family is doing this holiday season. Each night after dinner, starting on Thanksgiving, one family member will choose a book from the box to read-aloud to the rest of us. It will be our dessert!

As we read, I am certain that it won’t take long to feel that magical nostalgia, for picture books hold within their 32-pages, a much-needed reminder that our deepest joys are found in the simple pleasures of life.

Need help getting started?  Here are a few of my Christmas favorites (old and new and in no particular order):

ANGELA AND THE BABY JESUS, written by Frank McCourt and illustrated by Raul Colon (Simon and Schuster, 2007)

MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, written by Mindy Baker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Zonderkidz, 2018)

WHO IS COMING TO OUR HOUSE, written by Joseph Slate and illlustrated by Ashley Wolff (G.P. Putnam’d Sons, 1988)

LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS, writtten by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland (Beaming Books, 2020)

THE SWEET SMELL OF CHRISTMAS, written by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by J.P. Miller (Golden Books, 1970)

SOMETHING FOR CHRISTMAS, written and illustrated by Palmer Brown (Harper and Row, 1958)

and of course…

GOODNIGHT, MANGER, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by the wonderful Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz, 2015)

LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP – Six LOVELY Endorsements!

I was looking at the LITTLE EWE page on Amazon and was delighted to spot a new addition: six endorsements for this upcoming title. I’ve never had endorsements before and I’m very grateful. They are one tool a publisher uses to introduce a new book into the world.

And now, with the permission of Beaming Books, I’m delighted to share those endorsements here. I hope they inspire you to pre-order your copy of the book. And a big thank you to the endorsers for their thoughtful descriptions and recommendations.

“This adorable counting book incorporates the parable of the Lost Sheep and teaches little ones about the Shepherd’s love. With sweet rhyming text and colorful illustrations, parents will smile when their child says, “Read it again!” –– Crystal Bowman, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children including Our Daily Bread for Preschoolers and My Mama and Me.

“Meet Little Ewe and Shepherd in this perfectly penned rhyming, counting tale. A charming new take on an old story.”   — Glenys Nellist, author of author of over 20 children’s books including Little Mole Finds Hope and Little Mole’s Christmas Gift.

“Count along with Little Ewe as she explores the countryside in this beautiful picture book for young readers. Ignoring her shepherd, Little Ewe encounters spooky eyes and other captivating creatures. Caregivers and children alike will enjoy the reminder that when we feel lost and alone, our Shepherd’s love is always near and comforting.”  — Tina Cho, author of Rice from Heaven, My Breakfast with Jesus, and The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story

“From the engaging rhythm to the emotive illustrations, Little Ewe provides parents, teachers, and leaders with a powerful tool for sharing this seemingly simple retelling of the story of the Shepherd—and that one lost sheep. Kiddos will no doubt bounce and count along to the beat, while internalizing the unconditional love of a Shepherd who is always looking for that one mischievous little ewe.” —Amy Parker, Bestselling Author & Podcast Host

“Wrapped in lilting rhyme and inviting illustrations, Little Ewe is a delightful and poignant tale of God’s love for each one. Surrounded by a clever cast of characters and engaging numeric climb, we find our sweet Ewe in need of rescue that only the Shepherd can bring. Kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy the adventure again and again.” –– Becky Kopitzke, author of The Cranky Mom Fix and The SuperMom Myth

“Little Ewe skips away from her herd on her own counting adventure under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd. Though her distractions lead her to a dark place where she is hungry and alone, the Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to bring her back in a ‘Shepherd’s hug.’  This parable for young readers not only teaches numbers but the healing power of reconciliation.” — Rev. Elizabeth Wilder, Lead Pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church & School, Maplewood, Minnesota

It won’t be long now, until “ewe” too can read LITTLE EWE because it releases in just over three months –– February 23, 2021!

Please consider PRE-ORDERING your copy today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com, Indiebound.com or the vendor of your choice because pre-orders really do make a difference. If you do, let me know, and I’ll add you to my list of folks to send the pre-release link for the activity kit when it’s ready.

LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT: Six Extension Activities for 4 – 8 Year Olds (Plus a GIVEAWAY)

Today I am delighted to feature  LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, Glenys Nellist’s charming companion to LITTLE MOLE FINDS HOPE which I featured earlier this year. Published by Beaming Books and illustrated by Sally Garland LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT is a hearfelt tale of kindness and generosity set in motion by a mushroom! It would make a lovely edition to your family’s Christmas book collection.

Enjoy the book trailer. Then, in celebration of the book’s release, and in the hope of sparking kindness this holiday season and beyond, here are SIX extension activities for LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT.

Make a book-themed decoration. Add a festive reminder to your Christmas tree that kindness is the best gift of all by challenging your child to make a mushroom ornament designed by them! I chose felt, yarn, and buttons for my ornament, but there’s no limit to the creative options. Think egg carton, construction paper, clay, paper mâché! The possibilities are endless! Have fun!

Have a kindness celebration. After reading LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, celebrate kindness by encouraging your child to do something kind for someone in their family or class. Make cards, deliver food to a shelter, or bake cookies and deliver them to a neighbor who could use a little extra love and care.

Do a Read. Discuss. Do! Author Rebecca Gomez has created a delightful reading extension initiative called Read.Discuss.Do! Here’s one she created for LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT. To find others for a wide variety of favorite titles, search the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo on social media.

Have your child read to you! After several cozy readings of the story, let your littlest ones re-read the book to you using the pictures as clues. Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. So, snuggle up and enjoy being “read” to. (Older kids who can read on their own, can also enjoy investigating the illustrations ways the pictures also tell part of the story.)

Tromp through rain, or snow, or sleet. Wintry weather plays an integral role in this story and your children will delight in experiencing it first hand with some fun, exploratory walks through different weather conditions. Maybe they’ll even spot Little Mole or Little Chipmunk!

Make a tasty mushroom treat. At the end of the story Little Mole and his mama enjoy a tasty mushroom treat. Mushroom dishes are not high on a child’s want-to-eat list, but this could be an opportunity to grow their palettes with a mushroom (of the store-purchased variety only) dish. At our house, stuffed mushrooms baked with yummy cheese and breadcrumbs or crumbled sausage, for example, are a hit for ALL ages. A quick google search and you’ll find a whole host of recipes. Enjoy!

BONUS:  Check out the publisher’s website for an activity pack to accompany the story, chock full of book-themed activities.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS (Beaming Books, October 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway is sponsored by Beaming Books and ends Monday, 11/9/20 at 11:59 pm EST. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The WINNER is announced here.

[Note: Thank you to Beaming Books for this complimentary book that I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST: Five Book-Themed Conversation Topics with Author Rebecca J. Gomez

Today I’m delighted to have talented picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez here in celebration of her newest release TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST, co-written with Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Hilary Leung and published by Scholastic. In addition to possessing delightful story telling skills, Rebecca has a knack for creating extension activities and discussion ideas to enhance any storytime. Today she’s sharing some ideas for fostering book-themed conversation with little ones after reading her book. The extra neat thing is that these ideas can be applied to almost any book. Take it away, Rebecca!

When I was a little girl, just about to start Kindergarten, my mother walked the short route to school with me so that, when the first day of school came, I could walk there on my own with confidence. I remember walking together down our street, making a left turn, and cresting a hill. From the top of that hill, I could see my school. It was simple.

So, on the first day of Kindergarten, with both parents at work and my babysitter tending my younger siblings, I set out to school on my own with confidence! But that confidence vanished when I reached the top of the hill and there was no school in sight! Fortunately, I was able to retrace my steps and make it back home, where I cried on the front stoop until my mother returned from work.

Rebecca as a child.

It was a frightening experience that I have never repeated since, though I have had plenty of scary moments in my life. That is something we can all relate to; being lost and/or scared is a universal human experience. That’s what makes TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST such a relatable book. And that relatability opens the door for lots of good discussions.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five discussion topics to help you get the conversation going with your kiddos after reading TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST!

FIVE BOOK-THEMED CONVERSATION STARTERS


1. Start with something simple. What was your favorite party of the book? Why? 

2. Make a life connection. Talk about a time when you were lost and/or scared. How did the situation get resolved?

3. Discuss illustration choices. Why do you think the illustrator included images of spooky shadows and glowing eyes in the pictures?

4. Talk about the story’s resolution. Mack and Rig were able to find their way once they were together again. Why do you think being together made a difference?

5. Life application! What might Mack and Rig have done differently in order to avoid getting separated? What should you do if you ever get lost? 

BONUS!!!

Here are a few activity ideas to try after reading TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST:

1. Set up a track and have a race with your own toy trucks or cars Even better, set up your own version of Rugged Ride Park!

2. Draw a map of your neighborhood or a favorite playground.

3. Print and color this coloring page.

Have fun with your TWO TOUGH TRUCKS GET LOST story time!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Rebecca J. Gomez has been writing stories and poems for kids since she was five years old. She also loves to hike, draw, and play games with her husband and their three children. She also coauthored What About Moose? and Hensel and Gretel: Ninja Chicks with Corey Rosen Schwartz. She is also the author of Federico and the Wolf. She lives in Nebraska, but you can visit her at rebeccajgomez.com.

FREE Christmas Printable: GOODNIGHT, MANGER Coloring Page

NEW RESOURCE! Extend your GOODNIGHT, MANGER story time even more with this printable coloring page created by Zonderkidz.  

Use it to enrich your story time as:

  • a fun post-reading coloring activity
  • the template for a Christmas card
  • the picture prompt for a writing activity
  • the back drop for a class nativity set (with each child coloring one and assembling them quilt-style on a bulletin board behind the creche)

For an even fuller experience, use it with one or more of the GOODNIGHT, MANGER activities I’ve already compiled for you under the “Books” tab. Included there you will also find my very favorite extension idea that I use at all my preschool and church Christmas visits. Can you guess what it is? This!!!