SCHOOL VISIT: Thank you, Hillside Avenue School!

I spent a delightful couple of hours Monday morning visiting with the K-2nd graders at Hillside Avenue School. After introducing myself and sharing a couple of the sparks (real-life things that happened to my own kids) that inspired the story, I read them LOVE IS KIND, pausing occasionally to reflect on how the text and the illustrations work together to tell the story. I also challenged them to give me a nod when we got to the parts of the story that were inspired by real-life events. (Hint: They had to do with the tooth fairy and a floating five dollar bill! If this intrigues you, you’ll just have to read the story.)

Afterwards, using sketches, galleys and more, I took them on the journey a picture book takes from inspiration to publication. And all along the way, I challenged them to think about how they, too, are writers and illustrators and how the stories we create just keep getting better and better when we take those original sparks and play and play with them through multiple rounds of revision until they sparkle. Finally, we closed with a Q&A where they impressed me with their thoughtful questions.

This event helped kick off the school’s Week of Respect, a national occasion that is celebrated in schools nationwide. And since love and kindness are two thoughtful ways one can show respect, LOVE IS KIND seemed a perfect pick.

Thank you, teachers and students for a great visit. And a special thanks to the school’s very kind librarian for arranging the visit. What a fun way to start the week!

Happy reading and writing to all!

Back to Bedtime Routine… with GOODNIGHT, ARK and others!

 Summer is a magical time. The days are long and filled with adventure. Everything is less structured. Even bedtime routines become more relaxed. For our family that means lots of after dinner swims and strolls downtown for ice cream. And what fun it is to hang out on the front porch chatting and listening to the sounds of the night.

When my kids were little, it was even more magical because one of their favorite after dinner activities was chasing lightning bugs at twilight. Even Sophie, our pooch, would join in the fun and when the bugs landed on her black fur, she’d light up like magic in the dark! 

But as August winds down, it was (and still is) time to rein in bedtime and restore earlier, more calming bedtime routines so that everyone is rested and ready for the start of school. 

With that in mind, what FUN this morning to see GOODNIGHT, ARK included in this round up of cozy bedtime stories from Zonderkidz – perfect for sailing into fall with a cozy bedtime routine. Interested in checking out the list? I’ll make it easy for you. Press here.

PICTURE BOOKS: What Makes A Perennial Favorite?

Summer time reminds me that I LOVE perennials, those wonderful plants that bloom in my garden, season after season, where they are enjoyed by all, again and again. My favorites include my butterfly bush, the daisies, the echinacea, the black-eyed susans and, most especially, my beloved roses – that remind me of my mother who faithfully tended her to her perennials year after year. 

The joy of seeing my perennials bloom more gloriously than ever has gotten me thinking about how picture books – the good ones – are like perennials too, enjoyed by generations of kids and caregivers. 

So, what makes a picture book a perennial favorite?

I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface, but here are FIVE characteristics that I think elevate a picture book to perennial status.  What would you add? 

Characteristic #1: Perennial picture books are fun to read again and again for both kids and caregivers.  Books that have this quality tend to have fresh plot lines, fresh characters and fresh word play. They might incorporate a fun refrain or include fun sound words or rhymes, both of which engage youngest readers.  Many can also be enjoyed on more than one level, thus appealing to littlest ones and their grown up readers.

Characteristic #2: Perennial picture books have charming illustrations that engage the reader and add to the story. Children are incredibly observant and LOVE perusing illustrations for extra story clues. The extra details in perennial favorites are often related to plot or the personality of the protagonist. Sometimes, though, the illustrations engage by offering extra details. These details might be conducive to playing “I spy” as you read, or they could be humorous clues to what will happen next, or offer readers a parallel visual story as they read.  These illustrations can take many forms – but they all result in on thing – creating a magical reading experience that draws readers of all ages to return to their perennial favorites again and again.

Characteristic #3: Perennial picture books tap into universal themes that have and will most likely to continue to stand the test of time.  Perennially favorite themes include friendship, love, discovery, thankfulness, overcoming hardship etc.  However, to stand out, and remain a perennial favorite, the universal theme must be handled in a fresh and fun way. (See characteristic #1.)

Characteristic #4: In contrast to holiday-themed picture books which tend to be read just during their particular season of celebration, perennial favorites can be read and enjoyed anytime of year.  Their settings may be distinct, and usually are, but the plots of perennial favorites typically don’t focus on a particular holiday.  (Christmas picture books may be the exception because, at least in our house, my kids enjoyed several of those all year round.)

Characteristic #5: Perennial favorites often wrap up with a soothing restful ending, conducive to putting little ones to bed.  Many times this takes the form of the characters in the story literally settling down to sleep themselves, but it can also simply be a cozy feel good ending, that’s not set at bedtime, but still has that soothing, “everything’s all right” feel.

Happy reading… and I’d love to hear what you’d add to my list! 

FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK: Six Extension Activities for Families and Classrooms

There’s a new NATURE-LOVING picture book on the trail, just in time for spring hikes and summer explorations with your child. It’s called FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK (Pomegranate Kids, March 15, 2019) and it’s written by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Mirka Hokkanen. It’s a beautiful read and perfect for sparking thoughtful conversations with your little ones about nature – and especially about endangered species.

Here’s the description from the inside flap:  

“Water wakes. Wildlife greets the day and finds shelter, safety, and fun on the river in this lyrical, ecologically oriented counting book. One willow flycatcher, two dragonflies, three kit foxes, and more thrive in their habitat. As kids count, the day turns from dawn to dusk, and the character of the water changes as quickly as a child’s moods. Animals sing, leap, tiptoe, toboggan, hoot, hunt, flit, flutter, and hover. They ride out a storm, bask in waning rays, and tuck in under the silver moon.

Filled with modern wood engravings, Four Otters Toboggan celebrates wild beauty, encouraging readers of all ages to preserve and cherish our planet. After the story is finished, children can read more about each species in the back of the book, conservation efforts, what causes animals to become endangered, and what people can do to protect wild habitats.”

Now, in celebration of the book’s release, and in the hope of sparking some good conversations with your children, here are SIX extension activities for  FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN!  

1. Take a counting hike.  After reading FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN, take your child on their own nature walk through your neighborhood or at a local preserve. Bring along a notebook so they can keep a counting list of what animals, insects etc. they see. With each creature they spot, stop an marvel at what a wondrous gift it is to able to see these animals in the wild.

Here are some creatures my kids and I have spotted over the years:

2. Make your own animal counting book.  Inspired by Vivian’s delightful text and Mirka’s wondrous illustrations (and using the counting list they tallied in the hiking activity), challenge your child to create their own nature counting book.

3. Visit a local nature center.  Extend the lessons of the book by visiting a nature center or museum in your area. For example, all within an hour radius of our our, I have taken my kids to a nature museum by the sea, in the woods, and along the marshes. Some of these museums are tiny, but what they all have in common is that they celebrate and teach about the local species in each of those habitats.  

4. Watch the illustrator create one of the engravings from the story. One of the standout features of this delightful book are illustrator Mirka Hokkanen’s amazing modern wood engravings. With that in mind, older children might enjoy hearing and watching the illustrator herself as she describes the process using the very engravings that appear in the story!  Her presentation has three parts. I’m sharing the second part because it shows her actually engraving the owls from the story!  

Here it is: 

5. Create your own simple engravings.  After watching Mirka describe her process, you children might be inspired to try their own engravings. Here’s a link to a simple block printing project from Art Class Curator that even the youngest child can do.

6. Download the “Otterly Awesome Companion Activity Book for Four Otters: A Counting Book”.  This eleven page booklet includes crafts, coloring pages, puzzles, a hands-on idea page for how to care for endangered species and more! It will provide several sessions of wonderful follow-up conversation and thought.

To learn more about Vivian Kirkfield: https://viviankirkfield.com   

To learn more about artist Mirka Hokkanen: http://www.mirkah.com/books/

To learn more about Pomegranate Kids: https://www.pomegranate.com

Winter 2019 BOOK Events

 Saturday, February 2, 10:30 am.  Join me for an interactive LOVE IS KIND story time. Simple Valentine craft to follow. Watchung Booksellers, Montclair.

Thursday, February 14, 6:30 pm  It’s a special Valentine’s Day Pajama Story Time at the Kenilworth Public Library featuring LOVE IS KIND and a book-themed craft! Registration required – call or stop by the children’s desk.

Sunday, February 17, 2 pm.  Join me for an interactive LOVE IS KIND story time. Simple Valentine craft to follow. Tottenville Evangelical Free Church, Staten Island, NY (Little Owl’s first Staten Island Appearance!)

Saturday, March 9, 10:00 am.  Join me and DIVA DELORES at the Cranford Public Library for its 2nd annual Picture Book Palooza! Picture book authors and illustrators will be sharing books and crafts. This event, for children ages 4-8 and their families, will provide young readers with an opportunity to meet the creators of some truly amazing stories!

READ. DISCUSS. DO!: Learn about Opera with DIVA DELORES!

TRA- LA-LA! Today I’m delighted to share a DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE 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.  I hope this inspires a little opera investigating (and maybe even some singing) at your house today.   Happy reading, discussing and doing! 

For more DIVA DELORES extension activities, check the Books tab above!

2018 Best in Rhyme Top 20!


I’m delighted to share that DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling Children’s Books) has been selected as one of this year’s top twenty contenders for the Best in Rhyme Award. The top 10 will be announced next month and finalists and winner will be announced in February at the KidLit TV studio! There are so many wonderful books/author/illustrators included in this list! Congrats to all and I hope you will each take a moment to add these titles to your to-read lists. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the Best in Rhyme Award, it is the brainchild of rhyming picture book author Angie Karcher.  Newer writers are often discouraged from writing in rhyme, but this Award celebrates the joyful reality that rhyming stories are alive and well, but that they must be impeccably written.  Past winners include Diana Murray, Penny Parker Klostermann and Lori Mortenson. To learn more, visit https://rhymerev.com.  

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!

 

Schedule a School Visit with Laura Sassi

school visit collage

As a former teacher and ever champion of reading and writing, I love visiting schools.  I am currently in the process of setting up my 2018 – 2019 school visit calendar. My picture book visits are perfect for students, PreK thru Grade 2.

During a visit I typically do any or all of the following:

  • Read the story using puppets to help with the story telling.
  • Celebrate the special ability of picture books to tell a story using both pictures and words. Demonstrate that neither is complete without the other.
  • Take the children on an engaging journey that shows how an idea goes from inspiration to publication (and get them excited about their own writing too!).
  • Share interesting “artifacts” including early drafts & sketches, proofs, folded galleys & more.
  • Participate in a Q&A session. 
  • Provide post-visit writing prompts so they can write their own illustrated stories!

Understanding that priorities differ, I will happily work with you to tailor the visit to your needs. 

I prefer classroom presentations (30 – 40 minutes each) to whole school assemblies so students can better interact with the author, ask questions, and see the artifacts.  Classes may be combined. 

Options:  1/2 day (from start of day until lunch)  or full day. I am also available for Skype visits.

For information regarding fees, visit details,  book orders etc., please contact me via the “contact” tab in the blog header.

I look forward to hearing from you.

FAN MAIL with MISS A: Thank you, Tami Charles!

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Today Miss A. – my reluctant reader and writer – asked if she could write a guest post to share her excitement over receiving an author-response to a recent fan letter she wrote to an author whose book she LOVED.  Maybe, I need to rephrase this… Today, my daughter, who USED to be a reluctant reader and writer – asked if she could write this guest post.  My response?  Of course!  Take it away, Miss A.! 

Have you ever been inspired to write a letter to an author whose book you loved?  Well, I was inspired to write one to author Tami Charles after reading her book Like Vanessa (Charlesbridge, 2018).

Like Vanessa is about a girl named Vanessa who enters a school pageant as a way of finding her happiness and who discovers that happiness isn’t found exactly where she thought it was.  

After reading Tami’s book, I just knew I had to reach out to her.  In the letter, I told her how much I loved her book and how I found her book such an inspiration for me. I found her book inspiring because I’ve always had trouble having to speak up for myself. Her book shows me that I can be strong and have confidence in myself.

I’ve written fan letters before, but never gotten a response. This time, however, was different because in the mail today I received a special letter from Tami Charles! And here is a little piece of that letter:

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In her wonderful letter, she explained that she wrote the book for girls just like me and she thanked me for writing her an old-fashioned letter!  I may even get to meet her this summer!  

Thank you, Tami, for inspiring me with your book and for taking the time to answer my letter!  I will keep it tucked forever in my copy of Like Vanessa!