Happy Thanksgiving!

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This is Phil.  He’s one of three peacocks in residence on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York.  All three were strangely MIA this Thanksgiving eve.  They were last spotted heading south on Broadway carrying suitcases, sunflower seeds, and wearing their “Proud as a Peacock” t-shirts.

They left a note on the coop for their caretaker.  “Back on November 29th.  Happy Thanksgiving!”

There are a number of super-fun articles about the peacocks.  One fun read is James Barron’s article, On Goldly Grounds, a Prideful Flock. Please click here for the link to article.

Although Phil maybe MIA, you can follow him on twitter at: @CathedralPhil

Happy Thanksgiving! GOBBLE! GOBBLE! HONK!

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By rnewman504

Laura Sassi, Spinning Tales in Prose and Rhyme

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Today I am thrilled to interview poet, author, and blogger extraordinaire, Laura Sassi.

Laura’s poems, stories, articles and crafts have appeared in many publications, including Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr., FamilyFun, and Pack-O-Fun.  She has a passion for playing with words and rhyming, and her first picture book, Goodnight, Ark, a rhymer, is coming out in 2014 (Zonderkidz, a HarperCollins Co.).  You can follow Laura at her wonderful blog, “Laura Sassi Tales: Celebrating Writing, Reading and Life.”  

Laura is represented by Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Laura writes from her century-old home in New Jersey where she lives with her awesome husband, two adorable kids, and a black Cockapoo, named Sophie.

Laura, thanks so much for doing this interview.

Let’s start at the beginning.  When did you start writing?  And how did you get started writing for children?

Thanks for having me, Robin.  I’ve been writing ever since I was a little girl.  One of my early stories, funnily enough, written at about age seven, was a retelling of Noah’s Ark.  My mother saved it for me and I recently unearthed it in a box of old school papers she sent me.  My spelling was atrocious, but I sure did have a goofy sense of humor!

After graduating with a Masters in Education, I jumped right into “grown up life” as an elementary school teacher and spent eight years teaching.  My favorite subject?  Language Arts.  I devoured children’s literature in those teaching years and started writing on the side for kids’ magazines.  That interest, however, didn’t really blossom until after my son was born.  Since I opted to stay at home, I suddenly found myself with wonderful, quiet built-in writing sessions—nap times!

After writing exclusively for the magazine market for several years, I decided to explore the picture book market.  I wrote my first picture book manuscript in 2007.  That one never sold, but I kept at it and finally in 2012 I sold my first picture book to Zonderkidz, a division of HarperCollins.

Can you tell us a little bit about your first picture book, Goodnight, Ark?  How did you decide to make it a rhymer?

Goodnight, Ark is a rollicking, yet ultimately soothing story about bedtime on Noah’s Ark. Two by two, scared by the escalating storm, various animals climb into Noah’s bed.  Noah must get them back to bed but how?  (You’ll have to read it yourself to discover the surprise solution.) Told in only 236 words, the short phrases and tight rhyme are really integral to the story.  Every word pushes the story forward and the alternating rhyming lines offer readers a riddle-like opportunity to guess which animals are going to bound up to bed next.

This month, I finally got thumbs-up from the publisher to announce who my illustrator is!  Here are three hints:  She’s British.  She’s a five time New York Times Best-Seller illustrator, and she’s always wanted to depict wild boars in a picture book.  Can you guess who it is?  Check your answer out at my blog.

I hear it’s very hard to sell a rhyming picture book.  Has this been your experience?  Do you have any advice for any want-to-be picture book rhymers?

My experience has been that selling rhyming picture books is challenging, but not impossible. My one big piece of advice is that if you choose to rhyme, you need to make sure that your meter is perfect and that your rhymes are fresh and unexpected.  You also need to assess your project to make sure that the rhyme enhances and is integral to the text.  The story must always come first.  Not all stories, in my opinion, work in rhyme.  That’s why I have a couple percolating that I know now will definitely NOT be rhymers.

Can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects?  What’s a typical writing day like for you?

I currently have several picture book projects and poems at various stages of development including one that’s just about ready to go out on sub.  I like to keep a little mystery surrounding my stories so I’m not going to say much about them except to say they’re short, humorous, and feature animal characters.  Current WIP animal protagonists include mice, goats, and even a fish.

As far as a typical writing day, I try to set aside two good hours per day to write and reflect and be creative.  I like to write in a notebook as well as on my laptop, both of which are very portable.  I often take my projects on the road, so to speak.  I’ve been spotted writing on park benches, while my kids play at the park.  I also have a favorite corner in the library where I sometimes write.  But my favorite writing spot is curled up in a chair, or at my little writer’s desk, with Sophie, our little black Cockapoo, snuggled close beside me.

How can your fans get a hold of you if they would like you to do a school visit?

Good question.  I actually realized that I didn’t really have a good way so you inspired me.  I now have a “Contact Form” on my blog.  Thanks, Robin!

Madeleine, my faithful, over-worked, ever-hungry, ill-mannered four-legged companion (and as you can see a trained killer!), would also like to ask Sophie a question.  What’s the squirrel situation like in your neck of the woods?  

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Sophie:  Woof!  Woof!  Forget squirrels—I chase bunnies!  They’re fast hoppers and I haven’t caught up with one yet, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

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Lastly, do you have any advice for new writers? 

First, read as many books as you can in your preferred genre, noting what makes them work and what doesn’t.  Second, write daily and from the heart.  Don’t be afraid to play with words and try new styles and plot structures.  I’d also recommend finding a critique partner, or better yet, a small critique group.  The companionship of fellow writers is very encouraging and sustaining.  I value very highly the writing friends I have made over the years.

Laura, many thanks for doing this interview.  I cannot wait to get my first copies of Goodnight, Ark!  All the best and much success.  

You are so very welcome!  This has been loads of fun, and please, give Madeleine a virtual treat for me.

Will do, Laura!  And here are some treats for Sophie! 🙂

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Ducks, Chicks, Orangutans, and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Oh My!

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Giggles, squeals and questions abounded from the library yesterday when Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen stopped by to read Duck, Duck, Moose!, Orangutangled, and Snoring Beauty to the kindergartners at my son’s school.

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And there were even more giggles, squeals and questions when the kindergartners learned that these books were so new that they weren’t even in the library or the bookstore!

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Sudipta shared some super cool facts and secrets with the children.

  • Chickens have hips.
  • In Chicks Run Wild, the five chicks represent both hers and the illustrator’s children, and there’s even artwork in the book done by each of their kids!  How cool is that?
  • Sudipta loves mangos.
  • Everything is better with a moose.
  • It does not take Sudipta 100 years to write a picture book. 🙂

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It was a wonderful afternoon.  And we’re all hoping (fingers and toes crossed!) that she’ll come back for another visit.

p.s. Please click here to visit Sudipta at her website.  And don’t forget to check out her awesome blog, Nerdy Chicks Rule, which she shares with Kami Kinard and Mary Zisk, by clicking here.

The Inside Story: Speed Dating with Authors and Illustrators

Today the SCBWI launched its program, Inside Story, in cooperation with First Book[1] and select independent bookstores.

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Taking place in ten cities, the purpose of the program is to introduce readers, librarians, and teachers to new releases and to build traffic at independent bookstores.

So, how does it work? Authors and illustrators are given a short period of time to talk about themselves and their books.  As we all know, it’s no easy task telling an author to keep his or her word counts down.

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At Bank Street Bookstore in New York, middle grade and young adult authors were given three minutes to tell us their backstories and sell us on their titles.  Because of time constraints, I only had time to sit in on the middle grade authors, but let me tell you, those authors did not disappoint!

Patricia Lakin

Patricia Lakin, Steve Jobs: Thinking Differently 

Laurie Calkhoven

Laurie Calkhoven, Michael at the Invasion of France, 1943

Jane Breskin Zalben

Jane Breskin Zalben, Four Seasons: A Novel in Four Movements 

Josanne La Valley

Josanne La Valley, The Vine Basket

Maryann Macdonald

Maryann Macdonald, Odette’s Secrets

Chris Grabenstein

Chris Grabenstein, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

The three-minute snippets felt a bit like speed dating.  But those three minutes were jam packed with awesome details—the moment they knew they had a story, how a character came to life, and even why one author had no regrets for having sideswiped the M104 Broadway bus.  You learn something new every day!

Charise Harper

Charise Harper, Just Grace and the Trouble with Cupcakes

Jane Kelley

Jane Kelley, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno & Alya 

Beth Ain

Beth Ain, Starring Jules (As Herself)

Paula J. Freedman

Paula J. Freedman, My Basmati Bat Mitzvah 

John J. Bonk

John J. Bonk, Madhattan Mystery

For more information on the Inside Story, please check out the SCBWI’s website, by clicking here.

And to purchase any of the authors’ titles, please check out Bank Street’s website, by clicking here.


[1] First Book helps children in need obtain new books.  To learn more, please click here.

By rnewman504