Interview With Picture Book Author Laura Sassi

I met Laura Sassi at a workshop event held by the New Jersey chapter of the SCBWI Laura hosts a wonderful blog Laura Sassi Tales where she blogs about crafts, activities and stories for children. All right up my alley! She recently released her first picture book GOODNIGHT ARK (Zonderkidz). It’s my delight and pleasure to have this opportunity to talk to Laura about the book.

Congratulations on the publication of GOODNIGHT ARK. Noah’s Ark is a popular story. What made you decide to do a picture about it? What makes this story different?

Actually, the Noah’s Ark twist came in a roundabout way. The initial inspiration was personal experience. When my kids were little, they and the dog often bounded into our bed during storms. Getting them back to their own beds in the midst of howling winds and pounding rain was challenging. With that as my spark, but thinking that ordinary kids and pets in an ordinary bed, might be kind of boring, I kept switching up the setting until it hit me: Noah’s Ark! As soon as I had decided upon my setting, my mind whirred with all the possible animals that might pile in. I knew early on that I wanted my story to rhyme and that I wanted the rhymes to create a riddle-feel in which young readers could use the first rhyme in each pair to guess what the next animal might be. So I guess what makes it different is that isn’t a literal retelling of Noah and his ark. Rather it’s a fun rhyming bedtime story set on Noah’s Ark.

What has been the most rewarding thing since the book’s debut?              Image 1

Two rewarding things come to mind. First, I feel a great sense of gratitude towards all the people who encouraged me along the way not to give my dream of writing rhyming picture books. I am grateful for my agent and editor for believing in the project and for Jane Chapman for illustrating Goodnight, Ark so delightfully. At the same time I feel a nice sense of accomplishment in knowing that I stuck with an idea from beginning to end, honing and improving it along the way, and enjoying the journey each step of the way.

I would also add that I am LOVING this post-publication stage where I get to go to schools and libraries and bookstores to do readings of GOODNIGHT, ARK and interact with my readers. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always loved interacting with kids and now I’m getting to do both.

Which animals on the ark have kids most resonated with? Has this surprised you?

This is a fun question. GOODNIGHT, ARK is full of all sorts of wild creatures including wild boars, elephants, snakes, quail and skunks! And at every school, library, and bookstore visit, children invariably like to share which pair of wilds beasts they like best. The skunks are top contenders, possibly because I have two skunk puppet assistants who help with the story telling.          

Storytelling skunks

Storytelling skunks

The green lizards that quietly cling to the ark walls on several pages are also quite popular. My favorite response, however, came from a sweet little kindergartner at one of the schools I visited. When asked which animals were her favorite, she said the wild boar because she thought their bristles would come in handy for scratching her back if she had a mosquito bite. Now that’s creative thinking!

DJ:  Wonderful! Isn’t that why we love writing for Children? How can teachers use your book in a classroom setting?
GOODNIGHT, ARK just fun to read just for the pure enjoyment of reading – which is a love I hope to pass on to future generations. It also readily lends itself to many curriculum-based activities. It’s great for practicing prediction skills, listening for rhyme, looking for patterns, practicing counting, and addition and more. If teachers or parents are interested in specific activities, I have created several extension activities for GOODNIGHT, ARK which are available on my blog.

You have another book coming out called GOODNIGHT MANGER. Please tell us about it and about any other projects you’re working on.

Yes, GOODNIGHT, MANGER will release in October, just in time for the holiday season. In this rhyming Christmas story for little ones, it’s time for Baby Jesus to go to sleep, but between adoring animals, itchy hay, angels’ joyful singing, and three kings bearing noisy gifts, there’s just too much commotion. How will Mary and Joseph ever get him to sleep? (You’ll have to read to find out.) Zonderkidz recently sent me the folded galleys for GOODNIGHT, MANGER and Jane Chapman has again done a wonderful job with the illustrations. I can’t wait to share this story with the world!

Thanks so much for having me, Darlene. This has been a fun interview.

DJ: The pleasure has been all mine, Laura!     IMG_3053

BIO: Laura Sassi has a passion for telling humorous stories in rhyme. She is the author of two picture books published by Zonderkidz: GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER, Her poems, stories, articles, and crafts have appeared in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. and elsewhere. She writes daily from her century-old home in New Jersey where she lives with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie.

Laura Sassi
Children’s book author and poet
GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, August ’14)

Blog: <
Book Trailer: <;



Making Reading an Everyday Habit by Suzy Leopold

Suzy Leopold is back to discuss an important topic near and dear to my own heart: The power and importance of reading to children.  Here’s Suzy:

Many of you agree that reading every day is important. Sharing the love of reading is my passion. Sharing the value of reading and encouraging kids to read for pleasure every day provides many benefits.

The first step is to begin with a daily reading routine with young children. There are many benefits of reading board books, cloth books and picture books to babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Listening to the rhythm and sounds of language, links the words to meaning for babies by age one. Reading during snuggle time helps babies to grow and develop a healthy brain. The closeness of being with your young children as they drift off to sleep is priceless. Your child will ask you to read a favorite picture book numerous times; just go with it.

Suzy reading to her grandchildren.

Suzy reading to her grandchildren.

Many parents believe kids no longer need to be read to once they learn how to read on their own. Some parents question the idea to read outside of school. Aren’t my kids reading at school? Yes, reading takes place in the classroom.

But, research indicates that kids who read 20 minutes a day at home read 1,800,000 words per year and score in the 90th percentile on standardized tests.

By listening to picture books and chapter books that are read aloud, emergent and developing readers, ages 4 – 6, hear new vocabulary and listen to the pronunciation of new words. Additionally, they gain listening and speaking skills, and improved cognitive development.         IMG_2431

Over time, older readers, ages 7 – 12, will insist on reading independently. Encourage this choice. Additionally, take the time to read aloud to this age group. Consider the genre of nonfiction, that includes informational type texts to read together. A parent can read one chapter aloud and the child can read the next chapter, taking turns. Suggest graphic novels that are silly to serious.

Think about books that you read and enjoyed as a kid. Recommend some favorite classics to your children. Books are called classic because they stand the test of time and continue to engage readers generation after generation.         IMG_2432

Encourage kids to read across all genres of fiction and nonfiction. Kids go through phases of genres they’re passionate about, from girl detective stories to historical fiction to sports biographies. Some kids are curious about animals, castles, or pirates. Encourage the love of reading.

How can a daily routine of reading fit into a family’s already busy schedule, you ask? With the hustle, bustle of daily lives that includes numerous routines and activities at home, in school and work, finding time for what is important can be a challenge. On a daily basis there are family meals and chores, evening homework and after school activities along with so much more. Some days the clock seems to be in a fast forward motion.

IMG_2428There are never enough hours in the day to do what one wants to do and needs to do.

Think about what is important to you and your family. Think about priorities. Establish a routine. Daily reading for children is an investment in future success. There is no acceptable excuse to not make room for reading.

Fitting reading into your family’s routine and lifestyle is a choice. Encourage reading time for independent reading or reading aloud. Set aside time for reading. Read to kids at bedtime or find a few moments to read in the morning at the breakfast table. Perhaps your family prefers afternoon reading time that includes an after school snack. Turn off the TV, phones and the computer that may distract from the pleasure of reading.

While running errands, talk to your children and ask them questions about letters and words seen in environmental print. Include words from road signs and places of business. Take books along while waiting at the doctor’s office, driving through a car wash or standing in a long check out line at the grocery store. Use these few minutes to encourage reading.

Kids need to know there is something worthwhile about books and remember the special times spent reading together with a parent or a grandparent. They will remember the books, too. Parents can influence their kids’ appreciation for books by sharing their love of literature and modeling their love for books. Your kids need to see you reading for pleasure. Keep kids engaged and encourage them to become lifelong readers. Together, take the time to devour book after book. Both you and your kids should always have a book to read.

hand sewn bookmarkSuzy will be happy to give-away one of her lovely hand-sewn bookmarks to one lucky reader of this blog. Just leave a comment if you are interested and I will pull names from the writer’s hat. Contest ends April 10.

Follow Suzy and her writer friends on their group blog:
Word Press:
Twitter: SuzyK5     Facebook: suzy.leopold

Creating a Journal: by Suzy Leopold

Can you guess what Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and Theodore Roosevelt all have in common? They all kept journals. All of these famous individuals wrote in a personal notebook on a daily basis.

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci kept over forty notebooks? He wrote about his activities, and recorded plans for his engineering projects. If Meriwether Lewis had not kept a journal, while exploring across North America, we would not have a glimpse of his travels, during the time he lived, nor the geographical information that he recorded in his journal. The beloved, world class diary, The Diary of Anne Frank, was written while Anne and her family hid in an attic, from the Nazis during World War II. Reading her remarkable child diary connects the reader to the horrors of the war. President Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, kept a kind of diary. On little scraps of paper, he jotted down thoughts and sometimes referred to these notes in his speeches. Our beloved president was a powerful orator. His love for the written word was evident in his love for books. As a young man, Abraham always had a book stashed away. He read whenever he found a chance to do so, sometimes finding a moment in between chores on the farm. On a page from Abraham’s schoolbook he wrote the following poem:

Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen
he will be good but
god knows when

Do you keep a journal? I hope you do and if you don’t, consider the fact that journaling promotes good health and wellness. Journaling expands our minds. Journaling increases vocabulary, while improving on one’s creative writing ability.

A journal can be kept for a variety of writing topics and a variety of reasons. Perhaps you want to capture a new experience or record something special, exciting and memorable. Perhaps after a crummy day, you may need to vent, solve a problem or unload your thoughts. Do so, in a journal. Jotting down favorite Bible verses, quotes, poems and sayings are all wonderful ideas for a personal journal. A journal can be used to generate a shopping list, make a wish list, or even produce a To Do List.

As a writer, brainstorm thoughts and make lists in a journal. Use a journal for pre writing that is spontaneous and written in a first draft form. Try a strategy referred to as quickwriting. It is an informal ramble of words on paper to develop and generate ideas. Jump start your writing with some writing prompts that may spark creativity. Make a list. Doodle. Sketch. Create a graphic organizer. Think of bold beginnings, mighty middles, and exciting endings. Add mementos and ephemera. Jot down words and more words. Keep on writing. Just focus on your thinking and ideas, not grammar and spelling. The revisions and editing can follow later. Use a variety of writing implements. You can use more than a pencil. Try writing with colored pencils, markers, or even a collection of rainbow colored pens.

Consider sharing personal thoughts, dreams and hopes, as you write. A journal can record whatever is on your mind. Just like reading, writing should take place every day. So grab a writing instrument and a notebook and begin to record your thoughts.

 Materials Needed:

One composition notebook or student journal
Three pieces of 12 X 12 inch scrapbook paper
Glue stick
Hot glue gun                                        September 2010 040
Paper cutter (optional)
Di cut letters or letter stickers
Ribbon or Rick Rack


1. Using three sheets of scrapbook paper, cut two pieces of scrapbook paper 8 X 12 inches.           journal pic

2. Apply a generous amount of glue to the journal, position the scrapbook paper and smooth out any bubbles.

3. Wrap and fold the extended edges of the scrapbook paper, creating mitered corners and secure with a generous amount of glue.

journal 5journal 74. Cut two pieces of scrapbook paper 9 X 6 inches. Using a glue stick adhere to the inside covers of the journal.      journal 8

5. Open the journal to the middle section of the notebook that reveals the stitching. Hot glue two or three 14 inch pieces of ribbon on the top edge. Drape the pieces of ribbon across sections of the notebook to become a bookmark. Tie a knot at the bottom of each piece of ribbon.       journal 9
6. Time to embellish your journal with scrapbook stickers and cutouts, etc. Use additional scraps of scrapbook paper. Recycle greeting cards. Use buttons and babbles. Be creative.




Suzy Leopold is delighted to offer the opportunity for one reader to win a personalized journal. She will create and mail the journal to the winner. Just leave a comment on this post and I will enter your name in the give-away. If you tweet about it or share it on FB, I will put your name in again. If you reblog, you get another chance. Just let me know what you’ve done so I can put the correct number of names in the drawing. Give-away ends on Friday April 3, 2015.

Follow Suzy and her writer friends on their group blog:
Word Press:    suzy pic
Twitter: SuzyK5 Facebook: suzy.leopold

Fifth Avenue Fidos: A New Adult Rom-Com with “Bite” by Holly Schindler

When a mutt from Queens meets a purebred New Yorker, it takes man’s—and woman’s—best friend to convince them what they feel is more than puppy love.

Mable Barker, a hilarious, good-natured sweetheart who is always the pal but never the girlfriend, endures nine horrendous months of bouncing between lackluster New York City jobs (and suffering unrequited love) in her unsuccessful attempt to find her one true talent. So when she meets Innis, the ill-tempered Upper East Side Pekingese, she assumes her dog-walking days are numbered, too; soon, she’ll be heading back to Queens brokenhearted, tail tucked between her legs. But Innis belongs to the adorable yet painfully shy young veterinarian, Jason Mead, a man whose awkward ways around women have him dreaming not of finding love for himself but of playing canine matchmaker—breeding Westminster champions.

When Mable and Jason meet, romance is officially unleashed: they find an instant connection and shared goal, as it appears that Mable could very well have what it takes to be a professional handler, soon to be seen holding Innis under a banner labeled, “Best in Show.” As Jason and Mable get closer to putting a new twist on the term “dog lovers,” outside forces—Mable’s overprotective brothers, a successful wedding planner with her eye on Jason, even the theft of purebred pups from Jason’s Fifth Avenue apartment building—all threaten to come between them. Will Mable and Jason simply let their burgeoning love roll over and play dead? Or will they rally to make sure Innis emerges as the leader of the pack?

Brimming with humor and endearing characters, Holly Schindler’s Fifth Avenue Fidos offers a sweet romance and modern-day fairy tale in which dogs, not dragons, rule the land…a story about the loves that help us realize our dreams.             FAFLargeCover




The book will also be available through B&N as well. B&N has no pre-order option; the book will go live on March 20. All links to purchase will be found here:


Holly Schindler is the author of four traditionally published books. Her work has received starred reviews in Booklist and Publishers Weekly, has won silver and gold medals in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and the IPPY Awards, respectively, has been featured on Booklist’s Best First Novels for Youth and School Library Journal’s What’s Hot in YA, and has been a PW Pick of the Week. Fifth Avenue Fidos is her first independently published book. She is owned by a Pekingese named Jake and can be found working on her next book in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri. She can also be found at      

Holly Schindler: Author of FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS.

Holly Schindler: Author of FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS.


#RaisingReaders Monday: Best Biographies for Women’s History Month!

In honor of Women’s History month, I am reblogging this awesome post by Carol Simon Levin.


meme for womens history

(graphic from the National Women's History Museum)

Guest Post: Celebrating Women’s History Month

Encouraging girls and boys to go beyond their comfort zones, to take risks and make history!

My name is Carol Simon Levin.  I am a Youth Services Librarian, storyteller, historical impersonator, and aspiring author and I am delighted to have been invited by Katey to do a guest post on one of my passions — sharing the stories of “fascinating women history (mostly) forgot” with kids.
There was a young woman who wanted to fly.
But the people said, “Kiss that wish good-bye!Nobbody Owns the Sky
The sky’s too big and the sky’s too high,
And you never will fly, so you’d better not try.”
But this woman laughed, and she just said, “Why?
Nobody owns the sky!”

from Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of
“Brave Bessie” Coleman
 by Reeve Lindbergh

(Bessie Coleman was a black woman…

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Signs of Spring. One is a Recipe!

Maybe when you look out your window you still see this:   2014-02-01 03.33.52

Officially spring is only five days away.  And even under all the snow, there are sure signs of spring.

Take the kids outside and have a PHOTO SCAVENGER HUNT.  This is where you look for signs of spring and take a picture of them.  Turn over rocks and old garden beds to see sprouted seedlings, bugs and even worms beginning to creep out of the winter soil.  Buds are swelling on trees. In my yard, a sure sign of spring is the rhubarb and asparagus.  These are two perennial vegetables that come up every year and don’t have to be replanted to bear fruit.

Daffodils spotted on 3-11-2015 in my flower bed.

Daffodils spotted on 3-11-2015 in my flower bed.

When you get back indoors from your “finding spring” adventure, why not make some IRISH SODA BREAD AS YOU SHARE THE PHOTOS.   For me, that’s another sure sign of spring!

Irish Soda Bread
4 C flour (I use 1C whole wheat) ½ C sugar 1 T baking powder
1 t salt 1 t baking soda 1 C. raisins plumped (see note)
4 T melted butter 1 ½ C buttermilk 1 lg. egg
1. Preheat oven to 375. Grease and flour a round pan or cookie sheet.
2. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, powder and salt.
3. Pour melted butter into dry ingredients and mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in raisins.
4. In a separate bowl beat buttermilk, egg and baking soda. Add to flour mix until blended.
5. Turn dough onto floured surface, and knead until smooth – about 1 minute. If dough is sticky, flour your hands as you knead. Shape dough into two round loaves.
6. Place dough in prepared pan. With a sharp knife, make 2 crisscross slits in dough.
7. Bake for 45-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Let rest for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.
8. Serve sliced with butter or jam. Bet you can’t eat just one piece!
NOTE: Pour boiling water over the raisins and let them stand for 5 minutes to soften. Drain and pat dry.            soda bread 2

What are your favorite signs of spring!?


We’ve had a cold winter in southern New Jersey. Those who live here have learned to acclimate or move elsewhere. Have you ever thought about the animals or birds that live in the cold, snowy climate and thrive there? Do they ever move elsewhere’?
The snowy owl , also known as the Arctic owl or great white owl spends most of its time living and nesting in the Arctic tundra of Alaska, Canada and Eurasia. Comparable in size to NJ’s great horned owl, it has much more body fat that keeps it warm and allows it to live in the coldest regions on earth.

In a very good year of hunting, a snowy owl will eat three to five lemmings, rabbits, mice or birds a day. Most owls hunt at night making them nocturnal but the snowy owl is diurnal which means it hunts during the day. When there is a good supply of food , the owl will lay more eggs and produce more young. So the size of the clutch of eggs is totally dependent on the abundance of food.         

Author's photo of the Snowy Owl.

Author’s photo of the Snowy Owl taken at Island Beach State Park, January 2105.

“Irruptions” are when larger than usual numbers of snowy owls venture beyond their normal Arctic habitats. Scientists suspect that the larger population of juvenile snowy owls traveling further south is also a result of an increased number of young born and fledged and then the ensuing competition for food.
During the winter of 2013/14, the snowy owl migrated south and many stopped in NJ much to the delight of bird watchers. “It’s a natural spectacle, like a meteor shower, something you should see,” said Pete Dunne, New Jersey Audubon’s director of communications.

This December and January, sightings of the snowy owl were once again being observed at the the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and at Island Beach State Park   Both locations are along the New Jersey coast.

Photo courtesy of Holly Rotella, taken at Edwin B Forsythe Wildlife Preserve, 2014

Photo courtesy of Holly Rotella, taken at Edwin B Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, 2014

Perhaps you can make a trek to see the Arctic visitor in south Jersey.

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.

Lola The Therapy Dog by Marcia Goldman

When I retired a few years ago from teaching, I was eager to slow down, and I figured I would know what I was supposed to do next when the time came. One day, I had an epiphany. I love my dog, a 5 pound Yorkie, and I spent 30 years as a special education teacher.  If I combined the two, what better way to legitimize spending all day with my dog? When I first thought about Lola becoming a therapy dog, I was told that she was probably too little and probably not suitable. I am glad that I didn’t listen, because she is very good at her job.                    2014-01-30 05.46.26
Lola and I had been visiting a preschool program for children with Autism. She and I would greet the children during circle time, and then I would read to them. I realized how much more impact it would have for the children if they heard a story about the dog that was right in front of them.

I looked on-line and in bookstores, but I couldn’t find anything that had a dog that looked like Lola. I also knew that, for children on the spectrum, photographs would be more meaningful than illustrations. I decided to create my own book!

I had never written a story book, nor was I very good with a camera, but the children were my inspiration and Lola was a willing participant with a little help from doggie treats and string cheese. It started out as a home project, but with guidance and encouragement, the original plan turned into a wonderful writing adventure for both of us.      

Reading to Lola.

Reading to Lola.

Lola’s first story, Lola Goes to Work, A Nine -to -Five Therapy Dog, is about a dog who was told that she was too little to have the job she wanted. It is about having a dream and having to work hard to achieve it. She could have given up, but instead she worked extra hard to prove that she had the right stuff to be a therapy dog, even if she was small. Lola’s story not only shows how she made her big dog dreams come true, but also how helping others makes you feel good inside. It is a story about believing you can do something, working hard to achieve it, and making a difference.

Lola Goes to Work: First book in the series.

Lola Goes to Work: First book in the series.

Lola Goes to the Doctor is the second in the series. Lola is nervous about going to the doctor, as most children are, and especially fearful about getting a shot. She reminds herself that the doctor’s office is full of fun toys as well as the opportunity to meet other animal friends waiting for their visit. She meets a big dog who doesn’t seem afraid at all and she wants to be brave just like the big dog. At the end of the visit she is excited to come back for her appointment next year. I hope that children will identify with Lola’s worries, but also with her bravery, and will feel better about their next visit to the doctor.
Lola and Tattletale Zeke is the latest addition to the series. In this book Lola’s little brother Zeke really likes to tattle on Lola. All this tattling makes Lola very upset. How do you deal with tattletales? When do you need to tell? Lola tires to help Zeke learn the difference between telling to keep someone safe and tattling to get someone in trouble. Zeke finally begins to understand, with a lot of messes along the way, especially after Isabel the cat tattles on him! Together, Lola and Zeke help children understand what tattling is and how it makes others feel.        lola and books2
There is an activity page for teachers and parents at the back of each book and a full curriculum guide for each story on the website.  All three books are published by CRESTON BOOKS, Berkeley, California.

Lola is a five-pound Yorkshire Terrier who lives in California with her adoring owners. She is a proud certified therapy dog who makes weekly visits to elder care centers, bookstores and classrooms. She happily participated in the making of these books.
Marcia Goldman has her Master’s Degree in Special Education and has spent the last 30 years focusing on providing therapeutic-based programs for children with autism and their families.
You can contact her at
Or follow Lola on:  Website at:
Facebook at:  LolaTheTherapyDog
Twitter @lolatheyorkie


Congratulations to Laura!

Laura Sassi Tales

IMG_0287Look what landed on my snowy porch today.  Two copies of the German edition of GOODNIGHT, ARK!  The German title means “Sleep Well, Noah.”  The book is darling. It’s a little more compact than the U.S. edition, but just as much fun.  The text is in German, of course, but, amazingly, it still rhymes and is ever so delightful to read.  (My husband, who took German in high school, read it to me.)  I now extend my thanks and admiration to translator Carolin Moussa for capturing the story so well in German verse!

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