Laura Sassi Gets Her Diva On + Enter to Win a Copy of Her New PB DIVA DELORES

Today it is my pleasure to be the first stop on a blog tour for picture book Author Laura Sassi’s new book: DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE.  You’ll find other stops on the tour at the end of the post.  Now, here is Laura:

How to Write Picture Books – Diva Style!   by Laura Sassi

Thank you, Darlene, for hosting me on my DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE blog tour. I’m so excited that my protagonists, Delores and Fernando, are finally making their debuts, 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!   

So now, in celebration of opera and divas and picture books, here are five fun tips for writing picture books – diva style! Enjoy!

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.

2. 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 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 playing with any given moment.

3. 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 and purposefully moves the story forward.

4. 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 benefited from a little more humility and willingness to productively process and put into place suggestions from more experienced writers!


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

5. 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 lovely 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.

BIO:  Laura Sassi has a passion for telling humorous stories in prose and rhyme. She is the author of GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014) and GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz, 2015), DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling, 2018) and LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie.






Here’s the schedule for the blog tour.  Follow the links below to check out each website.

March 8   Darlene Beck Jacobson  TOPIC: Guest post: “How to Be a Picture Book Diva”  – writing tips:

March 16:  Susanna Leonard Hill   TOPIC:  Perfect Picture Book Friday Review  – details TBA :

March 19:  Melissa Stoller   TOPIC: “THREE QUESTION INTERVIEW” on story, creativity, connection- through the lens of DIVA DELORES:

March 23 and 24   Vivian Kirkfield  TOPIC: Cookie Interview/ PPBF:

April 3  Kerry Aradyha  TOPIC:  TBD but something dance/music/opera related because that’s the focus of her lovely children’s blog:

April 10   Carol Gordon Ekster   TOPIC: Interview:

For a chance to win a copy of DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, leave a comment on this post. Your name will be entered in the random drawing.  Share this post on social media and you will get a second chance to win.  Winners will be announced on this blog on 3-28-2018.

A great way to remember and honor your favorite author is to post a review of one of their books on Amazon or Goodreads.  Happy reading.


Teachers: Need MG Historical Fiction? I’ve Got The Book.

Welcome to the first in a series of BOOKS TEACHERS CAN USE IN THE CLASSROOM.  Over the next several weeks I hope to feature a variety of children’s authors whose books can be used to enhance the curriculum in the classroom.  By providing teacher resources such as curriculum guides, activity sheets and vocabulary lists, teachers will have an easy way to bring more books into the classroom for enhancing the curriculum or getting kids interested in independent reading.

The first book featured is an MG historical fiction selection that happens to be my own book,WHEELS OF CHANGE (WOC) – Creston Books 2014.   Many teachers in classes I’ve visited have said they are doing historical fiction units as part of their reading/writing curriculum. If that’s you , or a teacher you know, WOC MAY BE JUST WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.  If you know a classroom teacher in 3rd through 6th grade, share this post with them.  The book is a good Read Aloud for 3rd and 4th grades, and can be used for silent reading and discussion with older students.

Here’s a brief description:

Racial intolerance, social change, sweeping progress. It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old EMILY SOPER, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at home hearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females. Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt. Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort.  Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.

The book has a downloadable CURRICULUM GUIDE for the second wave of the Industrial Revolution, CORE CONTENT study questions, VOCABULARY LISTS, as well as other supplemental materials for use in the classroom.   The book also lends itself to discussion of segregation after the Civil War, Women’s Suffrage and the roles of males and females in early 1900’s:

I am offering a FREE SKYPE  VISIT to teachers who use the book in their classrooms and post a review of it on Amazon to share with other teachers/librarians.  I will also give away one  signed copy.  To enter the drawing for this give-away, leave a comment regarding how you would use the book in your classroom.

WHEELS OF CHANGE is a National Council of Social Studies Notable Trade Book and won Honorable Mention from the Grateful American Book Prize in 2015.

Stay tuned to this blog for more teacher-friendly selections in the weeks to come.

Bianca Schulze:Helping Kids Select the “Right” Book + Win a Signed Copy.

It’s true … the New Year brings new books. Plenty of them! New books release for kids each year in the thousands. The great thing about new releases is that they often reflect on current cultural themes and affairs. And, finally, we are seeing the slow and steady inclusion of books with characters of diversity—for proof, just check out this list of middle grade picks that released in January: Best New Books For Tweens And Preteens | January 2018.

There are so many new books worthy of being read. But … how about the “classics,” shouldn’t we keep reading them, too? And, how do we help our kids select books they are likely to enjoy? Let’s explore these questions!

 How about the “classics,” shouldn’t we keep reading them, too?

A classic book reaches this prestigious status usually because the story has been bound by a timeless truth that resonates, through the ages, with our hearts and minds—humor, love, growing-up, loss, friendship, and more. And when a story truth continues to resonate years after a book’s publication, there is only one answer to the question: Should we keep reading these classics? If the topic interests you, absolutely!

While a book doesn’t have to be too many moons old to be considered a “classic,” a little bit of story aging needs to take place to harness that true nostalgic feeling that is automatically attached to the word classic. Classic books can be like a magical time traveling device that takes readers back to times past— just like new books, they can also reflect on cultural themes and affairs from the time of publication and still feel very relevant. They often give a glimpse into how things were and can also provoke discussions on how far we’ve come, and then inspire young minds to imagine how far we could possibly go.

 How do we help kids select books they are likely to enjoy?

When reading for pleasure (which numerous studies say influences a love of learning and improves social and empathy skills, among many other amazing benefits), I recommend starting with a book that is based on a theme or story line that interests the individual. When you go to the library or bookstore, find the librarian or bookseller and have your child share their age, some interests, and, if possible, share the title of a book they have previously enjoyed. This will very easily assist a knowledgeable librarian/bookseller in helping to identify a book that could be of possible interest. The next step: read the book synopsis. Sound good? Try it! Doesn’t sound quite right? That’s ok! Let the librarian/bookseller know what isn’t working and keep going until you find that book of interest that sparks some excitement. Raising kids who read for pleasure can take a village—find your village, work together and you’ll get there.

By finding a book of interest, a child is more likely to enjoy the reading experience and happily go for the next book (and the next, and the next, and the next). Libraries are great, because you can check out a few books (or lots) at a time. If a book is not making a connection with your reader and they’ve given it a chapter or two, in my opinion, there doesn’t need to be pressure to finish it—move onto the next one. The goal is to find books they love. Finding books they love can definitely lead to reading for pleasure, which, as mentioned above, can lead to kinder human beings and improvement in academic areas. So … remove the pressure and surround your child with as many options as possible. Something will take!

If you want to get started on this “finding the right book” quest pronto, I have put together a list of books, 101 Books to Read before You Grow Up (Quarto/Walter Foster Jr., 2016), sorted by age and genre that can be used as a literary journal to discover books of interest, to keep track of favorites, and it also provides “what-to-read next recommendations” for when a favorite is discovered. The journal can be taken to the library/bookstore to help the librarian/bookseller make even more recommendations based on likes, dislikes, and notes can be recorded by readers on the pages.   When selecting the books to be included in 101 Books to Read before You Grow Up (Quarto/Walter Foster Jr., 2016), I chose a combination of classic and contemporary picture books, beginning chapter books, graphic novels, and middle grade novels represented. With plenty of options, there is a starting point for which all readers can find a book style of interest, and then also expand on their preferred style of book and discover new reading pleasures.

I chose each of the books for their powers to entice kids to wonder, laugh, cry, and they will almost always close the book with a smile. Readers can discover both new and classic books that incite kindness, courage, and making good choices. Books that remember the struggles of those that came before us, and books that encourage us to always dream of the fantastical future ahead of us and those that will come after us. So go ahead and grab a copy from your favorite bookstore, head to the library and get those kiddos reading for pleasure!



Barnes and Noble:

Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review, a resource devoted to children’s literature and recognized by the American Library Association as a ‘Great Website for Kids.’ She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s bookseller, Bianca’s goal is to share her passion to help grow readers.

Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado. | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Google+

Would you like a copy of Bianca’s new Book?  Leave a comment and the promise that you will write a review of the book and your name will be entered in the random drawing.  The winner will be announced on this blog on Wednesday 2-21-18.

World Read Aloud Day: Join the Fun.

Today is WORLD READ ALOUD DAY.  What better way to celebrate the wonder and joy of books than to read some aloud to your favorite kids.  Don’t have kids?  Go to a classroom or local library and volunteer to read a favorite picture book or a chapter from a middle grade novel.

I will be reading a chapter from my own MG historical WHEELS OF CHANGE  to students in two classes: Darlene Andre’s 3rd grade class in  Kenoka, Wisconsin and Antoinette Lubrano’s 4th grade class in Morristown, NJ.

Ms. Lubrano’s 4th grade class in Morristown, NJ

Enjoy your favorite book and spread the joy!  Happy World Read Aloud Day!

Ms. Andre’s 3rd grade class in Kenosha, WI.

SAM & EVA Picture Book Give-Away.

Throughout the next several months I am planning on “gifting” some of the great children’s books I’ve recently read.  If you’d like to be on the receiving end of one of these gems, here’s what I’m asking:

Nothing more than your willingness to WRITE A REVIEW of the book on Amazon and Goodreads, to boost the author’s name a bit and give him or her some well-deserved recognition.  I think it’s important to let our favorite authors know how much we love their books and to share that love with the rest of the literary world.

If you’d like to be part of this effort, leave a comment below and I will add your name to the drawing.  Winners will be announced on the last day of each month.

This weeks featured book is:  SAM & EVA by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Here’s my 5 Star review:

“A clever story of creative conflict and co-operation that will be sure to delight budding artists who can watch the drawings take on personalities Sam and Eva never imagined.  Like the creative “muse” in all of us…you never know where your pen  – or brush – will take you.”

I hope you’ll help me “pass on the love”.

Celebrate Multi-Cultural Children’s Book Day.

I ran this post a few years back, but it is relevant now more than ever.

Saturday, January 27, 2018 is Multicultural Children’s Book Day.  Why not join the celebration by reading some great books that honor all kinds of cultures.  Here are some old and new ones from my collection:

1. THE PEACE BELL by Margi Preus (Illustrated by Hideko Takahashi (Henry Holt 2008): This story is inspired by the American-Japanese Friendship Peace Bell that was brought to America by a US Navy Peace crew who found it abandoned in a Japanese ship yard after the end of WWII. They later brought it back to Japan as an act of friendship and peace.  Another book by Margi is the MG historical WEST OF THE MOON, that takes place in Norway.  A wonderful introduction to Scandinavian culture and a riveting folktale.

2015-01-16 02.30.56

2. IN A VILLAGE BY THE SEA by Muon Van, illustrated by April Chu (Creston Books 2015): A beautifully illustrated and tenderly told circular tale of a Vietnamese fisherman and the family who waits for his return. This book has received numerous starred reviews and well-deserved accolades.

3. LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt DeLaPena just won the 2016 Newbery Medal.  Take a peek at this delightful story honoring Hispanic culture.

3. GRANDMOTHER THORN by Katey Howes ( Ripple Grove Press 2017) a wonderful picture book about stubbornness, perseverance and love.  Beautifully told and artfully illustrated, it is sure to be a favorite for years to come.

What are some of your favorite multi-cultural titles?