Congratulations to author Laura Sassi on the publication of her first children’s book, Goodnight, Ark published by Zonderkidz/Harper Collins! I love this book so much that I plan to give it as a gift to all of the little ones in my life.
I met Laura at a gathering of writers last winter but she didn’t mention that her first book was coming out soon. Not until someone else prompted her did I get a chance to hear about Goodnight, Ark and see it in a pre-publication stage.
Unpretentious, and with a joyful world-view, Laura comes across as your favorite “fun” aunt or grammar school teacher.
In fact, she began her career as a teacher, then launched a successful career as a writer and poet for children’s publications. Her poems, stories, articles and crafts have appeared in (among others) Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr., FamilyFun, and Pack-O-Fun.
You can follow Laura on her blog at http://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/ or on twitter at twitter.com/laurasassitales. And be sure to visit her Facebook Author Page: LauraSassiTales
Q. In Goodnight, Ark all of the animals pile, two by two, onto Noah’s bed. I found it a gentle, charming way of introducing the classic Bible story to very young children. It’s lovely to see a fresh angle on an old story. Where did your idea come from?
A. Personal experience. We’ve had some mighty ferocious storms in my neck of the woods in the past few years and my daughter and the dog have both wanted to climb into our bed. Getting them back to their own beds, in the midst of howling winds and pounding rain, however, can be kind of 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! Another early setting I played with was an old hollow log, but I thought the ark was much more fun.
Q. Did you know Jane Chapman, the illustrator of Goodnight, Ark? What was it like to work with an illustrator and see your words magically turned into pictures?
A. I have not met Jane Chapman, but I am a long-time fan of her work. I was first introduced to her work when reading Karma Wilson’s Bear Snores On with my children. I’ve now read many of her books and find her illustrations beautifully composed and full of gentle humor. The minute my editor told me that Jane had agreed to take on the project, I was giddy. I could not have imagined a more perfect illustrator to capture the wonderful expressions and movements of the storm-frightened animals in my story. And Jane’s work has exceeded my expectations. The final illustrations for Goodnight, Ark are amazing with lots of amusing details for little ones (and their parents) to enjoy.
Q. Goodnight, Ark is your first published book. You’ve been a teacher and a successful children’s writer and poet. Are you surprised at the direction in which your career has gone, or was this always your goal?
A. I’ve always loved writing and reading, even as a little girl. It was these loves, as well as a love for children, that led me to the classroom. I absolutely adored teaching – especially reading and writing. It wasn’t until I’d been teaching a few years, however, that I considered the possibility of writing for kids professionally. I started writing for kids in earnest after my son was born and have been at it ever since. Now I can’t imagine not writing. It’s just so much a part of who I am. That I’m actually getting to see a picture book manuscript blossom into a fully-illustrated book is just the icing on the cake. The real joy comes in getting to sit down daily to write and create. I feel very blessed.
Q. Do you miss teaching school?
A. I do miss the daily interaction with my students. There’s something very special about gathering in the same room with a bunch of kids five days a week for 10 months, helping them learn and grow. The class sort of becomes like family. Some of my best teaching memories include fostering strong writers through writing workshops and reading aloud to them every day after lunch. I really felt like I was making a difference. There aren’t many jobs where you get to give of yourself in such a meaningful way. Writing for kids, however, is kind of the flip of that. My hope, at least, is that my writing will impact young readers by sparking not only a love of reading, but will help foster a special bond between parent and child as they read (hopefully again and again) the pages of Goodnight, Ark.
Q. How long did it take you to get your first book contract? How did you break in? Do you have any words of advice or insight for aspiring picture book authors?
A. The children’s publishing field is extremely competitive and I broke in by focusing on the kids’ magazine market first. My earliest submissions included crafts and poems, followed by stories and articles. It wasn’t until I was well-established in that field, that I decided to try my hand at picture books. And I discovered a steep learning curve! Thank goodness by then I was active in several critique groups whose insights and critiques definitely helped hone my picture book writing skills. Aside from writing daily and being involved in a couple of critique groups, the best decision I made, picture book-wise, was to seek agent representation. I’m convinced that it was that, coupled with many, many hours of writing and improving my craft, that landed me my first book contract. And even with an agent, landing that first contract took well over a year. Especially nowadays, when the competition is so intense and so many of the large publishing houses are closed to un-agented submissions, I think seeking representation of a good agent is crucial. Other than that, my biggest word of advice for aspiring picture book authors is to be patient. Keep honing your craft and don’t be in a rush to send your manuscripts off. Let them settle and then revisit them at regular intervals, allowing them to improve with age.
Q. Studies show that children whose parents read to them are more advanced when they start school. Did your parents read to you as a child? What was your favorite picture book?
A. Yes, my parents read to me as a child, but just as important, I have very early memories of seeing them read on their own—curling up in a favorite chair, or at the pool, or at lunch. Thus, by their example, they showed me that reading was a great way to pass the time. That love continues today and I hope I am doing as good a job as they did passing this love on to my own kids. It’s hard to pinpoint just one favorite picture book from my childhood, but the one that comes to mind is Virginia Kahl’s classic The Duchess Bakes a Cake. What I loved most about it was that it was funny and it rhymed which I guess just goes to show that I’ve liked humorous rhyme for a very long time.
Q. I read that Goodnight, Ark was very well received at a recent American Library Association event in Las Vegas. Are you pinching yourself? Thrilled? Terrified? Or all of the above?
A. I guess “still pinching myself” would be the best way to describe the experience. Zonderkidz very generously flew me out to Las Vegas to do my first book signing. As an unknown debut author, I was thrilled when a long line of enthusiastic librarians congregated to have advanced copies of Goodnight, Ark signed. I enjoyed chatting, briefly, with each and every one, and am over-the-moon that finally my book is in the hands of readers! The ark floats!