Laura Sassi has a passion for telling humorous stories in prose and rhyme. 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. GOODNIGHT, ARK is her first picture book.
Tell us about your debut picture book.
GOODNIGHT, ARK is a rollicking, yet ultimately restful, rhymer about bedtime on Noah’s ark. As the storm escalates various pairs of animals get scared and dash into Noah’s bed for comfort. The story is light-hearted and playful. Illustrator Jane Chapman, who also illustrated Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON, adds to the fun with her warm and humorous illustrations.
What are some rhyming tips you can offer other authors?
Writing picture books in rhyme can be challenging because there’s more to it than just rhyming. The rhyming must work within the structure of meter and verse. Sometimes writers are tempted to invert words to make the rhyme or meter work, but this only makes the piece feel forced. Another common mistake is to let the rhyme drive the plot so that things happen simply because it’s convenient for rhyming purposes. So, my biggest piece of advice is to make sure the story comes first! If you’re having a hard time making it rhyme naturally, maybe it’s better told in prose. But if you have a good ear, a lot of patience, and a passion for playing with words, go for it! =)
Henry: I tell beginning writers to visit http://www.DontDoRhyme.com (not a real website). It IS much harder. Then, of course, I don’t listen to my own advice. My debut picture book was MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES. Do as I say, not as I do.
I’ve seen some less-than-perfect rhymes published. What is your reaction when you see that?
Rhyming poorly is akin to singing off key. It’s hard to enjoy. At the same time, reading poor rhyme brings out my passion to keep working at my craft. So I guess as a rhymer, I find it motivating to make sure my poems and stories are in tune.
Henry: That’s like my bizarre instinct to pull weeds even on yards that are not mine.
Would you tell us a little about Zonderkidz?
Zonderkidz is the children’s imprint of Zondervan, which is part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Zonderkidz publishes bibles, devotionals, picture books, chapter books and more. They are based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, you can visit their website at http://www.zonderkidz.com.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Last year, after reading some of my poetry to my daughter’s third grade class, one of her adorable classmates shyly handed me a very crinkled scrap of paper and asked for my autograph. That was the first time anyone had asked me for that. I happily obliged. Now, I always carry a pen with me, just in case. =)
Henry: I give away life-sized cardboard standees of myself to whoever will take them…
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Writing is a long journey, with many opportunities for growth and improvement along the way. My biggest bit of advice would be not to rush the process by sending manuscripts out to publishers prematurely. Rather, keep honing your craft, day by day. Enjoy the journey, rather than focusing too much on the final goal of publication.
Henry: That’s good advice, but not so easy to implement. I find myself thinking that a manuscript is done about ten times before it’s really done.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
I love the quote, from Antoine de St. Exupery’s THE LITTLE PRINCE, “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” Writing for very young children keeps my imagination alive as I seek to see the world from the their perspective. Children live each day so much more intensely than many adults, fully absorbed in the wonder of each moment. That’s how I choose to live life as well – soaking up the richness of each day. I hope that comes through in the vividness of my writing.
Henry: Writing lets me visit with monsters of all shapes and sizes. I’ve never left that distant island in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Hmmm… well my son often observes that I tap my fingers and murmur as I write. What I’m actually doing is filling my senses with the rhythm of the words, but my children find it mortifying, especially if done in the presence of anyone outside the family. That’s not really a ritual, I suppose, but it is a defining characteristic of my writerly self.
Henry: I use dots and dashes to compare the emphasized and non-emphasized syllables of a couplet.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I’d love to have super-cleaning powers so that, with a snap of my fingers, all the laundry, dishes, floors etc. could be spotless, leaving wide open time slots for writing.
Henry: This can also be achieved by obtaining a brownie (look it up!), or via the collection of minions.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love reading, going for walks with my husband (and dog), doing art projects, or baking with my daughter, and talking about the meaning of life (and other light-hearted subjects) with my fourteen year old son.
Henry: Please let me know if you figure out the meaning of life.
Where can readers find your work?
GOODNIGHT, ARK is available at bookstores everywhere. You can also keep an eye out for my stories and poems in past and/or future issues of kids’ magazines including Highlights for Children, Ladybug, Spider, and Clubhouse Jr. I also write weekly on my blog at www.laurasassitales.wordpress.com. Parents and teachers, especially, might be interested in the series I’m posting now on extension activities for GOODNIGHT, ARK.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.
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