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Meet Laura Sassi, Author of GOODNIGHT, ARK

GOODNIGHT, ARK, is an endearing picture book written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Jane Chapman. Written for 4-7 year olds, it is engaging, creative, delightfully illustrated, and FUN! A peek into the story is offered in its Kirkus Review:“After boarding the ark, the animals, frightened by the storm, clamber two by two into Noah’s bed. Short, dramatic rhymes full of onomatopoeic words and ellipses build suspense…”

A fellow ZonderKidz author, I met Laura Sassi last summer at the American Library Association Conference in Las Vegas. She was friendly, approachable, and loving-every-second of her successful book signing. I left the event wishing I had more time to get to know her, so I was excited when she agreed to be interviewed. A former teacher whose merry rhymes are beautifully constructed, I also wanted to “pick” Laura’s writer brain for the benefit of my students and myself. 

1. Your love of language is evident in GOODNIGHT, ARK’s onomatopoeia, alliteration, humor, and rhyme. How was that love developed?

I grew up in a reading-rich family. Some of my fondest early memories include sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me from  A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. I loved the rhythmic rhyming sound of Milne’s poems and memorized several, quite by accident, because I asked my mother to read them so often. I’ve carried the rhyming beat of those poems with me ever since.

As soon as I could hold a pencil and spell (sort of), I started writing poetry on my own. How do I know this? I know because my parents sent me a box full of papers and notebooks from my childhood including limericks, riddles, and silly rhyming snippets – all proof that I’ve loved playing with language for a very long time.
As an adult, I have continued to foster that love by educating myself on the intricacies of meter and rhyme, by reading the best children’s poetry out there, and by honing my own skills by writing, writing, writing!

 

2. Describe the first steps in your creative process when beginning a new story or poem.
I am a percolator. That is, I like to reflect on new stories and poems, sometimes for weeks or months, before writing a first draft.  When “percolating” I always keep a pen and notebook handy so I can jot down ideas about plot, character, or setting.  I also like to collect words and often make lists as part of my creative process.  For example, in the early stages of GOODNIGHT, ARK I filled almost an entire notebook with pre-writing ideas.  These included lists of animals and the concrete motion and sound words associated with each.  I played with different poetic patterns which each gave my story a different feeling.  I even wrote a few pre-drafts of the story in prose even though I knew from the beginning that I wanted it to rhyme.  Only after completing all this thinking and pre-writing that was I finally ready to sit down and compose a first draft.

 

3. What encouragement would you give young (or old!) writers who avoid poetry because “it’s hard?”
Poetry, especially rhyming poetry, is harder than it might first appear because it’s not just about good rhyme.  It’s also about meter and keeping a consistent beat throughout a piece. But if you love playing with words and have a passion for rhyme, I say just write for pleasure and see where it takes you. Once you have written something, go back and test it for meter.  See if the established beat is consistent. If it isn’t fix it. It will also help you to grow as a poet if you read poetry.  In addition to A. A. Milne, I would also recommend you check out the following children’s poets:  Jack Prelutsky, Laura Purdie Salas, and Kenn Nesbitt.  Kenn Nesbitt even has a whole website called Poetry4Kids that includes all sorts of poems and fun activities to get kids writing poetry.  (http://www.poetry4kids.com)  Most of all, enjoy the process.

 

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4. GOODNIGHT, ARK is your debut picture book.  What have you discovered about the publishing process and yourself over the past year?
Well, one thing that I have learned is that the publishing process is SLOW!  I first got the idea for GOODNIGHT, ARK four years ago. It took two years to get it polished for publication and then another two years for it to be transformed into a picture book.  In large part, that’s because it takes quite some time for the illustrator to illustrate the many spreads.  But, I have to say, it has been the worth the wait.  Jane did a wonderful  job illustrating GOODNIGHT, ARK.
I am also thoroughly enjoying the post-publication stage where I get to go to schools and libraries and bookstores to do readings 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. I am a happy camper!

 

5. What do you hope readers take away from GOODNIGHT, ARK?

First and foremost, I want kids (and their parents) to enjoy the story. There’s so much to see on every page and the rhymes and sounds words are fun to read aloud. The book also lends itself well to searching for fun details, like extra animals, and patterns, and humorous additions. It’s great fun for practicing counting by twos. In addition to enjoying imagining what it might have been like on Noah’s ark, I’d also like to children to come away knowing, that like the animals in the story, they too are loved by their parents.  And, of course, for anyone seeking a deeper truth, it’s also great reminder that, like Noah in the story, our God is a loving father who comforts us and loves us through every storm. 

 

Thank you for your insightful answers, Laura! My twenty-four first graders gawked and giggled their way through a reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK. They enjoyed predicting and recognizing rhyming words, as well as identifying colorful language. You can watch a book trailer for GOODNIGHT, ARK here.

 

Laura has more information and extension activities for GOODNIGHT, ARK on her website, laurasassitales.wordpress.com or on Facebook @LauraSassiTales.

 

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