Author Laura Sassi delights her young readers with her rhythmic stories. Her work has appeared in many children's publications like Cricket, Ladybug, and Spider. Among her books are Goodnight, Manger, Goodnight, Ark, and Love Is Kind, which is also available in Spanish as El amor es bondadoso. Ms. Sassi agreed to give us an interview about her latest novel Love is Kind for the LAPL Blog.
What was the inspiration for Love is Kind?
A wet and crumpled coupon. Some “found” money. A tooth fairy who forgot to leave money. These are just some of the real-life incidents that sparked Love is Kind, my newest picture book with Zonderkidz, which also just released in Spanish as El amor es bondadoso. Each incident evoked strong reactions in my kids and each was followed by some good life lessons about patience, kindness, second chances, etc. How, I wondered, might I creatively convey those concepts to young children and show them just how varied and wonderful love can be. The answer came—through story—and not just any story, but one about a little owl who wants very much to show his Grammy how much he loves her by buying her a heart-shaped box of chocolates, but whose attempts are foiled every step of the way. He arrives empty-handed but, in a moment of self-revelation, realizes that HE was the gift when he showed love and kindness along the way—a gift much better than chocolate.
In Love is Kind the main character is trying to show his love for his grandmother with a gift. Did you have a close relationship with your grandparents?
I was blessed with two wonderful grandmothers to whom I dedicated the book. My paternal grandmother “Nana” taught me what unconditional love looks and feels like. I will always associate the sweet scent of chocolate chip cookies with her and have fond memories of sitting beside her as she did her daily crossword puzzle. She showed love in quiet, gentle ways—through hand-made gifts like crocheted throws and homemade dresses—and just quietly being. I always knew she loved me no matter what.
I called my maternal grandmother “Mymommie” because as a small child when my mother referred to her as “Mommie” I got confused and would always say, “You?” To this my mother would smile and answer, “No, my mommie!” and the name stuck. Unlike Nana who was so quiet and gentle, Mymommie was more of the outgoing, life of the party type. From her, I learned what it looked and sounded like to be poised and articulate. She was also a voracious reader and wonderful storyteller and I like to think that I got my love of story from her.
As a former teacher, what are some of the things that you take into account when writing a book for early readers?
One of the things I love best about young readers is that they are totally honest! If they don’t like a book, they will let you know. And as a teacher and parent, I’ve observed a few things that attract little ones to picture books and these are the things I take into account when writing for the very young. First, they love a hook that draws them right in at the very beginning—first page! I’ve also observed that they love interacting with the story - through things like anticipating what will happen with the next page turn or being able to join along in a refrain, so I think about those things as I write too. Third, they love the sound and feel of words—some that even, technically, might be well above their grade level - so I always try to infuse my text with resonant language that’s fun to say and explore. Finally, illustrations add to the magic, so as a writer, I am intentional about leaving room for the illustrator to enrich the story—as illustrator Lison Chaperon has so charmingly done in Love is Kind.
The readers are expecting your new book coming out this year—Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep. Anything to share about this book—how the story came about?
I am so excited about this new rhyming picture book which will release with Beaming Books this fall. The book, which incorporates counting into the protagonist’s day of exploring as she gets farther and farther away from the flock. I wanted to make it extra engaging for little ones like my own children who, when they were young, loved counting and exploring! Here’s a quick description: Little Ewe would rather jump on logs and investigate spider webs than follow Shepherd when he calls. But what happens when she gets lost? How will she find her way home?
You lived in Los Angeles in the 90s and visited the Central Library after it reopened in 1992. What is one memory that you have from seeing such a wonderful library?
I taught fourth grade when we lived in LA and one of my favorite memories is of taking my students on a field trip to the newly-renovated Central Library when it reopened after the fire. It’s a beautiful building and we toured many of the nooks and crannies. We finally settled in the children’s department where we listened to a story and learned about the Dewey decimal system. The exciting finale was that the kids got to check out books for their upcoming reports after browsing the children’s department’s charming shelves.
Lastly, who are your favorite authors and why?
Well, speaking of the Los Angeles Public Library, one of my favorite grown-up reads of the past year was The Library Book by Susan Orlean. It’s the fascinating story of the mystery surrounding the fire that forced the closure of the Central Library and the subsequent renovation. It’s also very much a celebration of libraries in general and a reminder of what a vital role they play in our communities. I highly recommend it.
On the children’s front, I’m a lifelong fan of anything and everything by Madeleine L’Engle, who is probably best known for her A Wrinkle in Time which was made into a feature film in 2018. I love how she infuses her stories with universal themes like good triumphing over evil and the power of love and community.
The picture book author in me is currently enjoying reading Karma Wilson’s rich collection of picture books—most of which rhyme. And since rhyming is a passion of mine, I gravitate towards others who write in rhyme as well.