Do you ever have a day that makes you feel like running away from it all? Or maybe it’s not a day, but just one event that makes everything seem … terrible. That’s how I felt yesterday. But then my brother reminded me that this was just a moment, to persevere and stand strong. And I thought about this wonderful little book that I’m going to talk about today and I realized that my day felt like little owl’s day. Yet somehow, he was able to rise above it all. Isn’t that what a wonderful book does? It makes us find the connections to our real life? Today’s book is such a sweet little story that it would be a crime to miss it.
Laura Sassi is a master of rhyme, but this incredible book doesn’t rhyme! Her writing has appeared in numerous family publications including Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ladybug, Spider, and Clubhouse Jr. She is the author of four picture books, including her newest release “Love is Kind.” You can learn more about her at her website.
“Love is Kind” is written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by Lison Chaperon. (You can see a behind-the-scenes snapshot of Lison’s illustration work at Laura’s blog here.) It is a picture book that takes one of the most popular passages of the bible (seen on plaques and mugs in many a household) and somehow manages to subtly weave it into a story. I was so surprised by this concept and even more delighted to discover the wonderful character of Little Owl. How could you not love his little heart-shaped face? He has one simple goal: to buy a gift for Grammy’s birthday. Yet (as you know he must be) he is thwarted at every turn. Instead of getting angry, throwing a tantrum, or even finding an easy solution, Little Owl offers kindness to everyone he meets (and isn’t that something we could all use a little more of these days?).
Me: What draws you to creating picture books over any other genre?
Laura: There’s something wonderfully cozy about picture books because they are meant to be read with a child and I love the magic of that shared experience. There’s also a uniquely engaging quality to picture books that comes from the blending of word and image to create a complete story. Very often picture books are a child’s first window into the world of reading and I love thinking that one of my books might be that window for a child.
As a writer, I also love the challenge of telling a story within tight structure of the 32-page format. There’s so much to think about from page turns, to wordplay, to the multi-layering of your story so that it appeals, not only to little ones, but also to the grownups reading the story. I also find great joy in capturing universal themes in playful, fresh ways. For all these reasons, I am especially drawn to creating picture books.
Me: This is a fantastically crafted story that somehow manages to both tell a sweet story and keep true to the original text of 1 Corinthians 13. I assume this genius took years to work out to where it is now, and not just “sudden inspiration.” How long did it take you to figure out the plot and pacing of this manuscript?
Laura: This is one of those stories that over the years, I kept taking out again and again and working on, but it always felt flat. It wasn’t until the summer of 2014, approximately 6 years after I wrote a first (very different) draft, that I realized that 1 Corinthians 13 was the missing link. Here’s the back story.
At our wedding a dear relative had given us a framed print of the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 which has since hung in every apartment and house we’ve lived in. Those framed words have helped me over the years to understand what real love is – patient, kind, slow to anger, truth-loving – a tall order and one not always easy to live by. Once our kids came along, I wondered how I might creatively – through story – show them just how varied and wonderful love can be. And then on that summer day it hit me that this story, now known as LOVE IS KIND, might be just the way. After making that connection, the story fell into place, pretty much as you see it now, fairly quickly.
Me: Wow! So years of work AND inspiration! Your previously published books were written in rhyme. Why not this one? Did you attempt it in rhyme first?
Laura: No, I didn’t even attempt to write LOVE IS KIND in rhyme, which is interesting because I LOVE to rhyme. It’s my favorite way to write. That being said, this story, especially once I added the 1 Corinthians 13 element, was clearly (to me) meant for prose. A rhyming framework would have constrained the flowy feel I was going for. Also, one of the special features of this story is that I’ve intentionally woven in descriptions of love, as presented in I Corinthians 13, to parallel the challenges Little Owl faces at each step of his journey. That added layering creates its own sort of poetic feel and I felt that having the story rhyme would have distracted from that.
Me: Your character was once a boy. Then a hedgehog. Why the final change to this adorable little owl? What didn’t work with the hedgehog?
Laura: In my earliest imaginings the protagonist was a little boy – a specific little boy – my son – who like Little Owl found money just blowing in the breeze in our back yard. He felt so lucky, but it was short lived luck, because he soon discovered that money belonged to our neighbor. With that spark, I wrote an early story that focused on the highs and lows of luckiness vs. unluckiness, but the story felt slight, like it was missing the heart of what it could be.
It took me a while to figure out what was missing, but as it turned out, the answer was right in front of me all along (See answer #2). Once I had the love theme, in order to make the final scene work, I needed the protagonist to have a heart-shaped face. My initial choice was a hedgehog, but ultimately I decided there were already enough love-themed picture books with hedgehogs so I opted for my sweet heart-shape-faced Little Owl instead.
Me: The illustrations by Lison Chaperon are so cuddly! That owl and his cute little face! Oh my! Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Laura: Lison Chaperon did a phenomenal job capturing the essence of Little Owl’s sweet nature in an absolutely adorable way and I love her choice of water color and colored pencils to create a whimsical woodsy atmosphere. Yes, there were a couple of delightful surprises. First, I didn’t anticipate that she would take the “love is…” phrases and incorporate them so magically into the illustrations. In my illustrator notes I had simply written “ILLOS text: LOVE IS PATIENT” etc. and I had imagined them appearing as floating banners across the page, rather blah compared with Lison’s brilliant decision to weave the phrases into the very fabric of each illustration – within a rainbow, for example, and flower petals, and baking ingredients scattered across a table. Second, as a sunflower lover myself, I was delighted that one of the spreads features sunflowers… lots of them! It almost matches my author portrait. =)
Me: LOL! That’s great! That’s one of the things I loved. It was very subtly incorporated into the illustrations. Fantastic! What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Laura: This was a story that couldn’t be rushed and it sat for many years in the “not quite working yet” category. I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me, because I know deep down that crafting a winning story takes time and that, even when we seemingly aren’t working on something, subliminally the story may (and probably is) still in the process of working itself out. That proved to be the case with this story and has been a welcome reminder to me that good writing takes time… and that patience wins out in the end.
Me: Excellent reminder! Any other advice for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Laura: I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating, writing is a long journey, with many opportunities for growth and improvement along the way, so don’t rush the process by sending manuscripts out to publishers prematurely. Rather, keep honing your craft, day by day. And to encourage you along the way, see if you can find a nice support system. For me this includes my family, my agent, and the wonderful network of children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. Best wishes and enjoy each step of the journey!
Thank you so much for having me as your guest today, Jena. It has been a real treat.
Thank you Laura! Oh dear readers, don’t just take my word for it that this is a book you must read to appreciate the genius of it. You can see more of it in this wonderful book trailer AND I’m delighted to say that I have yet another give away to reveal today: a copy of this book!
Now, this give away does have a few stipulations. You must be a US resident, over the age of 18, and have a US mailing address (not P.O. Box). If you meet all of those requirements, I do hope you will enter the rafflecopter here! Good luck!