Episode 74: Interview with Author Laura Sassi: Pointing Kids to God

In this episode we talk with Author Laura Sassi about her great books, resources, and pointing children toward God through reading together and sparking important conversations. 

Our Guest: Laura Sassi

Laura Sassi has a passion for telling stories in prose and rhyme. She is the author of six books for young children including the best-selling Goodnight, Ark, which was a 2015 Christian Book Award Finalist; Goodnight, Manger; Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, which won First Honor Book for the 2019 Best in Rhyme Award and is a 2022 Iowa Goldfinch Award Nominee; Love Is Kind, which was a 2020 Anna Dewdney Read Together Award Honor Book; Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep and her newest release Bunny Finds Easter.

Laura had a fulfilling teaching career before becoming a children’s author. She’s been a homeschool mom, children’s ministry director, historic museum interpreter, and more. She writes daily from her home in New Jersey and finds special joy in pointing kids to God through story and in passing along her love of reading and writing with the next generation at school visits, church gatherings and other book events.

Contact Laura through her website at https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, we have Laura Sassi with us. Laura has a passion for telling stories in prose and rhyme. She is the author of six books for young children, including the best-selling Goodnight Ark. Laura, thank you for joining us today. I’m so glad to get to talk to you.

Laura:

And thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

Terrie:

I love the tagline on your website: “Celebrating writing, reading, and life.” That is just so wonderful. And as I read your books, I can see your love for life and for God and connecting children with him. Would you like to tell us about some of your books and the passion you have for connecting children with God?

Laura:

Sure. I’ve always wanted to be a writer ever since I was a child, but my first career was as a teacher, and definitely that celebration of reading and writing came through in that as I was teaching my students. And I also, for several years, taught at a Christian school. So interwoven through that was also introducing them to the overflowing and wonderful love of God. When I stepped away from the classroom to start writing, it was only natural that those celebrations and joys would extend into my writing. My first two books are Goodnight Ark and Goodnight Manger, and they are beautifully illustrated by Jane Chapman, who is also a devoted Christian I found out afterwards when I met her in person. Those are published by ZonderKidz. They wanted those books because they meet at the intersection of faith and mainstream. In other words, they’re just like fun stories to read.

Laura:

Goodnight Ark is not a biblical retelling. It’s about imagining what might happen if the animals got scared on the ark, what would they do? Well, they all go running into Noah’s bed, and then he comforts them with a lullaby that can be used as an introduction to talking about God’s love and comfort–and maybe even diving into the Bible to look at the story of Noah’s Ark in the Bible.

Laura:

And my third book Love Is Kind, which is also with ZonderKidz also, I would say meets at that intersection. It’s about a little owl who wants to give his Grammy something for her birthday, but he loses his money at the very beginning of the story. And his efforts are thwarted all along the way, and he ends up empty-handed. But in the process, he learns that he was the gift when he showed love and kindness along the way. And in the illustrations are woven the different phrases from one of my favorite passages in the New Testament 1 Corinthians 13. So when it says “love is kind,” he is showing kindness, “love is patient,” he’s showing patience. And so on throughout the book.

Laura:

I have a purely mainstream book that I think still shows and can be used to talk about kindness and compassion. It is called Diva Dolores and the Opera House Mouse. It’s about an opera singing seal who’s making her debut, and she really could use a little help. And this little mouse Fernando has offered to help, but she thinks she needs bigger help than a mouse. So, that’s another fun one.

Laura:

This is bringing me almost up to date to my newest book with Beaming Books, Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep. It is a counting retelling of one of my favorite parables in the New Testament that Jesus told about the lost sheep. But this one is from the point of view of a little lamb named Little Ewe, as she wants to explore, instead of listening to the shepherd, and wanders farther and farther away from the flock. It’s a counting story and rhyming story. And it’s a lot of fun. And just a reminder that we are loved by our shepherd and also can be a discussion of the different shepherds. God has shepherds with a lowercase S, different shepherds God has placed in your life.

Laura:

And then my newest one coming out just in time for Easter baskets this spring is called Bunny Finds Easter, and it’s about Bunny who wants to find out what Easter is all about. And she does at the end. It’s a little board book that is just the perfect size to fit in an Easter basket written for teeny, tiny ones.

Terrie:

Wonderful! Oh, I love that. And I also noticed on your website, you have, with Christmas coming up and the Goodnight Manger, you have several craft activities that families could do together with reading that book. And I think that’s kind of fun.

Laura:

Yes. If you go to my website, I have actually a crafts and activities for all the books. But yes, there are lots of art: There’s an ornament you can make and a coloring page that you could use to be a card and different activities to go with Goodnight Manger. Yes, because it’s the season to start to get ready for Christmas already.

Terrie:

One of the links I also want to put in the show notes is an article you wrote on your website, and I’d love for you to share a little bit about what’s in that article about using faith-based books to point little ones to God; you have five points that you make.

Laura:

This was really on my heart when my kids were little because I was always sort of on the lookout for opportunities to weave conversations about faith into the natural rhythm of our day and into the moments of our day. And one of the best ways I found was by using picture books. You’re sitting there with your child. It’s so cozy; you’re reading a good story. And it’s just a good opportunity to then take that next step into talking about your faith. So, first of all, just ahead of time, take a moment to pre-read the book and think about what the faith tie-in you might want to be for that book, so that you’re reading with intentionality, but then just read the story for fun, interact with the story, ask questions as you’re reading the story. For example, with Little Ewe, it’s about Little Ewe who sounds a lot like you, which is a fun thing to talk about with kids. It sounds like them little you to talk about, well, the shepherd in this story, who might that shepherd be? Who are your shepherds? Jesus is our shepherd. And then start a simple conversation like that, and then maybe follow it up with an activity or a craft or something that you do together, but to get the most out of picture books. And there’s so many wonderful faith-based picture books you can do this with. But when my kids were little, we also did it with just books that weren’t written as faith-based books. Like one of my favorites was Corduroy by Don Freeman. It’s such a familiar story. A little girl sees this Teddy bear that’s broken. The button is missing. And she spends her money to go and purchase and bring him home. And she fixes him. And what a great analogy to what Christ does for us. So it set out a nice five points, please go and check it out and yes, please start using it. It’s just such a wonderful, natural way to introduce little ones to our faith.

Terrie:

I love that your second point is, you know, to enjoy the story because we’ve got to do that first and then not try to just be preaching at our children all the time. But to really delight in and enjoy the time together in the story. And then to open up the questions and conversations, I think that’s really good advice.

Laura:

Right. And to not force it. You don’t have to have every theological conversation with one picture book. Pick one little point, something that’s like a nice bite-sized pieces just right for them.

Terrie:

I love that. That’s good. Okay. Well, I always ask all my guests what some of their favorite picture books are. And you mentioned Corduroy. Do you have some other picture books that you’d like to recommend to the listeners?

Laura:

Oh, well, sure. Well, you asked me ahead of time. You gave me a little heads up that picture book from my childhood. So yes, Corduroy. That wasn’t the one I had on my list, but that is one of my favorite ones from my childhood. And another one, and this I checked; it’s in reprint now, but I remember my mother reading to me a wonderful story, which I think was partially instrumental or at least I feel like it kind of connects with my becoming a writer. It was called The Duchess Bakes a Cake by Virginia Kahl. And it’s about a Duchess who much preferred to be reading and writing than to be doing her house chores and cleaning and cooking. So she bakes a cake. She decides to bake a cake, but she’s not really paying attention. And she puts in too many ingredients and the cake rises and rises and rises. And she’s sitting on top of the cake. Anyway, I don’t want to do the spoiler alert, but someone very special figures out how they can save the Duchess. But I think I liked it because my mother was an artist. So I remember her with a paint brush in one hand and a spoon and the other. And she would sometimes even put onions on to sauté, but they were just a decoy. She hadn’t really started dinner yet. She was still finishing up something else. So I would say that would be part of the celebrating reading and life, and dinner might be a little late. That’s a fun story.

Laura:

And then just with my own children, you asked me what my favorites were to read to my children. My children are four years apart in age and extremely different personalities. And I always, when we went to the library, wanted them to pick out the books because I thought it was, that’s a part of growing up. Like you’re picking out the books. So the books we–some we picked together, but they kind of matched their personality. So a favorite book, and I picked a book that they each asked me to take in when I was the guest surprise reader for their classes, so my son’s favorite picture book–and we as a family read it over and over again–was called Traction Man Is Here. It’s written by Mini Grey. It is the wonderful story about a little action figure that a very lucky little boy gets. And then it’s his adventures and Traction Man goes, and he battles with the sieve in the sink when they’re cleaning the dishes. It’s all the things he’s doing while he’s doing his chores. And then he’s in battle with the toes that are stealing his toy’s scrubby brush when he’s in the bathtub. And then his grandmother keeps sewing little knitted outfits for Attraction Man, and he doesn’t really like having knitted outfits for his action hero. Anyway, it’s just a wonderful book and it sparked good conversations about, you know, Jesus is our action figure. So just a really fun book that we enjoyed and the whole class enjoyed. And you can read it in different voices. It’s a lot of fun.

Laura:

And then another favorite one, which I think ties into using picture books to spark faith conversations, a favorite one of my daughter, and my son would who’s older would listen in as well, is called Cookies: Bite-Sized Life Lessons. This is a bestseller. You may have heard of it. It’s by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. My daughter was given it for her birthday one year. It really is literally bite-sized lessons about cookies. It’ll say things like, for example, trustworthy means if you ask me to hold your cookie until you come back, when you come back, I will still be holding your cookie. And it has different attributes, all focused around cookies and definitely lends itself to digging into scripture and baking and eating a lot of cookies together. So those were some favorites of mine and favorites that I read with my kids.

Terrie:

Great. And I don’t think anyone’s recommended those before, so that’s awesome. I have some new ones to check out. Do you have any books you recommend for parents, especially like homeschool parents? You said you’ve homeschooled before, as well as being a teacher. Do you have any you would recommend for parents?

Laura:

Yes, I did. I homeschooled my daughter from fifth grade to seventh grade, and our sort of morning Bible time together was really precious to us. So I have two books to recommend. One is called, and this one I didn’t discover until my daughter was already in fifth grade, so I used it with her when she was in fifth grade. But actually you could start it with much younger children, maybe in kindergarten, but it worked for an older child as well. We just added a scripture verse for each one. It’s called Everything a Child Should Know about God written by Kenneth N. Taylor. And it’s a theology for kids. It’s in 10 parts. Each part is a spread. So it’ll have some principle, like we read the Bible to learn about God. And then there’s a picture of a family reading the Bible together and how they do it every day. Then there’s a question: who is this family reading about? And then with my older child, when she was older, we added a Bible verse and would dig in to say, what does the Bible say about the Bible. It is the inerrant word of God. We go dig a little deeper. That’s a beautiful book with great illustrations, great conversation starter, could be done used in the morning or dinner or whenever you want to.

Laura:

And then as my kids got older, they both enjoyed and we read these together, Lee Strobel’s. When I was a kid, they only had Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ for grownups, but now they’re so smart. The whole series has been adapted for kids. So I would recommend all of these and also just good for us grownups to brush up as well. So The Case for Christ for Kids, The Case for a Creator, The Case for Grace, [there is no The Case for Christmas for Kids, but there is the original The Case for Christmas for adults]. There’s a bunch of them. I would recommend them all. And they also, then that’s going to help you have your sparked conversations with your kids. So that’s another.

Terrie:

Yeah, those are good.

Laura:

Then the other thing I was just thinking, if I can just add, Terrie, was that it’s so important. You know, when we’re parenting kids–and my son’s in college and my daughter’s in high school, but it’s still very busy–but to make sure that as a parent, you’re taking some time for yourself to grow your own faith. Whatever time of day works best for you, but just to be digging into the Bible yourself and maybe read some good books just on your own, that aren’t necessarily focused on kids, but that will overflow into that. So right now I’m reading–I’m meeting with a young mom who’s interested in Christianity and we are reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. You know, I thought I had read it. I’m sure I read it in high school, but I didn’t read it the way we’re reading it now, which is very slowly, just like that Cookie book says, in bite-sized lessons. We’re reading a chapter a week and then meeting for coffee and talking about it for an hour or more. And that is really so great for growing our faith. Just to not forget that as well, to keep growing. We get so busy growing our kids’ faith. We need to remember to spend some time for ourselves.

Terrie:

Yeah. I always think of that. My husband always says, you know, you can’t give what you don’t have. So if we aren’t growing in our faith, it’s hard to help our kids grow in theirs. That’s really a good reminder. Thank you for that. I love that. How can we best help you in your ministry, in the work that you do to support you, encourage you? What can we do?

Laura:

Oh, that is a wonderful question. Read our books. That’s a wonderful way. Recommend, like I do author visits and things. And most of my author friends also do. Recommend us to come and speak to your church or to do a visit at your school. Or, and this is something that people don’t think about a lot, the library. See if your local library will purchase a copy of our books to have on their shelves. That helps to grow our audience and helps people to find the books. And maybe one of my books could be the Goodnight Ark could make someone wonder, I want to go check out the Bible. It’s a way of getting the books out there so people can see them. Give them as gifts. Those kinds of things are wonderful ways to support us. If you do read a story and you’re on social media, you could tag someone and say, we really enjoyed your story with a picture of the book or something like that. But really just reading and enjoying the stories.

Terrie:

That’s great. Thank you. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been wonderful. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you a little bit and hearing your thoughts. And I think you’ve shared some really great things for us to take away today.

Laura:

Wonderful. I love this use of technology to connect. Thank you so much for having me here today.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to join my mailing list, you can find me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please download it. You can have access to it anytime you want. Plus whenever you like or download anything from social media or podcasts, it helps make us visible to other people. So you’re doing us a great service if you download this episode. And you’re helping other people be able to find it as well. So thank you for that. You can get in touch with Laura and check out some of her books and resources on her website at LauraSassiTales.wordpress.com.

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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