CRANFORD, NJ — An opera-singing seal, a well-meaning mouse, a determined little owl and a couple of helpful skunks are some of the little critters that inhabit Laura Sassi’s picture books, showing a lot of heart and spreading love as they hop, fly and scamper from page to page.
The Cranford writer has created the perfect reading time companions for that magical time when parents sit down with their child.
“I want my books to be part of that feeling of feeling safe and loved and part of that magic of being able to travel to interesting places and for the child to connect with the person that either their parents or caregiver, whoever is reading to them, just to connect with them,” Sassi said in a recent interview.
“All my stories share a common theme of feeling loved, love, kindness, positivity, coziness. All the stories kind of wrap up in that sort of nice, feel-good way.”
Sassi is coming off a busy 2018.
“Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse,” the tale of how a little guy is a big help to an opera singer, was published by Sterling in March.
“Love is Kind,” the story of how a little owl tries desperately to buy his granny a box of chocolates, was published in August by ZonderKidz, an imprint of HarperCollins.
And this year is shaping up to be another busy one for Sassi.
“Love is Kind” is scheduled to be published as an abridged board book in August. Plus, she’s getting ready to submit another book proposal to publishers.
Sassi, who also published “Goodnight, Ark” and “Goodnight, Manger” in 2014, said most people would be surprised to learn that writing books for children ages 4 to 8 is a lot harder than it appears, especially when writing in rhyme, as she did with her first three books.
“Your rhyming, it has to be perfect,” she said. “It has to be perfect not only the rhyme, but the rhythm has to be perfect or it’s not going to be readable. It has to be consistent or else it’s not going to be readable. The story has to be relatable to a child and an adult.”
Sassi is a craftsman. Like a novelist, she works on rising action, climax and resolution. She allows a space for the illustrator to help tell the story. And, one of her trademarks is the way she sets up reveals throughout the book. The young reader wonders what will happen next and hurriedly turns the page to find out.
“With picture books, the ones that are done really, really well, there’s a bit of magic about them where you read, and there’s the charm, the heart and a bit of humor in there,” said Barbara Herndon, senior acquisition editor for ZonderKidz. “And, when you get to the end and you can’t wait to read it again. Laura has that magic.”
As a girl, Sassi’s mother read her the poems of A.A. Milne so many times that she practically knew them by heart. When she grew up and became a teacher, her favorite classes were reading and writing.
After Sassi moved from California to Cranford, she taught at the Orange Avenue School for one year before her son Will, now 18, was born. About four years later, daughter Abigail was born. Sassi’s husband, Jonathan, is a Cranford native.
Sassi already filling her calendar with school appearances a
nd book signings in the spring.
“When I go into schools, I tell the kids to put on their writer’s glasses,” she said. “You kind of see the world through that and you’re sort of capturing your ideas.”
She keeps at her craft, writing in her journal nearly every day. Plus, inspiration often hits her at the most inopportune moments. She must hurry before it dissipates into the air.
“I’m constantly making little notes of ideas for a story on my phone. I carry a little notebook with me. The other day I didn’t have anything with me, so I grabbed a page out of my sudoku puzzle book. I got a page out of it — I had already done the puzzle — and scratched my idea on there before I forgot it.”