AMS/ER: People say authors write what they know. Did your idea for FINDING CHRISTMAS come from your own experiences?
LE: One Christmas Eve when my six children were still at home, I was swamped getting everything ready for the big day. A large pile of toys lay on our bedroom floor waiting to be wrapped. My husband offered to help and I gratefully took him up on it. He set about wrapping the gifts and finished the job in record time. But we soon realized he’d forgotten to put names on the gifts. I panicked! With no time left to buy new paper and rewrap the gifts, my husband suggested we put the presents under the tree without any names, let the children choose one at a time, open it, and then give it to the sibling they thought needed it/would love it the most. This turned out to be one of our most cherished family memories. Our children loved giving the gifts away to their delighted siblings, and my husband and I loved watching the sweet exchanges that took place. It was so much fun, our children insisted we leave the names off the Christmas presents the next year as well. That experience is very similar to when Hare, Squirrel, and Mouse give their gifts away. They find great joy, just like my children did on that memorable Christmas Eve. So I guess that experience did spark an idea!
AMS/ER: Is Christmas your favorite holiday?
LE: I’m a holiday lover, that’s for sure. Probably because holidays provide opportunities to make memories and instill family traditions. There are so many things to love about the Christmas season – beautiful decorations, yummy treats, and buying gifts for others! Much like Hare, Squirrel, and Mouse, I love it when my little burrow fills up with family and friends and we sing one carol after another (sometimes at the top of our lungs, just like Hare)! So, yes, I’d have to say Christmas is my favorite!
AMS/ER: What advice do you have for kids who would like to give or do something for someone else?
LE: It doesn’t need to be big or complicated. Small and simple things are often the best gifts! A hug, a picture, a kind word such as saying, “come, sit by me,” to someone who needs a friend – those things can make a real difference. Giving someone your place in line, asking your teacher what you can do to help, or being the first to listen and follow directions. Those things will make your teacher’s day! Can you think of some small and simple things you can do for your family members to show kindness?
I’m super excited about the Gifts of Kindness Advent Calendar that Albert Whitman has created! It goes along with the theme of Finding Christmas. Follow the pictures and simple instructions (below) to make this fun, easy craft/advent calendar. With this advent calendar, you can fill the 24 days leading up to Christmas with all kinds of simple acts of kindness. Before you know it, your classroom or your home will be filled with the spirit of Christmas.
AMS/ER: Who do you think is the most important character in FINDING CHRISTMAS?
LE: Great question! I’m fond of all the characters, but if I have to pick one I would say Swallow is the most important. Without Swallow, there would be no story. Swallow enables the three friends to see the holiday in a whole new way. As Mouse, Squirrel, and Hare give up their gifts to help Swallow get better, they find the Christmas spirit. While authors do not usually dictate what the illustrator draws, I wanted the message to come through in a very subtle, yet powerful way. So I asked Yee Von if she would draw Swallow with her wings wrapped around the three friends in the final illustration. Yee Von’s depiction of this moment is even sweeter than I imagined!
AMS/ER: Rumor has it you have a cat as a writing partner. Tell us about that.
LE: Well, let me start off by saying that my dearest writing friend (the co-author of this blog) despises my kitty cohorts. Even though on several occasions my kitties have tried to cuddle up to her and extend a paw of friendship, she merely cringes when they come around. Ha! In all seriousness, writing is a solitary endeavor for many authors, but not for me. My two cats see to that! As soon as I sit down at the computer, Max is at my feet and Callie jumps up and sits in between the keyboard and my computer screen. They are the purrrrrfect companions! In fact, Callie loves me to read aloud to her when I am working on a story. In this video clip below, she is doing just that! She is a rather spoiled kitty, don’t you think?
AMS/ER: What is your next book coming out? Tell us a little about it.
LE: DADDIES DO is a rhythmic, rhyming shout-out to daddies everywhere. From a daddy bird who teaches his little bird to fly, to a anteater who makes his little ones a sticky stack of pancakes dripping with ants, these animal pairings prove that though daddies come in all shapes and sizes, they all have one thing in common… their love for their little ones! DADDIES DO will be out in time for Father’s Day next spring. Look for it on May 1st.
Questions our first grade students think all authors should answer:
First Graders: How do you concentrate?
LE: My children are grown and gone now so my house is very quiet. This helps me concentrate because I don’t have a lot of distractions. If I really want to get something done though, I turn off my phone. Sometimes, if I am really struggling coming up with an idea or revising a certain passage, I have to get up and walk around the house for a bit. This clears my head. Sometimes it helps me get in the mood to write if I turn on music. For the pioneer novel I am working on I have a whole soundtrack of songs I have compiled that inspire me and put me in that time period.
First Graders: How do you think of great ideas?
LE: Great ideas are all around us! And the beautiful thing is my ideas are different than your ideas. I firmly believe that everybody has their own unique stories to tell. Many of my best ideas come because I make an effort to notice things. I like watching people. I like to eavesdrop! That may sound funny, but so many ideas have come to me from overhearing something somebody says that strikes me as funny. And I spend a lot of “quiet” time thinking about things too. Especially before I go to sleep at night. Then I’ll wake up in the morning and POW! I have a new idea. Early in the morning is when I seem to get my best ideas.
First Graders: Why did you become an author?
LE: Because I loved reading books with my six children and I wanted to write stories that allowed others to do the same. My kids and I used to check out dozens of books each week. At any given time, we had 50 library books in the house. One night when I was reading with my kids I thought, this is what I want to do when I grow up. I want to write for children. And so studied how to do it, I practiced writing stories, I worked at revising those stories, and, miracle of miracle, I became a published author!