Josh Armstrong and Picture of Grace

josh armstrong picture of graceOne of the great joys of being Executive Director of The Reading Tub is not just discovering wonderful books, but also having the chance to chat with authors about their stories. More often than not, an author’s life experiences is woven into some aspect of the book, but for every author it’s a different “fabric.”

A few months ago, I met a debut author with a wonderful story. Josh’s new book Picture of Grace is a beautiful, touching story about a little girl and her grandfather. But Josh has been writing for years. The newspaper articles written for the local paper are definitely for a different audience, and yet they had the same, sweet “voice” that carries you through Grace’s story. [Tell me you don’t love this letter to his wife Chelsea on the eve of their wedding.]

I am excited to introduce you to debut picture book author Josh Armstrong.

Talking @ Art and Grace with Josh Armstrong

Terry: Although the title would suggest that this is Grace’s story, it is Grandpa Walt’s story, too. Was it difficult to balance their roles as co-stars and not let one take over the other?

Josh: Not really, because I think they complement each other. Their conversations reveal equal information about each character, from Grace’s questions to Grandpa Walt’s answers. Plus, their personalities are similar — since they’re related, you can see glimpses of one character’s personality in the other character. I imagine Walt as a boy was a lot like Grace, in that regard.

Terry: What I loved best about the story was how Grandpa Walt modeled the idea tha you need to be “your best self.” Grace loses Grandpa Walt in the story, so dDo you worry that this theme is lost by readers who are looking for a “grief book for kids”?

Josh: I’d like to think that Picture of Grace has positive messages about being true to oneself and dealing with grief.

For instance, while Grandpa Walt is gone, a part of him still lives with Grace as she remembers his advice to her. Plus, without spoiling the ending, we know his advice ultimately leads to her doing something that brings her comfort — something she finds therapeutic — though she may not completely understand it at the time.

But yeah, I’d say the main message of the book is that we must be true to ourselves despite our critics.

picture of grace walt paintingTerry: In several of the illustrations, Grace is watching Grandpa Walt paint. He leaves behind an unfinished painting, and at the end of the story, the reader is left with the question of whether or not Susan sold the painting to Delilah Kain. What do you think happened?

Josh: I doubt Delilah wanted the painting at the end, considering what happened to it, but I also imagine the decision wasn’t easy for her. Delilah knows Walt was talented. So, I think she greatly considered purchasing the final painting. But what Grace did — that really upset her.

Terry: Speaking of Delilah … she is quite a contrast from the other characters in the book. Did you find her hard to “like”?

Josh: Some folks think Delilah is over the top; but honestly – without naming names, of course – I can think of plenty of Delilah’s I’ve encountered over the years.

Everyone is three dimensional, but there are people like Delilah who choose to show only one side of themselves to most people. Sometimes people can be rude or mean to us, and we may not know why – the reason may have nothing to do with us.

Terry: Taylor Bills and friends In our interview over on the Reading Tub website we talk more in depth about the various aspects of the book, so I’m going to stick with talking about the art here. Taylor Bills’ illustrations are exquisite.

They are poignant but not dark, and, like this illustration of Grandpa Walt, Grace, you and Taylor, very sweet. When you started your collaboration, did you already *know* what Grace looked like? Were there specific character descriptions that you gave Taylor?

Josh: First of all, thanks for the kind words about Taylor’s illustrations. I’m thrilled that he agreed to illustrate Picture of Grace. When we began this collaboration, I had an idea of what I wanted Grace to look like, but I tried to hold back when describing her to Taylor because I wanted to see what he envisioned. I was happy to see our initial ideas of the character’s design were very similar.

Terry: What was your reaction when you saw the first sketches?

Josh: It was the first time I thought, “My gosh, this is really happening!” Seeing those sketches made the project seem more real than when it was just a Word document on my computer.

Terry: One of my all-time favorite questions focuses on connecting characters across books. If you could introduce Grace to another beloved book character, who would that be? and why?

Josh: Hmm…I’d like to see a collaboration between Grace and Harold of Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Since they both love artwork, I think they could learn a lot from each other. Perhaps Grace could share illustration tips she learned from Grandpa Walt, and Harold could demonstrate how to draw using one’s imagination.

Terry: That would be a great collaboration. The first person who came to my mind was Noonie Norton, of Noonie’s Masterpiece. The girls share some similarities in dealing with loss, but also have strong spirits, too.

I’ve really enjoyed exploring Grace’s story and look forward to reading more of your children’s books in the future!

KidLit Lovers – To read more of our interview with Josh Armstrong  and learn about his reading interests, head over to The Reading Tub for the rest of the story.

3 Back-to-School Ideas Perfect for Summer

back-to-school ideas 2015August is here, and there is back-to-school in the air! I don’t know about you, but I am not ready to be *done* with summer yet.

Is there a way to enjoy BOTH seasons? Absolutely.

I found this in an August 2013 post I wrote on the subject  …

Ready or not, it is back-to-school time for students of all ages. Gone (or almost gone) are the unscheduled days and late nights. In come the more structured days and homework routine. Some of us love the rituals that come with school … some of us don’t.

That 2013 get ready for back-to-school post offered three literacy-related adventures that can help ease everyone back into the school routine. One of my faves (of course) is reviving bedtime story time … even with teens!

This year, I have three ideas that are more about summer and less about school – but still rekindle a love of learning.

I ❤ Summer Back-to-School Ideas

Get Cooking!

family recipesRecipes and store lists are great ways to engage kids with practicing a variety of skills: reading, math, organization, and sequencing events. Cooking together may be as simple as pulling out an old family recipe, searching for ingredients in the pantry, and/or creating the shopping list, then making it.

Here’s another idea – pull out the cookbooks (yes, I’m old school) and search for a new recipe for a long-time favorite food (corn salsa anyone?). Create “tasting cards” so that everyone in the family can rate the new dish!

Bonus: Stir in some storytelling! Ask questions about why your child loves it so much, or share stories about why it is a special recipe for you.

Double Bonus: You might find some great recipes that are perfect for school lunches …

Got a Question? Put it in the Discovery Jar

question jar activitiesKids love to ask questions that we don’t have the answer to, and this is an easy way to follow through on getting them an answer. This activity not only feeds their curiosity, but it also helps them learn how to find answers and conduct research.

You’ll need a pen or pencil, some paper (cut into note size, about 2″ square), and a container. Plain or fancy, coffee can or pickle jar  – doesn’t matter! The idea is to have a place where people can drop questions about the world around them.

You can either start the jar yourself by writing down the next question you’re asked; or it can be a family activity. The important part is writing down questions in the moment.

Each day, pull ONE question from the jar, then search for the answer. Some questions might require an “experiment.” Others, a little research. If it works for your family, take the question(s) to the library and look for age-appropriate books that can help. With so many of us carrying mobile computers, we can do our research on line, too.

NOTE: Although it is tempting to run through lots of questions, you’ll keep the kids coming back for more if there is only one per day. Plus, that helps keep “screen time” to a finite task and amount of time.

Plan a Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are another great way to keep kids minds’ (and bodies) active as they work their way through the task of finding a set of specific items. I have always found them to be addictive. You might create the first one, but then the kids take over and start creating their own hunts for siblings and friends.

With younger kids, simpler is better. Tasks like “Find a yellow pencil” are specific enough, but still recognizable. For upper elementary students and older, push the learning. Ask for a “yellow leaf from a tomato plant” or a gray rock that measures 2″ across.

With a back-to-school themed scavenger hunt you can have the kids find last year’s school supplies and then build a shopping list for this year!

These are just a few ideas on ways to keep summer going despite being pushed into back-to-school mode. You may have some traditions of your own – we’d love to hear about ways you prepare yourself and your kids for going back-to-school but still keep that summer feeling going!


#TBT Book Review – Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia

If it is August, it is time for thoughts of “back to school.” This week we’ve pulled an easy reader from the the archive: Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parrish. Do you have a favorite Amelia Bedelia book – add it to our collection in the comments below!!

amelia bedelia easy readerTeach Us, Amelia Bedelia

written by Peggy Parish
illustrated by Lynn Sweat

Scholastic Press, 1977

Amelia Bedelia’s boss asks her to go by the school and let the principal know that the new teacher will be late in getting to school. Amelia goes to the school, but before she can tell the principal the whole story, he gives gives her a list of things that need to be done.

So Amelia gets to work. Project 1: paint pictures with the children. Amelia Bedelia means well, but somehow things get very complicated.

Reading Tub book review of Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia – May 2009

Why a Throwback Thursday for Book Reviews?

Those of us who blog about books are a community. We read lots of books, we write lots of reviews, and we share those reviews with fellow book lovers and those in search of books for children and teens on our blogs, websites, and via social media.

We write so many reviews that, over time, they get buried by other, newer reviews. BUT! that book we read three years ago will always be new to some reader, somewhere. So why not share that review with a new audience?

Everyone is welcome! Here are the participation guidelines:

  • If you reviewed the same book we’re featuring, add your permalink to the original review on the Reading Tub website or in the InLinkz Linkup.
  • Want to (re)share a review you posted in June 2009, then add your permalink in the InLinkz Linkup. [No, it doesn’t have to be a book you loved; but it does have to be a review you take a lot of pride in.]
  • Add any notes about the review in the comments, please.

The spammers have been having a blast with our Throwback Thursday posts … now its your turn to take back blogging from those nuisances. Did you review Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia? Or another book from May 2009? Add it to our linkup above or comments below.

NOTES: Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia cover image links to The Reading Tub has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. 100% of any income from this source is used for our literacy mission.