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Welcome Josh Armstrong, Picture Book Author

RT: In our conversation on the Family Bookshelf, we talked a lot about Grace, Grandpa Walt, Taylor Bills and the book's artwork. What I didn't mention was that Grace is an up-and-coming artist. Were you an artist as a child? If so, what kinds of things did you like to draw? Do you still draw?

Josh: Good question! Unfortunately, I’m not very good at illustrating. Of course, I’ve learned that one doesn’t have to paint like Leonardo DaVinci for their art to be meaningful.

In college, I learned about art therapy. In a nutshell, involves illustrating what one is feeling. Learning about art therapy, I wanted to write about a character who paints to deal with her grief. Then I thought, “What if her love of artwork comes from the person she lost?”

RT: I'd like to switch gears for a moment. In the scene where Grace and readers learn of Grandpa Walt’s passing, there are no words. Why was it important to you not to say “he died” or something similar?

Josh: I’d always planned to have no text on the page when we learn of Grandpa Walt’s death. I think there’s a certain power in silence. For instance, I think of the scene in Bambi when the Great Prince tells Bambi, “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” There’s no big elaboration afterward. The movie simply assumes we understand what happened, and I think the brevity of that moment increases its impact. It’s the same with the “Married Life” segment of Up — there are no words, only Michael Giaccino’s beautiful score and the memorable images in that montage.

Admittedly, at first I wondered how that certain page in Picture of Grace would be received. But when I saw Taylor’s incredible artwork, I knew the page spoke for itself — it didn’t need my words potentially watering anything down.

For parents and counselors, I try to make it clear that Picture of Grace is not a how-to guide on grief and loss. Anyone looking for the latter would probably receive more help from books like Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert; Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile by Julie Kaplow; or Charlotte Mountlik's The Scar than from Picture of Grace.

That said, I do hope my book helps children by giving them a protagonist to whom they can relate in situations similar to the one experienced by Grace.

RT: At the end of the story, there is a question about what happens next with Grandpa Walt's painting. Delilah Kain is central to that part of the story.

I have to say, 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.

RT: As a child, you liked reading the Berenstain Bears, Dr. Seuss, and other children’s classics. If you were building a home library now, what would be the five must-have books for your child’s library?

Josh: The Little Engine That Could — Whenever I have a difficult time achieving a goal, I think of my parents reading this story to me.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore — William Joyce is one of my favorite children’s literature authors. Many folks have seen his Oscar-winning Morris Lessmore animated short, but I’d recommend people experience the story via its book adaptation — after all, the story is about books. (After reading the book, folks should still see the short. It’s excellent.) The Monster at the End of This Book — I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun reading a book to a group of kids than when I read this one recently. The Book with No Pictures — I’ve been a fan of B.J. Novak since The Office, so I’m glad he’s written what might be the newest instant classic among children’s books. Corduroy — It’s a heartfelt story about love and acceptance. Most of us have a “missing button”; if we’re blessed, we also have someone who loves us anyway.

RT: RT: Your list of childhood favorites stops pretty early in your reading life. Did you like to read when you got older? If so - who inspired you as a writer?

Josh: I’ve always loved reading. When I temporarily grew out of children’s books, I began to read classics by Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne, among many.

Then I somehow became a part of the kid/teen horror phenomenon that took place in the ’90s — Goosebumps, Fear Street, Spinetinglers, Bone Chillers, et al.

Afterward, I started leaning toward short stories — The Christmas Guest remains one of my favorites. Toward the end of high school, as I started thinking more seriously about my future, I began to read more autobiographies.

Today, I love to read about anything. Right now, I’m reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Obviously, I’m still a fan of children’s books, too. But I also love to read in-depth profiles of people — I keep my Pocket queue full.

RT: Now that you are a published author, do you find yourself thinking of stories based on your experiences (either stories you’ve heard, guidance you think could help others, etc.

Josh: Like a lot of authors, I draw from personal experiences when writing. I think, in a way, that’s how I “work out” the past; I can’t go back in time and change a bad experience or how I responded to a rude person, but I can imagine how I wish certain things had played out. Writing allows me to confront the past by re-imagining it.

I just hope, in doing so, I create a story that helps readers. That’s my number one priority when writing a book.

RT: Thanks again for stopping by to chat with us about Picture of Grace. It has been a pleasure to be able to share more of the story with our readers and fans.

Website: http://josharmstrong.com/picture-of-grace/


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