Did you know that Sunday, September 12th was Grandparents’ Day? It’s a holiday I was unfamiliar with before my picture book LOVE IS KIND came out, but one which I quickly came to embrace, not only because LOVE IS KIND celebrates the special bond between Little Owl and his grammy, but also because I dedicated that book to my own grandmothers.
Now each year, I look forward to Grandparents’ Day as a special opportunity to foster intergenerational appreciation and am always on the lookout for new books that celebrate this special bond. With that in mind, I was delighted to discover GRAMA’S HUG, a delightful new picture book, written and illustrated by Amy Nielander and published in 2020 by Page Street Books.
Here’s the official blurb:
May and Grama are a team. They do everything together, from inventing creative projects to going birdwatching to preparing for the annual space fair. And they never, ever say goodbye without a hug. May’s love of science takes her far as her inventions win year after year, helped by Grama’s support, effort, and love. She travels to space camp and eventually beyond, earning her spot as the first kid astronaut to journey into space. As May prepares for her mission to explore the cosmos, she seems ready to go without looking back, making Grama worried that she will leave without a hug. This picture book explores the importance of treasuring even the smallest moments with people you love with heartwarming illustrations, expressive characters, and delightful touches of whimsy.
And now I have an extra special treat for you. Amy Nielander is my guest today sharing FIVE fun facts about this enchanting book. Thank you, Amy, and take it away!
FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Amy Nielander
FUN FACT #1: Grama’s Hug started off as a wordless story.
My first picture book, The Ladybug Race, is a wordless book so it felt natural for me to approach Grama’s Hug the same way. It wasn’t until I attended the Rutgers University One-on-One Conference when my mentor suggested that I add text. The story reflects a passage of time and providing more text would help a young reader understand that movement. Words continued to build as I worked with the publisher, Page Street Kids. After several revisions, May’s (and Grama’s!) voice emerged and my first picture book with text was born!
FUN FACT #2: The book was inspired by a sentence I heard shouted out one day: “I am not leaving without a hug!”
The idea for Grama’s Hug landed in 2013 when I was walking my daughter to school one morning. As we approached the entrance, the bell rang and kids ran in. I heard a parent yell out “I am not leaving without a hug!”. I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head and immediately wondered “Would you really just stay here if you didn’t get that hug?” The first draft took shape and I titled it I am Not Leaving Without a Hug!. It was a terrible story though and I quickly changed course after an unfortunate SCBWI round table critique. In the process of revising, a childhood memory was triggered and I began writing a more personal story. The next version was filled with every emotion that memory rattled…love, loss, sadness and joy.
FUN FACT #3: The space shuttle in the book was inspired by a 1990s concept design called the Venture Star.
As a former product designer, one of my favorite stages in the design process was the concept phase. Imagining what the next version of a product could be always excited me! Even though concept designs have the potential to improve lives, they are often written off early because they cost too much or the technology isn’t quite there yet. Since Grama’s Hug is a story about a 10-year-old girl going to space, it takes place in a fantastical world. I used my creative license to design a place where previous concepts in history – did not fail. This accelerated the timeline of technology. The Venture Star was built in the 1990s by Lockheed Martin. It was a re-usable spaceplane meant to replace the Space Shuttle. The design didn’t rely on rocket boosters and would reduce materials along with providing other benefits. But after a test vehicle failed, the program was canceled in 2001. As a way to express my gratitude for every designer, engineer and scientist that contributed to that project, I gave the Venture Star a welcoming world to live in (forever!) with Grama’s Hug.
FUN FACT #4: May’s elementary school is named after my elementary school.
I tried to infuse the story with personal details to make it extra special for me (in hopes that readers would feel that love in the illustrations). May’s elementary school is called Winchester, which is the school I attended as a child.
FUN FACT #5: Grama’s robe resembles my late grandma’s robe.
My dad immigrated to the U.S. before I was born and we didn’t really know my grandparents (they lived in Europe). My grandpa visited once when I was too young to remember but my grandmother visited a handful of times. She did not speak English nor did we, grandkids, speak her language. This resulted in an amplified awareness of her reactions in order to interpret dialogue. I’m not sure if it was this heightened sensitivity to all things physical, but I remember a robe she made during one of her visits and wore often. When it came time to design Grama’s outfits for the book, I knew my late grandma’s robe would be a part of her collection. It was my way of honoring a hardworking woman whose heart probably ached often, with family living so far away.
Amy Nielander loves making joyful and creative picture books for children. Her first wordless book, The Ladybug Race, exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as a Silent Book Contest finalist. Her second picture book, Grama’s Hug, received a starred review from Booklist and was included on Grand Rapids Magazine’s “Summer Fav” book list. Her third book, My Name Is Not Ed Tug! will release in 2022 by West Margin Press. Kids can create new characters with Amy every month on her CREATE A CHARACTER blog. You can also find Amy on Twitter (@nielanderamy) and Instagram (@amynielander).