The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Michael J. Armstrong & Review of Best Day Ever

June 3, 2020

Michael Armstrong began his career as a marketing professional. Changing course, he served as the Executive Director of The ALS Association, The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and other nonprofit organizations.

 

When his daughter was born, Mike changed course again to become a stay-at-home dad. Soon after, he began writing children’s books (and rekindled his love affair with Play-Doh). Mike also rehabs old houses, has an unhealthy obsession with sports trading cards, and ignores the fact that his 80-pound dog desperately needs a bath. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

His debut picture book, Best Day Ever, released June 2nd.

 

Welcome Michael, 

 

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

 

MICHAEL: My favorite subject. Settle in. I was born in Painesville, Ohio, way back in…(*severe edit*)…and that brings us to seven years ago when I began writing children’s books. [*chuckling*]

 

I had a young daughter, so I was reading a ton of them, and I had the thought that so many parents have: “I’m funny. I can totally do this.” I spent the next two years flailing about, until I connected with the local SCBWI. That changed everything for me. It’s such an informed, generous, supportive community, and my involvement helped me find a path to becoming a better writer. In fact, it was at a SCBWI conference that I met the editor who would ultimately purchase Best Day Ever.

 

Hooray for SCBWI! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

 

Hmm, I’m kind of an open book. Which is to say, there are probably lots of things that people wish they didn’t know about me because I don’t get the concept of TMI. Anyway, let me think.

 

Maybe that I studied martial arts for about 20 years until my knees gave out, I’m fascinated with behavioral economics, and I mediate on a regular basis.

 

Also, I’m newly single – Hello, ladies! - which not many people know yet. See what I mean about TMI? 

 

So, there you have it - all the single ladies . . . Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

 

I loved all of PD Eastman’s stuff. That said, I was not a well-read kid, and we didn’t have a ton of books in our house when I was growing up. That said, I was always a pretty good writer. I won a county-wide essay contest in middle-school and wrote for the high school newspaper and yearbook. But I didn’t see a path to becoming a writer as a profession, so I studied business instead.

 

Ultimately, that might very well come in handy as you manage your career. Where did the idea for Best Day Ever come from?

 

I was watching my daughter play in the backyard. There were all these toys strewn about, and she was playing with a stick and having the best time ever. I was a pretty serious dad back then, and was always planning and scheduling things for her to do. You know, important stuff.  But that day I realized that nothing I had planned would make her as happy or was more important than just letting her run wild with her imagination. And that’s what the book is about.

 

I’ve said this before, one of the great things about having kids is that if you watch them closely, they will show you the best parts of life.

 

It was always so much fun to see what a "simple" box could become. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Best Day Ever?

 

Seeing all the pieces come together. It really is a collaborative process. I have a lot of people to thank for this book.

 

Did you include any illustration notes when you submitted the manuscript? Where there any “aha” moment(s) when you first saw the illustrations?

 

Yes. Because my book is dialogue only, I needed art notes to drive the action and the story forward. And that’s the key: art notes HAVE to be necessary to the story. But I didn’t have any sense of what the characters looked like, or any of the visual details. Fortunately, I didn’t need to because Églantine totally nailed it.

 

That's a manuscript draft I'd love to see. What is your favorite spread in the book?

Text © Michael J. Armstrong, 2020. Image © Églantine Ceulemans, 2020.

 

There are so many great spreads. Again, Églantine fills every page with life. But it’s actually a single page toward the end where Anna explains her terms for helping William. It’s brilliant, and it’s all Églantine. Again, I'm very lucky to have her as my illustrator.

 

I also think she did an amazing job with the illustrations. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from Best Day Ever?

 

For kids, I just want them to laugh and enjoy the book. It follows that if a kid really enjoys a book, they will be encouraged to read more. And in my mind, that’s where all the progress in the world begins: with kids reading.

 

I totally agree with you. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)

 

My daughter, hands down. She inspires everything I do. She wants to be a writer and an illustrator. In fact, for Easter she gave me two full formed, hand-written graphic novels that she made. Blew me away. Before that, I used to think that I had stuff that was important to me. Now, I have stuff that is important to me.

 

Kids have a way of doing that to you. How many drafts, or revisions, did Best Day Ever take? Did you have to make any revisions after Églantine Ceulemans finished the illustrations?

 

Lots of minor revisions. I went through four different editors between the time my book was acquired and when it was finished, so everyone had input. But I’m not precious about my writing. Nearly every tweak made it a better book.

 

We did have to cut one page that I liked because it just didn’t fit in the spread count. But I don’t think the book suffers because of it.

 

Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

I have a second manuscript with Anna and William that I hope to publish. The theme is confirmation bias, and it plays out as Anna drags Will into a search for a missing penguin that she is convinced is hiding in her house. I REALLY hope it sees the light of day. And who knows, maybe the stars will align and Églantine will illustrate again.

 

That would be really cool. Assuming you have a critique group or partners, what have you learned from your critique buddies over the years?

 

Everything. And I’ve also learned the important of having honest critique partners who will tell you when things don’t work. Some critique groups and partners are like a support group that just provide encouragement. I get that, but it’s not what I need. I want the cold, hard truth, because that will ultimately lead to a better book. And if my ego gets bruised, then I’ll buy it an ice cream cone on the way home.

 

And isn't it better to be slightly bruised by a critique session, than majorly bruised by an agent or editor, right?! What is your favorite animal? Why?

 

I’ve never really had a favorite animal. But I did write a story – one that didn’t work and got shelved – about an octopus. They are truly fascinating creatures. Please don’t eat octopus.

 

Thank you Michael for stopping by to share about yourself and your debut picture book.

 

 

 

To find out more about Michael Armstrong, or get in touch with him:

Website: https://www.michaeljarmstrongbooks.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mike.armstrong.522

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wrongarmstrong

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wrongarmstrong/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Best Day Ever

 

What defines the 'best' day ever? Learning something new? Spending time with a special person, or two? Reading a book? Taking a walk? Or could it be that the best, most fun day ever just sneaks up on you when you let your hair down and allow things to get just a bit messy and crazy? But, how would you measure whether you've had the most fun EVER?  

 

In this time of being isolated, I think everybody has faced the challenges of increased screen time, work/school from home, and trying to find ways to exercise and have fun. Often in a solo or "family only" capacity. Maybe binge-watching TV, tackling the tipping pile of books, yard and house projects that have taunted for a while, or maybe learning a new card game? Maybe the lack of other activities will spur kids (and adults) to let their imaginations soar and spend some time just having fun.

 

This book is a great spark to ignite fantastical ideas for messy and crazy imaginative play.

 

 

 

 

Best Day Ever

 

Author: Michael J. Armstrong

 

Illustrator: Églantine Ceulemans

 

Publisher: Sterling Children's Books (2020)

 

Ages: 3 and up

 

Fiction

 

Themes:

Imagination, friendship, and getting messy.

 

Synopsis:

It’s the last day of summer vacation and William—a little boy who loves order and schedules—has just one thing left to accomplish: have the most fun ever. He's even created a fun-o-meter to help him achieve his goals. But nothing he does seems special enough. Even worse, William's fanciful next-door neighbor, Anna, keeps interrupting his plans with increasingly outlandish suggestions—like trampoline bouncing to the moon to find dinosaur bones or riding talking seahorses to an underwater castle. Can these two seemingly different kids find a way to have the best day together . . . and maybe become friends, too? This charming picture book about a child who always follow the rules is a must-read for kids and parents in need of a funny, gentle reminder to get creative and let their imaginations run wild.

 

Opening Lines:

It's the last day of summer, and I have one

final piece of business: have the most fun ever.

And I'm going to measure it . . .

Just to be sure.

 

What I liked about this book:

When meticulous, uptight  William has crossed everything off his ambitious "summer goals" list, except "have most fun ever," it makes perfect sense that he creates a "fun-o-meter" to ensure that he reaches this goal. After all, how hard can "fun" be after everything he's already accomplished this summer?

Text © Michael J. Armstrong, 2020. Image © Églantine Ceulemans, 2020.

 

So, after he researches "fun," he tries bouncing on a trampoline, sidewalk art, and riding a scooter. Each time, creating some hilarious results and expressions. But where any of them the most fun ever? Enter his outgoing, energetic neighbor, Anna. I love Églantine Ceulemans' use of kid-like crayon art to depict Anna's amazing imaginative world and its contrast to William's single-minded stuffy determination to "experience" fun. 

 Text © Michael J. Armstrong, 2020. Image © Églantine Ceulemans, 2020.

 

Just when Anna's silly, messy, and possibly dangerous adventures culminate in a raucous pinata party, William realizes - seeing the flashing green light on his fun-o-meter - that perhaps she might be on to something. He begs Anna to teach him and a very funny negotiation ensues.

Text © Michael J. Armstrong, 2020. Image © Églantine Ceulemans, 2020.

 

 

Readers will enjoy tracking an increasing cast of silly critters who William doesn't appear to notice, but which join into the action at the end. This rollicking, seriously silly exploration of imaginative fun has a very heart-warming satisfying ending, where both Anna and William remain true to their distinct, unique personalities. It's a great book for encouraging imagination and silly fun for everyone.  

 

Resources:

- write a list or draw a picture of what you think would be the Most Fun Day Ever.

- do you and your siblings or friends have the same idea of fun? Why do you think it differs?

- create a blanket fort, make a box into a rocket or pirate ship, or build a hideaway in your house or yard and have an adventure.

- what is the wildest adventure you've ever imagined?

- check out the Teacher's Guide for Best Day Ever. 

 

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