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Angels on the Page

Rich Grimes on His New Novel Angel in My Backpack


Saturday, April 27, 2013

As we go through life, we often look back on the struggles and hardships that impacted us most. When reflecting on these difficulties, we remember the despair and hopelessness that tainted our ability to persevere, but we also are reminded of individuals who offered us support, guidance, and hope. Without their intervention, our lives may have taken a different, less productive path.

Angels in my Backpack chronicles the experiences of schoolchildren whose lives were touched by these “human angels” who teach us the significance of helping one another and the importance of fostering such relationships. We may not have known it then, but in some way or another, our lives have also been shaped by angels with invisible wings.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Rich Grimes, author of Angel in My Backpack as well as a university professor, speaker, poet, proud parent, and grandparent who often reads his poems to elementary school students. He shared his personal experiences as a dedicated educator and how they compelled him to write this “feel good work of heart.”

What was the inspiration behind your novel?

My work was greatly influenced from working with “at-promise” (formerly known as “at-risk”) students in my capacity as a teacher, coach, and school administrator. Seeing that many kids have problems, particularly at home, I penned a novel expressing how young people are often supported by angels — well, not literally — who act on their behalf.

This novel blends fiction with fact. What was the purpose and importance of doing this?

I went back and forth between actual experiences and embellishing others, imagining and creating other things to fit the story. I think there is a good balance between fiction and an aspect of realism for when the kids are experiencing difficulties at home, like not having food or access to warm clothing during winter. How can we expect them to perform when school is the least of their worries? Also, because each story contains an epilogue with a happy ending, we see that each child would experience a life worth living.

The purpose of writing the novel was to demonstrate the need for all of us to support those who are in trouble, whether it’s a school child, friend, or relative. From time to time, we are all put in the role of the angel.

In each short story, there is a designated “angel” with an “Assignment” that they are to complete. Who is this “Boss” figure in the literal and non-literal sense?

That’s for you to imagine!

When I capitalize “B” for Boss, most people would assume God. “B” could stand for benefactor, benevolence — there’s a lot of “B’s” that could be put in there. Essentially, if we’re doing this in a literal sense, then the “B” — the Boss — would be God and the “A” for angels would be those who are doing good work. In some way, it gives us a sense that there is an entity or being out there that is trying to look for the welfare of these young people.

The purpose of writing my book was to demonstrate the need for us all to support those in trouble, whether a school child, relative, or friend. From time to time, we find ourselves playing the role of an angel.

I do believe there are angels, but I am not certain they exist in human form. In my book, I call them angels, mentors, or friends.

What do you hope for your readers to take away from the novel?

Taking away from the novel is the idea that negatives can be turned into positives through support, determination, and fortunate circumstances — with a little or a lot of help from “angels.” I want my readers to learn how to embrace the power of optimism.

How we care for the young and the elderly measures the quality of our hearts and minds. Taking good care of children and the aging is important and defines who we are. That is a solemn responsibility and commitment not always present in society. I don’t believe we revere the elderly as we should.

Most importantly, there are 3 essential things on how to support school children: 1) Ask questions of them 2) Do not make judgments about their behaviors 3) Prepare resources to help them.

Actually, those three things, that’s what all of us need to do when supporting anyone with a difficult situation.

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Rich Grimes will sign copies of Angel in My Backpack this Sunday, April 28, 2 p.m., at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State Street. He will also sign copies in Ventura at the Bank of Books, 748 Main Street, on Saturday, May 18, 11 a.m. See summerlandpublishing.com.

Billy Collins & Aimee Mann

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