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Illustrator Ken Myers (left) and author Josh Grein talk at Grein's Before 'n' After Cafe.
'Petunia Bobbin and the Baby Robin' was written
BY KATIE THISDELL
Petunia Bobbin is carrying bags full of Christmas purchases when she notices a baby robin all by itself.
It has lost its mother amid the holiday chaos. Can the fictional little girl help?
First-time author Josh Grein takes the pair on a journey along the East Coast looking for the bird's mother, who headed south for the winter, in "Petunia Bobbin and the Baby Robin: A Christmas Adventure."
Proceeds from the book's sales will benefit the Toys For Tots Foundation as well as Ebenezer United Methodist Church, which Grein attends along with the book's illustrator and editor.
"I love to write--it's my escape," said Grein, who owns a cafe in Stafford with his wife. "It's just going off in a whole different world."
The 42 pages of rhyming lines and accompanying artwork by Stafford resident Ken Myers have been years in the making.
"Anybody can start writing a book. Finishing it, that's a completely different ballgame," said Grein, who had it self-published.
When the book didn't get done last year, he said, it felt as if something was missing.
"I don't know how," he vowed at the time, "but I will get it done."
He said it doesn't matter to him how many are sold--just that he has hard copies in his hands to give to friends and relatives.
After growing up in a military family and moving around the country, Grein figured he'd have Petunia and Baby Robin journey to all 50 states between the book's two covers--but that quickly turned out to be too much for one volume.
Now he has planned three more books for Petunia's travels, focused on different holidays and seasons.
"I thought it was quite something to take on," said Patty Hosler, who helped to edit the book. "I was very impressed that he would do such a thing."
She knew Grein was a singer because they both perform in the choir at Ebenezer United Methodist, "so it never occurred to me that he was an author as well."
BOOK COMES TO LIFE
Grein, 38, moved to Stafford in 2003, where he soon met his wife, Bettina.
Both are Realtors, and together they opened Before 'n' After Cafe off Courthouse Road in North Stafford in February 2011.
When they first looked at the vacant space, the plan was to open a real estate office. Immediately, Josh Grein felt the cafe vibe. Neither had restaurant experience, but within a few months, the cafe opened--with the name referring to its coffee for before work and its dinner and drinks for after. (They did open a realty office in the back.)
The cafe, which many church members frequent, has also turned into the main sales point for the hardcover book. An acrylic painting of the book's characters, done by Myers, 55, hangs near the book display.
"I knew the pictures had to describe a lot. Almost every one, he got it right off the bat," Grein said about Myers, who retired recently as a special agent in the FBI and has never had any formal art classes.
The two knew each other through their church, but it was Hosler who suggested they collaborate.
"None of us knew that the other people could do the things that we did," said Hosler, a retired Stafford elementary school teacher who put her red pen to use on Grein's draft.
For Myers, a self-described detail-oriented and law-educated man, it was his first time illustrating a book.
Will he be illustrating the rest of the Petunia series?
"He better be," said Grein, who describes himself as spontaneous. "It was really neat to watch it come to life."
After meeting each other at a busy shopping center on Christmas Eve, Petunia and Baby Robin journey south from Maine. Along the way, many characters help them search for the robin's mother.
When they meet Santa, time slows down on the clocks set in each scene, allowing the pair to reach Florida before Christmas.
Myers and Grein agreed that Virginia was their favorite page. Here, the little girl and bird stop at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Grein's father was a Marine, and now helps lead the Toys for Tots Foundation--making it an obvious choice to donate proceeds to.
"I'm very proud of it, actually. I think it really has a nice message to it," said Hosler. "Through the artwork, it brings so much more to it."
Grein and Myers signed copies of books that she's excited to give to her two young grandsons for Christmas.
"I get to read it to them the first time," Hosler said.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975