This is the Boat that Ben Built

By Jen Lynn Bailey
Illustrated by Maggie Zeng
Picture Book for Ages 5-8
ISBN: 978-1-77278-242-4
Publisher: Pajama Press

From the publisher:

A humorous exploration of a northern river ecosystem with an intrepid young boatsman is paired with an extended author’s note about its ecology and key species.

Young Ben sets out to explore the river equipped with a sturdy boat, some sample-collection gear, and his scientific curiosity. Along the way he meets a black bear taking a swim, a moose all wobbly and slim, a goose with a gorgeous grin, and a heron all proper and prim…but things really start happening after the owl HOOs loudly on a whim.

With fresh, easygoing verse from author Jen Lynn Bailey and art full of movement and light from illustrator Maggie Zeng, This is the Boat That Ben Built is a compelling entry point for conversations about ecology, food webs, and species diversity. Ben’s excursion—watched from the shore by his mother and faithful dog—is an outdoor adventure pitched perfectly for kids who dream of independence and exploration, parents who value safety and loving supervision, and educators who seek engaging fiction enriched with information. The book concludes with an eight-page Author’s Note that spotlights facts about every animal Ben has met and invites readers to think like an ecologist about the ways in which they are all connected.

Awards & Honours:

Recipient of the 2023 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, Picture Book category

2023 CLEL Bell Award “Sing” Nominee (Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy)

2023 SCBWI “Celebrate the Earth” Recommended Reading List feature

2022 Ontario Library Association – Best Bets

2022 Best Books for Kids & Teens (Fall edition) – The Canadian Children’s Book Centre

2022 The Children’s Book Council “March: Hot Off the Press” feature

2022 SCBWI Recommended Reading List feature

2022 BookFlap “Finding our Place in the Universe” feature

This Is the Boat That Ben Built is a collaboration that exudes a sense of happiness. It is the meeting of pleasant story and informative nonfiction that will be useful in primary classroom and library collections.”

—CM Magazine

“What could be more amazing than experiencing an ecosystem through a story? Or floating down a river into a new world that you can explore? This tale has echoes of the traditional “The House That Jack Built” story, yet Bailey weaves a narrative that is distinctly modern, which Zeng has filled with wondrous illustrations. A young boy named Ben builds a boat and explores a world filled with a fish, a beaver, a bear, a goose, an owl, a heron, and a moose while floating down a river on a sunny afternoon. Young readers will enjoy following Ben’s adventures and encountering creatures that leap across the river and become larger-than-life within this imaginative journey. This book contains a timeless narrative that will enchant readers of all ages, a revision of a well-known story that is perfectly suited to a twenty-first century world. With its lyrical text and amazing tapestry of illustrations, this book is destined to become a classic.”

—CLCD Children’s Literature

“Bailey’s debut puts an ecological spin on ‘This Is the House That Jack Built,’ in a cumulative tale of a boy exploring a northern river ecosystem… Zeng balances stylized realism with cuddliness in the creatures she depicts; cool, dreamy blues and green hues put readers in mind of a late spring or early summer day. Back matter includes details about river ecosystems and the animals that appear in the book. VERDICT Recommended for most picture book collections, especially those serving geographic regions sharing some of these species.”

—School Library Journal

“The illustrations are really lovely and capture the river and its animals in a way that is sure to appeal to children. The buildable story is great for toddlers and preschoolers who will appreciate the repetition and understanding the way that things begin to relate to each other in the story.”

—YA Books Central

“Funny and sweet, the circular story follows young Ben on his boat as he explores a northern river, encountering a black bear, moose, goose, heron, and owl, all of whom become part of his tale.

More than just wordplay and fun though, This is the Boat That Ben Built is a love letter to the natural world and the ecological diversity of the northern landscape Bailey explores. It’s a great jumping off point for talking to kids about nature and conservation, while still taking them on a rollicking adventure. For parents and educators, the book even includes a nonfiction postscript with fun fact and teaching suggestions that tie into the story.”

—Open Book interview, March 3, 2022

“Patterned on the familiar “The House That Jack Built” nursery rhyme, Jen Lynn Bailey’s text is fun and easy to read, flowing smoothly with the right cadence that pulls the reader along. Maggie Zeng’s digital illustrations are beautiful and full of detail. Gentle humour infuses the story in both text and illustrations, and readers will enjoy the sense of wonder always to be found in natural settings.”

—Canadian Children’s Book News, Spring 2022 issue

“At the end of the book, Bailey talks about the Northern River ecosystem and goes into information about the creatures she featured in her book. The pictures are adorable.”

Book Time

“This is a sweet, rhyming early look at ecosystems in the forest. Back matter talks about keystone species, and asks readers questions about the story.”

—Youth Services Book Review

“Ben floats through a memorable day in his hand-built wooden boat. But when an owl startles the heron and leads to a quick reversal of the creatures in the forest, Mom joins him in the boat. For readers who want to learn more there’s extra info on each of the wild creatures.

The rhyming text is catchy and fun, based on the beat of This is the House that Jack Built: “This is the moose all wobbly and slim / that strolls by the black bear taking a swim.” Zeng’s digital pictures are large and colourful.

Early readers (ages 4-7) will enjoy chanting along with the text.”

—Winnipeg Free Press

“A hooting owl provides enough drama to reverse the direction the words have taken, bringing the story full circle. The lively text is just right for early readers with its repetitive language. Paired with Maggie Zeng’s luminous digital art, it is sure to be read often and soon independently. Filled with movement and humor that adds to its appeal, it will encourage talk about the way an ecosystem works, food webs, and how many animals flourish in a healthy environment.

Back matter includes an author’s note about the what makes an ecosystem.”

—Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“Fun to read over and over with young students and create your own story based on animals your students may spot in their own surroundings. Nonfiction information on each animal is supplied in back pages.”

—The International Educator