World Read Aloud Day – Reflections

You never quite can tell what’s going to happen on an in-person school visit. The projector goes out. The microphone screeches. A fire drill is called in the middle of a presentation. (We all lined up in the school yard…) But despite it all, you can usually tell when you’ve connected with them. They’re right there in front of you, and they’re responding in real time.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with my first ever virtual visits, which I arranged for World Read Aloud Day: would the kids hear me ok? Could I see them well enough to know if they were engaging with the story? Can I reach them this way?

On World Read Aloud Day, I visited three classrooms to read This is the Boat that Ben Built. The first session with Todd Elementary School in Briarcliff Manor, NY, was the one I was the most confident about, since I had tested the platform ahead of time with their tech crew. When I joined the call, I noticed that the kids were wearing crowns with their names written on them. They instantly became more than just little dots on a screen. “I’m Jen Lynn Bailey,” I said, and the first sparks of connection were born.

The author holds her book up on the screen at the front of the classroom as children look on. The children are wearing paper crowns.

Todd Elementary School, Briarcliff Manor, NY

I noticed a pretty significant delay between my questions and their responses, which made interaction a bit challenging as I shared the story. I slowed down and watched the tiny little box in the bottom corner of my screen to notice their small movements and reactions. Still with me, I thought. And when it came time for them to ask questions, I knew we’d managed just fine. “What inspired you to write this story?” “How long did it take to write?” “Why did you become a writer?”

A child stands at the front of the classroom, asking a question to the author who is connected virtually on a computer.

Question time – Todd Elementary School

A child stands in front of a computer screen to ask their question. The author is projected on to a screen at the front of the classroom.

At Miller Elementary School in Canton, MI, the kids were seated on a carpet in a lovely library, surrounded by books. Although they were tiny on my screen, I could see them engage, bringing their hands up to their eyes to mimic the binoculars and magnifying glass that Ben used to explore the animals in the northern river ecosystem. They’re with me, I knew.

Miller Elementary School, Canton, MI

At Hume Elementary School in Nelson, BC, the technical issues all came out to play. Sound. Screen sharing. Timing out. But it didn’t deter us – the teacher had my book on hand, and we both held up our copies so the kids could see the illustrations while I read. I think they joined in enthusiastically. I heard the audio cut in and out, and noticed them looking at the pictures as their teacher passed by their desks.

“Do you like to read?” one student asked me during the question time.

I love to read,” I said. I wasn’t sure what she would say next.

I love to read, too,” she said. She smiled to herself, considering something, and stepped away from the camera.

And so, on World Read Aloud Day, I discovered that virtual visits are an exercise in paying attention to the small, nearly imperceivable signs of connection. Thank you, grade 1s and 2s, for sharing a story and forming a small connection with me.

Book signing in Montreal – Nov 5, 1:00-1:30pm

 

Thrilled to be joining Maggie Zeng at the AELAQ Holiday Book Fair tomorrow (Nov 5) for a book signing at the Librairie Paragraphe Bookstore in Montreal, starting at 1pm. More info about the fair can be found here. Hope to see you there!

First in-person book signing event: a great success!

The author holds her book and reads to children in a bookstore.

Yesterday morning I was a ball of nerves getting ready for my first in-person book signing event. But when I got to read to these young explorers, the nervousness dissipated and we quickly connected about the story. They loved guessing which animal would be next, finding the animals that had already been introduced, watching what Ben was up to on his great exploration, and, of course, telling me all about which animals they had seen or learned about before!

After each reading I did, I signed books for the kids and they voted on their favorite animals. Are you surprised that the bear was the clear winner? I think it’s his friendly wave and relaxed demeanor that makes him so popular. I had a couple of votes for the butterfly and dog…. who unfortunately didn’t get their own backmatter pages!

A tally sheet with a sticker corresponding to each animal on the left side and children's tally marks on the right. "Which animal do you like the most?" - the highest tally was for the bear, followed by the beaver.

There was also a prize wheel they could spin to win a bookmark, sticker, or small wooden owl. This was a hit with the kids and staff 🙂

A colorful prize wheel displaying which prizes could be won: bookmark, stickers, owl.

Looking forward to many more events like this one! Thanks @IndigoInnes for hosting me, and thanks to all the great kids who joined me to explore This is the Boat that Ben Built!

The author stands behind a table of her books, a prize wheel, tally sheet, and crafts.

Earth Day: Book Pairings

Earth Day is just around the corner! Take a quick dip (or a deep dive!) into rivers and watersheds with these book pairing ideas that complement THIS IS THE BOAT THAT BEN BUILT.

Nonfiction

WATERSHEDS: A PRACTICAL HANDBOOK FOR HEALTHY WATER

by Clive Dobson and Gregor Gilpin Beck

published by Firefly Books; Second Edition, Revised and Updated

This book is fully illustrated and explains the basics of the water cycle and nutrient cycles before going on to environmental issues, implications, and solutions.

 

Board book

AMIK by Sharon King

published by Kegedonce Press

A look at the daily endeavors of a beaver (amik) alongside other animals in the ecosystem. Text appears in both English and Anishinaabemowin.

 

 

Picture book (fiction)

MARTIN AND THE RIVER by Jon-Erik Lappano and Josee Bisaillon

published by Groundwood Books

When Martin leaves the country and the river he loves for life in the city, he discovers a way to connect with nature in the city, too.

 

 

Picture book (nonfiction)

THE ULTIMATE BOOK OF WATER by Anne-Sophie Baumann and Vanessa Robidou

published by Chronicle Books

Full disclosure: I just stumbled across this one today so I haven’t read it, but it sure looks like a comprehensive interactive book. From the publisher: “Readers can find out about the water cycle, dive into the ocean with marine animals, trace how water gets from a lake to our homes and explore ways in which water energy is used in our daily lives.”

 

Poetry

SWEET WATER: POEMS FOR THE WATERSHED, edited by Yvonne Blomer

published by Caitlin Press Inc.

This collection from poets in Canada, the US, and the UK examines water “from every angle – the pitcher plant, the beaver and the American Bull Frog, rain, clouds, smog, the many ducks and the salmon and the last lake sturgeon.”

 

Have fun exploring these titles! Teacher guide and fact sheets for THIS IS THE BOAT THAT BEN BUILT are linked here.

Bloopers and Behind the Scenes

It’s been a whirlwind since the book release! My favorite part has been getting photos from readers with my book from all over Canada and the US – especially from kids. I love hearing about their favorite animals in the book, too: so far the owl is quite popular, followed closely by the dog! (note to self: prepare some talking points about dogs in river ecosystems for school visits!)

In light of all the book joy and silliness, here are some bloopers and behind-the-scenes moments from the launch preparation:

Had a moment with Goose after I fell, getting into position

Loon and I reflecting on the deeper meaning of things
Apparently Fish was unrecognizable from this angle… What would you have guessed it was, without context?
Beaver’s not so sure about me
Behind the scenes: When I was getting ready for the photoshoot with the stuffed animals I thought it would be fun to try to make a snowman with Heron.
Unfortunately, that day the snow wasn’t of the packing variety.
Moose did not care what kind of snow it was. He just wanted to get outside. 🤷‍♀️
I’m excited to get outside too, especially now that the snow is melting. Like Ben in THIS IS THE BOAT THAT BEN BUILT, I look forward to getting out in my boat (it’s a kayak)! What are you looking forward to?

Book Birthday!

Today’s the day: This is the Boat that Ben Built is officially out in the world! I’m so excited for kids to read this playful book that Maggie and I created!
 
Many, many thanks to everyone at Pajama Press including our publisher Gail, editor Erin, graphic designer Lorena, marketing team (Dagmawit, Quinn, & Abhya), sales rep Catherine, and administrator Hayley! And to Ann who originally plucked this story out of the pile and championed it. You were all such a joy to work with.
 
A very special thanks to my family, friends, critique partners, and mentors who encouraged and supported me in this (long, wild) journey to publication. It meant so much to have you all by my side! 🥰
 
Happy reading! Can’t wait to hear what you and the kids in your lives think!
 
(Psst! If you’re in Ottawa, Books on Beechwood has some signed copies on hand!)

Waiting for spring: OWL

Last (but certainly not least!) in my series of wintering and preparing for the launch of THIS IS THE BOAT THE BEN BUILT: a look at what the great horned owl is up to!

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

Unlike some other birds, great horned owls do not typically migrate during the winter. Instead they settle into nests they find and lay their eggs. Sometimes these nests were made by other birds like the hawk, crow and heron. Sometimes they use squirrel nests, hollows in trees, rocky caves, or abandoned buildings. Females normally lay two to four eggs and incubate them for 26-35 days. Great horned owls very aggressively defend their nest from intruders and respond with bill-clapping, hissing, screaming, and guttural noises when threatened. They will spread their wings and even strike with their feet if needed.

And now for an extra special treat: the Cornell Lab has a live camera stream where you can watch a great horned owl nest in Savannah, GA! While it is much warmer there than it is in the northern parts of this owl’s range, I thought it was amazing to watch it live and even look back at recordings of the hatching egg and new owlet. There is also footage of the owl protecting her nest from predators, and of the male and female owls returning to their nest with food. Let me know what you think! You can find it here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/great-horned-owls/

Besides waiting for spring, one owl in my life can’t stop hooting about the launch of THIS IS THE BOAT THAT BEN BUILT. It’s nearly here now – thanks for joining me on this wintering and waiting journey!

Preorder here.

the author lays in the snow with a stuffed toy owl

Waiting for spring: MOOSE

Next up in my series of wintering and preparing for the launch of This is the Boat that Ben Built: a look at what the moose is up to!

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

Moose tolerate cold weather much better than they tolerate hot weather, but food is scarce and they must conserve their energy to make it through this season. Moose adapt by restricting their food intake and passing much of the winter resting and ruminating. Their hooves act like snowshoes, providing a large surface area to support their movement over the snow. They also use their hooves to look for food. Moose mostly eat twigs and shrubs like balsam fir, poplar, red osier dogwood, birch, willow, and red and striped maples in the winter. If food gets very scarce, moose will strip and eat the bark from trees.

Like the black bear, moose have two kinds of fur on their back that keeps them well insulated in the winter. A wooly layer of fur traps air next to their bodies, and air is also trapped inside the longer hollow guard hairs that make up the top layer of their fur.

Besides waiting for spring, one moose in my life can’t wait for the launch of This is the Boat that Ben Built. How about you? Preorder now!

The author is laying in the snow beside a stuffed toy moose.

Waiting for spring: BLACK BEAR

Next up in my series of wintering and preparing for the launch of This is the Boat the Ben Built: a look at what the black bear is up to!

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

Black bears spend the winter season hibernating in dens they have made in caves, burrows, brush piles, or other sheltered locations. They have periods of sleep and wakefulness but can go all winter without eating, drinking, urinating, or defecating. They burn the fat they have stored in the months leading up to winter and lose body heat slowly thanks to their lowered metabolism and thick insulating fur. Remarkably, even though their metabolisms are slowed, female black bears give birth in the middle of winter and nurse their cubs in the den until spring.

Did you know that black bears have two kinds of fur on their back in the winter? They have long guard hairs and a fine dense underfur that can barely be penetrated by water. This underfur is so insulative that bears out in the open can become covered with snow! You can read more about that, and see a photo of a snow-covered black bear here.

Besides waiting for spring, one black bear in my life can’t wait to bring her copy of This is the Boat the Ben Built back to the cubs in her den. How about you? Preorder now!

the author lays in the snow next to a stuffed toy animal bear

Interview with Open Book

It was such a joy to be interviewed on Open Book about This is the Boat that Ben Built. Here’s a snippet from the introduction:

“Today we’re speaking with Jen about This is the Boat That Ben Built as part of our Kids Club interview series. She tells us about where her love for cumulative stories comes from, how she left some key storytelling decisions up to her illustrator and was delighted by the results, and her favourite part of the life cycle of a book.”

Check out the full interview here!