My first in-person book reading and signing event was a hit at Indigo Innes. Their staff was so enthusiastic and welcoming – it was a great setting to share the story with young readers.
Maggie and I met for the first time at the Holiday Book Fair in Montreal, at a booth hosted by Librairie Paragraphe Bookstore. Montreal is where Maggie is based, and it was great to have their support! (Truth be told, I photoshopped her into that picture! She took a photo of me in the booth but we didn’t get one together.)
Getting to know the booksellers and seeing our book on their shelves has been a real highlight of this year! I’m looking forward to building these relationships in years to come.
This is the Boat that Ben Built has been out in the world for one year! This is the first post in a short series to mark the occasion.
The other day, as I was getting ready to go on a school visit, I realized that I was almost out of bookmarks to hand out to the kids. I opened my email account, searched for the local company who printed that first batch*, and logged back in to my customer account to reorder. I expected that my original order had been for, maybe, 100 or 200 bookmarks. It turns out, I had ordered 500. And now, only 5 were left.
That’s what it took for me to realize that at the bare minimum, 495 kids had read my story. And that’s when I got excited, because I started thinking about the exponential impact of teachers and librarians and caregivers sharing my book in Ottawa and beyond. It really has been a great year.
Here are some of the amazing readers I know about:
It’s so motivating to have these photo memories capturing reader joy and interest. On a bulletin board in my office I’ve also pinned the names of kids who have asked me to sign a book for them at local events. (I ask them to write their names on a post-it note so I don’t misspell it, and if they leave the note behind, I add it to my collection!) It’s fun to think about how the kids in these photos and on those post-it notes might one day engage with the stories I’m drafting now.
Thanks for the great year, readers! Here’s to many more to come.
Up next, some bookstore love!
*Shout out to Newprint in Ottawa, ON for the beautiful bookmarks!
Had such fun at Elmwood School last Friday, exploring my picture book and the northern river ecosystem with the enthusiastic grade 1-5 students! Their March theme was curiosity, and they really lived up to it with their thoughtful questions about the creative process and the animals in the story.
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.
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?”
Question time – Todd Elementary School
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.
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!
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!
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 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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!)
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!