Waiting for spring: HERON

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 great blue heron is up to!

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

Great blue heron from north central North America are highly migratory because their feeding habitats ice over in the winter. Eastern great blue herons are more flexible with some migrating toward the south and others remaining further north. Populations west of the Rocky Mountains and more southward of the southern USA are non-migratory.

For those who migrate, important wintering areas include the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, central California, the US midwest, the Colorado River, Great Salt Lake, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific coast of Mexico, and Florida. Banded birds from Canada have been found in Mexico, Honduras, and Cuba.

Those who stay in colder climates are often found “ice-fishing” during the winter: that is, standing very still over small ice holes or pockets of open water in hopes of catching a fish! To keep warm, these birds pull their s-shaped necks close to their bodies. They fluff up their feathers to help trap in their body heat. What about those thin, still legs? Heat loss is minimized in the legs of many birds because of the arrangement of their arteries and veins. The warm arterial blood that leaves the bird’s core warms the cool blood in the veins that return from the bird’s feet. This means that by the time the warm blood gets to the feet, it is cooler than it would be otherwise, and by the time the cool blood from the feet gets to the body, it is warmer than it would be otherwise. Lastly, great blue herons can also adapt by eating rodents, small birds, and snakes if needed.

Except while ice-fishing and waiting for spring, one great blue heron in my life can’t keep still as she spreads the news about the upcoming release of This is the Boat that Ben Built. Preorder now!

Photographic image of the author in the snow with a stuffed toy great blue heron

Waiting for spring: GOOSE

Who’s next in my series of wintering and preparing for the launch of This is the Boat that Ben Built? The  Canada Goose!

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

The Canada Goose is another bird that normally migrates during the winter. The migration begins when the water and soil freezes on their northern breeding grounds. The majority of Canada geese migrate south to the United States or even to northeastern Mexico. Others stick around southern Canada where food and open water are available to them. In their wintering grounds, they often feed on energy-rich foods in fields like spilled corn, oats, and soybeans. You may have also seen some Canada Geese grazing on lawns, in parks, and on golf courses, too!

Canada Geese feed intensely before they return to their northern breeding sites in the spring. They rely on stored fat and protein for their migration and for their subsequent reproduction in areas where food will initially be scarce.

Cool fact: You might recognize the honking of Canada geese as they fly overhead in their distinct “V” formation, but did you know that adult Canada geese have about 13 different calls? They range from low clucks and murmurs they make while feeding to loud greeting and alarm calls.

Besides waiting for spring, one Canada goose in my life can’t stop honking about This is the Boat that Ben Built. I’d love for you to spread the news, too: share this post and invite someone to preorder now!

Waiting for spring: LOON

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 loon is up to!

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

Loons migrate during the winter, but not to a warmer southern body of water. They migrate to the Atlantic Ocean. They must time their migration well as they need long water runways to take flight. If the body of water they are on becomes covered in ice they will be unable to lift off.

Once they reach the ocean, loons dive and fish in the open water. They have a special salt gland in their skull between their eyes that helps them adapt to life in salt water. This gland removes salt from the water and the fish they eat. The salt is excreted from ducts in their beaks.

Besides waiting for spring, one loon in my life can’t wait to return inland for her copy of This is the Boat that Ben Built (see below). How about you? Preorder now!

For many among us, the sound of a loon evokes memories of cottages, camping, hikes, and boat rides. Feel free to share a memory you have about loons in the comments below!

Waiting for spring: BEAVER

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 beaver is up to!

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

A beaver’s special waterproof coat gets thicker in the winter, and they continue to be active throughout the season. Their lodges, which are made of mud, sticks, and logs, freeze together and become quite solid. This provides them with excellent protection from predators.

Ecosystem connection: During the winter, beaver ponds may provide shelter for other animals like frogs, turtles, dragonfly larvae, and brook trout. It seems that their lodges even occasionally provide homes for muskrat!

Read more about beavers in winter: https://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/the-beaver-in-winter/

Besides waiting for spring, the beaver in the last photo can’t wait to bring This is the Boat that Ben Built back to his lodge. How about you? Preorder now!

Waiting for spring: FISH

It’s one month away from the spring launch of This is the Boat that Ben Built and I started thinking about what the animals in the book might be up to while I was wintering and preparing. I’ve got my warm coat, mitts, and hat… What are they up to as they await spring? What winter adaptations do they have? First up: fish.

Illustrations Maggie Zeng © 2022

During the winter in river ecosystems, fish do best where there are a variety of different habitat features available to them such as deep pools, long runs with slow currents, and areas where ice conditions are stable. Sometimes fish school in winter. Sometimes they find a crevice to stay in. Their habitat is most stable where ice covers the river early and stays until spring. In deep areas under ice, fish can be more active during the day. They are less secure in areas with patchy snow and ice floes.

Fish metabolism slows in the winter because of the cold temperatures. It’s a good thing it does, too, because food is less available to them during this time of year.

Ecosystem connection: Beaver ponds are great winter habitat for some fish!

Besides waiting for spring, one fish in my life is waiting for This is the Boat that Ben Built.

How about you? Preorder now!


A boy in a boat sweeps a net through the water above a river full of fish.

This Is the Boat That Ben Built’ by Jen Lynn Bailey illustrated by Maggie Zeng © 2022 published by Pajama Press


My author copies are here!

Oh happy day! My author copies arrived and I lined up all the animals to celebrate with me! Even Avocado got in on the action…

We can’t wait to share the story with you! Coming March 15, 2022! (Psst! You can preorder here!)

A giveaway!

Calling all picture book writers! My debut picture book group, PB22Peekaboo, is giving away slush pile passes and critiques (including one from yours truly) in its 3 2 1 Happy New PB contest! Writers will have three days to enter between 8AM EST on January 21st and 8PM EST on January 23rd. More details here: https://pb22peekaboo.weebly.com/3-2-1-happy-new-pb

Good luck!!


Great news, and more time to write on the horizon!

I’m pleased to share that I am a recipient of a 2021 City of Ottawa Creation and Production Fund for Professional Artists grant! I’ll be using it to draft a middle grade novel in the Fall. In the meantime I’m working my way through this stack of books, reading and brainstorming. Thanks, City of Ottawa!

Stack of mystery novels.


Waiting, waiting…

It seems to go like this, in publishing: everything needs to happen quickly, and then… you wait. I’ve been told this is completely normal, but it still feels so strange to have all this excitement that can’t go anywhere. So, it was great this week to have made two exciting, big steps somewhere.

Firstly, I’m really excited to have launched my author website thanks to the wonderful Jenny Medford at Websy Daisy. She transformed my vision of “something that should conjure up connection – between people, and with the natural world” into a lovely, user friendly design that can grow with me and my career. 

And secondly, I heard from my editor. She sent me my author bio which was rendered in the publishing house style (so surreal!) and told me I would soon get a sneak peek at the cover image for my debut picture book. And, she said, it is going to be stunning


I can hardly wait. 

Staying true to character: the place of adult anger in stories for children

This past week I attended a craft webinar hosted by The Writing Barn called, “Using Your Anger to Write Multi-Layered Realistic Fiction with Ann Braden & Nancy Paulsen.” Ann Braden is the author of middle grade novels The Benefits of Being an Octopus and most recently, Flight of the Puffin and she spoke about how her own anger was the initial fuel for both of these stories. But the interesting thing is, her characters weren’t angry. That wouldn’t work, because it would be giving a child adult anger. Instead, she writes so that the characters feel the consequences of the thing that has caused her own anger, and aims to leave the reader with hope and able to see the possibilities forward.

This morning I read the picture book Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua. In this story, Amy’s teacher shares books with her class that feature all sorts of dragons acting fiercely: they hoard treasure. They blow fire. They fight knights in gleaming armor. When the students are asked to draw their own dragons, Amy draws one with a long, thin body and with horns like a stag and claws like an eagle. It is an Eastern dragon, we learn at the end, but in the meantime her friends Sam and Willa tell her that her dragon doesn’t look like a dragon and Amy ends up doubting herself and drawing a whole series of Western dragons. We learn, “None of them work. None of them feel quite right.”

Now, I have no idea if anger was an initiating emotion for author Kat Zhang, but as an adult reader I felt angry that Amy had to second-guess her own dragon. That she and her classmates were only shown one kind of dragon through the books that were shared. But Amy is not filled with this adult anger. Instead, Amy is sad. This is the consequence of the thing that causes me, as an adult, to feel angry – it seems as though there is no room for Amy here. Interestingly, the adults in the story don’t get angry, either. Amy’s grandmother notices her sadness and tells her and her friends stories about Eastern dragons. Perhaps keeping that adult anger in check helps keeps the power and agency with the protagonist, because Amy uses her grandma’s stories as encouragement to take her own steps to solve her problem. Later, Kat Zhang uses the backmatter to compare and contrast dragons from the two traditions, but all the while leaves space for the reader – both adult and child – to do with it what they will. Since it stuck so closely to the child’s viewpoint, nothing in this story feels heavy, yet I think both adult and child readers still come away having learned something that has heavy implications.

After having read this story as an adult reader I am reminded to consider whether I’m seeing something only from my own worldview, and to wonder what other points of view I might be missing. And the child reader? I imagine they would learn that there are lots of kinds of dragons, and that some are fierce and some are wise and just. But mostly, I think a child would feel happy along with Amy when, at the end, she shares her own Eastern dragon with her classmates. Illustrator Charlene Chua shows the joy on the faces of the teacher along with the students – this is an inclusive space where Amy can express herself. So most of all, I imagine the child learns that spaces where you can be seen and express yourself freely are good, happy spaces. 

If anger was even a tiny fuel in the writing of this story, it has clearly been transformed. For both adult and child readers, there is hope and possibilities forward. And all while keeping true to the child’s viewpoint. 

Have you transformed adult anger into hopeful stories for children? What has and hasn’t worked for you?