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

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?

free… writing?

Day one: Getting back into the habit of daily writing after 8 months of teaching.

This is what happened when I timed myself doing 20 minutes of freewriting today, in the spirit of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. At first there was a great disconnect between my head and my hand – one I did not remember – with thoughts slowed, filtered, edited. Then the two linked up, the writing became illegible, and I think I may have fallen asleep. Since writing is likened to dreaming, I will count that as a good thing.

Process: MY story. THE story.

It is an unmatched thing of beauty to have people in my life who are writers. I can talk honestly with them about my characters and they aren’t concerned for my mental wellbeing. I can share with them in the ups and downs of productivity, fears, passion. There is, however, one thing I have found that is hard to talk about – that’s process. Perhaps it’s because I’m a new writer, and I don’t have “a process” to speak of. Perhaps it’s because I fear restricting myself in that way: “this is my process…” when it may just be my process for this particular story.  Perhaps it’s because I fear that I should have a process, and don’t want to admit that really, I have no idea what the heck I’m doing. Just when I think I have my story nailed down, I’m back in the thick of it again.

Process is the way in which a story is birthed. We all do different things in order to conceive of a story: Sharon Darrow wrote about hearing a voice that comes from a specific place and how those are inseparable; Ingrid Sundberg is a proponent of method writing and inhabits her character, even dying her hair if need be. L. Marie is also doing a series about writers’ processes, and so I think it’s safe to say that we all do things differently. I have made origami birds, surrounded myself with bird photos, poems. Taken long walks in the forest. This has been helpful to me in terms of story conception, but birthing – birthing is a different matter.

Last week I wrote very little. But what I did write was fierce, and it was resonant. And after I wrote it, I felt a sense of relief and closure. I even said to a writing friend, “I think I have it now! I think I have a full arc!” What I realized, though, was that while I do now have a full arc, it is not my character’s arc. It is my arc. I have figured out where this story comes from in me. But now I have to move this thing from MY story to THE story.

And so I wonder – when we’re muddling through our works in progress, do we need to find our own closure before we can shift and find closure for our character? Most of all I wonder – am I now in a place to surrender to my character? I feel like I’ve been in a tug of war, and I think I’m dropping my end of the rope. But, I’ve said that before 🙂

I hope she takes that rope and runs. Who knows, this time I might pick up my pen and follow her.