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.



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.”




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:

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!

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!