Jennifer Butenas taught early elementary school before choosing to stay at home and raise her three children. She has a Masters in Education with specializations in Curriculum, Instruction and Literacy. Currently she resides in southern New Hampshire where, in addition to story writing, she enjoys photography and designing children’s gift cards for select children’s shops. Inspired by the antics and adventures of her family, she believes in capturing the joy and happiness of the simple things in life.
Hi, Jennifer! Thank you for joining us today on Reader Views Kids! Tell us about your new book, A Family Walk.
The underlying message of A Family Walk is promoting mindfulness. This busy family carves out some quality time after dinner and before bed to spend together and to just be. Children are drawn to the melodious rhymes and the rich, colorful illustrations; parents appreciate its hidden message. The end pages mimic the look of a family photo album with year-round pictures of the family’s celebrations and special times. I hope younger readers will remember their own special family moments while enjoying the bright, colorful illustrations, the cadence of the rhyme, and the cherry red bird on each page.
The read-aloud crowd loved spotting the red bird in my first book. So, we had to bring him back in my second. An older child might extend their enjoyment by photographing or drawing their own unique moments and creating their own scrapbooks. I think A Family Walk is especially relevant now as we are asked to stay in our homes. It’s the perfect opportunity to make the best out of our situations because a family walk is something we all can do and this simple healthy act brings about so much joy.
What was your inspiration behind the story?
Kids inspire me. I’ve been writing since I started teaching elementary school in 1997. My stories are a way for me to teach children something positive about life. Our children’s world has become more complicated and challenging. While school and a wide variety of formal sport and arts programs are wonderfully enriching, children are often overbooked. I think there needs to be a balance. With too many things on our plate, it is a struggle to enjoy each moment. We’re always thinking about what comes next or where we’ve been. I want for children to be present and appreciate each moment whether playing baseball, learning ballet or just hanging out on the front porch. This story reflects that. I think connecting as a family is very important too. Family is the foundation for each child. Spending quality time together builds a foundation of love and belonging.
What kind of reaction to your writing do you most seek from your reading audience?
The reaction I would like to see is children living life with purposeful mindfulness and parents to encourage quality family time. I hope they will stop to think about some of their favorite moments in time. And, that parents will be inspired to start a conversation with their children about being together and enjoying each other’s company.
What messages do you hope readers take away from “A Family Walk”?
The message I hope readers take away would be that when you’re present in each moment it brings a feeling of calm and peace. That message translates into action, like a daily family walk, which provides kids with a foundation of love and belonging.
This is your second picture book – can you give us some information about your first book?
My first book is called A Moment In Time. A Moment In Time is a sweet, confirming book about a family that discovers some of the best moments are the unplanned ones. Captured for all time with a camera, the family dances on the lawn, listens to music, snores in a rocking chair and feels the freedom to just be themselves. For the youngest reader, the bold, alluring illustrations draw the kids. As I mentioned, they love to try to find the little red bird throughout the book. It is written with a beat that gets kids up and moving. It is a great read- aloud book. This vacationing family doesn’t need to be packing it all in or doing a list of planned events, when all they need to do is be.
How long did it take you to write “A Family Walk?”
It took me a few months to complete the story. It’s exciting once I get an idea, sit with it, work with it and try to tell the story in rhyme. It’s enjoyable each day to wake up and know it’s waiting for me to work on! When I have it just the way I like it, I will send it to my editor who checks it for meter and grammar and gives suggestions. After that I spend a few more months really polishing it up. The illustrations take about a year in total to complete. The whole process is about a year and a half.
How did your experience writing and publishing “A Family Walk” differ from your first book?
The only difference was my illustrator. The illustrator of A Moment In Time, Charlotte Cheng, had chosen a different path, and so I needed a new illustrator. I belong to a professional writing organization called Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. On their website you can browse through pages of talented illustrators who have samples of their work online. I searched for someone whose work made me feel warm and happy. I like whimsical and cartoonish style. Luckily, I found Shennen Bersani. Given her popularity, I was quite honored she made time to illustrate A Family Walk. She is one of the kindest, caring and talented people I know. Aside from having a different illustrator, the process was very similar to my first book.
What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life?
It was a wonderful experience. The illustrator really makes a written story come alive. I gave Shennen my ideas, and she combined them with her own. We had many conversations. It was an easy process. She created sketches for me to look over, and after the sketches, she added color to magically make the characters and their surroundings come to life. She created art that you just want to jump into and walk around.
What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?
I don’t look at it as a challenge but rather a project that will take its own course like a brook winding through the mountains. There’s no right or wrong way; it just has an end goal. My goal with each book is to give children a fun story that they can relate to and that teaches them to view life through a mindful lens. This in turn helps them to be happier, content and creative. You can always find the silver lining in everything you do. As I tell my daughter, always ‘look for the happy.’
What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?
I love reading children’s picture books. My favorite memories are when my three kids were little and we’d take an extra-large, overflowing tote bag of picture books from the library and snuggle up on the couch or anywhere comfy and read. If not children’s books, I tend to gravitate towards nonfiction because I love learning. I like to read books that help me to be a better person and enrich my own life or my family’s. My favorites are parenting books, religious books and health and fitness.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
I’ve always been inspired by Dr. Seuss. I love the way he tells a story in rhyme. I love his whimsical illustrations. His stories have cadence, are fun, and have an underlying meaning or purpose.
What do you enjoy outside of writing?
I have a teaching degree and during the week I volunteer in our local elementary school teaching reading which I love. I also make children’s gift enclosure cards and sell them at local children’s shops up and down the east coast. I enjoy quiet, simple activities like spending time with my family, hiking, walking on the beach or taking a long walk in town with a friend. Or, I’m quite happy just staying home playing board games.
So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?
Yes, I am working on edits and revisions right now. It’s about the same family of characters, and again, they are sharing some mindful moments together. The setting of this story is at the beach.
Where can readers purchase your books?
Both A Family Walk and A Moment In Time can be purchased at any bookstore. It’s also available for everyone on Amazon. Another great place to read it is at your local library!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?
The best piece of advice was you can do it. Before I published I just had a computer full of manuscripts. My mother was at Faneuil Hall in Boston one day and came across a self-published author who was selling her books at a kiosk. Knowing that was one of my goals my Mom asked this author questions about the process which she passed along to me. The author and I connected through email, and she shared a lot of great information about the process of book publishing. She encouraged me and convinced me I could do it too. In turn, I love to share the process with other aspiring writers. A lot of people before they start think it’s overwhelming, but I tell them “you can do it.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?
You can do it! The process is easy if you make a list of each step involved from idea to finished product. You have to be organized and patient, but you can do it. I’m happy to help anybody who has the desire and needs encouragement or advice.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The positive feedback I get from readers of my books and comments on my cards is so rewarding. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to encourage mindful family moments and honored to be recognized in wonderful organizations like Readers Views. Thank you for shinning a light on A Family Walk. I feel like with the state of the world right now with all kids being home it’s the perfect time to make room in your day for A Family Walk!
Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!
HOW TO CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR – JENNIFER BUTENAS
I like to search for or create inspiring messages for followers. I feel it’s important to spread and pass along positivity. You can find me here:
And – Learn more about the illustrator, Shennen Bersani here: