A Book for Jenn, “A Friend for Henry”

Alicia Krieger, Communications

February 28, 2019

Friendship is something to be treasured, but making friends may not come easily for everyone. What about those who have a hard time making friends? Jenn Bailey, an editor at Olsson, wrote a children’s book to raise awareness about this issue, which affects more children than you may think.

“A Friend for Henry” is a picture book about one child’s journey to find a true friend, even though he’s not skilled with the social side of things. According to Jenn, Henry was inspired by her middle son, who has Asperger’s syndrome. Jenn recalled a time when her son was about 3 years old and wanted a friend but said he couldn’t find one.

“Many children are introverted or cautious, regardless as to whether or not they’re on the autism spectrum. Schools and society tend to cater to the extroverts, and that happens in friendship, too,” she said. “So, I wanted to write a book where these introverted children could see themselves. I wanted to assure them that their approach to friendship wasn’t wrong, just different. And I hoped parents, teachers, and other children might better understand that kind of child.”

The book begins with Henry thinking of what he wants in a friend and then moves on to his process for finding one.

“You’ll see in the book he has all these ideas, and unfortunately they lead to misunderstanding or trouble. Eventually, friendship starts to blossom,” Jenn said.

The idea for the story began with the main character. It took many drafts over several years to get the story just right. Picture books consist of very few words, so each word must be precise and perfect. At the time, Jenn had a literary agent but eventually they went their separate ways because the agent did not fully understand her idea.

“I went off to get my master’s degree in fine arts. I knew there was more I needed to know about storytelling. During that time, I won a contest, and the prize was a publisher’s critique from Chronicle. Two years later, and about 20 minutes before I was set to give my graduate lecture, I got a phone call from an editor at Chronicle Publishing saying she wanted to buy my story.”

After going through a bit of editing (yes, even editors get edited), the text of the book was ready to come to life; it was time to hand Henry off to an illustrator.

Most may think the author of the book gets to have a hand in choosing the illustrator, but that isn’t generally the case.

“I’m only creating half the story and my job is to inspire the illustrator to complete the other half,” Jenn said. “I consider myself fortunate in that Chronicle asked what styles I liked and what I imagined for the book. The illustrator they chose really got it right.”

Once the pictures and text were in place, the book was sent to an accuracy reader who ensured that the ideas and tone of the book hit the mark. It was spot on, and time to publish.

“A Friend for Henry” hit bookstores on Feb. 26 and is available everywhere you can guy books, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and independent book stores.

“This book has been a long time coming, and while I’ve written other picture books and novels, I am beyond thrilled that ‘A Friend for Henry’ will be the first one to hit the shelves. It has been a true work of my heart, and I hope it provides an accurate reflection for those kids who go about making friends a bit differently.”

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