OCHEYEDAN-Upon entering B.J. and Jena Boles’ Ocheyedan home, it’s hard not to notice the dining room corner neatly stacked with carefully-crafted bundles of children’s books and binders full of colorful illustrations.
But, on closer inspection, it is clear this is no ordinary situation. For those carefully crafted bundles of books are penned by Jena, as is the artwork.
The 31-year-old Boles first became infatuated with children’s books four and a half years ago when her daughter Natasha was born.
“I’ve read to my daughter every night since she was born,” Boles said. “We go through hundreds and hundreds of books, and sometimes we come across books that either don’t honor parents, don’t honor God or just don’t have the language that I want her to be thinking about and saying.”
Boles had an idea.
As she had always wanted to write a book but never knew what to write about, it was the perfect opportunity.
In January, Boles sat down with a pen, a piece of paper and the family Christmas letter she had put together the previous month. Taking down notes of ordinary events her family had partook in during the year, Boles constructed a list of possible story ideas.
“We had done so many things,” Boles said. “It wasn’t hard to come up with ideas at all.”
Knowing that she wanted her books to contain a faith-based message and positive morals for children to take away, Boles took ordinary events her family has experienced like buying candy at the grocery store, picking up a package at the post office, checking out a book at the library and spending a day at the city park, and incorporated them into scenarios the fictional character “Maggie” has experiences with — all the while learning principles like giving to others, saving and tithing, sharing the love of Jesus, showing community pride, having family unity and living healthy.
“I really want people to understand how much their kids are affected by books and how they get their minds going because when they’re watching something on TV, they already have such a vivid picture of what is happening. They’re not using their imagination because it’s already provided for them, but when you read a book, and you look at the pictures in the book, it’s just a glimpse of what is happening, which forces them to use their imagination,” Boles said. “I just really want kids to learn about their faith and how it’s important to a family structure and what it means to be kind to other people in our society, whether it’s our librarian or our postmaster.”
Although it only took Boles about a week to write the first four stories in the “Maggie” book series, the illustrations took longer.
Because she wanted to replicate actual Ocheyedan buildings and landmarks in the series, Boles went around town taking pictures of various destinations. Every night after B.J. and Natasha went to bed, Boles would draw illustrations based on the pictures she had taken.
“The illustrations are very specific to the land and the layout, and I think that’s one of the reasons Ocheyedan people really love them because it has the actual history of the town,” Boles said.
But, Boles wanted people from small towns all over the country to be able to relate to the books, so she purposefully did not include the city’s name or store trademarks in any of her illustrations.
“The books don’t mention that this is Ocheyedan because these books apply to anybody that lives in any kind of small town anywhere,” Boles said.
As Boles wanted to meet a deadline of having the four books done by April 12, the kickoff of National Library Week, so she could share her project with other families at Ocheyedan Public Library, she self-published each of the books at Graves Construction Co. in Spencer, where she is the office manager.
“They have a very nice printing system, so I made arrangements and purchased all of my own special cover paper and page paper and a special stapler to do the saddle stitching and paid them for the cost to do color copies,” Boles said. “That worked really well and kept my cost down. Someday, I’d like to submit them to a publisher to have them marketed nationally, but for now, this is just what my time has allowed me to do.”
But, that doesn’t mean Boles doesn’t plan to do more books.
While Boles and her family are moving to Lake Park this summer, she already has ideas of more stories she would like to write for the “Maggie” book series. She also is considering writing another set for Ocheyedan before they leave.
Through it all, Boles has thoroughly enjoyed the experience of becoming a first-time author.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with the books,” she said. “They’re everything I hoped they would be.”
AT A GLANCE: Name: Jena Boles
Family: Husband, B.J., and daughter, Natasha, 4
Hobbies: Biking, going to races, camping, writing
GET A COPY:
Want to order the first set of the “Maggie” book series? The four-pack of books is available for $10 at Ocheyedan Public Library or by contacting Jena Boles at (712) 330-6351 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Copies also can be shipped for an additional charge of $2.75 per pack.
- “Maggie’s Trip to the City Park”: Today, she’s heading to the city park for some summertime fun. She must prepare for the day, though, and get off to a great start. We all know breakfast is important and that treats are, well, treats! Won’t you join Miss Maggie on her up and down, back and forth, sunshine filled day?
- “Maggie’s Trip to the Library”: Today, she’s heading to the local library. Although she’s been there before, she doesn’t quite understand all it really has to offer. Won’t you join Miss Maggie in learning how a special small-town library really is?
- “Maggie’s Trip to the Post Office”: Today, she’s heading to the local post office, where she’s traveled many times before. The visit brings back memories of delivering a “Make a Difference Day” present to the postmaster and creates wild excitement over what she might find there! Won’t you join Miss Maggie for her special delivery?
- “Maggie’s Trip to the Grocery Store”: Today, she’s heading to the grocery store, but not before she helps out at home and gets a lesson in earning and spending money. Won’t you join Miss Maggie and find out why her trip needs to be so quick?