Jenn Gregory Writes to Inspire Graduates During the Pandemic
by Erin Evans
On the night of March 31, one month after Michigan schools shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jenn Gregory could not sleep. Worry for those who were graduating this year—including her daughter—were keeping her up.
Around midnight, Gregory got up and looked out the window, into the darkness. As she looked, she saw the darkness interrupted by a few sparkles of light — the stars looking down on her. And something spectacular happened.
“I looked up … and the words came to me,” Gregory said. In the span of around two and a half hours, she wrote the entirety of what would become her first children’s book.
The Test is Gregory’s gift to 2020 graduates — those “bookended between 9/11 and COVID” — and brings a message of hope and a reminder to not stop wishing. It was published in early May.
Wanting the book to be out by the time students graduated, she sent it out the morning after writing it to Credo House, a small publisher she already knew of. Over the next month, she worked with an editor and finished the book, publishing it in just a month.
In this book, both written and illustrated by Gregory, Little Star looks down on the world and wonders, “Oh when, and by what, can this tragedy end, And who can contribute to help the world mend?” while Moon assures star that, “Kids and young grownups have knowledge and skill — The courage, inventiveness, vision, and will.”
Not only will this book inspire graduates and even younger readers to keep chasing their dreams amid setbacks in our currently chaotic world, but Gregory hopes it can also be used “as a resource for families, to talk about things that are difficult to talk about.” She recognizes how hard it can be to discuss the pandemic with children and hopes her book will make this easier.
Gregory, 48, has dreamed of writing a children’s book for years but did not have time until now. She is an art teacher for kindergarten through fourth grade, teaching everything from painting and printmaking to sculpting and designing magical creatures.
“I read [The Test] to students online through my classroom website,” Gregory said. “They love it.”
While she was worried current graduates wouldn’t connect with a children’s book or even give it a chance, she says those did read it took much inspiration from her words.
Although the story came to her that night, Gregory had designed the characters years before, not knowing that they would end up in The Test. They are based on cherry trees—long, skinny bodies with oval heads—inspired by the cherry farm where she grew up.
She said her ideas for stories had always been picture-based. But this time the words “just kind of spilled into [her] head.” She mentions author Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea that there are ideas flying around all the time and says she felt like she reached out and caught one.
While illustrating the book, she looked through her sketches while reading the words to herself, choosing pictures to fit with the story. She also took her daughter’s idea to make more serious parts black and white, while hopeful pages are in color.
“I’ve always been a writer since I was very little,” Gregory said. Throughout her life, she has written in diaries, made cards, and written letters. It has remained an important part of her life.
This book tells readers to keep dreaming and wishing on stars. And speaking of dreams, Gregory said that publishing this book was a wish come true for her.
“It was a true, true gift,” she said.
Now that she has written this book, she plans to write another. Her next book will likely be a continuation of “The Test” with the same characters, Moon and Little Star.
“Students have a special place in my heart,” said Gregory. To students—especially 2020 graduates—she said, “I hope you know how amazing you are and that things are going to be okay…because you all are in this world.”
Gregory hopes to hold book launches or similar events in later July or August. The Test is available for purchase from Amazon, Epilogue Books in Rockford, Michigan, Bay Books in Suttons Bay, Michigan (baybooksmi.com), and on her website, jenngregory.weebly.com. More information about the author, as well as her blog and select illustrations from her book, can also be found on her website.
Erin Evans graduated from Bellaire High School and the Front Street Writers program, which is still taking admissions for fall. She plans to attend the University of Michigan, tentatively planning on a creative writing major. As a 2020 graduate, she especially values Gregory’s message in The Test. You can find her blog at www.frontstreetwriters.com.