ORONO, Maine — Before Travis Baker writes a new play, he studies first.
The Orono artist’s methods have brought him much success on stage in the past, and the same techniques this year have helped bring Baker’s latest creative venture to life — a children’s book.
“The Bluest You” tells the story of a young blue bird that goes on a solo adventure and learns a tough lesson about self-worth. At the beginning, the small bird — who is still bigger than his sister and little brother — thinks he is the biggest, fastest and bluest bird in all of the wood.
Though his parents remind him that he doesn’t need to be the best — he just needs to do his best — the little bird is determined to prove otherwise. He flies off on a journey through the forest where he runs into other birds that individually show him he doesn’t need to be the biggest, fastest or bluest — he just needs to do his best.
Like many children’s stories, “The Bluest You” reaffirms important life lessons in a straightforward way. Baker said the story is partially based on celebrity culture in the United States, which makes people believe that if they’re not the best at something, then they’re nothing.
Baker, who is a hockey parent, said that’s a sentiment he’s experienced frequently with youth sports. Often, kids who love to play a sport want to be the very best but must learn that even if they’re not the best, they still have worth.
“There’s incredible value in doing your best and trying your best. It’s a hard lesson for kids [to learn] … it was a hard lesson for me to learn,” Baker said.
Baker’s own teaching experiences also helped him figure out how to best convey the story to young kids. While substitute teaching, Baker paid close attention to students’ varying reading levels, which guided him to write the story in a simple way.
As an Edtech, Baker also studied what kinds of stories kids responded to best, learning that they liked ones with adventure, interesting pictures and some humor. He also did a focus group with a classroom of students at Asa Adams Elementary in Orono that helped him workshop the story even more.
With his book, Baker said he wants to emphasize that each child develops at their own pace. Baker, who struggles with dyslexia, said he wants to reinforce the idea that just the attempt of learning to read is valuable on its own.
He continually reminded himself throughout the process: “I’m writing this for a kid who needs to hear it.”
Baker did his own illustrations, too. The main character is adapted from one of his paintings of a little blue bird. The artwork — done with acrylic paint — was probably the most challenging part for Baker.
Getting the colors and facial expressions of each character exactly right was a painstaking process. Baker had to do multiple versions of the little blue bird in various mediums like watercolor and acrylic to see what looked best, and in different styles and sizes to fit on the page.
While pandemic life gave him a little more time to focus on the book production, it has impeded the next step in his role as an author — to share the story.
Baker said he was looking forward to doing book readings and other public events, which have now been put on hold. Still, the playwright — and now children’s author — has some creative solutions in mind.
“The Bluest You” is published by Maine Authors Publishing and can be purchased online. The book is expected to be available on Amazon and at The Briar Patch in Bangor soon.