Always by My Side~GiVeAwAy!

Always by My Side, A Stuffie Story is out in the world today 🎉.

If any of you follow me on Social Media (thank you) you might be aware that my once-upon-a-time-little boy, Will, and his beloved stuffed dinosaur, Dina, were the inspiration for my story and the character of the little boy.

Will and his Stuffie, Dina. She often traveled in his hood.

My little boy is not little anymore. He’s grown up and in graduate school. A few years ago, as I stood in the doorway to his room looking at his cherished objects (i.e everything I had to sort, pack, and store) my gaze and heart landed on Dina. His little dinosaur who went everywhere with him. Each night he tucked her into her fabric dinosaur shell just like we tucked him under the covers.

And I thought about how she was such a significant part of his growing up. How important she still is. How important she will always be. She holds in her worn little dinosaur arms so many memories, Will’s secrets, his fears, all that love that the two of them shared. That’s not made up, fleeting, or insignificant. It’s very real, very important— unconditional love.

Thus, the idea for Always by My Side was born. My goal was to make it about the big, big, feelings that go with such a significant relationship and not to belittle those emotions. It then occurred to me that those feelings could run both ways. If their bond was so strong, they would share that love.

And so, I decided to write the story with an ambiguous narrator. It isn’t until about 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through the book that the reader really knows who is talking. This was challenging to do. And there were many times when it would have been a lot easier not to do it. 

I portrayed the little boy’s stuffie in Always my My Side much larger than petite Dina. I needed to be able to animate the animal and have its gestures portray what its facial features could not. The colors of the dragon-ish critter in my book are based on one of my own favorite stuffed animals growing up: A large lime green dog with huge pink polka dots.

I chose galaxies as a theme to represent the unknown and waiting. I gave the boy a love of space (My Will did an internship at NASA, even though his real research interest lies elsewhere) to tie in with the ethereal skies and give my little boy adventurous ideas of where he and his special friend could travel to.

I made this little video to show you a surprise that is printed on the case under the book’s jacket.

Always by My Side is just landing in hands of readers and already I am elated by the stories that are being shared with me. From grownups who remember their favorite stuffie, to parents who watched their children’s stuffie friendships blossom, to little ones who can’t wait to show me Blue Baby, Buttercup, or Beary.

What makes a child love one stuffie more than another and in such a special way? These are definitely heartfelt ties. I’m looking forward to hearing more and more stories as people remember, and share, one of the first meaningful relationships in their lives.

Did you have a beloved stuffie? Or did/does your child, or grandchild?

I hope you enjoy my book if you read it. I will pick three winners from the comments below to send a signed copy to!

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator and author of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Always by My Side, 'A Stuffie Story', which she wrote and illustrated. She also is both the author and illustrator of Playing Possum, and Blue Ethel. Jennifer illustrated Gondra’s Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. As well as, Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. She illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.

120 Comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful new book, Jennifer. I love the backstory of Will and Dina’s dynamic and the book cover/revealing video is So. Much. Fun.
    My two girls has special stuffies – Pooh-Pooh (as in Winnie-the) for my older daughter and Bernie (a stuffed dog we initially thought was a St. Bernard, but later found out was a Prince Charles Spaniel) for my younger daughter.
    I had a stuffed bear named Cindy after the youngest girl on the Brady Bunch. (I think I just aged myself 😉
    Happy Book Birthday!

  2. My brother had a stuffed dog named Oofie, and I’ve been attempting to write a story about him. This looks like a really heartfelt book.

  3. Jennifer, what a beautiful post and book, how you’ve integrated all those memories from your own childhood and Will’s. I love how Dina rode in Will’s hoodie. And I loved the video of the book jacket coming off! Wow!!! Beautiful!!!

    I had a little baby doll as a child and refused to part with it until I was a teenager. Is it odd that none in our family had a beloved stuffie? But we had our cats and dog and my kids had that special relationship with them. I loved how it’s ambiguous who is narrating. You’ve just inspired me to try that with a story I’ve been playing with. So thank you!

    • So many wonderful things in your comment, Vijaya, thank you. Isn’t it funny how some children have one beloved stuffie and others don’t? My daughter carried life-like dolls around with her which made for a lot of concerned stranger interactions when out in public. Thanks for entering the drawing!

  4. This looks like such a cute book. My daughter had a stuffie bunny named Feline. I don’t know how many times I sewed the seams on it to keep it in one piece. She carried it everywhere and slept with it for years.

  5. This is a wonderful story.
    My children grew up with a gorgeous cuddly teddy called “Story Bear” .
    Every night he would read them stories and sit with them in their bed. He even answered questions about the stories and asked them questions too.
    They still love him and he has pride of place on the bedroom shelf looking down over them.

  6. Jennifer, this is a classic in the making! I can’t wait to read it! Gorgeous (and I love the undies – under the book jacket). Congratulations!

  7. Carole Calladine

    What a heart-felt book. I’ll ask our library to order it. Thanks for sharing this love story. The illustrations sing.

  8. Your inspiration and the photos of Will make this so special and heartfelt. I love the way you integrated your own favorite stuffie (green with polka dots) into Will’s dinosaur. Looks like this will be a beloved children’s book!

    I had a much beloved blankie with all of the satin rubbed off except for one corner that I was very careful to keep intact!

  9. What a sweet and lovely concept book! I adore your illustrations and the cover is soooo cute! Congratulations!

  10. Stuffies are so important to a child-every kid will relate. A sweet and heart-felt book that every child will love. Congrats!

  11. Love the book! My 31-year-old daughter – now married and expecting her first child – still cherishes “Charlie”, an oversized (three-foot) white soft polar bear that is an important part of her family. There’s nothing like the love of a stuffed animal!

  12. Congrats on your lovely book, Jennifer, which validates big feelings and the importance
    of having someone ~ or something ~ listen and share. The dinosaur is so expressive.
    My daughter, now 28, has “kitty pillow” that went with her everywhere, even on a gap year trip to Spain. It’s pretty ratty now,but still well-loved.

  13. Great personality in the artworks! This looks very memorable!

  14. Oh, this looks so adorable! Congratulations! I can’t wait to read it. My son had a “Bear Baby,” and we still have it, also! (I wrote a story about it last year! I need to revisit that manuscript!) And I had a Miss Beasley. I loved her so much! My parents replaced her a few times!

  15. Judith Wright Aplin

    I am anxious to read this wonderful remembrance of your once little boy’s love of his stuffie…My granddaughter has a kitty(and yes, she named it ‘kitty’) that she has had from birth and she is now almost 11! Kitty is pretty much always with her as she has been learning online this past Covid year……Thanks for your story:)

    • Hi Judith, I think this was an important year for children to feel they had a companion and I’ve heard several stories similar to your granddaughter and Kitty’s. Thank you for sharing and best of luck in the giveaway!

  16. I love the entire concept of this book. It brings memories of my beloved blankie flooding back and makes me smile as I watch my 3 children lovingly clutch their cowie, mousey, and monkey. The illustrations are also perfect. Love the style. I can’t wait to read this book.

    • Oh how perfect! Thanks so much for all your kind words, Andrew. I believe that we do all love the feelings associated with our stuffies, whatever they were, and remembering them. Hope you like the book, good luck in the giveaway!

  17. Danielle Hammelef

    I loved the video! I have made it a habit to peek under the jackets now because I have found fun surprises–I never would have guessed this spaceship would be under your book’s jacket. This book already made me cry–it’s so beautiful. And yes, I still have my “tiger” named Tony (I loved Frosted Flakes). Tony has lost all stuffing in his neck and some fur has been rubbed off, but I took this guy everywhere and it comforted me when I was sick. Your book is a treasure.

    • How wonderful of you to say such kind things, Danielle. I am so happy that you like the book. I love looking under jackets (challenging when they are library protected) and am grateful when the publisher let’s me make a separate case design. Good luck in the drawing!

  18. Jennifer, my 40 year old daughter still has her good-luck charm from her many years in ballet! I can feel the impact of your story already. Can’t wait to have a copy.

  19. Oh my, just reading your post gave me all the feels. My son, now 20 and away at college, had Rhumba, a small tiger. He still sits waiting on his bed for him to come home for school breaks. I can’t wait to read this story-although I have a feeling I made a kleenex or two on hand. 🙂

  20. Jilanne F Hoffmann

    So interesting to hear how different kids are. My son loved all of his stuffies, and needed them piled on his bed for bedtime. He’ll be heading off to college in 2022. So many emotions. I love the illustrations and the story. And the cover is fabulous! Really gorgeous! And now you have a new memento to remind you/him of that time. AND a book to give to your grandchildren that was inspired by their father. Such a treasure!

  21. This looks so good! Congratulations, Jennifer!

  22. Beautiful book & tribute to both your son & Dina. Congrats, Jennifer!

    I had Leo the Lion, followed by many other stuffed animals of all kinds. Our daughter’s favorite was “purple teddy” a cute beanie baby teddy bear

  23. Karen Henry Clark

    Oh, my goodness. What a universally heartfelt book. My adopted Chinese daughter, now grown and back at home because her non-profit closed during the pandemic, was gifted with a stuffed panda on her first birthday. It slept with her every night. She did not take it to college because she feared losing it. And now I see he’s been unboxed. It does not take a detective to understand the reason.

  24. I loved this and would love to win a copy for my grandkids! Best wishes!

  25. Oh my, Jennifer, this looks lovely. And what a great surprise on the cover!! Both my grown married sons still have their favorite stuffies. I was surprised and touched to see my oldest had given his over to his daughter.

  26. Stuffed animals provide comfort to some people with dementia. Even some pets carry around their own stuffies! It seems as though we are instinctively drawn to creating relationships with these precious stuffed companions. (I love your illustration beneath the dust jacket, too!)

  27. Becky Scharnhorst

    Your book sounds so lovely and heartfelt! My daughter has loved most of the fur right off her beloved Bear-Bear. I can’t wait to share this book with her!

  28. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Janet. It was important to me to try not to trivialize, or ‘over cute’ the relationship. It is indeed a very real, very helpful, very long lasting relationship. Good luck in the drawing, thank you!

  29. My daughter had a teddy bear named Will, but my autistic grandson had his Bobs, one for each hand. When the Bobs went missing, a frantic search ensued. They soothed him through all his panics, and needed repair often from being so well loved.

  30. Such a wonderful book! I love how you’ve taken precious memories of your son’s early years and created a picture book that so many can identify with. I am an elementary school librarian, and I know this book will be a popular choice. It will also be a great opportunity for me to let students share their Stuffie story after our read aloud.

    • Thank you, Dayna for your kind comment about the book. Random House made some lovely teacher support activities. If they don’t come to you automatically as a school librarian, perhaps you could inquire about them. Good luck in the giveaway!

  31. I can’t wait to read this book! It looks adorable and is such a relatable topic! I know I can relate. I had a brown dog my mom made me. I completed a nighttime ritual by stroking its floppy ears. My oldest had a Winnie-the-Pooh my aunt made her. She slept on in like a pillow (we sometimes called him “pancake Pooh,” he got so flat). When my aunt saw how worn he was, she offered to make her a new one, but I wasn’t sure if my daughter would “accept” a new version. So my aunt made her original Pooh a “costume!” it was a new “shell” with a zipper up the back that she could put on top of the original. How creative is that? My second child had a Peter Rabbit that had a blanket tucked in his tummy. His first words were all animal sounds (he LOVED animals and is now studying to be a vet), so he called him Hop Hop. Hop Hop got lost in many places, but we usually found him! My son and Hop Hop were very attached to one another. In first grade, my son decided he might be too old to take him to school anymore, so he brought a photo of him that he kept in his backpack.

    • What beautiful stories, Heather. I really enjoyed reading them, thank you. I love “Pancake Pooh” and your aunt’s very clever solution. Several versions of my story had my little boy taking a drawing of his stuffie with him to school. In the end, I think this is less obvious, but still inferred as he leaves his stuffie a picture of the two of them and draws them together all the time. Good luck in the drawing and thank you again for telling us your stories.

  32. Thank you so much for sharing the story behind the story and your incredible illustrations. As a writer, I also appreciated hearing about some of your story and illustration choices, such as the ambiguous narrator and the galax representing the unknown and waiting. And wow on the book beneath the jacket! Gorgeous.

  33. This is just so very sweet! I love it!

  34. Hi Jennifer
    I am puzzling over who is the real narrator in this book. Surely it’s the dinosaur? Or is it both boy and dinosaur, swearing eternal friendship? Our own family friend is a battered teddy called Old Ted. He was my teddy bear when I was a child, and he’s now the cherished object of affection of my 4 year old grandson, having been passed down by my son. He’s also a well traveled Ted. He grew up with me in London, went with me to live in Melbourne as well as West Australia, then traveled back and forth across the world with me and my new family until we finally settled in South Australia. My son now lives in BC, Canada, with his young family, so we had to take Old Ted with us when we went to visit them, and presented him to the new grandson. I’ve written several (as yet unpublished) stories about Old Ted and his friends, but they live a separate life from their Boy when he isn’t playing with them, with everyone getting up to all sorts of mischief except for Old Ted, who retains his status as their old and wise counsellor.

    • Your tales of Old Ted sound fantastic! As you were telling of his journeys I was thinking he would have wonderful stories to tell. Re: the narrator in my story my goal was to have you wonder, so I’m so happy that you did. I wanted to play with the concept that the narrator could be either the boy, or his stuffie,

      and—

      that if the story is being read to the child, the reader could also be considered the narrator. 💚

      Best of luck in the giveaway!

  35. Your book looks so adorable, and children are going to love it! Thank you for sharing it here.

  36. Kim Pfennigwerth

    All of my children had stuffies and so do my grandchildren – adventures are always better with them by their sides and so is cuddling through a thunderstorm.

    I so look forward to reading and adding this book to my bookshelf! Congratulations!!

  37. Jennifer, what I find amazing in your books is how expressive your characters are, and how dramatic some of the spreads. Your text is filled with emotion and a constant reminder of how all of us should write. Thank you for sharing!

  38. Such a relatable story, and the tender expressions conveyed in the illustrations are wonderful. Our children are also now grown, but our son’s “Flippy” (a floppy Dinosaur/Frog? – it was always a bit ambiguous!) and our daughter’s “Binky” (plush polar bear) still sit side-by-side in the beloved little rocking chair they shared. Congratulations on the this book, and thanks for sharing the peek behind the story!

    • Thank you, Michael, for sharing your sweet stories. I am just absolutely loving hearing everyone’s heartfelt tales. Especially enthralled by the names and descriptions of the stuffies! Thanks for visiting and sharing. Best of luck in the giveaway!

  39. This is lovely! Kids (and many, many grownups) can relate to this experience.

    My son had a stuffed toy that looked like a boy. He carried it everywhere for a while. His name? Little Daddy.

  40. Thanks for sharing this beautiful book Jennifer! Our son had a shirt, Mamma shirt. It was one of my long sleeved t-shirts that I slipped into his bed one night when he would not sleep and he cried the minute I left the room. The shirt was meant to be a quick fix so I could get some sleep! Turns out, she became his best friend. My son is 16 but the shirt is still in his room and while her role has changed over the years, he knows where she is. And so do I. All the best!

    • What a lovely story, Mary. Thank you so much for sharing it. I have heard of (and had my own) blanket, but not a shirt. It certainly makes a lot of sense though. Very touching. Best of luck in the giveaway and thank you again!

  41. Congrats! Jennifer this is such a sweet and lovely story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  42. I shared tears with your story. Just reading about your journey of sharing these life adventures took me to so many familiar places. thank you, Terri

    • Well, not that I meant to make you cry, but hearing that my story touched your heart means so much to me, thank you, Terri. I hope this book finds readers of all ages and takes them back to those big, magical memories. Good luck in the drawing!

  43. I love your watercolor technique! As a traditional watercolor illustrator your work inspires me 🙂
    I love to look at the pictures first, then read the story. Thank you!

    • Hi Elizabeth! Thank you for the compliment and I’m glad that my ‘old school’ approach is evident. I appreciate and admire what can be done digitally, but for me, it just doesn’t give me the satisfaction and surprise of the real deal. Thank you for visiting and best of luck in the giveaway!

  44. I love your concept and artwork! My younger son (now in college), loved his friends (stuffed animals). Each day he picked out a different friend to hang out with. Before he went to sleep, all his friends circled him in bed.

  45. What a heartfelt book! I had a pink stuffed elephant 🙂

  46. This book is so beautiful and gave me all the feels! Thank you for sharing that photo of your son as well as the story of your book’s inspiration. Congratulations!

  47. This looks like a great story. I would like to share it with my students. I see some of their stuffed animals come to class with them since we have remote learning. Stuffed animals are some of our first friends!

  48. Oh, this brings back so many memories! Jackson had a slew of beloved companions: Inchie (the inchworm), Ginger Bear, Snow Ball, Purple Puppy, Katie and Kara (named after some classmates). What a beautiful book, Jennifer. Can’t wait to read it–I’ll probably be bawling by the end. Congratulations!

  49. We still display my husbands favorite stuffie , Brian Bear” a patched and well loved panda bear!

  50. Oh, the love of a stuffie! Mine was a yellow god with black ears named Noopie. Congratulations on your successes, and thank you for sharing your book with us. I can’t wait to read it!

  51. Such a heart warming story with lovely watercolor illustrations. ♥️ Beautiful!

    Our 17 year old grandson traveled with his lion stuffy this past summer from Texas to Illinois. The stuffed lion reminded Joshua to be brave while flying.

  52. I hear stuffed lions are very good at reminding one to be brave. Thank you so much Suzy. For your story and your compliments. Best of luck in the giveaway!

  53. Love this, Jennifer! Wonderful post!

  54. My son (now 10) still can’t sleep without his Stuffie. The love is SO real. This book looks wonderful. Can’t wait to read it!

  55. I cannot tell you how excited I was to get my copies of this book today. It made me cry – tears of joy and longing for my growing up too quickly kiddos. They will all receive a copy for them and their special “stuffies.” Ordering more copies today for my school libraries and a dear friend who enjoys books in the same way I do. Thank you for touching my heart again and again with your beautiful work.

    • Well, now you made me cry. I saw the stuffie pictures that you posted, Robyn, thank you so much for sharing and being such an enthusiastic supporter of not only my books, but all books and what it means to get them into the hands of young readers. Thank you thank you thank you! And I will hold in my heart your kind words about my work. ❤️

  56. What a sweet and beautiful book. I can’t wait to see the narration twist. Congratulations, Jennifer!

    I had a special blanket when I was tiny. I’m told my family took me on a trip without it and I cried and cried, so they brought an expensive tea towel at shop. But I wasn’t having it.

  57. This is by far one of the cutest books I’ve ever seen! Congratulations!

  58. Thank you, Kathy! I appreciate your compliment. Good luck in the drawing!

  59. Oh my goodness! I have all the feels for this story. My middle child (who is now 22) had a little stuffed lamb that went everywhere and now sits in a prominent spot on her dresser. We left it at grandma’s once and she cried for the entire 3 hour ride home. I would love to share this book with my students (and my daughter)! Congratulations!

  60. What a wonderful book not only for the child but also the person reading it. I am sure many memories will come to mind as the pages are turned. Congratulations!

  61. I sure did have a favorite stuffed animal as a child – and I still have him! I’m looking forward to reading this book with my two sons.

  62. Michelle Garcia Andersen

    This really hit home for me, as I recently found my son’s stuffie while packing up his room. It seems impossible that he’s now twenty! I am so looking forward to this book. Congratulations!

  63. This looks like an incredible story – right up there with Knuffle Bunny for stories about stuffed friends that children have.

  64. Thanks for sharing your amazing story. Yes, my daughter had a stuffie that she brought to college and swore she would give it up when she got married. She’s now married with a baby and her stuffie still lives in her bed.

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