Beth Ann Knowles' writing has always been influenced by her surroundings. Whether it's in her poetry, or the time she chronicled her year-long trip to Korea to keep family and friends in the loop.
When she had her first child about eight years ago, the language of children's books - its bold characters, silly wordplay, digestible morale in the end - starting making a whole lot of sense.
It stuck with her in life's more mundane moments. She'd bounce rhymes around in her head while washing her hair or doing the dishes, and before long what would become her first published children's book was well underway.
"I just started thinking of it more like a word association book, not actually a story, more a book for really young kids," said Knowles. "Then, as I started writing some of the things down, a story came out of it."
That turned into Row Bot, a book written and illustrated by Knowles that celebrated its release at Lexicon Books in Lunenburg last week.
The story follows a robot who plants a tree to get wood to build a boat. Along the way, the robot sees the impact the tree has on the surrounding creatures, and embarks on a journey to replace the tree after its boat is completed.
The book introduces kids to the concept of an ecological footprint, and a portion of its proceeds will be donated to the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation.
But the story came as a pleasant surprise to Knowles, an unexpected detour from the simple wordplay exercise she thought she was writing.
"That wasn't my intention at all, because it wasn't what I had set out to make," said Knowles. "But I like that that came out of it, just of maintaining our environment and being friends to wild life. I think that's an important message for kids."
Row Bot is Knowles' first published children's book, but not the first she's written. She has a number of others that haven't been picked up, which was discouraging but took off the pressure when it came time to pitch Row Bot. "You don't want to be told no, but I've heard no lots, so it's not a big deal anymore," she said.
Illustrating the book was a new experience altogether. Before Row Bot, Knowles says she hadn't drawn much of anything.
"I just had the picture of it in my head and I thought, well, let's see if I can draw it," she said. "There was a lot of erasing and going back over things."
Originally from Dartmouth, Knowles moved to Riverport with her family over three years ago. She works from home teaching English for a Chinese company via webcam.
"It kind of helps the creative process in a lot of ways," said Knowles. "I have to think quite creatively when teaching, trying to get students to understand, or trying to think how I can be more dynamic or fun."
Being a parent almost forces an adult to revisit children's books, to see the effect stories have on young readers who're seeing so many things for the first time.
"Parents are very critical of children's books now. I know we are," said Knowles. "We wonder how some things get published sometimes, and some things that you've never heard about you read and say, 'Man, this is awesome. Why doesn't everybody know about this?'"
It's hard not to make mental notes of what works and what doesn't, especially for a writer. So as long as Knowles is reading for her kids, it isn't a question of if she'll write another children's story, it's what will be the next one to leave her house.
"Sometimes it's just for them and sometimes it's something more than that," she said.