State childhood leader writes book explaining pandemic to little ones

Jennifer Bridgeman wrote her book to help preschool and early elementary aged children process the pandemic.

Jennifer Bridgeman wrote her book to help preschool and early elementary aged children process the pandemic.

Writing a children’s book had been on Jennifer Bridgeman’s bucket list since high school. She crossed it off recently, thanks to a middle-of-the-night writing session that lasted just 10 minutes.

“It was during the initial shutdown of the pandemic. I couldn’t sleep; I had lot of thoughts and words going through my head, so much going through my heart, so I sat up and wrote a book,” said Bridgeman, 40. “It wasn’t anything I thought about for a long time, the words just came.”

She titled her story “When the People Stayed Home.” The book is intended to help preschool and early elementary aged children process the pandemic.

“It’s a hard thing for adults to process, to accept that we couldn’t leave our houses or go anywhere,” said Bridgeman. “I kept thinking about it through the perspective of a child. I don’t want them to only remember how scary it was. I wanted kids to see that despite hardship, there’s still so much to be thankful for.”

Bridgeman, of Haddock in Middle Georgia, is married with two sons, ages 15 and 12. During the lockdown, the Bridgeman family tried to focus on the silver linings. Like many families, their days are usually packed with school and sports activities, and, for Bridgeman, a long weekly commute to Atlanta. While forced to stay home and slow their pace, the family indulged in more time together, like cooking meals, and eating dinner in the dining room they didn’t often use before. Moments like that, as well as similar anecdotes from her friends’ families, inspired “When the People Stayed Home.”

“Jennifer’s passion has always been children and education,” said Angie Martin, Bridgeman’s best friend of 32 years. “She’s so creative and great at putting words together. I read her story when it was just jotted down on notebook paper and was overjoyed when it got published.”

Bridgeman sent her book to publishers in May 2020 and heard back from one, Austin Macauley, just a couple weeks later. It was published June 30, and can be purchased online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Target.

Bridgeman has worked at the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning for 16 years. She is currently the process and quality improvement manager. Her co-workers, like Rachael Lee, are not at all surprised that Bridgeman has added “author” to her repertoire of titles.

“Jennifer is my manager. She’s so well-respected for her knowledge, her empathy, and her ability to see the big picture and how everyone fits into it – especially over the last year, she’s handled everything with such grace and patience,” said Lee. “It didn’t surprise me at all to hear that she was writing a book to offer children some hope in the midst of the pandemic.”

Lee pre-ordered the book and has read it with her 6-year-old son many times.

“He and I had talked a lot about how everything changed, but not all change is bad,” said Lee. “This book mirrors that same thought and helped him understand things better. It helps explain that no, you don’t get to go to the movies, or go play with a friend, but we’re all in the same boat, and you can be thankful for the opportunity to slow down and be with your family.”

Seeing her book in readers’ hands is still surreal for Bridgeman.

“It truly makes my heart so happy,” said Bridgeman. “Because of how easily the words came to me, I feel so sure this is the book I was meant to write, and it feels so good to check something off my bucket list.”

Bridgeman says “never say never” when asked if she’ll write another book. For now, she is thrilled with this accomplishment and hopeful that “When the People Stayed Home” will help little readers remember the hope that existed throughout the pandemic.

As Bridgeman’s favorite line in the story reads, “and while their hearts were a little worried, and maybe even a little sad, they were also very, very thankful.”