Did you know that Annie Barrows, author of the popular Ivy and Bean series of children’s books (Chronicle) and Annie Barrows, co-author of the bestselling adult novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial Press, 2008), are one and the same person?
“Bless the booksellers’ hearts, but you could knock some of them over with a feather when I tell them about the connection,” says Barrows, currently wrapping up a 15-city tour for the paperback release of Guernsey. But once the who’s-the-author cat is out of the bag, those same booksellers (and their customers) often get double bang for their buck where Barrows is concerned. “The audience for Guernsey is grandmas and moms and most of the time they are perfectly delighted to buy Ivy and Bean for their kids and grandkids,” she notes. To that end, Chronicle and Dial have collaborated on a poster to encourage cross-merchandising of Barrows’ adult and children’s titles in bookstores.
The books about Ivy and Bean, which chronicle the exploits of two girls who become best friends despite being total opposites, have been steadily picking up sales since the first volume, aptly titled Ivy and Bean, debuted in 2006. To date, lifetime sales of the series total more than 600,000 copies. The hardcover of Guernsey has more than 550,000 copies in print; the paperback was released May 4 with a 400,000-copy first printing.
Photo: Brook McCormick.
Guernsey, an epistolary novel set during the German occupation of the titular British island during 1946, came to Barrows as a writing project shortly after Ivy and Bean was launched. It was a true family affair, as Barrows was asked to work on Guernsey by her aunt, the late author Mary Ann Shaffer. “My aunt had written a book, the first she ever completed, and it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream—a family-wide dream,” Barrows recalls. “She was always working on a project. We knew she was a wonderful storyteller and that she was the writer in our family.” Shaffer finished Guernsey and her agent sold it to Dial Press in 2006. “It was so exciting; we were thrilled for her,” says Barrows. “It was a validation of our faith in her and of her talent.”
Shaffer found her initial inspiration when she was traveling in 1980 and got fogged in at the Guernsey airport for 72 hours. “It was always very mysterious—why she was there in the first place,” Barrows says with a laugh. But during the long layover, Shaffer read as many books in the Guernsey airport as she could, and discovered they were all about the occupation. “When the fog finally lifted, she was an expert on the subject—and obsessed with it,” Barrows notes. Shaffer did more research on WWII and drafted ideas trying to find her story. But she didn’t start writing in earnest until 1999. According to Barrows, Shaffer eventually began with the character of Elizabeth McKenna, who founded the club that’s central to the book’s plot, and developed the tale from there.
But in the summer of 2006, Shaffer became ill. “When the rewrites came in from her editor, she just knew she couldn’t do it,” Barrows recalls. “She called me and said, ‘You’re the other writer in the family, can you do this for me?’ I said, ‘Why, certainly I can!’ to her, but to myself I was saying ‘How am I going to do this? How am I going to enter her book?’”
However, Barrows found that once she began the process, “it was not impossible, it was really great. The main thing I was asked to do was to add more detail about the characters and their lives.” She points to one young character as an example of how she blended her voice with her aunt’s. “Kit, a little kid in the book, bears a passing resemblance to Bean, and to me,” Barrows says. “I also drew on my own personal history and experiences. There was a lot more overlap [between my children’s writing and writing Guernsey] than I ever dreamed possible.”
Sadly, Shaffer passed away in February 2008, several months before Guernsey was published, and did not live to see her name on bestseller lists. She would no doubt be proud of Barrows’ efforts on her behalf, and surely pleased to know that her niece plans to continue telling stories for a good while. “I’m never going to give up writing for kids, because I love it,” says Barrows. “But my experience with Guernsey has been so wonderful, I figure, why not do everything? I have been given such a fabulous opportunity.”
Looking ahead, Barrows has already finished a seventh book starring Ivy and Bean and says she will “certainly” do an eighth title, though the characters may be retired after that. “I have some great ideas for other books, for kids in the middle grades, that I can’t wait to get to,” she says. “I have a folder filled with Post-its that I’ve jotted things on in the middle of the night.” And in between jotting ideas and writing for kids, she also plans to begin work on an adult novel, set in 1938 West Virginia.