Mary Jane Beaufrand’s is a name many of you will recall fondly. She’s the author of the young adult novel Primavera, among other work, and a teacher of writing, but we know her best for her years behind the counter here at Island Books. We checked in with her just recently and asked her to share some memories and tell us what’s new.
I used to go around the store, armed with a can of Orange Antibiotic Wipes and use them on every surface, until the place reeked and my coworkers complained, pretending to gag and demanding, “Somebody please! Open a window! MJ’s at it again!”
During that time, I finished working on my novel for young adults, Dark River. Which is ironic because I don’t recall the time as being dark at all. I remember the staff and customers as being the charming, welcoming types, with a wonderful sense of community.
Since then I’ve continued to write and teach writing to middle-school aged children. I love working with the age group because they have no shortage of imagination. They want to write about ninja academies. They want to write about being stranded in the wilderness with a hatchet and a pet wolf. They want to write about being a young but plucky heroine in a future where teens are forced to battle each other to the death.
I love being able to provide—in a classroom—what Island Books does in a store: a safe place to express yourself. Granted, at Island Books there was more talk about where to get a good cheeseburger and microbrew, but the principle applies. No one has to move it along. There’s no drive through.
The main difference between being a teacher and a children’s book specialist is that, as a teacher, I have a captive audience. And the first thing I always tell my students is this:
Before you can be a great writer, you have to be a great reader.
If you’re a parent and you’re reading this blog, you’ve already got your kids on the right path, not just to writing itself, but to finding a career that they’re passionate about.
The staff at IB can help your kids find books they need to get through the summer, but here are three I wanted to mention, two for kids, one for you, that you might not necessarily look for because there are no vampires or zombies. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those guys. Just wouldn’t wanna kiss ‘em):
1) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. A book for ages 8-12. Does anyone remember the real Ivan the Gorilla? The one kept in a 14x14 habitat in the BI Shopping Center in Tacoma? I picked this book up for my children thinking that it might have had something to do with the real Ivan, and it does. And, like with the story of the real Ivan, there are difficult spots, but it works out fine in the end. By far the best novel for middle grades this year.
2) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. For teens. A historical novel about two girls in World War II, one of whom is a spy being forced to collaborate with the Nazis. The other? Let’s leave some mystery intact, shall we? It’s an especially good read if anyone in your family—you or your child—has been watching Downton Abbey.
3) Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. For all ages. This is the first novel I’ve read in years that has truly blown me away. And how exciting is it that it’s by Washington State’s own Jess Walter? The novel begins the early 1960s with its hero, Pasquale, trying to “build a beach” in a small rocky fishing village to the south of Cinque Terre in Italy. Against this lush backdrop, and the filming of the movie Cleopatra, characters come together and break apart, make bad decisions (a tennis court on a rocky coast? What happens when the ball goes out?), but by the end, the very best manage to redeem themselves in unexpected ways. For a total hoot, check out the dialogue in the scene between Pasquale and Richard Burton, the actor, as they are driving up the Italian coast.
Hope you all have a good summer of reading and thanks for taking your business to such a great independent bookstore!
—Mary Jane Beaufrand