Author finds fertile ground with Ivy and Bean
By Judi Ketteler
are never obvious until the
very second they hit. That was
the case for Annie Barrows,
who was working as a nonfiction book author while
she raised her two young
daughters, Clio and Esme.
One day it occurred to her
that writing books and being
a mom might be more related than she realized: “I
thought, ‘I’m spending all
my time with children. I
only read children’s books.
Maybe I should write for
children,’ ” says Barrows, a former editor with
Barrows loved the idea of two girls who
seem to be exact opposites but become the
best of friends as they realize that they can
have more fun together than apart. Ivy and
Bean live on the same street; they’re both 7
years old and both are in Ms. Aruba-Tate’s
second-grade class. But Ivy is all about ideas,
whereas Bean is all action. Together, they
make the perfect duo. The first book, Ivy +
Bean, was published in 2006 by Chronicle
Books. The series—now up to its sixth book,
Ivy + Bean Doomed to Dance—has sold more
than 70,000 copies and won such awards as
the ALA Notable Children’s Books Award.
With each book released, the series recruits
new readers—in part because it fills a niche.
“What I tried to do with Ivy and Bean was
bridge the gap between early readers, which
have very few words on a page, and mid-grade
for kids requires a huge amount of memory.
“You have to get back to kid brain, and keep
checking with the child you were,” she says.
Writing for kids has made Barrows a better writer all around, she says. For one thing,
she has a new appreciation for the importance
of plot. Lack of plot is a deal breaker in children’s chapter books—a plot has to be there,
and has to be compelling. Plot has traditionally been scorned in literary fiction circles,
but Barrows believes that’s shortsighted.
She’s also become more adept at pulling
elements of people’s personalities—including
their words and actions—into her books. So
much of Ivy and Bean came about from simply watching her daughters interact with their
friends, spending time in their classrooms and
noticing the funny things that kids do and say.
For example, Barrows overheard a little
boy say, “Next train for boring is leaving now!”
as he was walking into a class, and she told
him, “I’m going to use that in my book!” (She
wound up giving Bean this line, and the little
boy was thrilled when he saw it.)
Although novel writing is on her radar
now, Ivy and Bean aren’t done quite yet. The
seventh book is due out in the fall of 2010,
and the master plan includes an eighth book.
“Then I’ll take a step back and decide what to
do,” Barrows says. Perhaps Ivy and Bean will
turn 8. Perhaps Hollywood will come calling
with a movie (“I think a movie is a great idea!”
Barrows says). Or perhaps she’ll move into
another genre—with her girls now 10 and 13,
maybe it’s time for a young-adult novel.
Whatever Barrows does next, hopefully it will
be an adventure of which Ivy and Bean would
be proud. C
The Costco Connection
Several Ivy + Bean titles are available in
most Costco warehouses.
chapter books, which are
quite word heavy and usually quite long,” Barrows tells
The Connection from her
home in Berkeley, California. Plus, writing for 7-year-
olds meant that she had
license to use her imagination to the fullest.
“Seven is the zenith of
life,” Barrows says. “I love
7-year-olds because they are
still in full connection with
their imaginations, yet competent enough not to hurt
themselves enacting that.”
She made a conscious choice to keep the stories in the realm of the real world (versus the
magic world), but Ivy and Bean still get into
their share of mischief trying to expel ghosts,
conjure spells and dig up dinosaur fossils.
In the midst of writing the Ivy + Bean
books, Barrows took on a side project: In 2007,
she stepped in and finished The Guernsey
Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—a book
that her aunt, Mary Ann Shaffer, had almost
completed before she passed away. Published
in 2008, it was a big hit—so much so that the
publisher (Dial Press) signed Barrows to write
two more adult fiction books, which is what
she is working on now.
The first novel takes place in 1938 in a tiny
town in the South; like The Guernsey Literary
and Potato Peel Pie Society, it’s full of wonderful
and fascinating characters, but it’s not in any
way tied to that book or of the same theme. Ivy
and Bean are always with her, but she has to set
aside specific time for writing their stories.
“I can’t write for adults and children in
the same day,” Barrows says. She says she
needs a few weeks in between to let her brain
make the transition—mostly because writing
Judi Ketteler writes about health and lifestyle
topics for AOL.com, Better Homes & Gardens,
American Baby, Self and others.
FEBRUARY 2010 ;e Costco Connection 31