Q&A with Local Author Mary Shields

Mary Shields, the founder and president of Shields Design Studio in Plymouth and board director for Plymouth 400, recently published the first book in a historical novel series for children. “Barnicle and Husk: The Adventure Begins” takes place in 1620 and tells the story of a crafty cat named Barnicle who sails with the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, and later becomes friends with a field mouse named Husk, who lives with the Wampanoag. 

What inspired you to write the story “Barnicle and Husk: The Adventure Begins?” 

The concept for the book has been developing in my mind for over two decades. Growing up in Marshfield, I was always curious about the culture of the local Wampanoag tribe and the terrible injustices that have been perpetrated against them throughout history. On the other hand, I was also in awe of the incredible courage that the Pilgrims must have had to make their voyage to America. Together, these two forces form the beginning of America’s Story, which has always captivated me. Ultimately, I wanted to create Barnicle and Husk to embrace that rich history and bring that sense of fun to the town. Hopefully both the young and young-at-heart can connect with the book and the characters.

Is this the first book you’ve written?

Yes, this is my first book. The most difficult part of the project was balancing my time between creating the book and managing a busy visual communications firm. I was a newcomer to the publishing world at the beginning of this journey, so I enlisted two key allies: Lisa Akoury-Ross, a local independent author’s publisher, and Bob Ostrom, an illustrator I worked with during my years working with Walt Disney Attractions. Of course, I was backed up through the whole process by my husband and my incredible staff at Shields Design Studio. Without them, I never could have realized this dream of being a published author. 

Is the book designed to be an educational tool or more of an entertaining story?

It’s the best of both worlds! I wanted this book to be both an entertaining read and a learning opportunity. Children will learn about the Mayflower ship from the perspective of its stowaway cat, Barnicle, and about a Wampanoag village from the perspective of Husk, an orphaned field mouse befriended by a young Wampanoag girl. As the series continues, we’ll learn more about Barnicle’s stories and his adventures in the New World.

What age range is the story best suited for?

The chapter book series is meant for readers from ages seven through ten, although I’m also hoping to release a companion picture book that has been simplified for younger readers. According to state curriculum, students in third grade are meant to learn the “Pilgrim story,” but I wanted to make sure that students could be exposed to the Wampanoag side of things as well. When I was in school, I certainly wasn’t taught the other side. My hope is that after reading certain chapters in “Barnicle and Husk,” children will start to ask questions about what they’ve learned in school.

I read that you consulted with Chief Flying Eagle, Earl Mills Sr. and Linda Jeffers Coombs to ensure the story was historically accurate. Can you give any examples of scenes in the book that reflect what you learned about Wampanoag culture?

I met Earl Mills, Sr. (formally Chief Flying Eagle of Mashpee) almost 20 years ago and he is a person who is very near and dear to my heart. Through knowing him, I’ve come to learn about the importance of traditions and storytelling to his people, which I’ll never forget.

Linda Jeffers Coombs provided vital help with reviewing the book content and illustrations to make sure they were as historically accurate as possible. After all, only the Wampanoag could truly understand the history of their people and how best to tell their story.

The Plymouth 400 exhibit “OUR Story”: 400 years of Wampanoag History recounts the tragic story of the capture of 20 Wampanoag men from Patuxet in 1614. This was something that I was never taught in school and I believe that all children should be made aware of these events in history. I made sure to include details about these events in certain chapters of the book to accurately portray what life was like back in 1620, while keeping in mind how young my readers are.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

As the creative energies started to stir, the project took multiple corners. Before I knew it, I had created a multifaceted brand. The most exciting thing, I think, was the day the character costumes were physically delivered from Hollywood to the studio, I felt like I gave birth. The 2D creation was now a reality.

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