Lowcountry authors inspire young readers to venture outside
Growing up, Mary Alice Monroe’s children spent summers exploring 1,000 acres of raw, feral land in Tinmouth, Vermont.
“They ran wild in the mountains near the family sheep farm,” says Monroe. “They learned the names of plants and animals and played until I rang the dinner bell.”
Today, those halcyon months in the Taconic Mountains are mere memories. Monroe’s children are all grown up and she’s emerged as a New York Times bestselling author of nearly 30 books. And yet, she still transports kids to “a place of wild” — albeit much further south than Vermont — with her middle-grade series, The Islanders (Simon & Schuster).
Released last summer and co-written by Angela May, the first book of The Islanders series introduces a character named Jake Potter. Eleven-year-old Jake’s life gets turned upside down when his father suffers an injury in Afghanistan and he must go live with his grandmother, Honey.
But Honey’s home isn’t in a quiet, asphalt-lined suburb one town over. No, she lives on Dewees Island: a South Carolina nature sanctuary rife with sharp-toothed alligators and mild-mannered shorebirds.
“Dewees Island feels so different from anywhere else in the Lowcountry,” says May. A former ABC News anchor, May started helping Monroe with media relations a decade ago. Now, they are co-writers. “Once you step off that ferry boat, there are no cars or restaurants or grocery stores,” May continues. “There are just gators, snakes, and dirt paths.”
On Dewees Island, Jake makes friends with locals Macon and Lovie, and the three spend their days protecting a loggerhead sea-turtle nest from impending peril. But now, there are bigger, bolder adventures to be had.
Slated to hit bookshelves this month, The Islanders: Search for Treasure follows the kids as they go hunting for Blackbeard’s fabled treasure. But by the sequel’s end, the characters have found much more than doubloons.
“They discover the healing power of nature,” says Monroe. In exploring sandy inlets and groves of longleaf pines, Jake reimagines his relationship with his father, Eric, who is struggling to cope with deep-seated insecurities. “Through being outdoors and being together, they heal one another,” Monroe explains.
Search for Treasure unpacks other weighty topics too, like diversity and inclusion, ableism, mental health, and even parenting in the age of screens. But Monroe and May’s primary goal in writing this series was to nurture adventure. They wanted kids — and parents, for that matter — to put down their devices and experience the outside world, whether they live in the Lowcountry of South Carolina or the inner city of New York.
“After those summers in Vermont,” says Monroe, “I always knew deep in my heart that I’d one day write a story that brought kids to a place of wild.”
Mary Alice Monroe (maryalicemonroe.com) will kick off the summer reading program at the Henderson County Public Library (301 North Washington St., Hendersonville) with an event on Thursday, June 9, at 2pm. Free. For more information, call 828-697-4725. She will also speak at the 1921 Lake Lure Inn and Spa (2771 Memorial Hwy.) on Wednesday, June 8, at 11am, as part of the Friends of the Mountains Branch Library’s “Books and Bites” series. The $25 admission includes a three-course lunch. To register, call 828-287-6392.