Orange sisters pen bilingual detective book

Belley Barrett, 8, and her sister, Emma Barrett, 11, both of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives.” They will read from their book at an event at Wheeler Memorial Library at noon on Saturday.

Belley Barrett, 8, and her sister, Emma Barrett, 11, both of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives.” They will read from their book at an event at Wheeler Memorial Library at noon on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Belley Barrett, 8, and her sister, Emma Barrett, 11, both of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives.” They will read from their book at an event at Wheeler Memorial Library at noon on Saturday.

Belley Barrett, 8, and her sister, Emma Barrett, 11, both of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives.” They will read from their book at an event at Wheeler Memorial Library at noon on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Emma Barrett, 11, and sister Belley Barrett, 8, of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives,” in both Chinese and English.

Emma Barrett, 11, and sister Belley Barrett, 8, of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives,” in both Chinese and English. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Emma Barrett, 11, and sister Belley Barrett, 8, of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives.” They will read from their book at an event at Wheeler Memorial Library at noon on Saturday.

Emma Barrett, 11, and sister Belley Barrett, 8, of Orange, have written a mystery novel, “Sister Detectives.” They will read from their book at an event at Wheeler Memorial Library at noon on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Emma Barrett, 11, mother Cynthia Liu Barrett, and sister Belley Barrett, 8, of Orange, pose in Wheeler Memorial Library, where the sisters will read from their book, “Sister Detectives,” at noon on Saturday.

Emma Barrett, 11, mother Cynthia Liu Barrett, and sister Belley Barrett, 8, of Orange, pose in Wheeler Memorial Library, where the sisters will read from their book, “Sister Detectives,” at noon on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 10-17-2023 6:20 PM

ORANGE — It is not unheard of for a library to host an event so authors can read their work to the public and answer questions. But those writers typically don’t have homework and bedtimes.

Emma Barrett, 11, and Belley Barrett, 8, recently published “Sister Detectives” and are slated to share their beloved story at Wheeler Memorial Library at noon on Saturday. The book, published in English as well as simplified and traditional Chinese, tells the tale of Emma and Belley as they follow clues to discover who stole the strawberry ice cream bars from the Neverending Ice Cream Store.

“It’s really great,” Children’s Librarian Jason Sullivan-Flynn said. “I mean, I’m so happy that they’re doing this at the library. Happy for them, too, and proud of them — I’ve known them for a number of years now. So it’s really great to see them making this happen.”

The young scribes will sign copies of their book, and guests will be able to make origami and snack on HI-CHEW candies. Their mother, Cynthia Liu Barrett, approached Sullivan-Flynn about the opportunity to hold the event.

“The first thing I did was I sat down and I read the book, and I complimented the mom on how accomplished the book was and what an achievement it was for the girls,” Sullivan-Flynn said. “It came out great. The art came out really, really well, considering they’re very young girls who wrote the book. And the story’s really, really nice. I love the fact that it’s in English and Chinese — really something special.”

Liu Barrett explained that her daughters started playing detective in their basement at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Emma soon wrote about the adventures for a school project around the same time Cynthia tried, with no success, to find children’s books that were written in English and Chinese.

“Then I just thought, ‘What could be better than a bilingual story written … and illustrated by children?’” she recalled. “So they just got super excited about the idea.”

Liu Barrett grew up in Chicopee, with Chinese as her first language. Her daughters attend the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley and speak the language fluently. She explained she was perusing the Facebook page “Orange MA, Out and About” and reached out to local author Diane Kane, who referred Liu Barrett to Marcia Gagliardi at Haley’s, a book publisher in Athol. Emma and Belley can now say they are published authors, having taken a year to illustrate the work.

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“I was happy and excited to see what it looked like,” said Belley, a second grader who turned 8 on Oct. 17.

Emma, who is in sixth grade, said the writing and illustrating of the book were equally challenging, but worth the effort.

“I like it, because then we can read it,” she said.

The girls explained they play detective in their basement because it is spacious and cool. Belley said they find missing objects and people, and catch bad guys “who steal things from museums from Candy Land.”

“Sister Detectives” became quite the family affair. Liu Barrett facilitated editorial and layout processes for her daughters’ book. Her husband, John Barrett, digitized the illustrations. The girls’ maternal grandmother, Hsiaoyen Liu, is a professional translator and assisted with the translation of “Sister Detectives.” Additionally, Alvin P. Cohen, professor emeritus of Chinese at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, copyedited the Chinese text while Debra Ellis copyedited the English text.

“It was very smooth. It was great,” Liu Barrett said of the process. “They were so excited to finally see it as a book. Even now, they still play detectives. Their detective agency is still in the basement.”

Sponsored by 11 local cultural councils, “Sister Detectives” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, ThriftBooks.com or at bookstores, including Trail Head Outfitters & General Store at 1 South Main St. in Orange, the New Salem General Store and Amherst Books.

In addition to the Wheeler Memorial Library reading on Saturday, the Barrett sisters are also scheduled to read from their book at the Athol Public Library at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 28, the Hadley Public Library at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 6, and Hubbard Memorial Library in Ludlow at 3 p.m. on Dec. 28.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.