By Lauren H. Dowdle
Photos by Mary Tweedy
When Jan Muir Peine’s grandson asked why everyone he saw was playing doctor, she felt called to write a book for children about masks. But like the rest of her books, the message found within was about so much more than a simple piece of cloth.
Jan, who lives in North Shelby County, spends her days working as chief operating officer for Fidelity Fiduciary Company, but her spare time is devoted to writing books that spread love and hope, one colorful page at a time. “The books are an element of my life that I feel called to,” she says. “It’s a real blessing.”
Her latest book, Magic Masks, is a whimsical children’s book that explains why people have been wearing facial masks, social distancing, washing their hands and taking other precautions. It encourages readers to walk in love and be considerate of others, important principles to maintain long beyond the pandemic and mandates.
The idea for her book grew after seeing her daughter and grandson’s responses when COVID first hit. Her daughter, Kendra Peine Weeks, is a professionally trained costume designer who traded in her sequins and theater pieces to make facial masks for front-line workers.
“I watched someone you knew could design something that would take people’s breaths away now crank out these masks like a machine,” Jan says. “I think she defines the American spirit, and I am so proud of her. It just pierced my heart that our nation and world were in this situation and to see how many people stepped up to make a difference.”
Her 4-year-old grandson, Jackson Grey, also had an impact on her and the book. He had a doctor’s kit he played with, but his toys soon became more real when he saw them everywhere.
“When Jackson saw everyone suddenly wearing masks, he asked, ‘Why is everyone playing doctor?’” Jan recalls. “I worried that it would be a historic landmark in time where children were wounded or scarred from it. Because of social distancing and not being in school, it was a very scary time for them—and a scary time for us.”
She didn’t initially set out to write a book, but when she woke up one night with the idea, she headed to her computer. “That’s how my books come about,” she says.
Wanting to explain the health crisis in terms her grandson and other children could understand—and show wearing masks equates to compassion—Jan began writing Magic Masks. This book was created as a tribute to her daughter and grandson and to increase childhood awareness of safety protocols in a fun way. “It was birthed at a very critical time in our society,” she says.
As Jan began writing the book about masks, the pandemic and regulations continued to change and evolve, so the book had to adapt to the real-life events it was based on for it to come out at the beginning of this year.
“I was just trying to do something to help and make my grandchildren know that their mother and grandmother care about the world,” she says. “I also want to teach children to be kind and courageous and not be afraid. Our doctors and the medical community are working to provide answers. We’re all in this together.”
Jan has written half a dozen books and published two others, as well, though she would never call herself an author, preferring the title of a storyteller. “I feel that God has called me to do this,” she says.
But her writing career almost never existed. Jan worked on her high school newspaper staff as a teen, aspiring to become a journalist when she went to Auburn University. But she soon realized she didn’t enjoy having others critique her writing and changed her major to rehabilitation to help those who were disabled. Still, her passion for words shone through.
“I had to write reports at work, and they started sounding more like a novel than a report,” she says with a laugh. “But my goal then wasn’t to write books.”
Jan continued to focus on her rehab work until her job and writing collided more than three decades ago. After a 6,000-pound loader bucket of steel fell on a man named Jay Basselin’s head, he should have died—and actually was brought back multiple times. However, he lived, though he didn’t have any memories, not knowing his children or wife of 20 years.
Jan was hired as his life coach and worked with him throughout his rehabilitation. One day, his wife gave her a leather journal, telling Jan God told her to gift the journal so that she could write their story.
“She didn’t know my aversion to writing publicly,” says Jan, who is still close to the family today. “It was my very first book, my first real endeavor putting it on paper.”
Though the rest of her books are designed for little ones, parents are the ones reading them to their children. “Some have said they cried when they read the books,” Jan says. “My real audience is the adults.”
Jan and her husband publish the books through their publishing company, Ashway Press. “We use our books as a ministry,” she says. “We’re trying to make people’s lives better with our gifts from God.”
Through their book on adoption, Child of My Heart, they donate to families who are raising funds to adopt children. They also shipped 400 books on grief to the survivors in Connecticut following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Ultimately, “It’s not about me,” Jan says. “It’s about what God can do through me.”
To learn more about Jan’s books, visit givingmeaway.com or purchase them on Amazon. Magic Masks currently is available as an e-book on Amazon, with a hardcopy to be released soon.
What to Add to the Bookshelf
Jan Muir Peine’s writings range from colorfully illustrated children’s books to inspiring nonfiction.
- Magic Masks teaches children that wearing a mask is an act of kindness that everyone should embrace.
- How Far Is Heaven? explains where heaven is in terms children can understand when they lose a loved one.
- Giving Me Away empowers children to see they can make a difference through kind gestures to others.
- Child of My Heart celebrates adoption and is the perfect gift for anyone who’s been adopted or is thinking about adoption.
- Nothing’s too Hard for Me encourages chronically ill children to recover and calm their fears of hospital stays.
- Journey with Jay tells the inspirational true story of the recovery of Jay Basselin, who lost his memories of his wife and children following a horrific brain injury.