About the book: The Berenson Schemes series is about a responsible boy named Jack who is saddled with irresponsible parents that keep losing him in remote locations around the world. In the first of the series, JACK THE CASTAWAY, Jack is left to fend for himself on a deserted Caribbean island.
I love how we see the Caribbean through Jack’s eyes and through his worries. But was there anything you wanted to include that Jack wouldn’t know about, or wouldn’t notice?
That was tricky – there were things I knew about life in the Caribbean that Jack could experience, but not necessarily understand. For instance, mosquito coils. Anybody who has lived in the tropics knows that sweet smoky smell that permeates the air at dusk. So Jack smelled it, but thought he was smelling wood burning. I had to spend a lot of time sorting out what I knew versus what Jack would know and what his interpretations would be.
I also loved the hints you gave of what life there might be like for people who’ve lived there longer, like Seldie — what she cooks, who she knows, what she thinks is different about New York. What would be different if the story was from their point of view?
The entire story would be different if Seldie told it. I based that character on my Caribbean landlady who became a dear friend – I dedicated the book to her and her sister. Her approach to life is very practical and relaxed. One time a chicken kept roosting on her porch and she said to me, “Well, baby, the poor thing is just tryin’ to live.” I thought her outlook would be a nice counterpoint to Jack’s over-worrying and his parents complete lack of worry. I know her outlook was a nice counterpoint to my own intensity. (FYI – don’t move from New York to the Caribbean thinking you’re about to get all laid-back-island-time. If you are intense in New York, it’s not New York’s fault and you will be intense everywhere you go. As Jack’s parents would say, “Lesson learned!.”)
What are those purple fruits, anyway? And are whale sharks real?
The purple fruit is a type of mango. Where I lived, there were yellow mango trees everywhere – you couldn’t give them away. But, there were a few of the purple mango trees. They are magnificent and you should definitely not take one without permission from the owner of the tree.
And yes, whale sharks are very real! They are the gentle giants of the sea. The idea of a shark as big as a whale sounds alarming, but they have no teeth and are not at all aggressive. Naturally, it takes Jack a while to figure that out. I have a whole series of links to sea creatures on my website, lisadoan.org, including a YouTube video of a whale shark.
I haven’t read many books with parrots, let alone whale sharks. How did Loco and Tom come to be part of this book?
Loco got in there because I needed somebody Jack could talk to. When I lived in the Caribbean I met my share of parrots, but two in particular were memorable – one that had an intense hatred of the color orange (which would include cans of the very popular OFF! Insect repellant) and one that I initially thought was a little girl who lived in the house behind my restaurant. I was working one morning and I kept hearing a girl’s voice say, “Whatever.” It went on and on and I was thinking “I’m gonna kill that kid if she doesn’t cut it out.” And then I figured out it was a parrot up in the trees.
Tom the whale shark gives Jack a reason to reassess his assumptions about danger, and to care enough about something to decide a risk is worth taking. Tom also teaches Jack that you can’t always understand why somebody does what they do, like his parents – who, frankly, he will never understand.
What do you see as the key moment or choice in Jack’s journey from worrier to cautious adventurer?
Jack takes many small steps on his way to adventurer, and all those successful small steps add up to his big decision to take a major risk to help Tom the whale shark. It didn’t cure Jack of his worrying, but he saw that you can worry and act at the same time. You know, like how life is.
As a planner and a worrier, I loved Jack’s checklist. What’s always on your travel checklist? Or do you have one?
Yes – just one! A Lonely Planet book for wherever I’m going. They are books written by and for backpackers. I used Lonely Planet Africa on a year-long trip from Morocco to Kenya and can vouch for their usefulness. If they tell you to go to a town and ask around for Sam and Sam will take you somewhere on his boat – then if you go to that town you’ll find Sam, and his boat. As for vouching for my own sanity in backpacking alone from Morocco to Kenya, that’s debatable. Here’s a hard-earned tip on crossing the Sahara desert – TURN BACK IMMEDIATELY.
What survival tips do you have for us, in case we’re stranded on Caribbean islands?
Tip one: Don’t get on a boat with Richard and Claire Berenson. No matter what they tell you, they don’t know what they are doing and it will go badly. Tip two: don’t get on a boat that doesn’t have a marine radio! Tip three: If Richard and Claire Berenson claim to have a marine radio, make sure they really do and that it works. (They probably don’t and/or it’s broken.) If you are seriously going to do something silly like get on a boat without a marine radio, or worse, get on a boat with the Berensons, then make sure you have read The SAS Handbook – an invaluable resource for people who get themselves into ridiculous and life-threatening situations.
Somehow I don’t think Jack’s parents are going to buckle down to regular jobs…. What’s next for Jack and his parents?
I’m sorry to tell you that Richard and Claire Berenson did NOT learn their lesson. The 2nd book in the series, Jack and the Wild Life, finds Jack fending for himself on the plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya. Needless to say, he is pretty disgusted about it.
As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of.
Well, there’s small creatures and insects. You would think that after eight years of running into flying cockroaches, tarantulas, and creepy land crabs that sneak into your house and clatter around at night, I’d be over it. Not over it. One time I woke up and a land crab was feeling around my toe. (I will never be over that.) But, I am not afraid of making decisions that radically alter my life. My motto so far has been: “How hard can (fill in the blank) be?” Though I often feel slightly faint after I have made the decision. Especially when I see the looks on the faces of people I know when I spring it on them.
|Kelly Jones is the author of UNUSUAL CHICKENS FOR THE EXCEPTIONAL POULTRY FARMER, a middle grade novel in letters about Sophie and the magic chickens she’s determined to protect, coming March 2015 from Knopf Books for Young Readers. Kelly is a former librarian and bookseller who lives near Seattle, Washington with her chickens, who’ve shown no signs of magic — yet. Follow her on Twitter.