My kids (most of them anyway) give me a run for my money when it comes to reading. They’re book lovers like me, the boys are always looking for their next action packed series and my daughter reads many of the same ones I do.
When I heard of the Berenson Schemes series by Lisa Doan, I knew they’d be the perfect new adventure books for my third grader. There are currently three books in the series- Jack the Castaway, Jack and the Wild Life, Jack at the Helm
When we first meet Jack, he’s a pretty shy kid, definitely not adventurous like his risk-taking, globe trotting parents. Unfortunately for Jack, his parents and their crazy schemes lead him into many a misadventure.
In the newest release, Jack at the Helm, the Berensons travel to a remote region of Nepal to launch their latest get-rich-quick scheme – gathering disciples for a religion they invented. Of course, Jack is lost again during an overnight trip to the town of Shangrilala.
I love being able to pick an authors brain, get a behind the scenes sneak peak if you will. After reading about Jack and his quite extreme tales, I really wanted to know what Lisa Doan’s inspiration was for her series and this little character.
So, I found out…
Stepping off the edge of the world.
In the early 1990s, I was fortunate to discover that I was bored with my job. It seemed to me that there had to be more to do on this planet, but what?
I say I was fortunate, because very often it takes some sort of impetus for us humans to make a move, to switch things up and try something new. If we’re at all content, we develop an inertia that becomes cement in our shoes. As it was, I was not content, and the universe gave me a shove forward.
My primary clue that I was not where I was supposed to be was the state of my viewing habits. I had rented Gorillas in the Mist so many times that the video store clerk commented on it. In that movie, DianFossey stepped off the edge of the world to live in a remote jungle. I wanted to step off the edge of the world too. I planned a year-long trip across Africa from Morocco to Kenya and then on to Nepal and Thailand.
I won’t lie—deciding to do something radical and actually doing it are very different feelings. I was sure I was meant to do this, but when I got on my flight to Morocco, I was overcome with remorse. If I could have turned that plane around, I would have. Like most big moves, the panic and regret subsided over time. I found myself wandering in Marrakech, hitchhiking across the Sahara, driving down the slopes of Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, gazing at the Annapurnas in Nepal, trekking in Uganda to see the mountain gorillas (my salute to Dian Fossey) and making an eight year stop on Roatán in Honduras.
When I began writing books for children, I knew I would use these far-off places someday. I just needed the right character. A kid that could grasp the enormity of finding himself lost in the world. Jack Berensonwas the right kid. He begins the series not inclined to risk anything—he would prefer to stay home whereit’s safe. But as Jack works his way through foreign adventures, he begins to believe that he can handle himself. He’ll be all right. I felt that way too.
My family has also been blessed to do a bit of globe trotting. The farthest we’ve traveled together is Australia (thankfully I haven’t lost a kid yet like the Berensons). That being said, my son can relate on some level to the fun travel in these books, and can picture Jack stepping foot on foreign soil.
However, readers who have never traveled farther than their own backyards will love Jack at the Helm and the others in this series. They can easily travel far and wide with Jack inside their own imaginations. I believe most 9-12 year olds will get a kick at the humor in these books, and will easily relate to Jack in their own ways. As a parent, I think it’s great that young readers can expand their knowledge about other places and people. It’s my hope personally that reading about these exotic places at a young age will spark a flame of curiosity in my own son, and that he’ll want to continue traveling and experiencing the world on a larger scale all his life.
Lisa Doan is the author of The Berenson Schemes series – Jack the Castaway, Jack and the Wild Life and Jack at the Helm. She received a master’s degree in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her extensive travel in Africa and Asia and eight years spent living in the Caribbean were the basis for the series’ international settings. She has hatched her share of harebrained schemes, including backpacking alone from Morocco to Kenya, hitchhiking across the Sahara with Nigerian car dealers, sauntering off on an ill-advised, one-person walking safari, and opening a restaurant with no actual restaurant experience. Her occupations have included master scuba diving instructor, New York City headhunter, owner-chef of a “sort of Chinese-like” restaurant, television show set medic, and deputy prothonotary of a county court. Visit the author and download free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guides at lisadoan.org.
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