blog header

Summertime, and the Reading is Easy

bk_kaleid_140Memorial Day is behind us, the summer season is here, and that set me to thinking about the origins of my verse novel Kaleidoscope Eyes.  While I would like to think all my books would be great for summertime reading, “Kal Eyes” is the one that could definitely be labeled a summertime story.

Long before TV’s Jersey Shore, there was the real NJ shore where kids like me went for our family vacation. These annual trips were a clear and useful memory when I began work on what would eventually become Kal Eyes. Set in the fictional South Jersey town of Willowbank in the summer of 1968, the novel follows three friends as they navigate the challenges of family, community, and race while uncovering what may be a long-buried treasure of the notorious Captain Kidd.

In writing this book, I researched pirates, rock ‘n roll, Civil Rights, and Vietnam. I had plenty of material to work with; the trick, of course, was figuring out how to put all that good stuff together in the right way.

I’m a terrible cook. But while writing Kaleidoscope Eyes, the only way I could imagine the story coming together, was to pretend I was on one of those cooking shows, where they give you a bunch of ingredients that you’d never in a million years want to mix together (radishes, whipped cream, saltines, eggplant, chocolate, mustard) and they say: “Make something delicious.”

Ingredient #1:  The Sixties: the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, concerts, tie-dye, Vietnam, peace rallies, Women’s Rights, Civil Rights, riots.

Ingredient #2: Pirate treasure: a map, a key, a metal detector, a churchyard.

Ingredient #3: Three 13-yr. old NJ kids: one black, two white, who find something that may be a lost chest of Captain Kidd buried right in their town.

Writing in verse was, I found, the key. The fluidity of the verse format allowed me to move from ingredient to ingredient quickly and connect the seemingly disparate elements (War? A treasure map?).  Most important: the verse allowed me to explore and share the inner lives of the characters—even as they were on the wild ride of solving a mystery.

5 thoughts on “Summertime, and the Reading is Easy”

  1. Hi Jen,
    I too am busy thinking about summer reading and my kids. Many of them have worked so hard this year, and I would hate to see them lose valuable ground over the summer. My reading partner and I do our best to literally put books in their hands. Some of our students don’t visit libraries and don’t have books around the house. We loan our reading room books out to our students over the summer, and, for the most part, they do come back.
    Thanks for reminding me of Kaleidoscope Eyes. It is a wonderful story that many of my “picky” readers will enjoy…they just love novels in verse. Thanks again, Jen. Enjoy the summer!
    Phyllis Karpen

  2. Makes me want to reread this great novel, Jen. I was a teenager in the sixties and you did a great job of portraying those conflicting times.

  3. Phyllis, I do hope your “picky” readers will enjoy the novel . . . and I appreciate your nice comments about Kal Eyes. I’ll be posting more about summer reading–and also have some contests–later in the month thru the summer season.

    Rosie, you too! I guess current times have their own kind of conflicts, but it does seem like the Sixties launched many of the macro changes we’re still benefitting from (yes, I ended that sentence w/ a preposition!) Hope to see you in Ches. Co sometime . . .

    Happy summer to you both!

  4. I’d love to win a book basket! We’ve just moved to northern VA, so I’m looking forward to re-discovering DC and I’ll look for some of Horace Pippins’s paintings–it’s such a lovely book, and it’s garnering well-deserved accolades! I also really liked Kaleidoscope Eyes. I’m already a newsletter subscriber.


  5. Thanks for subscribing and also for commenting . . . you’re “in the hat” now for those baskets! We lived in No. VA many years ago, and as you can see from my post above this one, we return periodically to the DC area. You can find Pippin’s work at the Smithsonian Museums: Hirshhorn and Museum of American Art. Also at the Phillips Collection downtown. Since exhibits rotate each season, it’s usually best to call first to any of these museums to see if they’re actually on view. Please share your photos/ visit details with us when you go!


Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: