HomeBooks by AgeAges 9-12Creating Settings: Bringing the Sounds, Sights and Smells Home
Jack at the Helm (2)

Creating Settings: Bringing the Sounds, Sights and Smells Home

Lisa Doan | The Children’s Book Review | March 6, 2015

Jack at the Helm (2)When I began writing The Berenson Schemes, a middle grade series in which responsible Jack Berenson is repeatedly lost in the wilderness of foreign countries by his globe-trotting parents, I gave some careful thought to creating the settings. The books take place in the Caribbean, Kenya and Nepal—places I have spent significant time in. Places I love and wanted to bring to life.

In Jack the Castaway, Jack learns how to use a mask and snorkel and he sees what I saw through my own mask while teaching scuba. The sea grass with its tiny crabs hiding from predators, the poppy red and lilac sponges, the schools of Blue Tang gliding by his mask, an octopus folded in on itself in a crevice. He tastes the bubble-gum sweetness of banana soda, and smells the wood smoke of burning mosquito coils.

When I took Jack to Kenya for Jack and the Wildlife, he smells roasting meat and corn-on-the-cob smoking on braziers on the streets of Nairobi, watches steam rise from the ground on the Masai Mara after a rain, watches the sun slide down the sky unnaturally fast—as sunsets do so close to the equator—and hears the spooky sounds of the nighttime savannah.

In Jack at the Helm, Jack is dropped into the chaos of Kathmandu—narrow cobblestone streets, choked with motorcycles and rickshaws, that snake through tightly-packed shops filled with tourist gear. He smells the incense hanging in the air like a national perfume and careens down the narrow highway to Pokhara, whooshing by lone buildings painted with their requisite red and white Coca-Cola signs. He hears the rushing of the clean blue water of a river fed by mountains.

The Berenson Schemes are a madcap adventure series with a healthy dose of humor. Their purpose is to entertain. But I also hope they are a spark. I hope that because I spent time in these far-off places, and brought the sights and sounds and smells home with me, some young would-be traveler thinks, “Someday, I’ll go there, too.”

About the Author
Lisa Doan

Lisa Doan

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.

Jack the CastawayJack the Castaway

By Lisa Doan

Publisher’s Synopsis: Jack’s parents have been chased out of Tokyo, gone broke in Greece, and hosted Nairobi’s least successful safari. Next they’re taking Jack to the Caribbean, whether Jack wants to go or not. The Berensons have devised their latest get-rich-quick scheme – a new sport called ‘drift-snorkeling.’ With these experienced world travelers at the helm, what could go wrong?

Jack’s used to staying indoors and not taking chances. When his parents take him out on the water, he ends up shipwrecked. Now Jack has to survive on a tropical island…and avoid a whale shark that’s cruising along his beach.

Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Darby Creek Publishing | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1467724753

Jack and the Wildlife (2)Jack and the Wildlife

By Lisa Doan

Publisher’s Synopsis: After a wild plan by his parents left Jack stranded in the Caribbean, the Berenson family decided to lay out some rules. Jack’s mom and dad agreed they wouldn’t take so many risks. Jack agreed he’d try to live life without worrying quite so much. Then Jack’s parents thought up another get-rich-quick scheme.

Now the family’s driving around Kenya. An animal attack is about to send Jack up a tree—alone, with limited supplies. As Jack attempts to outsmart a ferocious honey badger and keep away from an angry elephant, he’ll have plenty of time to wonder if the Berenson Family Decision-Making Rules did enough to keep him out of trouble.

Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Darby Creek Publishing | 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1467710770

 Jack at the Helm (2)Jack at the Helm

By Lisa Doan

Publisher’s Synopsis: Jack’s parents have bought a farmhouse in Nepal. It’ll be the site of a new religion–their latest get-rich-quick scheme. Sure, the Berensons don’t know quite how to get to the place. But once they arrive, their plan is sure to work. When the Berenson family’s travels leave Jack lost in the wilderness of Nepal, a patched-up old raft is the only way to track down his mom and dad. At least this time, Jack has company. He’s riding with Harry from Connecticut, a traveling dude who has been trying to find himself–and who also wound up stranded. As Jack and Harry ride down a winding river, they’ll have to watch out for rocks, rapids, and even crocodiles!

Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Darby Creek Publishing | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1467710787

Follow along on Lisa Doan’s blog tour!
Mon, Mar 2
Just a Little Creativity
Tues, Mar 3
The OWL for YA
Wed, Mar 4
Once Upon a Story
Thurs, Mar 5
Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Mar 6
Children’s Book Review
Mon, Mar 9
The Compulsive Reader
Tues, Mar 10
Books Unbound
Wed, Mar 11
Geo Librarian
Thurs, Mar 12
The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
Fri, Mar 13
The Hiding Spot

The Berenson Schemes Series, by Lisa Doan - Book Series Giveaway

One lucky winner will win all three Berenson Schemes books: JACK THE CASTAWAY, JACK AND THE WILDLIFE, and the newest release, JACK AT THE HELM. (U.S. addresses only.) Giveaway ends April 5, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST. Enter to win.

Discover more middle grade books like The Berenson Schemes, by Lisa Doan, by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with  Middle Grade Books and be sure to follow along with our Writing Resources category for more articles on topics like creating settings.

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  • Thanks Bianca and The Children’s book Review for allowing me to stop by!

    March 6, 2015
  • The Berenson Series sound great. As a librarian I will definitely be looking at them for our school library. Are you going to bring them out as audio books? Only reason I ask is that we have a special education officer who is looking for audio books for sight impaired 13 yr old boy & I felt these stories would be ideal. Thank you.

    March 12, 2015
    • We’re glad you like the series! As for audiobooks, we usually don’t create them for our titles. We do have iBook and Audisee titles available here, though we aren’t planning any for The Berenson Schemes as of now: https://www.lernerbooks.com/Pages/lerner-digital.aspx

      Thanks again for your interest!

      March 13, 2015
    • Hi Jo – I’m sorry, the books are not on audio. However, if you are having trouble finding appropriate audio books for this young man, and do really feel this series would be right for him, I’d be happy to do a chapter by chapter on a voice memo app. It wouldn’t be pretty as far as sound quality goes as it would not be professionally recorded, it would be just me reading it, but I would give it a shot if you want.

      March 13, 2015

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