Wednesday, August 12, 2009

REVIEW: Kaleidoscope Eyes

Bryant, J.  (2009).  Kaleidoscope Eyes.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.


After her mother left, after several of her sister's friends came home in caskets from Vietnam, after her Gramps's heart gave out, Lyza discovers three maps left specifically to her by her Gramps with a letter calling her to adventure.  Through research, Lyza and her two best friends begin to connect the clues left by Gramps and embark on a search for lost pirate treasure that rest somewhere under their New Jersey town.

I think Kaleidoscope Eyes manages to capture the feel of the late 1960s well (I say this tentatively...since I wasn't alive then).  It includes a lot of aspects of the time, from the huge historic events to the small details, from the different ways of perceiving the supposed "true" government portrayal of the Vietnam War to feminism and race relations in New Jersey.

When I first read the description of Kaleidoscope Eyes as being a treasure hunt in poems, I expected it to be much more lighthearted than it is.  Instead, Lyza's runaway mom, her distant relationship with her sister, her best friend Malcolm's concerns over being bullied by whites and one of her best friend's brother being sent to Vietnam all give the beginning of the book a much more somber feel that the poetic form lends itself to.  It's only around page 70ish that I felt the sense of adventure and fun really begin to pick up.

This is a good, serious and relatively fast read that will hopefully help to bring some middle grade and young adult readers back to poetry.  And to pirates.  Arrrr!

Activities to Do with the Book:

Since this book is set in the late 1960s, and include a lot of the culture of that time (including references to the Vietnam War, hippy culture, feminist theory, Martin Luther King Jr., popular television shows, music, etc.) this book could certainly be a basis to build lessons and presentations about that time period.  

Another angle to present the text, would be as a more realistic exploration of piracy and its implications.  Students could research famous pirates (including Mary Read and Anne Bonny--Way to represent, ladies!) and try to determine their motives for becoming pirates as well as other aspects of their character.  Other research opportunities would include both successful and failed treasure hunts throughout history.

Following Lyza's example, students can research how aspects of their town or property have changed both physically and in terms of human use over several decades or centuries.  A teacher could turn this into a geography, engeneering or earth science lesson, depending on their and students' interests.

Beyond that, this book can be used to try to spark some interest in poetry with an age group that traditionally dismisses the form.

Quotes of Note:

"I wake up every morning
to Janis Joplin.

My sister, Denise, has a life-size poster of Janis--
mouth open in a scream around the microphone,
arms raised, hair frizzled out wildly,
an anguished, contorted look on her face--
thumbtacked right above her desk,
which is directly across the hall from my bed
and one hundred percent dead ahead
in my direct line of sight.
Janis is the first thing I see when I return from sleep
and reenter reality" (p. 3).

"It's been almost two years since that day,
when our family began to unravel
like a tightly wound ball of string
that some invisible tomcat
took to pawing and flicking across the floor,
pouncing upon it again and again,
so those strands just kept loosening
and breaking                  apart
until all we had left was a bunch of frayed, 
chewed-up bits
scattered all over the house" (p. 5).

"Some nights, before I go to sleep,
I look through the lens of the
one Mom gave me

for my tenth birthday, just to see how, when I
turn the tube slowly around,
every fractured pattern that bends and splits

into a million little pieces
always comes back together, to make a picture
more beautiful than the one before" (p. 9).

"They say we should grow "older and wiser"...
mostly I just feel old.  However, I do believe I've
learned on thing:  every life should have some
risk.  Among the hardships, disappointments, 
and losses, it's the adventure of it all that has
gotten me up each morning.  I know you and I
are alike in this way" (p. 37).

"Lyza, your gramps wasn't looking for
a house, he was looking for a treasure

that the most famous pirate ever
had lost and maybe never came back for" (p. 86).

"If we find an actual treasure, we might be rich forever.
And if we don't, at least we killed a few weeks of summer,
spent some time together, and kept ourselves from think-
ing about ninth grade, nuclear bombs, and Vietnam" (p. 132).

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