Apr 24

JETAA Chicago Newsletter article on James Kennedy

Finally got a hold of this nice article from the Spring 2009 Issue of the JETAA Chicago Newsletter about Jamese Kennedy (Nara-ken, 2004-06) written by JETAA Chicago Newsletter Editor Elizabeth Friedman (Shimane-ken, 2003-04).

Local Chicago JET Alum Spotlight: James Kennedy

James Kennedy (Nara-ken, 2004-2006), a Chicago resident, is the author of The Order of Odd Fish, a  2008 Smithsonian Notable book for children. I recently attended a reading he did of the book at the Evanston Public Library’s Fantasy Festival. Children and adults alike giggled as James bounced around the room while emulating his various characters’ voices and mannerisms. James mentioned he has taken improvisational theater classes in Chicago, which was evident in his ability to keep the group entertained and engrossed in the fantastical story. James also talked about how his improv classes were beneficial in getting him through the JET program interview; he had no problem acting out a sample English lesson on the spot in front of strangers.

In “The Order of Odd Fish,” James’ language often soars to dizzying heights, built upon his silliness and brilliant sense of humor.  Each sentence seems to compete with the next to be the most surreal and outrageous piece of writing possible. The book’s dust jacket states that “The Order of Odd Fish” is “equal parts Monty Python and Roald Dahl ….” and I think that comparison is spot on. “The Order of Odd Fish” brought back fond childhood memories of reading “The Witches” and listening to the silly banter of Monty Python.

The main character of the novel, Jo, enters a strange land full of outlandish customs and rituals that she does not quite understand. Over time, Jo becomes comfortable with her position as a squire of the Order of Odd Fish and feels at home in Eldritch City, which is full of things like giant cockroach butlers and creeping foliage – things that used to seem very alien to her.

Sound familiar? Except for the giant cockroach butler part, one can compare this to the JET experience. I spoke with James after the reading, and he talked of how his observance and participation in various rituals and festivals in Japan influenced his writing of Jo’s experiences in Eldritch City. James is a talented writer, and it’s fun to talk to him. We spoke of our mutual experiences living in Japan, as well as growing up in the Detroit suburbs.

James Kennedy mentioned that he is planning on writing a sequel of “The Order of Odd Fish.” I hope he does because I found the book to be such an enjoyable read.

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