Happy National New Jersey Day! This national holiday recognizes New Jersey as the third state to enter the Union back in the 1700s. (December 18, 1787, to be exact!)
Although many like to make New Jersey the punchline of their jokes, lots of AMAZING things have come out of the Garden State, including but not limited to:
- Meryl Streep (She was born in Summit.)
- The Statue of Liberty (It's technically in New Jersey waters!)
- Bruce Springsteen (He's the Boss.)
- Salt water taffy (The tasty treat was originally created in Atlantic City in the 1880s!)
- The Jersey Shore (Not the TV show, but the 141 miles of beautiful coast lined with lighthouses, boardwalks, and more!)
- Danny DeVito (He's from Neptune Township.)
- The best 24-7 diners you'll ever find, which leads me to...
- Pork roll (or Taylor Ham, depending on where in the state you reside), a thinly sliced, salted meat frequenly layered between a roll, egg, and cheese
- Baseball & college football (The first baseball game was played in Hoboken on June 19, 1846, and the first college football game was Rutgers vs. Princeton on November 6, 1869. Rutgers won!)
- Speaking of Hoboken, we can't forget Frank Sinatra!
And now, I'd like to add one more person to this list: Princess Kiranmala, Daughter of the Moon Maiden and the Serpent King... who lives in Parsippany, New Jersey.
Spoilers ahead for The Serpent's Secret!
The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta is a new middle-grade fantasy novel about a 12-year-old Indian girl named Kiranmala (who goes by Kiran for short). Kiran and her parents live in Parsippany, New Jersey. On her twelfth birthday, Kiran comes home from school to find her parents gone and a bloodthristy rakkhosh demon trying to break in and eat her. She's saved by two princes from another dimension – Lalkamal and Neelkamal – who inform her that all those times her parents said that she was a princess of a serpent king, found as a baby in a clay pot floating down the River of Dreams? That wasn't just a made-up story... it was totally true.
I loved reading The Serpent's Secret. Not only is it filled with thrilling moments of adventure and chin-scratching puzzles (there are literally so many rhymes and riddles the characters have to solve!), but it's also funny... especially if you're familiar with New Jersey!
Kiran is an awkward pre-teen trying to navigate school and home. But she's also a Jersey girl! She knows that a traffic accident on the New Jersey Turnpike (one of two major highways that goes down and across the state) can totally mess up your commute, and she often hangs out with her best friend, Zuzu, at Zuzu's family's diner. (A local diner is often the perfect hangout spot for Jersey teens, especially if it's open 24-7.)
The book is littered with New Jersey references. Here are my favorites:
When Kiran asks the talking bird Tuntuni for directions:
"What, d'ya want me to draw you a map?" the bird snapped, spitting a few more seeds before it flew away. "This ain't Joisey, Princess, fuggedaboutit."
(People not from Jersey often pronounce it Joisey when referencing our accent, and fuggedaboutit is shorthand for "forget about it," spoken with that same regional accent. Also I can't help but recognize this very Jersey attitude Tuntuni briefly displays here.)
Kiran yelling at her parents:
"In the name of the Garden State Parkway, how many times do I have to tell you guys?" I jogged down the front steps. "For the last time already, I am not a princess!"
(The Garden State Parkway is the other major highway in the state, which begins north, at the border of New York, and goes all the way down to the tip of the shore in Cape May. When you hear people say they're heading "down the shore"? They'll be taking the Parkway.)
On maps & Jersey City:
A map that keeps up with moving land masses drawn with invisible fish juice. It certainly wasn't the strangest thing I had heard of so far. Of course, it wasn't exactly the kind of atlas we sold in our convenience store—the most exotic things on those were like, the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike. (Though I used to think the Holland Tunnel sounded super exotic, like it was in Europe or something, but it's actually in Jersey City, New Jersey, which in case you haven't been, isn't really that exotic at all.)
(As a current resident of Jersey City, to that I say... hey now! Come visit us before you say that! But thinking of 12-year-old Gina, anything about North Jersey/the New York City-adjacent parts of the state were pretty mythical to me. Also, 33-year-old Gina was also impressed at the amount of times 12-year-old Kiran had already ridden the New York City subway.)
But it's when Kiran is taken to the Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers, her bold Jersey-ness shines though. Through tears, she still shoots her arrows at a demon. She climbs into a ominous cave even though she's scared, because she knows that it's the only way she can save her parents. She'll stomp on Prince Neel's foot to make him be quiet. (Think about it... this is someone she literally only met a day ago, who also happens to be royalty in a dimension she's a total outsider to... plus, he's cute!)
To sum it all up? Kiran may be a Serpent and Moon Princess, but she's also a total Jersey girl at heart. And while Jersey girls don't pump gas, they do slay rakkhosh.
Want to know more about The Serpent's Secret? Check out this epsiode of the Scholastic Reads podcast featuring the author, Sayantani DasGupta, and her daughter Sunaya, who is a Scholastic News Kids Press Corps reporter!