Matter of Art

Text by Deborah Worchel. Photo by Briana Duffy

We all have stories to share about our first visit to Ocean City, and it comes as no surprise that children’s author John Leone’s tale is just like his books: humorous, suspenseful and told with enthusiasm. 

It was the mid-sixties and John, a Bellmawr native, had only ever been to beach towns further north.

“I was a little surprised when my high school Spanish teacher said to my buddy and me ‘Why don’t you guys take a little trip down to Ocean City?,’” said John.

Apparently, the summer gig for their Spanish teacher was working at Del’s on the Boardwalk. The curious pair of teenagers had one problem. They did not have a car. But times were different then, and they managed to hitch a ride to Ocean City. John still remembers the taste of the burger he had at Del’s, the sound of the waves coming up under the boardwalk and the rest, as they say, is history. John has returned to Ocean City every summer since and more recently, has begun writing and self-publishing children’s books in order to share his love of the beach and Ocean City with a whole new generation of beach goers.
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John’s latest series of books, The Sharklock Bones Beach Towns Series, feature some regular characters, Sharklock Bones, Data Dolphin, and Dr. Flotsam, as well as some guest characters like Marlin Monroe, Dr. Devious Dolphin, and musical guests The Beagles and The Whoo. As you might have guessed, his books are full of word play to keep older children and parents laughing. “(My goal is) to write children’s books for the whole family,” said John.

Much of the word play and humor he puts into his stories is designed to keep parents and grandparents chuckling at the references to pop culture icons from their own childhoods. All of his Sharklock Bones and Beach Town Series are written in a screenplay format, because John believes this encourages children and parents to take turns reading. Different family members can each read a character so the entire family can share a reading experience and all the laughs that go along with it.

John recalls that he was originally inspired to begin writing children’s books after an outing with his family to a Madrigal Dinner.

“(A Jester came out) flip flopping like a fish and making terrible puns about fish,” John said. “I thought I could do better than that.”

And shortly after, he began work on his first Sharklock Bones book, Sharklock Bones: Fish Tales. His original plan was simply to print out his “book” and give it to his grandson (whom he had recently taken on an outing to the Camden Aquarium) as a Christmas gift. He encountered printer problems at home, so he printed the text out at work. His boss, who knew John was close to retirement, asked, “Is this what you are going to do in retirement? Write books?” When his grandson opened his gift at Christmas and John’s granddaughter immediately asked “Where’s my book?” John knew that his next career would be writing.

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Because he prefers to write and publish at his own pace, John self-publishes his books. Sometimes a story idea is inspired by a single photograph or real life image he encounters, and other times it develops from a variety of sources. Either way, John explains, “I get the story in my head first and then I put it down on paper. I like the option for speed with self-publishing. I published four books within the last few months so I may just take the summer off.” He smiles, pauses for a moment and then laughs, adding “But probably not!”

The Beach Town Series currently includes four books, two of which are set in Ocean City. The books in this series feature actual photographs of familiar landmarks in the towns in which they are set. John notes, “People go on vacation and the have their regular haunts and stay within an area of just a couple blocks and never break out of that. I hope my books can give people new ideas of places to see while on vacation.” Indeed, the second book in this series, “Ocean City Tales” features a variety of familiar Ocean City landmarks, including things as diverse as the model of The Sindia in the Historical Museum, the lobby of The Flanders, and the Congo Falls mini-golf course. Families with young children could certainly spend a day seeing if their children could “spot” the real life version of the photos during a parent led tour.

Book number four in the series, “Return to Ocean City Tales,” centers around a mystery unraveling at the Ocean City Music Pier and includes pictures from the City’s well known “Doo-Dah Parade.” In a nostalgic nod to John’s own history with Ocean City, the book concludes with a beautiful photograph of the Boardwalk, showing Del’s to the left and the music pier in the distance with an amazing double rainbow touching down behind it. Perhaps Sharklock Bones speaks for all of us when he says to Marlin Monroe, “Ocean City is a nice romantic city. I know you’ll like it here. A lot to see and do for the whole family. Let’s stroll along the Boardwalk.”

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