Can I Just Read Now?

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Check Out These 5 Jigsaw Jones Books . . . Coming August 8th!

Look what came in the mail yesterday . . .

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I’m happy to announce that on August 8th these five Jigsaw Jones books will be available in stores for the first time in years. Published by Feiwel & Friends at Macmillan.

Leading off, The Case from Outer Space: A brand-new, never-before-published story for a new generation of young readers. Librarians please note that it’s also available in hardcover, a first for Jigsaw.

Plus these four classroom classics that have been previously unavailable, newly revised and updated:

 

The Case of the Glow-in-the-Dark Ghost

The Case of the Mummy Mystery

The Case of the Bicycle Bandit

The Case of the Smelly Sneaker

 

Coming in November . . .

 

The Case of the Million-Dollar Mystery

The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur

The Case of the Best Pet Ever

The Case of the Buried Treasure

Lastly, older readers (grades 4-7) might be excited about my upcoming hardcover book due out in October, a zombie-goes-to-middle-school story titled Better Off Undead (Macmillan, 275 pages, October 2017). Talk about misfits. Adrian Lazarus is the ultimate outsider. But slowly Adrian makes a small but fascinating group of friends: the bee-obsessed Zander Donnelly; the seventh-grade sleuth, Talal Mirwani; and the mysterious Gia Demeter, who just might be able to see into the future. After they discover that someone has been spying on Adrian with a birdlike drone, the mystery deepens. The clues led Adrian to two powerful corporate mogals . . . and a thrilling conclusion.

 

Housekeeping: Summer Hours, Book News, and So It Goes

Believe it or not, I’ve been keeping up with this blog for more than 9 years. The world has moved on to Instagram and Twitter and Podcasts, and yet I remain, still comfortable with this outdated form at a time when fewer and fewer people seem to want to read much of anything, especially blogs.

We’re in deep summer now, when readership of my blog hits an annual lull. Things are going to be quiet here for the next 6-8 weeks, and will pick up again when schools get back into session. Heaven knows that Staples is already gearing up new commercials urging us to get out and purchase our school supplies. Do you not have your notebooks yet? New crayons? Kleenex boxes?

But let’s resist that for now and just quietly work on our tans. Shall we?

In terms of news, Booklist offered up a review of the new Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, coming out this August. It’s so tepid I don’t know why they bothered. Oh well. I did get a kick out of this line:

“The story rambles a bit in a completely amiable manner . . . .”

Guilty as charged!

 

Up in the treehouse with Danika, Mila, Jigsaw, and Joey. Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE.

Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE.

Here’s the full review, which did nothing to cheer my soul:

Junior detectives Jigsaw Jones and his friend Mila take on a new case after two classmates discover space- alien-related clues in their neighbor’s Little Free Library. When their teacher starts dropping hints about a “special visitor from far, far away,” the stage is set for the big reveal at the book’s end. The story rambles a bit in a completely amiable manner, but this isn’t the sort of mystery that readers are expected to solve by examining the clues and deducing the improbable but inevitable solution. Fortunately, it is the sort of mystery that will please Jigsaw Jones fans, who know they can count on the series for likable characters and a bit of a challenge here and there. For example, when Mila passes an encoded note to Jigsaw, he explains the substitution cipher she used, and then lets readers decode it on their own. With short sentences, bits of humor, and engaging illustrations, the latest early chapter book in Preller’s long-running Jigsaw Jones Mystery series has plenty of appeal for young independent readers.

— Carolyn Phelan
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I am taking a break from my “5 Questions” interview series. Will likely continue come September. It’s hard to keep the energy up when there’s so little positive feedback. Writing into the void.
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Have a great 4th of July, everyone. This deeply troubled country was built upon a wonderful and worthwhile experiment of sound values. There is so much in our past of which we can be proud. There’s such a long way still to go, and it feels like we’ve lost our way. Let’s celebrate the America we dream of, the country we aspire to become. Light a sparkler for science, for the environment, for education, for justice, for tolerance, for decency, for love.
 
I still believe.
 
Happy 4th!

Memories of Growing Up: My Flat, Warm Soda

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I grew up in a household where my parents kept a supply of soda in a cupboard beneath the kitchen sink. I can picture a dozen cans or so — Coke, of course, but also RC and other cola varieties. On rare occasions, orange Fanta or Dr. Pepper. But usually it was Coke, never Pepsi, and it was always available for anyone with a thirst, though it was understood that we, the kids, shouldn’t go crazy over the stuff. It was a treat. Even in the 60s we understood that Coke wasn’t actually “it,” despite the advertising slogan. We knew soda wasn’t good for us — it would “rot your teeth” — though we hadn’t yet come to the place where we thought of soda and sugar as devil incarnates.
We had neighbors across the street, the Charles family who moved onto Adelphi Road in the early 70s with three boys: Jeffrey, David, and Eric. As I recall, and this seems astonishing to me now, they drank soda at the family dinner table. I was always a little awed by that. There were also wild rumors, recently substantiated, claiming the Charles boys were provided cans of Coke in their school lunchboxes. That was not the case in our house. We drank cow’s milk, purchased in school in those little cardboard containers that were so difficult to open. Sure, you pushed the cardboard back, carefully squeezed the edges, and the carton popped open to form a diamond-shaped spout for easy access. But other times the cardboard would get soggy and smushy and we’d require aid from a volunteer lunch monitor. Help us!
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Or, embarrassed and frustrated, we’d give up entirely, tossing the whole sorry mess into the trash can. By digressing thus, I mean only to point out by comparison that my family, the statistically average Prellers, were not an extreme soda house. We were — I thought then, and still think today — pretty normal. Well within range of standard suburban deviations. But how I marveled at the Charles’s. Soda at dinner. Imagine that.
 
So, yes, cans of soda were always available at 1720 Adelphi Road when I was kid, kept under the sink alongside the standard cleaning fluids, the scrub brushes and the Spic and Span, Mr. Clean and the spare rolls of Brawny and everything else. Our soda, warmly waiting. We didn’t keep it refrigerated. Perhaps that was a function of available space. Seven children and one refrigerator, maybe there wasn’t room. But years later, half a century later, when my parents rattled around in a big house in Southampton — “Near the dump,” my mother often pointed out, just so you didn’t get the idea that the Prellers were getting fancy — they still kept their soda in a side cupboard. Old habits. If you wanted your soda cold, and of course you did, you added ice.
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By the Southampton days, a late-80s, post-retirement home built after all seven kids had finished school, my parents enjoyed the happy convenience of an ice maker. The periodic muffled clunk of freshly frozen cubes crashing into the ice container like so many fallen soldiers. Our freezer at work, forming a steady supply for our liquid-filled pleasures. Whereas ice in my younger days was a challenge. Even a few cubes required effort. We wrestled with metal ice trays, frozen and sticky to the touch, loudly banged them on counter tops, muttered and fumed. We yanked up the metal lever to crack the frozen ice and loosen the cubes from their metallic walls. The process never work perfectly, some cubes would fail to free themselves, stuck, unyielding. Others shattered and chipped, a different sort of defeat. We sought perfect cubes, not the chips and slivers and broken bits which melted too quickly. We learned the trick of running warm water over the tray to loosen the cubes. Then it was time for the refilling of the tray with tap water, the careful steady insertion back into the freezer. It would become ice tomorrow. The circle of life. When events ran properly, no sudden cocktail parties or makeshift lemonade stands, we enjoyed an efficient circulation of trays in various stages of newly filled, to “getting there,” to frozen solid.
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Maybe because of all this effort, the pure hassle of it, I preferred my soda warm. And flat. Hot and syrupy and without bubbles. So I developed a strategy. This secret, unspoken thing I did. At a very young age, a time when I still liked crawling under things and into dark places, I would slyly remove a can of soda from the kitchen and take it under a corner desk in what we called the “play room.” I would open the can — was it a pop-up ring? or a feat accomplished with a can opener?, I can’t recall —  and hide the soda on a back shelf. A day would go by, or a week, and I’d return to my flat, hot soda in the secret dark. So good, such a private pleasure, sweetly delicious. Nobody knew.
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That was my soda world in late 1960s America. Each year when I look up anew, that world seems farther and farther away.

Father’s Day Tribute: Dad Used to Cover the Lawn with Horse Manure & Other Atrocities

 

NOTE: I first posted this on my blog back in 2011. Figured it was worth bringing back today, as we warm up for the weekend ahead.

Dad was the father of seven children, a veteran of World War II who served in the Pacific. After the war, he graduated from Boston University in two and half years, because why in the world would anybody want to waste another minute in school. There was a life to be lived, a brass ring to grab, things to do. Let’s get on with it.

It was a different time, a different generation.

Dad settled with my mother on Long Island, became an insurance man, started having kids rapid fire in the Catholic fashion, built a business. I was the youngest in the family, the baby. On rare weekend days I’d tag along when my father needed to pop into his rented office on Wantagh Avenue for an hour or two. We never specialized in father-and-son type stuff, whatever that was, and I’m sure the word bonding did not apply to relationships back in those days, only glue, but I do recall those trips to his office. Dad’s place of business offered that most wondrous of commodities, office supplies — electric typewriters, staplers, a copier, boxes of paper clips and, best of all, tracing paper.

I marveled at its magical properties. Dad didn’t part with his supply easily, that stuff cost money, so I was thrilled and grateful whenever he brought a stack home. Those are nice memories for me, a lifetime away. I sometimes wonder: Whatever happened to that kid? That boy with the tracing paper? Where’d he go?

From around that time, somewhere in the mid 60’s, another day presses forward for attention. One spring morning we set off together — in the hazy gauze of remembrance, just me and dad — to a farm somewhere. Because dad knew a guy, a customer who had a stable and a few horses. He possessed, in others words, shit to spare. And the price was right.

I must have  been about five or six years old at the time, no older. We got to the farm, out east on Long Island probably, and I stood around while my father chatted with the owner of the place. Maybe I looked into the stable, fearfully eyed the horses. Did I want to feed one of them an apple? No, I did not. I was shy, watchful and quiet. Eventually my dad keyed open the car truck, borrowed a shovel, and filled it to the brim with horse manure. I stood by, mystified, awestruck. Trunk full, steam rising, we headed back home, where I watched my father spread the still semi-moist shit around the front lawn. It was good for the grass, he explained. Nature’s fertilizer.

My older brothers and sisters recall those times with profound mortification. Imagine the embarrassment they felt, the acute stabbing horror, especially those of a certain age, when the opinion of one’s peers meant only everything. I can’t say this plainly enough: My brothers hated it when dad spread horse shit on the front lawn — even worse, on hot days it smelled like holy hell, the stink filling your nostrils — and yet my father performed the same ritual every year.

And here’s the thing about my dad, really the essential memory of him. He didn’t care. Alan J. Preller simply did not give a hoot what anybody thought. He never did. He embarrassed us, he ticked off people, annoyed relatives, said what he thought and did what he did. Dad lived on his own terms, remarkably indifferent to opinion. And if that made him impossible at times, well, so be it. He wasn’t trying to please anybody.

My father passed away a few years back, coincidentally enough while spreading fertilizer out on the front lawn in Southampton, where he retired. He had moved beyond horse manure by then, thank God, nowadays they’d hang you in Southampton for that, but there was still no way he was going to push around one of those crummy lawn spreaders. No, dad preferred a Maxwell House coffee can, dipping it into a big bag of fertilizer, sprinkling it imprecisely across the yard with a grand sweep of his arm. And to be honest, it’s more fun that way. Believe me, I know.

There he was out on the lawn, doing what he always did, and that’s when his heart gave out, when he fell, when my father left us.

These days, when I’m particularly infuriating — insensitive, implacable, impossible — my exasperated wife, Lisa, will proclaim that I’m becoming just like my father.  I won’t listen to anyone, I’ll just do whatever I want. And as I age, it only gets worse. That’s her complaint. The funny thing is, I always hear it as a compliment.

Happy Father’s Day, folks. A good day to pull some weeds, mow the lawn, tend the garden and then, like my father often did, wander into the kitchen, reach into the bottom cabinet where he kept the bottle of Dewar’s, and announce, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Here’s to you, old man. Cheers and memories.

Miss you!