My Favorite Illustration from “Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar”

 

I’ve written a lot of Jigsaw Jones books over the years. Some are, of course, better than others, though I hope there’s a good baseline of quality to all of them. The books that please me most tend to have heart, emotion, a moment that tugs at your sleeves. I don’t always pull that off, and can’t force it, but I do incline in that direction as a writer.

Maybe that’s why this is my favorite illustration in the new Jigsaw Jones book (which has been picked up by Scholastic Book Clubs). For here is the terrible moment when Jigsaw Jones figures out the mystery, and a trust is broken, and his heart splinters a little bit. Beautifully illustrated by R.W. Alley in the newest book in the series, The Case of the Cat Burglar.

You can order it now. Visit your independent bookstore. Or whatever!

In other news, there are now 14 titles — new or newly revised — available from Macmillan where fine books are sold. I just received word that the audio rights have been sold for all 14 books. No idea what they are going to do or when they are going to do it, but it’s exciting to think of these books in that format.

Back to that illustration. Check out Rags. It’s a little trick illustrators often use, the reaction shot from a pet or a mouse or some other animal. Often that’s how they inject humor into the illustration, or just liven up the dynamic. In this one, I think Rags just underscores the sadness of his sweet boy.

Release the Hounds!

 

Oh happiness. It’s publication day for Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar, illustrated by R.W. Alley. A book dedicated to the memory of a local elementary teacher, Chris Porter, gone too soon. Chris was a supporter, a reader, a book lover, one of my peeps. I sat in to observe in her classroom many times, just an insightful, caring, highly skilled teacher. So I’m especially glad to see this little book go out into the world. In addition, four more Jigsaw Jones titles have been revised and updated and are now back in print: The Case of the Bear Scare, Vanishing Painting, Haunted Scarecrow, and Golden Key. You need to buy every single one.

So, like, what are you waiting for?

 

Dreams, rejections, good news from the Junior Library Guild, etc.

I’ve got a picture book manuscript making the rounds with publishers these days. I teamed up with illustrator Jennifer Sattler, who lives not far in Saratoga. She’s incredible.

          

(And, clearly, she’s slumming).

It was nice to collaborate for a change. The process was refreshing, open-hearted and often hilarious — together we came away convinced that this was a good story, a meaningful story, borderline brilliant, and we were confident that it would find a publisher. Maybe a few.

That hasn’t quite happened yet. We are told that summertime is slow. Nonetheless we still received a few rapid rejections, like machine gun fire. But this time we had each other, which was new for me in this mostly solitary business.

Here’s the thing. Despite all the best advice, my usual reaction to rejection is to . . . believe it. I get defeated and figure they are probably right. And it changes the way I view the manuscript, and my own worth. I guess I do suck.

WARNING: Don’t try this at home, people!

I mean to say: That’s not a pro tip. The smart money tells us to believe, believe, believe. To hang in there, pull up our socks, keep plugging away, have faith, blah blah blabbity blah.

After one disappointing rejection, I texted Jen: “This stupid business is going to break my heart.

She texted me back: “It’s okay. Someone will get it, it’s a great story.”

Nice, right? Just what I needed to hear. I even kind of believed her for an entire afternoon.

Last week, while out on the Cape, dodging tornadoes and sharks, I awoke to the memory of an anxiety dream. An editor replied that our book was either the best thing she’s ever read or the worst, she couldn’t be sure, and for that reason was sorry to reject my submission.

Ha, ha, ha. It felt then, and still feels now, about right. 

I’ve never had great success with picture books. I’ve had seven published over the years. I’ve discovered that a typical reply from a picture book editor is that the story didn’t knock her socks off. Imagine how that feels to the writer. It’s a fair desire, I suppose — kablooey, socks blown off feet — but such an elusive, arbitrary goal to achieve. How does one knock someone else’s socks off, especially if she is wearing shoes? Simply write something amazing, I suppose.

I guess that’s the business. As we say in children’s publishing, it’s a bunny eat bunny world.

That same morning, I opened an email and learned that my upcoming novel, Blood Mountain (Macmillan, October 10), was just named a Junior Library Guild selection. It’s a huge honor and an encouraging sign at a time when the book has not yet been reviewed (October pub date). A bellwether of future success! That’s the third novel of mine that has earned such a nod from the folks at the Junior Library Guild, including Bystander and The Courage Test. I’m extremely grateful to them for shining the spotlight. Books tend to get lost in the flood.

So there we have it: Despair and small triumph before I have my second cup of coffee. What a business. 

And, oh yes, I have a new book out today. It’s pub day for Bee the Change (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the third book in the “Big Idea Gang” trilogy. 

I ain’t dead yet. 

Be the Change: An Author Reflects on a Career in Books

“These books are my attempt to brainwash young readers

into believing

they can make the world a kinder, smarter,

more compassionate place.”

 

This week we’ll see the publication of the 3rd book in “The Big Idea Gang” trilogy, Bee the Change. I thought I’d write a little bit about this series before turning the page, moving on to the next small thing.

At its core, these books are my attempt to brainwash young readers into believing that they can make the world a better place. If I can inspire a little bit of that, amen. 

Because that’s where my hope resides these days. I realize it’s a little pathetic, for here I am, a 58-year-old man looking to 9-year-olds for strength and wisdom and salvation. Sorry, guys, but I believe the adults in your world have let you down. We’re not going to dig you out of this mess.

The books intentionally focus on kindness and cooperation, on compassion and friendship, on seeing the world at an extremely local level and wanting to make it better. No, not wanting. On working together to make a difference.

Each book features a minor focus on persuasive writing, and includes tips in the back matter. On how to make a compelling statement, to support that statement with facts, to build a strong argument for your case. We see these characters earn a new mascot in their school, install two buddy benches in their playground, and help create a “bee friendly” garden at school. 

Quick story: My daughter is working as a nanny this summer for a local family. Three kids, five dogs. One boy couldn’t believe that the “famous author” James Preller was her father. He figured that I lived in a mansion somewhere. Ah, ha, ha, ha. Good one!

In my career, which began in children’s publishing in 1985, there’s usually a lot of silence out there. Sales that don’t often amount to much, titles that go out of print — the waves my work makes never go much beyond a ripple. Oh well. I don’t control what happens after I write the book. I try to let it go. Be sanguine about things. Though, yes, there’s a lot of disappointment. But I am truly grateful that, so far, I’ve had the opportunity to put these stories out into the world. If the world shrugs, if I’m not an “it” author of this or any moment, I can only do what I’ve always done. 

Write stories the best I can. Visit schools when I’m lucky enough to be invited. Keep on keeping on. 

After Bee the Change in late July, the next Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar, comes out a week later (Macmillan, August 6th). In late October, my middle-grade adventure novel, Blood Mountain, comes out. Next Spring, finally, we’ll see the publication of All Welcome Here, a picture book of haiku illustrated by Mary GrandPre; it quietly celebrates the openness and acceptance of our public school teachers and classrooms.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

 

              

     

      

Summer Hours, School Visits, Free Books

I blinked and July appeared. No, that is not my new secret power. My blinking didn’t cause the calendar to turn. I was more trying to make a point about . . .

Nevermind.

Let’s try this: Whoa, July already!

Over the years, I’ve learned that readership slows during the summer months. In response, I don’t put up as much new content. Think of me as a turtle overwintering in the mud — but it’s summer, and it’s a blog, and there’s really no connection whatsoever.

I mean to say, it’ll be quiet around here, but not silent.

SCHOOL VISITS

Yes, please! Send your queries to me at jamespreller@aol.com. School visits are an important aspect of what I do, the role I play on this planet, and they mean the world to me.

For more information, click on the “School Visits” toward the top of your screen. Or just write to me to get the ball rolling. It’s friendly and personal and you will be dealing directly with me. I’m not a huge consortium of anything. Just Jimmy, trying to earn a living. Happy to speak on the phone.

BOOKS

I have two books coming out this summer. In fact, just got my complimentary author’s supply in the mail, a big box of The Big Idea Gang: Bee the Change.

I like this series a lot, and I’ve been grateful for the positive reviews.

To me, these are political books that came directly out of our current reality. These are simple stories about empowerment, about young people making a difference in our world. And by featuring persuasive writing as a subtext, the books help provide some of the tools that are necessary for changing minds, for becoming powerful instruments of positive change. Hopefully they will be inspiring to a new generation of budding activists. Check them out.

Or, hey: If you are a classroom teacher or school librarian interested in sharing these books with your students, drop me a line at jamespreller@aol.com. Make the subject heading: FREE BOOK. I’ll sign it and send it out to you while supplies last. 

On August 6th, we’ll see the publication of an all-new Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar. I’m so happy with this book. I had written 40 books about Jigsaw and Mila, and then there was a long fallow period when I was off writing other things (Six Innings, Bystander, The Courage Test, Better Off Undead, etc). I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to visit those characters again. But things changed, opportunity knocked, and I was able to write a new Jigsaw Jones book after about ten years away. Thing is, I believe I’m a better writer today than I was 22 years ago when I wrote the first book in the series.

Thank you, faithful readers, so grateful you stopped by. Have a great summer — and please think of me for school visits. It’s one of my favorite things in the world to do.