From Sketch to Final: Jigsaw Jones, Before and After

I love the journey from written word to sketch to final art. Here’s a quick glimpse at two examples from the upcoming Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar, illustrations by R. W. Alley — but you can call him Bob.



  

I wrote the first Jigsaw Jones book in 1997. Since that time the series has rolled along, gone painfully out of print, and then miraculously sprang to life again — like Lazarus and Beef Jerky and Toto’s “Africa.” Yesterday I received the Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) for the newest title, coming this summer, the 42nd Jigsaw overall. Creating a book is a lengthy process, and nothing makes it feel like a real book quite like the day when the ARCs arrive. Still excited, still think it’s the best one yet, but now feeling more grateful than ever. Thanks, all. Carry on! Cover art & interiors by the great Bob Alley.

I have a few spare ARCs in my possession. If you are a teacher or librarian who would like to share this “unfinished” book with young readers — they’d be the first students on the planet to read it — please send me a note with your address at jamespreller@aol.com. 

Daisy (2007-2018) and the Letter She Wrote as a Puppy to Obama

We feel it at the doorway, those occasions of coming and going. We arrive now and home has been transformed into something different — a less welcoming place. No one meets us in the hallway, front paws dancing. The house does not stir. She got old in a day, an instant, and was gone. Leaving the house also conveys her absence, our loss. No one anxiously watching as we assemble ourselves, coat and shoes and keys, hoping we’ll reach for the leash. Sorry, Daisy, we’d say, you stay and guard the house. Other times, it was let’s go for a ride –- and Daisy bouncing out the door for a walk amidst the trees, off leash. Our peaceful communion. These days we move in and out of the house like ghosts. Pale shadows, we come and go and it almost doesn’t matter anymore. We miss her so.


I am reminded of a letter that Daisy wrote, and I posted, years ago at a different time in America . . .

 

Dear President-Elect Obama:

It is with some difficulty that I type this, as I am a dog and not really a Mac person.

I’ll try to be brief. My name is Daisy. You probably receive thousands of letters each week from dignitaries, heads of state, and ordinary citizens. But, really, how many come from dogs?

Since you are likely curious, I’ll explain. I became a reader when I was a pup, confined to a small newspaper-covered quadrant of the kitchen. It was during this tense house-breaking period that I first sought solace in the written language of humans. Soon enough, I began to follow the Presidential election with great interest.

Hold on, I’ve got an itch behind my ear. Scritch-scratch, scratch scratch scratch SCRATCH, scratch scratch scratch, scratchy-scratch!

Ahhhh. Much better. I was recently chewing on a fuzzy, delicious tennis ball when I overheard a dinner conversation. I learned that your family will be getting a new dog when you enter the White House. I immediately went to the recycle bin to fetch the newspaper. I found the full text of your November 4 victory speech, and I quote:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Blah, blah, blah. I’m skimming, skimming . . . ah, here it is (!):

Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.

Clearly, this is the first true test of your administration. The eyes of the canine world are upon you. Don’t blow it on a lunatic Irish Setter or Pomeranian. Clearly, an Alaskan Husky is out (unless you want to be post-ironic, which I don’t think is the best way to kick off an administration — just my opinion).

You can imagine my thrill when I learned you are considering adopting a goldendoodle. As I am myself a goldendoodle — and proud of it! — I felt compelled to type this message. (And if somebody would ever trim my nails, it would be a lot easier!)

Speaking for my brothers and sisters everywhere, I urge you to go with the goldendoodle. We don’t shed. We are hypoallergenic. We are gentle with children. And we certainly don’t yap-yap-yap like some breeds (I blame Bush’s skittish Scottish terriers, Barney and the odiously named “Miss Beazley,” for much of went wrong the past eight years).

And, though I am loathe to sound egotistical, we are undeniably cute.

Photo: Diamonddoodles.com.

But, yes, your every decision will be scrutinized. So in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit this up front: We might not look so great when soaking wet. But then, who does? Joe Biden? I think not.

True, we have our critics. Some sneer and call us “designer dogs.” Some say we lack backbone. To which I respond: It’s true. In times of danger, I’ll flop on my back and submit. We’re like Gandhi in that respect. Besides, You don’t need a junk yard dog. You already have that scary Rahm Emanuel . .

. . . .and those creepy Secret Service guys.

Here comes the most sensitive issue of all. We are not quote/unquote “a recognized breed” by the (snooty, unpatriotic) American Kennel Club. Not a recognized breed?! Pause a moment and let that sink in. Does it resonate, just a little bit? Not a recognized breed. Yes, sadly, it’s true, even in today’s America, when we had thought we had come so far. But it represents a bold new opportunity for your presidency. For isn’t this in keeping with your call for change, for new ideas? Let’s turn away from the old way of doing things! I quote again from your acceptance speech:

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

Make a statement, President-elect Obama, Sir. You are the bright, shining symbol for the disenfranchised everywhere. Open your arms wide! Embrace us! Go with the goldendoodle. Recognize us as a breed. Let us lay down by your feet.

I’m begging you, as only a dog can beg: Throw us a bone here, will you?

Speaking for doodles everywhere, we will love your daughters with all our doggy hearts.

Yes! We! Can!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a tail to chase.

Faithfully yours,

Daisy

One Question, Five Authors #5: “How has your work been affected by today’s political climate?” 

Welcome to the fifth edition of the “One Question” series.

My thanks to the five respondents below: Tanya Lee Stone, Jennifer Sattler, Lesa Cline Ransome, Barbara Dee, and Travis Jonker. For your answers . . . and for your fine work.

This is an issue that fascinates me, since it’s been the crucible for so many of us these past few years: How do we proceed under these conditions? As citizens, as artists, as storytellers, how do we respond? Does the job description, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, change?

Note: If there’s a published author or illustrator who’d like to participate in this series, please feel free to email me at jamespreller@aol.com. I’m also on Facebook. There’s a link to the previous ones in the series in the right sidebar under “categories.”

 

Tanya Lee Stone

For the past ten years, my work has focused on filling in some of the gaps in our histories; namely, true stories about women and people of color. Those stories have always been important, but perhaps now more than ever it is essential that they are more widely spread and that readers understand that we are all connected — in our pain and in our triumphs.

In Girl Rising, for example, which deals with the fact that 130 million girls globally are not being educated, I hope I have made it difficult for readers to ignore the fact that these are not “other” girls in “other” places — they are kids just like them — with similar hopes and dreams. And with this awareness of connectedness, I hope, comes increased activism. To that end, I structured the third part of the book around guiding readers toward activism without becoming too daunted by such large issues of slavery, early child marriage, and lack of access to education.

Lesa Cline-Ransome 

I have always enjoyed writing books that celebrate history, culture, heroic figures and the power of perseverance. When I began writing nearly twenty-five years ago, I was interested in finding the untold stories of everyday heroes—Satchel Paige, Marshall Taylor, and Pele, who rose above obstacles. Later I wrote about historic figures like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, who had endured their share and more of injustices and hardships. My hope was that all children who read of these struggles would begin to understand how the pains of our past were met with fierce resistance.

And then the election of 2016 happened. And suddenly the distant past seemed not so far away as hate crimes rose and civil rights and protections of marginalized communities were rolled back. Each book I write now feels like less of a focus on history and more of a roadmap to how we must continue to have a voice. The word resistance has now taken on a new urgency, reminding young readers, not of our distant past, but of a world that continues to need voices to speak out against injustice. Now, more than ever, I am using the power of story to chart the progress we’ve made through the years, while reminding readers, there is still a mighty long way to go.

Jennifer Sattler

Right after the election in 2016, I was wondering, like everyone else I know, what on earth I could do to effect change. I can’t go door to door, or make cold calls. That’s not who I am. But then I read somewhere (I wish for the LIFE of me I could remember where) a woman saying, “Do what you do but with a new sense of purpose.” That really resonated with me. So, I wrote Bully. I needed it to still feel like one of my books. I didn’t want to preach or be overtly political. After all, my books are for young children, so I wanted to address something that a lot of them were now dealing with now more than ever.  Most of the books on bullying that I’m aware of have this sympathy for the bully and, honestly, VERY unrealistic expectations for kids to deal with the situation. The bully always comes around and becomes a friend. This has not been my experience . . . ever. As a mother, as a kid who faced bullies, and as a woman. I want kids to feel empowered. And most importantly, not alone.

 

Barbara Dee

In January 2018 my publisher offered on a full manuscript of a middle grade novel — plus whatever MG I wrote next. I’d never had a two-book deal structured this way before, and it struck me as both a vote of confidence and incredible pressure, because at that point I didn’t even have an idea for another book. As I waited for my editor to send notes about Book 1, the news last winter was full of stories about sexual harassment (including some about prominent kidlit authors). These stories horrified me; and the more I researched the origins of such behavior, the more I was convinced that we needed a #MeToo story set in middle school. I began writing very fast, telling myself it was just a draft for Book 2. But before I got to the end, I knew that this story, both timeless and very much a product of the Trump era, needed to be out in the world as soon as possible.  Fortunately, my publisher agreed to flip the order of the two books, releasing Maybe He Just Likes You next fall.

 

Travis Jonker

In my role as school librarian, the current divisive political climate has made me more vigilant about the books in our collection and the books I read aloud with students. Themes of inclusion, kindness, and diversity have become even more of a focus. And it doesn’t always have to be an overt, “Hey, kids, here’s a book with a lesson about kindness.” Usually the more subtle the better. Now as a newly published author, I feel stories that in some way talk about universal themes — and I know I’m not making news here — tend to be more engaging. My favorite line from an Andrew Smith book is that, “The best books are about everything,” which I think means that good books reach for universal topics — love, death, fear, etc. In the podcast interview I did with Mo Willems, he said that every Elephant & Piggie book was addressing a “philosophical question.” So I definitely think about how a story I’m writing connects to larger ideas. With The Very Last Castle, the rough plot came first, but it wouldn’t have become a book without the themes of community and courage that came later in the writing process and gave the story depth. But I honestly can’t say any of that is a direct result of the current political climate. However, I do think it’s made me more sensitive to themes of inclusion, kindness, and diversity in the books I read and share.

 

Another Terrific Review for EVERYBODY NEEDS A BUDDY!

 

“Preller addresses topics such as kindness,
activism, immigration, community involvement . . .
A fresh new series
nudging emerging readers towards social change
and kindness towards others.”

— School Library Journal

I am so glad to pass along this incredible review for my “buddy bench” book, Everybody Needs a Buddy. Thank you so much, Kate Nafz, of School Library Journal. Many nice things here, including a comparison to Wonder and a shout out to the illustrations of Stephen Gilpin. Pub date is late January.

Would I like to see our young people socially active and engaged in making this a kinder planet? I’m counting on it!

This full review will be published in the December issue of SLJ.

Gr 2-4–Preller, author of the popular “Jigsaw Jones” books, launches a new series about friends who strive to make their school community a better place. When Deon notices a new kid standing sadly by himself during recess, he and his friends brainstorm possible ways to involve this student, as well as other loners, during recess. The Big Idea Gang has lots of ideas, including assembling a spaceship on the playground, until they hit upon the idea of a “buddy bench” as a place to go for kids who are feeling lonely during recess, signaling to others that companionship is needed. It is up to the gang with the help of their engaged teacher Miss Zips to make a case for adding a buddy bench even without the necessary funds. The narrative features children of various cultural backgrounds and genders hanging out together and cooperating in order to improve their community. Preller addresses topics such as kindness, activism, immigration, community involvement, and the dangers of gossip in an approachable way for a young audience. Readers will appreciate the numerous cartoon illustrations, short chapters with snappy titles, and large print with wide page margins. This title has classroom appeal and is perfect for kids not quite ready for Wonder. The other title in the set, The Worst Mascot Ever, appears to be the series opener, but readers can jump into this volume with no trouble. VERDICT A fresh new series nudging emerging readers towards social change and kindness towards others.–Kate Nafz, Fair Lawn Public Library, NJ

One Question, Five Authors #4: “What role does music play in your creative process?”

Sound the timbrels, bang a gong, today the focus is on music. Welcome to the internet’s laziest interview series, where I ask just one question. My thanks to our five guests: Chris Tebbetts, Matt Phelan, Yvonne Prinz, Charles Smith, and Michelle Knudsen. Click on the “One Question” icon on the right sidebar, under “Categories,” to visit past editions.

 

Chris Tebbetts

99% of the time, I write alone and in silence. That said, I’ll add that some large percentage of my non-writing time is filled with music. And some amount of that time is filled with bad singing and (yes, I’ll own it) not-half-bad dancing. I sing in the car all the time, and I dance like a fool around my house whenever I get the chance. Because here’s the thing. I once heard a writer at a conference talk about using other artistic pursuits as a way of maintaining her connection with the kind of free-flowing creative mindset that can become elusive at the keyboard, when the job of writing is a daily requirement. And I totally agree. I love to sing and dance anyway, but more to the point, I believe in the tangible benefits of putting myself into that creative mindset on a regular basis, where there are no mistakes, no revisions required, no deadlines, and no audience to pass judgement. For the woman I mentioned above, it was knitting that got her there. Maybe for someone else, it’s doodling, or painting, or designing roller coasters. For me, it all flows from my love of music, and more specifically, from the way I use music to make a private fool of myself, every chance I get.

 

Matt Phelan

Music has always been a big part of my life. My parents started me off with The Beatles, Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Jackson 5 records when I was a kid and I just went from there. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life playing in bands, and a day rarely goes by without me fooling around on a ukulele, guitar, or piano.

I often make a playlist to listen to when working on specific books, both in the planning/writing stage and in the final drawing stage. The right music can instantly put me in the “space” of the story. I will usually include music from the time period of the book, but I’ll also go beyond that if the music fits the mood or spirit of the story. For example, Snow White takes place in the 1920s and early 1930s, so my playlist had pop songs from those decades, but also included some darker film scores from the 1930s and 1940s, like Max Steiner’s score for King Kong and various soundtracks by Bernard Herrmann. And for fun, I also included the Bryan Ferry Orchestra which is a great record that takes Roxy Music songs from the 1970s and 80s (which I love) and arranges them like 1920s hot jazz. Sometimes the music is not from the period but inspires the right mood anyway. I wrote and drew the climactic ending of The Storm in the Barn while listening to Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe.” Whatever works. For my latest book Knights vs. Dinosaurs, I had a song called “Swords of a Thousand Men” by the fairly obscure early 80s band Tenpole Tudors stuck in my head.

I just started listening to the newly released demos for The Beatles’ White Album and I imagine I’ll be obsessed with that for the foreseeable future. Luckily, no matter the book, The Beatles are always a safe bet.

 

Yvonne Prinz

I think a lot of authors don’t give a thought to music as they write but in my case it shapes the story. In some cases it is the story.

My head is full of music.

I was raised by a classical musician who vacillated between Shostakovich and Abbey Road. Music played around the clock in our home. I worked for minimum wage in record stores and now I own three of them with my husband (and a bunch of other music nuts). That in

spired The Vinyl Princess, the story of a cheeky girl who works at Bob & Bob Records and judges people by the music they listen to. I took breaks from the story just to build the soundtrack (I can’t listen to song lyrics while I write).

All You Get Is Me is a social justice story about farm workers set in Northern California. My character “Roar” (short for Aurora) is a reluctant farm girl.  I listened mostly to plaintive pastoral soundtrack music like Mark Knopfler and Ry Cooder as I wrote. When it was finished I created a soundtrack with a lot of Tex-mex, Hispanic artists, Mariachi, things a migrant farm worker might listen to.

If You’re Lucky is a thriller set on the dramatic coastline of Northern California. My main character is a schizophrenic teenager named Georgia. I listened to Django Reinhardt and modern gypsy jazz players. My secondary character is a Juilliard trained guitarist of Roma heritage. It’s a dark story. I fantasized about being the music supervisor on the movie a lot.

 

Charles Smith

Music plays a crucial role in my creative process as a poet. Different poems call for different types of moods and music helps me convey that mood. In my book, Brick by Brick, it focuses on how slaves built the White House. To reflect the back breaking work, I looked to negro plantation spirituals sung during slavery and prison work songs. There’s a specific cadence and there’s call and response. This helped guide the pacing. The use of repetition also helped with emotional impact. In most projects, I’ll often use music to establish a rhythm that conveys what I want to say. For instance, in the case of a non-fiction project I’ve been working on that focuses on a motorcycle rider, I wanted the words to move fast like a motorcycle so I looked to fast paced hip-hop. But sometimes I’ll go very traditional and look at the structure of a song and mimic it in a poem. For instance, using a chorus to hammer home a point or image. Overall, the biggest role that music plays is acting as grease to loosen up the creative wheel to help me say what I want to say.

 

Michelle Knudsen 

When I’m writing picture books or early readers, I generally can’t listen to anything. But for novels, I’m nearly always listening to music while I write. I like to create a playlist for each novel filled with songs that capture the feeling of the book for me. The playlist for my upcoming novel Curse of the Evil Librarian (book 3 in my Evil Librarian trilogy) includes songs like Tool’s “The Grudge,” Bryce Fox’s “Horns,” and Melanie Martinez’s “Tag, You’re It.” There are a couple of tracks by Halsey and a few by Depeche Mode and a whole lot of My Chemical Romance. I’ve also got a few songs from Les Misérables in there (this year’s fall musical in my characters’ high school) and one from The Scarlet Pimpernel, which was the featured musical in book 2. (There’s more, too, but that seems like a pretty representative sample to go with.) Listening to this playlist instantly puts me in the right mental/emotional/creative place to work on the book, whether I’m actively writing or outlining or going for a walk to try to work out tricky plot problems in my head. The only rule is that I’m not allowed to listen to it at any other time—it’s book music only, no matter what.