Four New Jigsaw Jones Titles Just Published: And Then There Were Nine!

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Hey, hey, look here!

Macmillan has just come out with four more Jigsaw Jones titles. Each one is newly revised and updated. For more on that process, go here to the Nerdy Book Club. It’s kind of interesting, actually.

After struggling through a dark few years where no Jigsaw Jones titles were available, now we’re back in business. As of today, there are nine early chapter book available to a new generation of readers — and that makes me very happy. 

Take a look at my dedication from The Case of the Million-Dollar Mystery:

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I am truly grateful for every teacher and librarian who has helped kept Jigsaw on their classroom shelves and in their school libraries. These books simply don’t get into the hands of your readers without your help. I am grateful and indebted.

Also available:

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I'll be featuring my new Jigsaw Jones book: THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, and many others.

I’m Crowdsourcing My New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions.

 

In case you missed the headline, I’m crowdsourcing my New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. Because who knows better than you? No-bah-dee. I’m in such deep denial about my faults that I’m not going to be any help at all. I’m just staring at a blank paper here. 

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Besides, the old way of doing resolutions doesn’t work. We’ve all been there. The calendar year turns and it’s time to make our big New Year’s Resolution. Or Resolution(s) if we’re feeling particularly ambitious — or covering our bases in the event of, you know, not bothering. Often people pick one big thing, for instance, “Lose Ten Pounds,” or “Spend Less Time on Social Media.” 

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The whole concept never takes hold. By late January there’s broken resolutions scattered everywhere. Collectively, across the country, we’re unresolved.

Why?

Because there’s too much pressure on that one big resolution. The success of an entire year rises or falls on that single thing. Did you learn how to macrame? Did you read more “serious novels”? Did you give up wheat? (You never even tried, did you?) Twelve months later you look back and it’s an “epic fail” because of course you didn’t lose those last ten pounds, nobody dreamed you would, in fact you packed on six more. Oh well.

I’ve come to believe that it’s much better to spread our the burden of resolutions as if they came in a large tub of room-temperature margarine. I’m not talking about a tub of ten solutions. Or even twenty. I’m talking about a very, very large tub.

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I’m announcing my intention of having 1,000 resolutions in place and fully documented by midnight, December 31st. In fact, while typing this I thought of my first resolution:

1) Never again say or type “epic fail.” In fact:

2) Never say or type “epic” anything. That word sucks now.

See? I need only 998 more resolutions.

Oh, wait:

3) Read at least one poem a day.

4) Don’t get my hopes up. Across the board. Just. Don’t.

Now here’s where you come in. I need only 996 more resolutions.

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Oh, wait, again:

5) Don’t believe any swimmer when he or she tells me the water is “refreshing.” That person with blue lips is a liar. Don’t get fooled again!

6) Say “namaste” at least once this year and actually believe it instead of, you know, faking it. I think it has something to do with a light.

7) Enough already with the IPAs.

8) Help more with housework.

8A) Ask Lisa where she keeps the broom. 

8B) Do we own a broom?

8C) Buy Lisa a broom for her birthday.

9) Boo somebody, anybody, but not an athlete. Ideas: baristas, politicians, family members, random strangers, the plumber, etc. Really let ’em have it.

10) Write Bill McKibbon a fan letter.

11) If it doesn’t look delicious, don’t eat it. Tasting things that look horrible is not open-minded, it’s overrated. Trust my eyes.

12) Tell Paul what I really, really think about him. Truth to power!

13) Get other people to finish my lists.

Okay, I need 987 more.

Got any suggestions?

Happy-New-Year-Copy

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #261: Aloha, Cody!

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Oh, that face!

This is Cody, a precocious 5-year-old from Hawaii who just read his first chapter book all by himself. He’s also a contest winner. I actually have a hard time giving away free books on my blog. I try, and sometimes succeed, but generally don’t get a big response. People don’t read blogs that often — and I totally understand that — and, I suspect, if they are like me, they likely figure, “Oh, I never win anything anyway.”

Cody’s mother wrote:

My 5 year old Kindergarten son just picked “Good Night, Zombie” out at the library on November 2nd. This was his first chapter book EVER! He just finished it this morning before school. When I was googling the book to see what reading level it was, I came across the contest…that just ended. However. He was excited to do it and I was excited to share with you that my little guy loved the book. He told me after reading it that he had to get number one and three books (since the one he chose is number three). I wanted to thank you for your book!! My son enjoyed it…and got a little scared too! Which made me happy because I knew he was comprehending what he read. 

 

I replied by sending Cody two books. While I think “scary” is highly individual in how readers respond to it, I wanted to give Cody a mellower option so tossed in a signed Jigsaw Jones, too. Five years old felt a little young to me. But again, as I half-apologetically tell kids (in grades 3-up) on school visits, “Nobody gets murdered in these books.”

They groan, good-naturedly, in disappointment.

Rats!

By the way, I loved Cody’s mom’s comment that she was happy he got a little scared because it showed he understood what he was reading.

I don’t think it’s the end of the world if a reader gets a little scared, either. The heart goes boom-boom-boom. I think it’s in those moments of disequilibrium, of “up-set-ment,” when learning takes place.

I believe I’m in the business of disturbing the universe. It’s my job.

 

 

Pulling the Plug: Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out

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Pulling the plug.

I’ll be honest, this is something I struggle with at times. The time-suck of the endless scroll, the dopamine hit we get from a like or a click. The internet experience can be like pulling on a crack pipe. It’s so easy for us to lose our way in the web of social media, lose our grounding in the natural world.

So today I share this image from the Japanese translation of Nightmareland from my Scary Tales series. I’d love to give credit to the illustrator, but I honestly can’t make head or tails of this language.

Carry on. And good luck to you, dear reader, in your efforts to unplug, echoing that idealistic 60s concept of tune in (to your deeper self, at the bottom where there is no “self”), turn on (to the natural, spiritual world), drop out (unplug from addictive, distractive social media).

How There’s a Touch of “M.A.S.H.” in My Book, BETTER OFF UNDEAD

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My parents rarely took the whole family to movies. In fact, they rarely took themselves. Money was tight and with seven children covering a twelve-year span, a night at the movies was an expensive, unrealistic outing. However, I do recall a few family outings to the theater and can still name each movie: “The Immigrants” with Liv Ullman (I was too young and bored out of my mind), “Little Big Man” with Dustin Hoffman (politically incorrect but I love it to this day), “The Godfather,” “Frenzy” (Hitchcock!), and “M.A.S.H.” And that’s it, the sum total of all the films I saw with my parents in the theater.

In particular, Robert Altman’s “M.A.S.H.” stuck with me — it felt wild and irreverant — and then the popular television series further reinforced its influence on me. Without consciously thinking of the source, I borrowed a technique from the movie for my middle-grade novel, Better Off Undead.

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I am thinking of the absurdist, omniscient P.A. announcements sprinkled throughout the film and, later, the series. What a brilliant device for satire and social comment. And not only that idea, but visually the way Altman fixed the camera on speaker. No reaction shots from beloved characters. We don’t even know the source of the voice who gives the announcements; it’s as if the words had fallen from the skies.

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And on and on it goes. Here’s a great source for announcements from the television series. Please check it out, I’m sure you’ll find some favorites.

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For my part, I believe young people experience this absurdity in a unique way each school day. Suddenly the voice blares on, interrupting whatever might be happening at any time during the day. I decided to feature the school principal in this manner. For example, the “Morning Announcements” chapter that begins on page 104:

On top of everything else, our principal was losing his mind. Maybe it was the job, I don’t know. There were days when our school felt like a madhouse — and the students weren’t the loony ones. Take today’s morning announcements for example, which began as usual with an ear-splitting buzz:

Kkccchh. “Is this on?” Kkccchh. Tap-tap, TAP-TAP. “Miss Shen? Is this thing” — whirr — “hey-ho, ouch! — What the . . . ? Good mooooorningggg, Nixon Middle School! This is your principal, Mr. Rouster!”

pa-speakersFrom my seat in the back corner of my homeroom class, I watched as everyone turned to the loudspeaker in listless silence.

The substitute teacher, Mrs. Perez, never looked up from her smartphone. Principal Rouster crowed. “All righty, then! I’ve got some good news, some bad news, and some really bad news. First, the good news! Our school recently received a large federal grant involving enormous sums of taxpayers’ money. I’m please to announce that there will be construction going on throughout the school. You may be inconvenienced by the occasional disruption.”

On cue, a series of loud noises — banging, chiseling, and the vibrating cacophony of a jackhammer — erupted out in the hallway. Next came a calamitous crash, a thud, and a muffled “Oops.”

Principal Rouster chattered on in a nasal voice, unruffled. “The bad news is that the construction will cause changes to our normal schedule. Until further notice, the cafeteria will be moved to the gymnasium. But P.E. will go on as scheduled. Just don’t confuse the meatballs with the dodgeballs! Heh-heh. The Choir Club will share a room with the Chess Club; they will both meet in the science lab. On Tuesday we’ll follow the Wednesday schedule, except for band members, who will adhere to their Thursday schedules — but only on Mondays. Lastly, the literacy center will be closed because of the asbestos problem recently brought to our attention by Janitor McConnell’s alarming rash. Get better soon, Mike!”

The girl next to me, Desiree Reynolds, muttered, “I wonder what the really bad news is.”

Principal Rouster continued, “The really bad news is that all bathroom privileges have been temporarily suspended. This should last only a few hours. In case of emergency, a temporary porta-potty has been set up in the mail hallway. I don’t have to tell you that with seven hundred students in the school, we’ll require a high level of cooperation and an almost Zen-like self-control of your bodily functions. Please avoid all liquids, and I strongly suggest that you tread lightly on today’s lunch special, the New Orleans gumbo. That stuff runs right through you.

“Thank you and happy learning!” 

I had originally intended to do more of this kind of thing throughout the book, but over time I felt it interrupted the pace of the story. I decided that a little bit would go a long way. That was my hope anyway! Here’s another quick bit, later in the book:

On Friday, the day of the “Halloween Fandango” — don’t look at me, I don’t name these things — Principal Rouster made another major announcement:

Kkkccchh. Kkkccchh. Tap-tap. TAP-TAP — SQUAAAWWWKKK. “Good afternoon, Nixon Middle School! Due to the recent discovery of toxic mold in various locations around the school, the Department of Health has temporarily shut down gymnasium B, our proposed setting for tonight’s Halloween Fandango! < snip > Not to worry! We’ve moved the dance to . . . THE PIT!”

Churlish screams, anguished cries, and wails of despair filled the room. “Not the pit, anything but the pit!” Desiree Reynolds moaned. 

“It smells like stale cheese!” groaned Arnie Chang.

“I got sick in the pit last year,” little Jessica Timmons confessed in her tiny voice, “and they still haven’t mopped it up.”

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Oh, one final note of appreciation. At the end of the film, in a truly meta moment, the PA announcement is used to break through the fourth wall. It closes with this message:

“Tonight’s movie has been M*A*S*H.”

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