Archive for June 23, 2008

Nice Review

Just passing along a nice review for Six Innings that I found on the web today at a cool site dedicated to children’s books. With nice comments like this, I’m worried that my head might explode.

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My reaction after finishing this short novel for pre-teen and teens, especially who are really into the finer points of baseball playing and the spirit of the game was a tremendous respect for the author. James Preller poured much of his passion for the game into a finely crafted story set in just ONE little league game: 6 innings, character sketches of 12 players of one visiting team, and the framing, soul-searching story of the 13-year-old severely ill ex-ballplayer-turned-announcer…

I am not particularly into baseball: enjoy watching the game once in a while, of course, but do not personally collect memorabilia or statistics as a life-long hobby. This book makes me want to know and learn more about the game, its history and all the psychological aspects of the players and the plays; it also makes me believe that there is a reason for someone, young or old, to be completely lost in the world of sports and get much of their life’s wisdom out of these games.

Preller also has quite a way with words and turn of phrases:

p. 15: “Aaron Foley, short and stocky with a squashed-in face that reminded Sam of an English bulldog, did more than toss his cookies. No Aaron projected his vomit across the room, spewing his insides as if fired from a cannon, a thunderous blast of wet barf splattering onto the tile floor.” p. 16… That’s how Sam and Mike began their friendship, sealed with a simple exchange, a look across a silent (but foul-smelling) distance.

p. 18: (About the five tools of baseball: speed, glove, arm, power, and the ability to hit for average.) Branden Reid, however, posesses a sixth tool, amnesia, the art of forgetting. Baseball is, after all, a game of failure. The only thing that a player can influence is the next play, the next at bat.

p. 22 (this describes the game, but somehow fittingly describes the book as well): “The slow rhythm of the game, a game of accumulation, of patterns, gathering itself toward the finish…” AND what a finish this book has! I felt like I witnessed a historic game after reading the last page of the book (and it isn’t even about the game or the innings or the winners and the losers.)

p. 63: “There’s a squarish, two-story bulding — an overachieving shed, really”

p. 46: On the field, baseball is a game of isolation, nine singular outposts of shared solitude… You are a “team” immediately before and after each play. (This does get repeated on page 132.)

p. 106: Tragedy, the stuff of comedy.

There are a few specific references that will definitely date the book — which is too bad: p. 40: the boys talking about Jessica Simpson and someone listening to the lyrics to a Jay-Z tune.

What’s On My iPod?

I’ve been a huge music fan all my life. As the youngest of seven children, born in 1961, I grew up with an amazing record collection right in my living room, combining the tastes of four older brothers and two older sisters. I still listen to music all the time. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve been obsessed with Bob Dylan over the past couple of years. My oldest brother, Neal, was a big fan; I always liked and respected Dylan; but now I am fascinated, reading book after book, listening to the songs over and over again.

Go figure.

In April of 2007, I finally went fully digital with my work computer/iPod setup. The weird thing about an iPod is it keeps track of your listening history. I have precisely 26,198 songs on my iTunes library and I know for a fact that I listened to “Tell Me Why” by Neil Young exactly ten times over the past year, but somehow I’ve heard “Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones only once.

Here’s a list of the Top 20 Most Played Songs on the iPod. Not my favorites, not the coolest list I could ever come up with, just what I listened to the most these past fourteen months:

1. Positively 4th Street/Bob Dyan. The greatest kiss-off song ever written, supposedly in response to being jeered at Newport after he went electric. His goodbye to the folk community. “You got a lotta nerve/To say you are my friend . . .

2. Romulus/Sufjan Stevens.

3. Little Martha/The Allman Brothers Band

4. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues/Bob Dylan. If you haven’t heard Nina Simone’s version of this, well, what have you been doing?

5. Lion’s Mane/Iron & Wine. Love this guy, very quiet, almost gothic singer/songwriter.

6. You Still Believe in Me/M. Ward. A pretty, quiet guitar song.

7. For No One/Rickie Lee Jones. Great Beatles cover.

8. Subterranean Homesick Blues/Bob Dylan. I shared a bedroom wall with my oldest brother, Neal, each on opposite sides. This song bled through that wall, night after night, when I was what? five, six, seven years old? I guess it made an impression. Neal passed away in 1993 and my family has felt off-balance ever since, a ship listing to one side. I still can’t listen to Dylan or the Stones or the Talking Heads without thinking of Neal — and that’s a good thing.

9. She Belongs to Me/Bob Dylan

10. Workingman’s Blues/Bob Dylan

11. Tell Me That It Isn’t True/Bob Dylan. His voice kills me on this track, off the “Nashville Skyline” disc.

12. Well-Tempered Clavier/M. Ward

13. King of Carrot Flowers Part 1/Neutral Milk Hotel

14. Changing of the Guards/Patti Smith. A cool cover of a Dylan tune; she nails it.

15. Film/The Bad Plus. A hipster jazz trio covers an electronica song by the Aphex Twin — and it is sublime.

16. To Be Alone with You/Bob Dylan

17. Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Bruce Springsteen. I love that this track doesn’t sound like standard Bruce; I like to see him stretch to learn new tricks.

18. I Lost the Tooth I Lost/Justin Roberts. Along with Ralph’s World and Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts is among my favorite children’s musicians. My Maggie loves this song.

19. Jackson Square/Mason Jennings

20. True Love Travels on a Gravel Road/Nick Lowe

Good Company

A while back I heard from a librarian named Nan Hoekstra, who liked my book, Six Innings. She told me about her blog, anokaberry, where she writes about her favorite children’s books. I recently found the time to check it out, and I liked it so much I added the link to my Mighty Blogroll (see sidebar).

Earlier this month, Nan ran a “Short List” of contenders for the 2009 Anokaberry Award — her own version of the Newberry — and I was shocked and thrilled to see my book in such great company. I’ve pasted the list here to: 1) Share it with you, since it’s a handy reference for great new books; and 2) To show off!

Check it out (personally, I’m excited about that biography about Harper Lee, who wrote one of my favorite books ever, To Kill a Mockingbird):

Beanball by Gene Fehler
Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Chicken Foot Farm by Anne Estevis
Cicada Summer by Andrea Beaty
Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith
Deep Down Popular by Phoebe Stone
The Dragon’s Child by Laurence Yep
Facttracker by Jason Carter Eaton
Ghost Letters by Stephen Alter
Go Big or Go Home by Will Hobbs
Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O’Connor
Grow by Juanita Havill
Honeybee: Poems and Short Prose by Naomi Shibab Nye
I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields
Jeremy Cabbage and the Living Museum of Human Oddballs and Quadruped Delights
by David Elliott
Kaline Klattermaster’s Tree House by Haven Kimmel
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park
Lulu Atlantis and the Quest for True Blue Love by Patricia Martin
Magic Half by Annie Barrows
Mr. Karp’s Last Glass
by Cary Fagan
Penderwick’s on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
Porcupine by Meg Tilly
The Red-Headed Princess: A Novel by Ann Rinaldi
Rex Zero, King of Nothing by Tim Wynne-Jones
Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant
Seer of Shadows by Avi
Six Innings by James Preller
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
When the Sergeant Came Marching Home by Don Lemna
Where the Steps Where by Andrea Cheng
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

Fan Mail Wednesday #4

Yes, folks, it’s Fan Mail Wednesday again. Can’t you feel the excitement? Let’s rumble through the big hopper and see what we’ve got . .

Dear Mr Preller:

My name is Curt. My sister Miranda & I would like to know if you will ever make any Jigsaw Jones TV shows? We are both 9 years old, and we really like to read your books. I read them every night, and now my sister does too.

My mom says I never liked to read books, until I tried one of yours. Now I’m hooked!

If you get a chance, we would love to hear from you.


Curt & Miranda

Hi, Curt and Miranda, thanks for your note. I’m glad to hear that my books helped turn you onto reading — that’s like my greatest wish come true. (Actually, my greatest wish was to pitch for the New York Mets, but I guess you can’t have everything.)

As the author of the “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series, I’m in control of the words, the stories. The television business is out of my hands. But I’ve heard many readers comment that Jigsaw should be on television. And I totally agree! Wouldn’t that be cool? Question: should it be cartoon or with real actors? If anybody in television wanted to do it, I’d say four brief words: “Show! Me! The! Money!”

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Be well, and have a great summer!


Books for Boys

A few weeks ago I heard from an old friend — the indefatigable Leanna Landsmann, a woman I had worked with about twenty years ago on an educational project focused on “students at risk.” Leanna is now writing a column that is syndicated by United Features called, “A+ ADVICE: The Inside Scoop on School.” Each column responds to questions sent in by parents. Leanna asked for my thoughts to this question:

My fourth-grade son, Javin, must read five books for the school’s summer reading challenge. The problem is he hates reading. His teacher suggested “graphic novels.” I discovered that they are really comics, those things my teacher took away when I was a kid! He is starting to read them, but they really aren’t “books.” Will these help or hurt him?

Lately there’s a movement afoot about boys reading — or, I should say, the problem of boys not reading. Sometimes I get lumped into that equation, partly, I gather, because I’m an ex-boy myself. (That’s the full extent of my expertise, I assure you.) So I gave Leanna a long, rambling reply — in brief: let Javin read whatever he wants, so long as he is reading! — and, about three weeks later, the column appeared (to read it in full, just click here).

To brag about Leanna for minute: She was previously editor and publisher of Instructor magazine, and president of TIME For Kids. She was inducted into the EdPress Hall of Fame, educational publishing’s highest honor. I mean to say: She totally rocks and it’s amazing she even talks to me.

At age 27, I was a promotion manager at Scholastic and we hired Leanna for a large, important project. It was ridiculous, because I was sort of “in charge” of this great editor, even though I was dumb as a stump compared to her. Leanna kindly played along, did a great job and, on the side, taught me how to do mine. We’ve been friends ever since . . . cheering from the sidelines . . . even if we do let ten years slip by without a hello.