Archive for April 30, 2010

Jigsaw Jones, The Musical: Both Thumbs, Way Up

I want to share a few photos and give my belated reaction to seeing the musical, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Class Clown. From left to right in the above photo: Benjamin K. Glaser (Jigsaw Jones), Jill Kurzner (Helen/Athena), Johnny Deem (Ralphie), Claire Duncan (Mila), James Preller, and my two special guests, Elizabeth and Maggie (in fake nose). The stage manager, Trey Johnson, snapped the photo.

First of all, I’m not built for this kind of thing. And lately I’ve come to see myself in this way: I was one of those kids who hated the idea of embarrassing himself in public, caused by a sorry combination of fear, shyness, and overall uptightness. My answer, of course, was to NOT do things — especially if they involved trying anything new. Don’t go off the high dive in the town pool, don’t try out for a school play, don’t dance in public, and on and on. That is partly why, I tell kids, I became a writer. There are no witnesses. You work alone. And you only share what you choose to share (you try to edit out the belly flops and pratfalls).

So I went to this show, put on by ArtsPower, was a degree of dread. What if I hated it? What if no one shows up? It was out of my hands.

I arrived early at the Egg performing arts center in Albany . . .

. . . bringing along a small but crucial sampling of the target audience, my daughter Maggie and her friend Elizabeth. I had arranged to meet the cast before the show, catch a sound check, and settle into our seats.

I immediately liked the cast of four young thespians. They were enthusiastic and energetic, and acted genuinely pleased to meet me. Wait. Come to think of it, they were actors. Highly skilled actors. Maybe they weren’t pleased to meet me after all!

I sat through the show . . . and loved it. From the adaptation, to the stage set, to the songs, to the performances, it was extremely well done. Special appreciation goes to Greg Gunning, who adapted the book and penned the lyrics. Greg and I spoke on the phone, he listened patiently to my comments and (very few) suggestions. Richard DeRosa wrote the music, which was lively and upbeat (I want the soundtrack!). I watched in that theater feeling just so thankful, and happy, and proud of what I’d done, and what they had done to make my little six-thousand word story come to life in a totally different way. There it was up on stage — breathing. Greg streamlined and improved upon the story, expertly trimming down the cast of characters while bringing the book’s main themes into sharper focus, and each actor gave an appealing, fresh-faced, thoroughly professional performance.

For me, it was a quietly stirring, emotional experience. I can’t really explain it except to say that I felt it: Wow, I put this story out into the world; it came from me. And I thought, You know, this is actually good work. It has heart and wit and kindness . . . and I can hum to it!

I recommend this show without reservation.

(Yipes! What is happening with my hair in this photo? Do I really walk around like that?)

I should add that it’s an absolute honor to have my book selected for theatrical interpretation by the folks at ArtsPower. Out of all the books available, they picked mine, the twelth in a series of forty titles. Amazing. Thank you very much, Gary Blackman, executive producer.

If anyone is interested in booking a show, please know that it will be touring through 2011. Here’s the info you need to get started.

Cellphone Novels

My friend, author/illustrator Matt McElligott, tipped me off to this remarkable publishing fact:

In 2007, half of the top ten bestselling novels in Japan were written on cell phones.


Many articles have been written about the phenomenon, and as usual I’m a little late to the party. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from a 2008 New York Times piece, written by Norimitsu Onishi:

TOKYO — Until recently, cellphone novels — composed on phone keypads by young women wielding dexterous thumbs and read by fans on their tiny screens — had been dismissed in Japan as a subgenre unworthy of the country that gave the world its first novel, “The Tale of Genji,” a millennium ago. Then last month, the year-end best-seller tally showed that cellphone novels, republished in book form, have not only infiltrated the mainstream but have come to dominate it.

Of last year’s 10 best-selling novels, five were originally cellphone novels, mostly love stories written in the short sentences characteristic of text messaging but containing little of the plotting or character development found in traditional novels. What is more, the top three spots were occupied by first-time cellphone novelists, touching off debates in the news media and blogosphere.

“Will cellphone novels kill ‘the author’?” a famous literary journal, Bungaku-kai, asked on the cover of its January issue. Fans praised the novels as a new literary genre created and consumed by a generation whose reading habits had consisted mostly of manga, or comic books. Critics said the dominance of cellphone novels, with their poor literary quality, would hasten the decline of Japanese literature.

Whatever their literary talents, cellphone novelists are racking up the kind of sales that most more experienced, traditional novelists can only dream of.

Photo credit: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

The young woman pictured above, who goes by the name Rin, sold 400,000 copies of a mobile phone novel (a form known as keitai shousetsu in Japan). She wrote it over a six-month period while in high school. Her novel, titled If You, was the 5th bestselling novel in Japan in 2007. Interestingly, Onishi reported that “many cellphone novelists had never written fiction before, and many of their readers had never read novels before, according to publishers.”

I’d bet this has applications for reluctant readers, though what the implications are I can’t begin to imagine.

Duncan Riley, writing for TechCrunch, opined in December of 2007:

I can’t see anyone in Western nations waking up tomorrow and seeing mobile phone composed novels on the top seller lists, but usually Japan is years ahead on many tech fronts; mobile phone data services were available and popular in Japan years ago as the rest of us are only now catching up. Perhaps the NY Times best seller list in 2012 might consist of keitai shousetsu, stranger things have happened.

Entenmann’s & Dad: Part 2, from memory to realistic fiction

In a previous post, I wrote about memories of my father, specifically the kinds of food he used to buy when grocery shopping.

Scroll down or click here to backtrack to it.

I’ll wait.

Now let’s see how that family memory — from memory to memoir to creative fiction — played out in Jigsaw Jones #28: The Case of the Food Fight.

Note: Growing up, we always had to help our father bring in the packages. It was one of the few rules I can remember. This scene, from chapter 1, picks up at that point. The Jones boys, Daniel, Nick, and Jigsaw, hauling in the shopping bags. I’ll let Jigsaw pull the thread from here . . .

My mom buys healthy things, food that is good for us. If that sounds boring, you should try eating it. But sometimes my dad shops. He buys stuff that my mother would never touch.

Dad, you see, has a sweet tooth.

A big one.

We might not have liked carrying the heavy bags, but we liked checking out all the tasty treats.

“Wow,” Nick said. “This cereal is totally awesome. It’s mini chocolate chip cookies . . .”

“. . . that are frosted with sugar!” Daniel exclaimed.

“And they come with rainbow-colored marshmallows!” I cheered.

“Hey, look at this,” Daniel gushed. “A whole bag of Snickers bars!”

“That stuff’s expensive,” my father said. “So take it easy, boys. Prices are going through the roof.”

“Sure, Dad, whatever,” Nick said. “Now let’s chow down on some of this junk food before Mom gets back from her trip.”


Entenmann’s & Dad: Part 1, from memory to realistic fiction

Though sudden, it didn’t feel traumatic when my father died a few years back. He was in his 80’s and, well, it seemed about right. He went the way he wanted to go, puttering around in the yard. Then gone. I had the honor of giving the eulogy.

I find that I miss him more than I expected. Or, no, that’s not quite it. I find that I miss him more, now, and that’s not what I expected. I figured that the pain, or loss, would lesson over time. I’d get used to it. Dad’s gone. Okay.

And it is okay — but I keep thinking about him, remembering things, expressions he used, his odd habits. The memories have gotten sharper, more frequent. I do what I can to keep them coming. And I cling to them.

Growing up, my mother did not drive. Unusual, yes, but I simply saw her as a rare lady who did not drive a car. The roads were safer, I was sure. So my father always did the grocery shopping. And he did it with flair; he had a sweet tooth and made poor nutritional choices, week after week, year after year. Soda, peanut butter cups, sugary cereals!

Because of that, I can’t wheel past a supermarket display of Entenmann’s breakfast cakes without thinking of him. Dad was a sucker for Entenmann’s. I guess I inherited my father’s sweet tooth.

I submit to you: the raspberry danish . . .

. . . as constructed by the friendly folks at Entenmann’s.

These days, my wife Lisa is all about local produce, organic this, free range that, healthy choices, blah blah blah. I get it. She’s smart, she’s good to us, she’s doing the right thing.

Infrequently, I do the shopping. The way these things work, of course, is that I’ve become my father. I’m dad pushing the cart. I eye that Entenmann’s display and ask myself, WWDD? What Would Dad Do? So I toss that raspberry danish into the cart and roll on, pleased, full of good cheer. It drives Lisa a little crazy, how I undermine her best efforts. The kids don’t seem to mind. Mostly, it’s just a dance we do. When dad goes shopping, everybody knows he’s going to come home with a couple of things mom would never buy. It’s not really about Lisa, or me, or even the kids. It’s about my father, and keeping some things — even the silly stuff that seems to have no meaning at all — alive in our hearts and our kitchens and even our books.

And honestly, the danish is delicious.


Music Video Weekend: Tracey Thorn, “Oh, the Divorces!”

“Who’s next? Who’s next? Always the ones that you least expect.”

Today I’m not going to try to illuminate, educate, or pontificate.

Which, come to think of it, leaves my cupboard bare.

No, folks, we’re here to hear an amazing NEW song — What, James? it wasn’t written in the 60’s? — and a beautiful performance by Tracey Thorn. You likely know her from Everything But the Girl.

I’m doing you are favor. Sit back and listen . . .

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

“I examine my heart, see how it stands.”

The song is available on iTunes for 99 cents. Cheap!

Fan Mail Wednesday #86 (Thursday Edition)

Below, a nice note from a young marshmallow enthusiast! But first, take a gander:

Illustration by Jamie Smith.

Dear Mr. Preller,

I like you and your books! Jigsaw Jones is cool! They are my favorite books to look for at the library. My favorite book is The Case of the Marshmellow Monster because it has marshmellows in it! I love marshmellows! Thank you for these fun books.

Thomas, 1st grader

I replied:


Thank you very much for your kind email. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but baseball season started and I’ve been DISTRACTED.

You know what that means?

When I should be working, I keep daydreaming about line drives and high fly balls and stolen bases.

I love marshmallows, too. In fact, just last night I had the most amazing dream. I was eating the world’s largest marshmallow. It was huge, and it took me forever to swallow it.

When I woke up, my pillow was GONE!


Be careful what you dream.


Fan Mail Wednesday #85

When it comes to fan mail, I’ve been a bad, bad boy. So let’s get to work!

My name is Bobbie P. and I am a fifth grade student. I read your book Six Innings and thought it was a good book. How did you come up with the idea for
Six Innings? How did you come up with the characters? What inspired you to write this book? Please answer me back so I can finish my PowerPoint on your book. Thanks for your help.

I replied:


Hey, lighten up on the praise, you’re giving me a swelled head!

Thanks for reading Six Innings. Gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever before been the subject of a PowerPoint.  I wonder: Is it like acupuncture? I mean: Will it be very, very painful? I don’t like needles or pointy things.

Brrrrinnng, brrrinnnng. Hold on: I’ve got to take this call from my wife.

(JP: “What’s that my little love muffin? PowerPoint? It’s on a computer? Really?! It’s not pointy at all? No sharp needles! Oh, thanks for the info. It’s so hard to keep up with technology these days.”)

So, um, Bobbie: nevermind!

To answer your questions:

I had to write a book about baseball; it was inevitable. Baseball has touched my life in every way that it can be touched, it’s an invisible thread that connects all the corners of my life. Most vividly in my childhood memories, most profoundly with my mother –- watching ballgames, having catch, connecting through the game. As a father, I’ve spent a lot of time around Little League fields. I’ve coached and managed many teams. I’ve watched those kids, tried to help the best I could, and always came away convinced that I learned more than they did. It’s a world I know. But more than that, it’s a world where many boys live –- passionately. We remember those games, those times, forever. For the book, I wanted to use baseball as a way to explore character. The friendships, the struggles, the inner lives as they are revealed in thought and action during a six-inning baseball game.

I started writing the book by filling a notebook with different ideas for characters. I’d write about them, think about their lives, who they were. Once I had a fairly large cast of characters that seemed alive to me, I put them into a baseball game. It’s one of the tricks of writing: You take characters and put them in stressful situations to see how they might react.

Good luck on the PowerPoint thingy!

By the way, for more on this book, this post gives you more background on the character, Sam Reiser, and how he was inspired by real life experiences.

My best,


COMING MAY 1st: “The 2nd Annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival” — Highly Recommended!

I don’t know how to say this except for . . .

You should go. YOU should go. You SHOULD go. Really, you should go.

It’s a great event. And an absolute privilege that it’s up in our neck of the woods (in my case, maybe the collarbone). If you value reading, if you want to send that message loud and clear to your children, if you want to make that reading/writing connection, if you want to have fun . . . come, come, come. Where and when else in your entire life do you get this opportunity?

It’s FREE. There will be more than 100 authors and illustrators — and not just the hacks! We’re talking hugely popular folks, rising up-and-comers, cagey veterans, with a range of titles of interest to preschoolers up to young adults.

You want names? Here’s some names: Aimee Ferris, Alan Katz, Alexandra Siy, Anita Sanchez, Ann Haywood Leal, Ann Jonas, Anne Broyles, Barbara Lehman, Bruce Hiscock, Charise Harper, Da Chen, Daniel Mahoney, Danielle Joseph, Daphne Grab, Donald Crews, Emily Arnold McCully, Eric Luper, Eric Velasquez, Eve. B. Friedman, Gail Carson Levine, Jacqueline Rogers, Jan Cheripko, Janet Lawler, Jennifer Berne, Jo Knowles, John Farrell, Kate Feiffer, Katie Davis, Kyra Teis, Karen Beil, Marc Tyler Nobelman, Mark Teague, Maryrose Wood, Megan Frazer, Melanie Hall, Michelle Knudson, MJ Caraway, Monica Wellington, NA Nelson, Nancy Castaldo, Nancy Furstinger, Neesha Meminger, Nick Bruel, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Pam Allyn, Peter Marino, Doreen Rappaport, Richard Michelson, Rose Kent, Seymour Simon, Siobhan Vivian, Suzanne Bloom, Sylvie Kantoroviz, Thomas Locker, and many, many more.

Seriously, it’s a staggering array of talent — with books for every kind of reader, of every age.

Do you know what else is FREE? Every kid who comes will be handed a free book, many of them signed by the authors. There are more than 2,500 books, many different titles, waiting for young readers. I spent a couple of hours signing labels the other day — WORST AUTOGRAPH EVER! Horrid southpaw scrawl, sigh.

On a personal note: We see a lot of mothers at these things. Where are the fathers? When we talk about the reading gap, and how boys are falling behind in literacy skills, how Johnny doesn’t like to read, I keep coming back to one basic thing: These boys need to see Dad reading. As fathers, it is the most powerful message about reading that we can send our children.

We open a book.

We share our enthusiasm.

We model the fine art of sitting in a chair and getting lost in a book — any book, of any kind.

We show them that reading is a Guy Thing.

So come on, dads, bring the kids to the Hudson Book Festival! Show ‘em that you value reading.


Hot News:

If you’d like to hear me, along with event coordinator Lisa Dolan, discuss the Festival on the WAMC Roundtable Show with Sarah Laduke, click here and hear us roar!

The Betsy Bird/Katherine Hepburn Conundrum, “Librarian Lays Down the Law” . . . and “The Hollywood Librarian” DVD

“We’ll just put the books . . . ANYWHERE!”from the film, “Party Girl.”

Question: Why does this image from “Desk Set,” starring Katherine Hepburn as librarian Bunny Watson, remind me of Elizabeth Bird? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

While I’ve got you, I have to share this fabulous clip that should tickle the fancy of any librarian. Finally, a realistic portrayal. The actress is Parker Posey, America’s indie-film queen, from the movie, “Party Girl.”

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

And more seriously, here’s the trailer for a documentary titled, “Hollywood Librarian: A Look at Librarians Through Film,” a film I totally missed when it came out in 2004. It’s now available on DVD. Some notes from the Media Education Foundation:

This film’s subject is librarians: who they are, what they do, why they do it, and the impact of their work in people’s lives. The underlying meaning is how we express our own humanity, how we listen to ourselves and one another in the realm of the written and read word — a uniquely human privilege.

Audiences will be surprised and delighted by the fascinating librarians in this entertaining and enlightening film, and will emerge with a greater appreciation for the range of literature and materials available to them thanks to our nation’s librarians.

The film was written and directed by Ann M. Seidl, a library consultant. For a bref interview with Ann, you want to click wildly right now.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Tip of the hat to the great pop culture blog, Pop Candy, for the inspiration.

Overheard: “He’s a skinnymalink!”

I recently took Gavin and Maggie down to Greeport, Long Island, to visit my 84-year-old mother. At one point she said of Gavin, “He’s a skinnymalink!”

I can’t vouch for the spelling of that. I’ve seen it written as two words, “skinny malink,” but that doesn’t seem quite right. In fact, after some basic research on the word, I can’t determine a whole lot about it. Maybe there isn’t a lot to know.

My maternal grandmother came to this country from Ireland when she was a teenager. Our people, as we say, came from Louth, known as “the Wee County” because, um, it’s so very wee (but you knew that already!). Grandma used the word “skinnymalink” — I remember hearing it as a little boy — and I’m sure that’s where my mother got it. I found a discussion about the word over at It seems I’m not alone;  several folks wrote and recalled hearing it as children. The word appears to originate from Scotland, then took hold in Ireland, and later found voice in New York City (both of my parents grew up in Queens Village). Skinnymalink means an extremely thin person, as you probably gathered.

At The Mudcat Cafe, I found a reference to this old Scottish street poem:

Skinny Malinky Longlegs
Big Banana feet
went tae the pictures
and couldnae find a seat
when the picture started
Skinny Malinky farted
Skinny Malinky longlegs
Big Banana feet

What’s my point? I love hearing those verbal links to our past. Besides, it’s a FUN WORD to say. Try it: skinnymalink! It pleases the tongue. It would be a shame to lose a word that good. I so enjoyed hearing it again coming from my mother’s lips; I had forgotten. And I guess that’s what I’m doing here — trying hard not to forget.

Are any of you familiar with the word? Feel free to comment, please.

Just for fun, here’s a photo I found on a Google search, under the title, “Skinnymalinky long legs.” Looks like my dog after a bad haircut, the same uncomprehending gaze.

And also, here’s my very own skinnymalink:

And here’s Maggie with my mom (and you wonder where I get my gray hair):