Archive for April 22, 2010

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):