Archive for October 15, 2010

“It Gets Better”

This amazing speech, given by Texas Councilman Joel Burns, has been making the rounds on Facebook and other places. I believe it was first featured here, on The Huffington Post.

Maybe you’ve already seen it, and if so I know you’ll forgive me for sharing old news. But I’ve posted it here for anyone who might have missed it or passed it by. If you are like me, perhaps you’ve felt that nearly thirteen minutes is far too long to spend watching a video. Perhaps you felt that you’d get around to it another time, or that you already have a pretty good idea about what he says. That you are busy and there’s so much to do in the headlong forward push of days. And all I can say is, give yourself those thirteen minutes.

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Fan Mail Wednesday #95 (Friday Edition!)

Do you remember that classic scene in the original “Miracle on 34th Street,” when a line of uniformed postal workers comes into the courtroom to dump sacks of letters on the judge’s desk?

That’s the way it is around here every day at

So let’s take a gander at one . . .

Dear James Preller,

My name is Dillon. I am in 7th grade and I go to _______ Middle School. Some things I like to do is ride dirt bikes and four wheelers because I have a lot of woods and fields to ride on. I also like to go hiking and find cool things like stuff in my creek and in my woods or anywhere.

I am reading the book Six Innings. I liked your book because I like baseball and books about baseball even though I’m not that good at it. When I read your book it was good. That’s coming from me and I usually don’t like to read at all.

My favorite character in the book was Dylan Van Zant. He was my favorite character in the book for a couple of reasons. One reason is he has the same first name as me. Another reason that Dylan Van Zant is my favorite character is because he is nice and not a mean kid at all.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter to you. But before I am done I will ask you some questions and one is why did you pick Dylan Van Zant to be a nice kid and a really good baseball player. Like in real life sometimes people who are really good baseball players are mean. Another question is why did you pick the title Six Innings.

Sincerely, Dillon

I replied:

Dear Dillon:

Thanks for your letter. I liked that you began by telling me a little bit about yourself. Like you, I also enjoy nature, though I’m not really a dirt bike kind of guy. Too noisy. Growing up, I had some friends, Timmy Tighe and Frank Connelly, who built their own motor bikes — basically lawn mower engines attached to regular bicycles — and we loved cruising around on them. Their hands were always filthy, covered in oil and grease. These days, you couldn’t get me on a motorcycle if you paid me. I can only imagine skidding across the cement  . . . ouch, Ouch, OUCH. I guess if you’re a good rider you can’t let those negative thoughts into your head.

When I think of motorcycles, all I can imagine

is a long, sad stay in the hospital.

I’m glad you enjoyed my baseball book. It makes me happy when someone who doesn’t normally like to read writes to say that my book wasn’t as bad as he might have expected. Out of all the characters in that book — besides Sam’s father — I might have identified the most with Dylan Van Zant. As a Little Leaguer, I loved to pitch. I could never throw that hard, but I had great control and I absolutely loved standing on that mound with the ball in my hand, literally the King of the Hill.

It’s true what you said: Sometimes when people are very good at things, they can be obnoxious about it. You know, conceited, superior, like they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. (I can’t stand those types of people.)  I think with Dylan, he knows he’s not a superstar; he just loves playing the game.

I titled the book Six Innings because that was my first idea for the book, to use the structure of one Little League game — across six innings — to tell the story of the players and the plays. It was a sturdy format, because it gave me a beginning, middle, and end.

Mostly though, I have vivid memories of my Little League games, they were important to me, and I know that many kids felt, and still feel, the same way. Thanks for writing. I appreciate it. I hope you continue to seek out other books you might enjoy, even if the pickings look slim. I’m sure there are books in your school library that are just right for someone with your interests and obvious intelligence. Try your school librarians — professional know-it-alls, they love bringing good kids and books together.

My best,


Forget the Book — Watch the Trailer!

Here’s the hot new trailer for A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade — just flown in from Hollywood on a big ol’ jet airliner!

My friends made this as a personal favor to me, at cost. I was surprised to learn these videos are so expensive to produce — upwards to $40,000! — and that they refused to start filming until the check cleared. I guess the Screen Actors Guild is a pretty powerful union. What can you do, you know? It’s not like the old days, when you could just write a book and hope people read it.

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Like the films of James Cameron, you can see every penny on the screen. For example, just look at that tree house/pirate ship . . . that’s all done on blue screen . . . much of the video was shot on location in the Caribbean (the well-tanned director insisted on “authenticity”) . . . and the “mother” figure is actually a product of Robotic Technology, first pioneered at Stanford University. Incredibly lifelike, and worth the $12,750. An alert reader may also recognize the vocal stylings of former child actor, Mason Reese. He really brought the intensity to the shoot, and it was just a privilege being around a Hollywood legend. (Note: Um, I never got to meet Mason, actually, but I did write a check, made out to “CASH,” for $3,200.)

Seriously: I really like this video. I love the homemade feeling and, of course, that it features ordinary boys at play the old-fashioned way. More and more, I’m seeing book trailers that are these elaborate, bloated, phony-baloney productions. How’s a little guy like me supposed to compete with that? With a book? Words on paper? Don’t be so naive!

The answer, of course: Robotics . . . and Mason Reese!

The Undying Appeal of a Double-Breasted Blue Blazer with Brass Buttons!

Here I am, checking my Twitter account, updating my Facebook status, networking with strangers on  “Linked-In” . . . and live-blogging “Autumn 2010: You Had to Be There!” for my Nation of Readers here at

This shot was taken yesterday — a world away — up on Owl’s Head (off 73, near Keene). Easy hike, great views. We spent Sunday and Monday up in Lake Placid with friends. This photograph is me, attempting to get away from those same friends.

One quick story: Elliot is such a great kid, pure and sincere and six years old, I enjoy him so much. When we first arrived at the house, he was proudly donning a dusty old blue blazer he’d discovered in a closet. And basketball shorts. I don’t know exactly how it made him feel, wearing that jacket, but Elliot didn’t want to take it off. He even wanted to wear it on the hike.

God, I so remember being a boy.

NOTE: I realize the blazer is not, technically speaking, “double-breasted.” But you can’t deny the appeal of those b’s and d’s in the mouth, especially bouncing off “blue blazer with brass buttons.”

“One of my go-to funny books for boys.”

Thought I’d share a few reviews for my middle grade novel (grades 3-5), Justin Fisher Declares War!

Thanks to anyone who picks up this book and gives it a try. When I first wrote it, I thought of Justin as a light-hearted, character-centered book that might appeal to reluctant readers. It’s extremely easy to read. Though the characters are in 5th grade, I see this as a book that’s best for 3rd graders and up. Sigh, I’ll never understand the thinking behind the cover, but there’s nothing to be done abut that.

The first review is from Jaci Miller at Young Adult Books Central. To read it in full, go here:

James Preller’s likable book about class clowns and their inner workings will strike a chord with readers. Everyone wants to be liked and Preller intuitively taps this through Justin Fisher, a young man who tries just a bit too hard.

In a satisfying, but age-appropriate way, characters grow and change, including the antagonist, Mr. Tripp. Readers will root for Justin and, at the same time, shake their heads at his antics. Both student and teacher have been crafted with solid character motivations.

The short chapters also make Justin Fisher Declares War! a friendly read for more reluctant readers. A delightful addition to the world of humorous middle grade fiction.

Vikki Van Sickle of the Pipedreaming blog says that, Justin Fisher Declares War is officially one of my go-to funny books for boys.” Here’s another section of that review:

This book could be considered a loose sequel to Along Came Spider, but only because both books take place in the same setting and there are a few crossover characters. It is not necessary to read one to understand he other. James Preller’s writing style is breezy and fun. Having spent some time in elementary school classrooms myself, I found his dialogue and classroom antics very authentic. At some points I found myself thinking of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine books. This is high praise, as Clementine is one of my all-time favourite early chapter book heroines. I think boys will relate to Justin and enjoy laughing along with his misadventures. Coming in under 150 pages, with short chapters and a fast-paced story, Justin Fisher Declares War is a great transitional book for boys.

Doret of the fabulous blog, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, also reviewed the book, and I’m grateful for that:

I really enjoyed Justin Fisher Declares War. Preller’s has a created a character in Justin, that isn’t all good or bad. The author previous novel Along Came Spider, is also set at Spiro Agew Elementary School. Anyone who has read it, will like being able to see how best friends Trey and Spider are doing. I don’t know if the author plans to set anymore novels at this school. But I hope so. Justin Fisher Declares War is a great suggestion for fans of Andrew Clements or Dan Gutman.

Lastly, I probably shouldn’t say this, but here goes: I have to grin when I see Justin on various Mock Newbery lists. The thoroughness of some of these folks is impressive and commendable. But let me tell you, just so you don’t fly to Vegas to lay down money on a longshot, this book is nowhere close to a Newbery. It does not belong in the conversation, and aspires only to be an easy, entertaining read with, hopefully, a few glimmers of hard-won insight thrown into the soup. I’d be happy with a review of, “Good fun!” I fully realize that a book like Justin, school-based fiction aimed at quasi-reluctant readers, isn’t going to make me rich. Honestly, it’s possibly too quiet for widespread boy appeal, but it was the story I needed to tell. I do hope this book picks up some readers along the way . . .

Speaking of the Newbery, last year it was obvious that When You Reach Me was the hands-down favorite. The year before that, I had read The Graveyard and wasn’t surprised by the selection. This year? I just don’t know.

Do you have a favorite?