Archive for December 27, 2010

2010, Best Of: My Year In New Music

Any list of best music should really be called “favorite music,” and mine has to begin with the standard caveat: I didn’t listen to or absorb nearly enough to make an informed choice.

But in addition to that, and possibly as a result of my advancing age (49), I find myself less infatuated with “the new” and “the next,” so don’t chase after the latest & greatest with the same zeal I once had. And there are diminishing finances to consider in this slumping, sluggish economy. While I’m always interested in hearing great new music, sometimes that amounts to discovering early Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac or a neglected John Fahey disc. Shouldn’t I just spend more time exploring the Kinks back catalog? So a lot of things that were new to me in 2010 were not at all new to the world, just new to mine.

That said, here goes:

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This was the year when I derived a lot of pleasure from the so-called British nu-folk movement, especially new disks from LAURA MARLING (“I Speak Because I Can”), MUMFORD & SONS (“Sigh No More”), TOM McRAE (“The Alphabet of Shadows”), and STORNOWAY’S debut (“Beachcomber’s Windowsill”).

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I also fully endorse some of the obvious choices, more on the hipster tip: ARCADE FIRE (“The Suburbs”), THE NATIONAL (“High Violet”), BROKEN BELLS (“s/t”), BEACH HOUSE (“Teen Dream”), and BLACK KEYS (“Brothers”). Love each one of those disks.

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In terms of singer-songwriters, I especially liked SHARON VAN ETTEN (“Epic”), LAURA VEIRS (“July Flame”), THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH (“The Wild Hunt”), and CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (“IRM”).

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A few old favorites came through with solid efforts, led by TEENAGE FANCLUB (“Shadows”), their best since “Songs of Northern Britain.” Others: PETER WOLF (“Midnight Souveniers”), and THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (“Together”). In the alt-country vein, RYAN BINGHAM & THE DEAD HORSES (“Junky Star”), PHOSPHERESCENT followed up their disk of Willie Nelson covers with “Here’s to Taking It Easy,” and I’m still trying to wrap my ears around JAMEY JOHNSON’S 25-song, double-CD, “The Guitar Song.”

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More rock-based bands that I liked: TITUS ANDRONICUS (“The Monitor”), DEERHUNTER, (“Halcyon Digest”), and THE LIARS (“Sisterworld”).

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Some things that didn’t easily fit into the categories above: BLITZEN TRAPPER (“Destroyer of the Void”), BAND OF HORSES (“Infinite Arms”), and WILLIAM TYLER (“Behold the Spirit”). Bubbling Under: JOSH RITTER (“So Runs the World Away”).

Lastly, things I would own (and likely like) if I had more money: CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS (“Genuine Negro Jig”), JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE (“Harlem River Blues”), MIDLAKE (“The Courage of Others”), THE WALKMEN (“Lisbon”), FRIGHTENED RABBIT (“The Winter of Mixed Drinks”), THE ROOTS (“How I Got Over”), SPOON (“Transference”), THE VILLAGERS (Becoming a Jackel”), JOHNNY FLYNN (“Been Listening”).

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Acclaimed that I did not care for: VAMPIRE WEEKEND (“Contra”), THE BOOKS (“This Way Out”). Then there’s a lot of stuff I elected not to own, based on limited listenings, such as SLEIGH BELLS, WAVVES, YEASAYER, and a boatload of others that were praised elsewhere and I never gave, for a variety of reasons, a fair listen. Hey, my ears can’t be everywhere. And my taste currently leans much more into wooden music than electronica, and for me song craft continues to trump attitude.

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That leaves KANYE WEST’S “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which is probably the most widely praised disk of the year. As a personality, I find Kanye unbearable –- and as a live performer on television I find him bloated and dull (an unlikely but devastating combo). Yet he does have an undeniable musical gift and made a compelling disk, with all kinds of high marks. The opening track, “Dark Fantasy” strikes me as ground-breaking and brilliant. Not to mention any time a rapper brings together King Crimson and Bon Iver is worth at least a wtf. I won’t listen to this CD much, but there’s definitely some head-turning moments that I couldn’t ignore.

So . . . My Top Nine:

Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, The National, Black Keys, Beach House, Jamey Johnson, Tallest Man on Earth, Broken Bells, __________.

I’ll leave the tenth spot blank, because I probably didn’t hear it.

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As always . . . your mileage may vary. Hopefully you’ll find something you like here.

Wishing You the Best

Busy time of year. Or maybe you’ve noticed?

I’m going to push aside bloggy thoughts for the holidays, and likely won’t do much here until January.

Thanks for stopping by, for your interest in children’s books, for everything. I really do appreciate it.

Here’s a little Fats Domino to ring in the holiday . . . “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

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Maggie’s iPod Cake & Photos to Prove It!

Ten years ago today our youngest child, Maggie, was born in our bedroom at home. It was a cold, wet, blustery night and Lisa labored long and hard with two midwives at her side.

Today it’s a living wonder, how this . . .

led to this . . .

led to this . . .

led to this . . .

and now this . . .

Around our house, Maggie somehow acquired that idea that birthdays are a big deal.

A really big deal.

The other day I shared Maggie’s request for breakfast. And so Mom made it happen, with a small bit of grudging help from me . . .

Not too far off from the artist’s original rendering . . .

Maggie ate it up, happily, beaming, humming to herself.

Then there was the problem of the cake. Last week Maggie announced that she wanted Lisa to make a homemade birthday cake, and added, “I want an iPod cake for my birthday!”

An iPod cake? Lisa and I exchanged worried glances. A . . . what!? Where did that come from?

Undaunted, Maggie’s mom dug around, discovered this recipe and stayed up past 1:00 AM last night to bake and decorate this cake.

Mothers, you know, are just crazy about their kids. She’s a lucky girl. But I have to believe she’s not nearly as lucky as her parents.

Fan Mail Wednesday #104 (Thursday Edition)

Fabulous Fineas writes . . .

Dear James Preller,

I love your books!!! I am 8 years old.  I have pretty much read all your jigsaw jones books! My teacher always says I am getting up there! she says i am getting too old for your books because they are too short. Please write bigger books.  Write more mysteries!

From your fan, Fineas

I replied:

Thanks, Fin! Is it okay to call you Fin? Or Finn?

Good news: I have been writing longer books. I’d say the next step beyond Jigsaw in terms of length and difficulty would be: Along Came Spider, Justin Fisher Declares War, Six Innings, then Bystander.

But you are right, I should write another mystery. I’ve been meaning to get around to it again, at an older level, but I guess after 40 Jigsaw Jones books, I needed a break from that type of book. I’d like to write one that’s more complicated and perhaps even dangerous, more along the lines of a thriller. But right now, today, I’ve got nothing. Zippo.

Rough cover sketch by R.W. Alley. Click here to learn

more about his creative process!

You know, I have to confess that I hear this kind of thing a lot — kids being encouraged to move beyond “easy” books. And worse, that their current choices are somehow unworthy, certainly frowned upon, and I suspect that disapproval sometimes spills over to the reader himself.  I think many boys who loved reading comic books, for example, heard the same complaint all through childhood. It’s an unfortunate message, especially in a world where so many boys are not reading for pleasure at all.

So this is what I think, Fin. Your teacher is right to gently encourage you to continue to grow as a reader, to challenge yourself with new books. There are so many great books out there, just waiting for you. But at the same time, as a reader, I often like short books. And I like . . . what I like. The most important thing is that YOU ARE READING BOOKS, any books, even mine. Just keep that up — keep on reading, at least a little bit every day — and you’ll do fine. No worries.

Thanks again for the nice note!


P.S. I recently made a video in response to a reader who had a similar issue at school. You can check it out below!

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Thoughts on Blogging . . . and Maggie’s Birthday Breakfast

I often tell myself, “I’m not going to blog for those creeps anymore!” But each day I find something that I want to say, or share, and return to this outlet. Obviously, I’m blogging for me as much as for you, and very possibly moreso.

Sure, it’s a drag that no one ever seems to comment. It can too often feel like talking in an empty room. But, hey, that’s the writing life. And besides, you’re here! (And I don’t really think you’re a creep.)

People have asked if it takes away from my “real” writing. I don’t believe it does. I may spend too much time on the blog some days, but at least I’m writing and thinking and entertaining myself. I love the archival aspect of the blog, too. It’s all here, neatly saved and organized. A document, a record. Another plus, this blog has been a vehicle for new, unexpected friendships. Crazy as this sounds, I’ve made a few real friendships out of this thing.

So if, Dear Reader, you’ve ever considered starting up your own blog, I recommend it.

The point is, today I had to share this:

Maggie turns ten on Friday, so she can have whatever she’d like for breakfast. When Lisa asked that question last night, Maggie smiled and said, “Let me draw you a picture!”

She hunched over for a few minutes, working with determination, and then explained the picture to Lisa, the banana cut in half for the mouth with chocolate chips on top, the pancake and whipped cream, a cheery for the nose, slices of strawberry on the edges, etc.

After two boys, I’m always grateful that I was blessed with a daughter, now soon to be ten years old.

My Maggie. Amazing.

Cue the Inspiration: “For the Good Times”

This morning I was listening to the remarkable new double-CD by Jamey Johnson, “The Guitar Song,” and toward the end he covered one of the Truly Great Songs, Kris Kristofferson’s 1970 classic, “For the Good Times.”

1970, Monterey Pop Festival.

Photo: Robert Altman.

First, there’s that brilliant opening: “Don’t look so sad, I know it’s over.”

The lyric instantly pulls you into the moment. The ache, the beauty, the sadness of love lived and love lost. Has any song captured it better?

And a couple of lines later, “There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning.”

But it’s the chorus that’s perfection, that neat turn at the end, like a dagger twisting in the heart: “Hear the whisper of the raindrops/Blowin’ soft against the window/And make believe you love me one more time.”

It’s been a widely-covered song for obvious reasons. Ray Price got there first, and his single reached #1 in the country music charts and was later named “Song of the Year” by the Academy of Country Music. There are versions by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Perry Como, Al Green, and more.

Wait. Al Green? Really? Oh yes. Here he is on “Soul Train”:

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Don’t look so sad, I know it’s over.
But life goes on, and this old world will keep on turning.
Let’s just be glad we had some time to spend together.
There’s no need to watch the bridges that we’re burning.

Lay your head upon my pillow.
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine.
Hear the whisper of the raindrops,
Blowin’ soft against the window,
And make believe you love me one more time,
For the good times.

I’ll get along; you’ll find another,
And I’ll be here if you should find you ever need me.
Don’t say a word about tommorrow or forever,
There’ll be time enough for sadness when you leave me.

Lay your head upon my pillow.
Hold your warm and tender body close to mine.
Hear the whisper of the raindrops,
Blowin’ soft against the window,
And make believe you love me one more time,
For the good times.

Johnny Cash’s version was released posthumously, just this year, and of course the circumstances — sung by this particular legend, at this point in his long storied life — bring a new layer of meaning to it:

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Kristofferson may be an underrated songwriter in some quarters, and if you haven’t paid him much attention, I advise you to start by giving a close listen to “Sunday Morning Coming Down” . . .

Here’s the master, at age 74. He never had much of a voice, but the guy can write.

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Well I woke up Sunday morning,
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes,
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
An’ I shaved my face and combed my hair,
An’ stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

I’d smoked my brain the night before,
On cigarettes and songs I’d been pickin’.
But I lit my first and watched a small kid,
Cussin’ at a can that he was kicking.
Then I crossed the empty street,
‘n caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken.
And it took me back to somethin’,
That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cos there’s something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’,
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.

In the park I saw a daddy,
With a laughin’ little girl who he was swingin’.
And I stopped beside a Sunday school,
And listened to the song they were singin’.
Then I headed back for home,
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin’.
And it echoed through the canyons,
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.

On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cos there’s something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’,
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.

Lastly, I leave you with this little discovery. It’s a homemade video made by a young girl after her boyfriend broke up with her. It’s sweet, beautiful, youthful, innocent, heartfelt and, to date, has gotten more than 70,000 views.

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FATHERS READ: An Update & Some Outtakes

About seven weeks ago I announced plans for my new blog, FATHERS READ. Some of you may have even answered my request for photos. I’m thrilled with what I’ve got — it’s a start — but I will need more. I suppose the second push can’t really begin until I have the site up and running and I have something tangible to show for our collective efforts.

Right now, after various delays, I’m thisclose to going “live.” I’ve struggled with a minor design issue (and less than speedy service) on the permanent header art. It’s frustrating, because I’m excited to share what I’ve got, which includes some killer photos and terrific contributions from authors and illustrators, too, including Lewis Buzbee, Jordan Sonnenblick, Matthew Cordell, Eric Velasquez, Don Tate, Peter Lerangis, and more.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some outtakes from a recent photo session I did with my talented friend, Paul Barrett.

We were trying to come up with an image that would work in the header, and fooled around with a lot of different looks. This site won’t be about “me,” so I hope to find a shot that’s more iconic and less specifically “james preller,” if that makes sense. Nevertheless, Paul took a ton of great shots and here’s a few more, below.

(If you have a favorite, let me know. But it’s impossible to tell without seeing the overall design in place. In the end, the header photo will be just a minor supporting element.)

Here’s the current language about photo submissions:

FATHERS READ depends upon the active participation of its readers. I hope to store and feature dozens, hundreds, and possibly thousands of photographs of men reading.

Send your photos to with your name and the name of those pictured, under the subject heading of “FATHERS READ.”

Photos cannot be guaranteed publication. If you do not see your photo on the site, please come back at a later date. It might take a while to roll them out. Now for a little legal mumbo-jumbo: When you submit a photo, you grant FATHERS READ a non-exclusive, royatly-free license to use the work to be used, copied, sublicensed, adapted, transmitted, distributed, published, displayed or otherwise under my sole discretion. At this point, I have no intention of using your photos for anything other than to post them here on the internet, with or without your name, as you so desire. If for any reason you wish to have a photo removed, just contact me and I will do it.

Thank you for your support.

Fan Mail Wednesday #103 (The Video Edition!)

Any author can answer a letter the old-fashioned way — that is, pay their hired assistant Roxanne to stuff an envelope. But a video letter? That takes someone who can’t actually type!

This is for you, Ms. Aberman’s class at Edgewood Elementary in Scarsdale, NY. Thanks for your swashbuckling ideas, me hearties!

Ms. Ableman wrote:

Thank you for visiting our school and sharing how you became a writer. Your visit reinforced my message to the students that writers use things that really happened in their life to them with their writing ideas for books. Sharing your personal experiences demonstrated how drawing from personal experiences really makes your writing come to life.

As promised, my class came up with some ideas for your next pirate book. We hope you enjoy reading the ideas as much as my class enjoying coming up with the ideas for the next book. We can’t wait to read the next pirate book adventure.

Thank you again for allowing us to have a peek into your world as a writer and we look forward to many more James Preller books.

Very truly,

Ms. Aberman

Regarding the video response: I really am sorry for mangling the pronunciation of any of your names. Apollonia & Kasumi, I’m looking at you! I’m just really poor at that stuff, partly because I live under a dome in Delmar, NY. Also, I’m not skilled at video editing and, frankly, can’t spend too much time on my movie-making career — better to just blast it out. Forgive me. I am now going to walk the plank like the scurvy dog I am.

But first, this video message . . .

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Fan Mail Wednesday #102

Here’s a letter from Frank in Secaucus, New Jersey!

Hold on while I warm up the scanner . . .

I replied:

Hi, Frank. Thanks for the letter. It sounds like we’ve got a lot in common, since I’m also a huge baseball fan. Here’s a shot from back in 1973, when I was 12 and played Little League for the Cardinals in Wantagh, Long Island.

That’s me, top row, center.

I loved playing baseball so much that when I turned 38, I joined a Senior Men’s Hardball League. I started my own team, managed a group of men for eight seasons — doctors, engineers, state troopers, teachers, it didn’t matter so long as they could play! I had to stop a couple of years back, when coaching my son in Little League and All-Stars and Travel Baseball just got too overwhelming. I ultimately had to realize, this was his time, not mine. Even so, I hope to get back on the field again someday, because it’s just so much fun to go out there and play, compete to win, dive for a ball, steal a base, rip a double into the gap. My point: You don’t have to give up the game just because you’ve gotten older.

This is me about 30+ years later.

After Six Innings, I was a little bit worried about being typecast as “just” a sports writer. I wanted to write about many different things, so I avoided following up Six Innings with another baseball book. But I do have an idea for one, and I hope to get around to it within the next couple of years.

Thanks for reading my book!


Getting Boys to Read: Two Authors Chat About It (part 2)

A while back, author Kurtis Scaletta and I shared on this blog an online chat we had on the wide-ranging topic of “the reading gender gap.” Specifically, we discussed an Associated Press article, written by Leanne Italie: “How to get boys to read? Try a book on farts.”

If you missed it the first time around, click here to read that conversation.

Today we’re back at it again, this time responding to a provocative piece written by Thomas Spence for The Wall Street Journal back in late September. I really encourage you to read it, and you can do so by banging on this link.

Here’s a few paragraphs from Spence’s article to set the stage:

One obvious problem with the SweetFarts philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.

The other problem is that pandering doesn’t address the real reason boys won’t read. My own experience with six sons is that even the squirmiest boy does not require lurid or vulgar material to sustain his interest in a book.

And now for the chat portion of today’s program:

JP: Kurtis!

KS: Hey, how’s the weather in Albany? It’s damned cold here.

JP: Nice, sunny. It’s December, so it’s all about sunshine. We can go grim stretches of gray without it.

KS: Yeah, I have to remember to take walks or I don’t see the sun. Dark on the way in, dark on the way home. Windowless cube.

JP: I’m typing from a windowless basement, so I feel your pain. Anyway, do you remember your first gut-reaction to Spence’s article?

KS: Yes, but every time I go back to it I feel differently. My gut reaction was to feel the same outrage and disgust as the author. Now I’m not sure it’s a fair piece.

JP: I agree. But let’s stay with the positive for a moment.

KS: The gist of his point was nicely summarized in one sentence: “If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.” That’s my philosophy as an author of children’s books. I want to set high expectations for children. My experience as a child who loved reading and as a book club facilitator is that kids who love reading are reading a bit ahead of themselves, if that makes sense. I think of books as grappling hooks. Kids throw the hook up and then climb up to it. They deal with issues through literature, then confront them personally. And the truth is that books like Sweet Farts — which is about science project — might do that. But the treatment in the popular press is that boys can only be saved if we dumb down their books. It’s that message that worries me, not the books.

JP: Backing up a bit, Spence was reacting against — and at times, churlishly over-reacting –- to the AP article we discussed a month ago. This lazy idea that boys are somehow primitive creatures.

KS: I guess that’s it. Boys are dumb, you need to give them dumb books. Don’t bother giving them anything else, they won’t enjoy it because they’re all video-game-crazed and have the attention spans of gnats.

JP: Right, this sweeping negative caricature of boys.

KS: Like I’ve said before (even on your blog), to an extent when you say what boys like you are telling them what they like. You set expectations. Kids are always looking to adults to know who they are and how they’re supposed to behave. Man, I see myself doing it now that I have a kid, and he’s only a baby. Trucks on his sheets, sports themed jammies.

JP: I was reading an article the other day, and it focused on how boys influence the reading of other boys, this peer-checking system where, in groups, maybe it’s not so cool to admit to liking certain kinds of books. So the boys do it to themselves, too — to the point where some boys don’t even want to admit to liking books.

KS: Oh yeah. I remember as a boy that some books had to stay at home. Betsy Byars, Judy Blume.

JP: Right, bring one of those books to the lunch table and here comes the “Are you gay?” comment.

KS: Heh. But parents and teachers shouldn’t encourage that by creating “boy book” sections that are all farts and firetrucks. So we’ve been over this and I guess the question is, in the words of Boss Tweed, what are you going to do about it?

JP: Which is why we come back to the critical importance of male role models — of men reading, sending the powerful message that reading is a guy thing.

Art by Edward Gorey.

KS: And reading all kinds of stuff. But I think there has to be some kind of message sent to teachers and libraries and parents as well. “Stop selling boys short.”

JP: As of today, 15,024 Facebook users “liked” The Wall Street Journal article and it generated almost 200 comments. So it obviously touched a nerve.

KS: Wow.

JP: He is awfully unfair though. These broad swipes at R.L. Stine, for example, whom I see as a sincere, talented man with an uncanny gift for plot who writes lively, fast-paced thrillers that many kids (girls, too) genuinely enjoy.

KS: Yes, and I saw an interview with Raymond Bean that made me reconsider his book, Sweet Farts. I guess I’m jealous of the instant success of it based on a scatological theme, but it’s just about a kid’s science project. If you said, “Kurtis, a book about a science project for middle school readers is a big hit,” I’d think that was cool.

JP: Likewise, I think it’s easy to under-estimate the “Captain Underpants” series. In the hands of a lesser writer, those books might be awful. But I found them genuinely funny. It doesn’t read like pandering to me. My oldest son, Nick, now 17, loved them. He even wrote a piece of fan mail to Dav Pilkey. And Nick is still a reader today and a great student. I think we’re agreed: It’s not about the books — there are so many, many great books out there — it’s about the collective perception of boys and what they are capable of, what they may one day become.

KS: Exactly. All I can do is write the books I want to write and hope they’ll catch on.

JP: I’ve come to intensely dislike lists of “books for boys,” because they are so dependent upon limited (and limiting!) stereotypes. These lists are almost part of the problem, I think, because they seem to inevitably lead to the lowest common denominator — i.e., all boys love gross-out books!

KS: The problem with a boys book list that isn’t diverse is really two-fold. First, it sells boys short. Second, it makes boys who have different tastes feel like they aren’t proper boys. It’s something serious to think about. There’s so much emphasis on getting boys to read at all that we lose sight of the big picture. Books shape us. That’s why they’re important. It’s not just about doing well on the SAT. But that’s just the mainstream media. I’ve learned that scholars and teachers are having a completely different conversation.

JP: Previously you talked about books that are game-changers, those singular reading experiences that can turn kids into life-long readers.

KS: Yeah, the conversations I mean are at a much deeper level. They aren’t looking for ways to “trick” kids into reading. They’re looking at those books that Stephen Krashen calls “home run” books — single books that turn kids on to reading because they affect them in profound ways.

JP: Reading is such a private experience. Alone with a book. It’s when readers can be most authentically themselves — at a time in their lives, for these boys, when they are really uncertain about who that “self” is or might become. Great literature has done that for me. It’s helped shaped my thoughts, my feelings. When we say we want boys to read, those are the experiences we are hoping they’ll have.

KS: And William Brozo’s work has probably given me more thought about my own work than anybody else. He has written about the male archetypes in books.

JP: I read Brozo’s book on your recommendation.

KS: I haven’t figured it all out yet, but Krashen and Brozo have made me really thoughtful about my own work.

JP: How so?

KS: I mean that when I write books I’ll be thinking about the men my boy characters are becoming. It’s done instinctively in Mudville, but for the most part I don’t think more than a month ahead in the lives of my characters.

JP: Interesting. When I wrote Bystander, I clearly saw the character of Griffin very likely ending up in prison some day. On a somewhat-related note, when my son was very sick, it really put parenting issues to a test. It was so tempting to spoil a kid with cancer. Here, have whatever you want! But we’d remind ourselves, “We’re not raising a sick boy, we’re trying to raise a healthy adult.”

KS: I love that statement, Jim. I remember it from your blog. I was repeating it to everyone for a week at least . . . of course your wife gets the credit.

JP: She’s a great mother.

KS: Well, I’ve got to head off to work. Maybe we can pick this up in a future conversation. It’s a great topic. And one that writers might find useful.

JP: Thanks, I learn something every time we talk. And by the way, I’m really looking forward to your upcoming book, Tanglewood Terror. Is it a book for boys? Ha!

KS: Tanglewood Terror has some definite influence of Brozo, which I read while I was writing it. There’s a really rough-and-tumble boy, a football player, but he’s also sensitive. He cares a lot about home, family, wildlife. It was tricky to communicate that in his voice, since it’s a first person story. I wanted to show that there was no paradox there.

Gavin and me

JP: Quick story: My 6th-grade son, Gavin, is a pretty good athlete, and reasonably competitive. He wants to do well. This week in intramurals they are just now self-selecting teams for a four-on-four tournament. So last night one of his longtime friends called to see if he could team up with Gavin. However, his friend is not very good, to put it mildly. Now Gavin is conflicted and has to navigate some tricky issues. And I thought to myself, that’s exactly what Along Came Spider was about. It’s what being a human being is about, pulled in different directions. How do you do the right thing . . . and still win? And what is the right thing? And how important is winning? It’s not always clear.

KS: I can sympathize with his friend. I guess I’d say, in ten years you won’t remember who won this tournament, but the kid who gets dumped will remember it. But maybe that’s just my perspective as someone who was a liability on every team I was ever on . . . I guess I write about kids who are good at sports to get over it.

JP: True, but I can sympathize. He wants to compete, not get crushed by his peers. There’s a pecking order, and status in the pack to be considered. It’s hard for a young boy to willfully surrender that, at a time when athletic skill is the currency of the playground. My point is that in the final analysis — actually, I believe it’s our point — is that “boy” cannot easily be reduced to a handful of cliches. Each lad is vast and full of conflicting impulses and contradictions. Walt Whitman’s, I am large. I contain multitudes.”

KS: I love that line.

JP: So let’s stop here while we’re behind. I leave you with a look at Walt’s amazing face.