Archive for January 31, 2011

Home: A Father Sings with His Little Girl

This is really sweet in an honest, unaffected, natural way — and that’s why you’ll love it.

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

Click here for an article about the young father, Jorge Narvaez, age 24, and his daughters. Said Narvaez, “Every moment I have with them is special. It just happens that I put this one on YouTube and it blew up.”

As I type, the clip nears 6,000,000 total views.

90 Second Newbery Video Contest

True story: I was telling a teacher friend about the video contest the other day, urging him to check it out, and thought to myself: “Hmmm, blog fodder!”

Because once you have a blog, the world quickly divides into two parts: blog-worthy or not so much.

Here, give this 90 seconds and we’ll talk:

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

Fun idea, right? Simply compress the full story of a Newbery Medal or Honor Book into a video that runs no more than 90 seconds.

I can see how a good teacher, with a lively classroom, could make hay out of something like this. Get creative, allow students to actively contribute in different ways, read and learn how to analyze (not to mention summarize) a classic book, and so much more.

The contest will culminate in a Film Festival at the New York Public Library. The whole shebang has been spearheaded by author Jamie Kennedy and Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 Fame. Nice going, guys.

Click here for rules and full details.

Here’s a list of Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-2011. Because it’s all about convenience here at

Fan Mail Wednesday #107 (Friday Edition)

Here’s a lad who’s in for bitter disappointment:
Hi. My name is Christopher and I am in the 3rd grade. We were given a project to do on our favorite author and I picked you. I have to do a visual aid that needs to include some interesting facts about you. Can you give me some interesting facts about you? What are some of your favorite hobbies other than writing?
I replied:
Christopher, thanks for selecting me as your favorite author. I have three kids and I can’t even crack their Top Ten List. Interesting things? Oh dear. Let’s see:
1. I suffer from terrible dandruff.
Actually, this photo is from a recent trip to New York City. And guess what? It snowed. A lot.
2. I sat in the last row of Shea Stadium, up high in the clouds, for the 5th Game of the 1969 World Series when the New York Mets won it all. I was in 3rd grade, just like you, and I remember it like it was yesterday. However, yesterday I don’t remember all that well.
3. The funny thing about hobbies is, well, I don’t really think of anything I do as a hobby. I mean, I don’t carve wooden ducks in the basement. I don’t collect anything (except dandruff: see above). Hey, wait. I once got hired to write a book about Baseball Card Collecting, and as a result I decided to collect a complete set o 1969 Topps baseball cards. The most valuable card I own is probably this one, it cost more than $100:
4. I love music and listen to it all the time. My favorite songwriter is Bob Dylan. But if I’m really concentrating (unlike, say, now), I have to switch to something instrumental, in which case I prefer jazz: Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, etc.
5. I once wrestled an alligator on a trip down to Florida. Just for kicks, Christopher, because that’s how I roll. It did not work out well for the alligator:
Seriously, Christopher, I don’t know that there are any interesting facts about me. I’m just a guy, a husband, a father. My life isn’t extraordinary. Whatever limited magic I might have, I try to put into the books. However, for your report, you can find more information about me with a little digging in this very blog. 1) Up at the top of the page, click on “BIO,” and; 2) Click on “Q & A.” If there’s any interesting stuff (unlikely), you’ll find it there.
Good luck on your report!

Poetry Wednesday: “The Grass, the Earth”

I’m headed down to NYC to catch a concert and to celebrate a pending birthday. This poem has been in my computer for a couple of years, fussed with and ignored in equal measure, so figured I’d throw it out there. Just because.




he was puttering in the yard

spreading fertilizer w/ a coffee can

alone except for the failing sun

& all that sky above


what did he think when his heart

gave out?

was there that flash of knowing bright as foil

the glimmering chord of a twelve-string

struck? a chime of bells,

what the bells told:

—————–death on the lawn,

they tolled him



I imagine

he lay half-broken, half-dreaming

I’ll take tiger mountain by dawn . . .”

—–& maybe find a little boat

conjure some small craft to carry me


——-((be sure to place pennies on my lids

to pay the ferryman

& so with a push set out splash upon the water

yes always drawn to that liquid space

of the mind, & the lively open air


maybe toss a line, see what bites

heading home, heading out — wind

in the face! –- hold near, hold steady

to that resting



——& splat I fell flat asunder

chopped down like an old oak, timber!

rotten to the core — damnedest thing, damnedest thing

I ever saw


did he gaze at a last white rock

& finally see the thing true & clear or say

an ant climbing a blade or

the clouds gray & immense above or

think of her

———–his wife his love his life

Annie watching television unawares

chomping on her famous glass of ice or

smell deep the grass, the earth

so rich the loam, so glad the glade

kind of amazing when you get right down

to it


—–the lateness of the hour . . .


cue the fading

lights, curtains

College Applications: Writing the “Parent Perspective”

My oldest son is a high school senior, gearing up for college. We’re in the application phase, after whittling down the choices to eight colleges. It fell upon me to write the parent perspective, which I did a while back.

As you may know, I wrote Six Innings based in part on Nick’s Little League experiences, combined with my own as an ex-kid, a father, and a long-time coach. It weird and maybe goofy how so many of the biggest things in my life, including my relationship with my mother, comes back to baseball.

Not sure why, but today I thought I’d share with you what I came up with:


Early one night in May, Nick sat in the stands beside his stepmother, Lisa, and watched as his fifth-grade brother, Gavin, hit his first home run of his Little League career. It was a booming shot, high and far. As the team’s manager, I stood in the third base coach’s box and worked to contain my elation. Play it cool, I told myself. So I smiled at Gavin as he rounded second base, gave him a low five when he turned the corner and headed home. A wonderful moment for my little guy, and a thrill for any parent. A minor dream realized.

Seven years earlier, I had coached Nick on that same field. He needed a courtesy runner back then, unable to run the bases, as he was in the midst of chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. Nick was first diagnosed at age 26 months, went through three years of tough medical treatment, then relapsed again in fourth grade. Two more years of chemo, far worse this time around, spinal taps, toxic drugs, surgeries. Nick weathered it all with stoic calm, his bravery mixed with a child’s denial. Nick’s steadfastness pulled him through.

For Nick, cancer was something to get through, and move beyond; something to willfully ignore and, finally, push back into the dark closet of the past. And yet it is always present, will always be a central fact in his life. Those five hard years, the setbacks and the struggles, the blows to his confidence and self-esteem. And then the slow, steady rise from those depths to where he stands today, on the cusp of a great future.

I’m sure that every father has visions of his child’s successes. The home runs hit, the tests aced, the races won, the pretty girls kissed. We all look at our children and see the great possibilities; we dream of the potential realized, the wild hopes fulfilled and surpassed. Yet on that same baseball diamond, Nick was never a star. He didn’t hit well, didn’t even move well. He struck out too often. Nick’s face was puffy, bloated from prednisone, muscles achy from vincristine and methotrexate. He missed a few games due to fatigue, too sick to rise from the couch (though he rarely missed a day of school).

As a parent of a child with cancer, I had to reconcile some of those dreams of stardom with this new reality: Nick would not be hitting blasts over the wall, circling the bases to return home to the cheers and admiration of his teammates. That’s my boy, that’s my boy. No, it became enough –- more than enough –- that he simply played, a boy on the green grass among other boys, searching the sky for high-flying baseballs.

After Gavin returned triumphant to the dugout, I glanced in the direction of my wife. Lisa smiled at me, gave a little wave. And beside her sat Nick, a seventeen-year-old boy who had come to watch his little brother play. Not just to watch, but to root for Gavin, to hope and dream of home runs like the rest us. When I looked at Nick’s beaming face, I could not help but remember all that he’d been through. And I did not see any jealousy in his eyes, or envy, or the slightest trace of bitterness. Nick only showed pure, fierce pride in his little brother, maybe a little awe, and a lot of happiness.

He’s a good guy, that Nick.

In his life’s journey, Nick has traveled far, with many miles ahead. And I’m here to say that I’m proud of the young man he’s become.

That’s my boy, that’s my boy.

As far as I’m concerned, he’s already knocked that ball over the wall, high and far.

Nick, four days old, 1993.

It’s the Thought That Counts

I’m conflicted. I realize that some readers enjoy it when I open up about my writing process. At the same time, two thoughts pull me in the other direction: 1) It’s bad voodoo to talk about work before it’s finished; and 2) It seems a little pretentious to me, prattling on about my process.

But, anyway, the blog’s name is so I guess I’m already shin-deep in pretension.

Lately I’ve been keeping a little spiral notebook on my desk, just to the left of the mouse pad (I’m a southpaw from Long Island, remember, and my fastball has natural movement). I jot down things, make “To Do” lists, etc. This morning I woke early and went immediately to work. We’ve got a snow delay, Lisa’s home until 10:00, so I need to make hay.

I wanted to get out a new post for my fabulous Fathers Read blog — please check that out people — knock out some fan mail, scribe a witty Facebook Status Update, and work on the new book. I had woken up thinking about it last night. This morning, before the coffee kicked it, I scribbled this in the aforementioned notebook:

Can you read that? It’s just enough to fuel my writing for the day.

Okay, to fill you in, there’s a scene that just happened. We’re in a middle school and our main character, a boy, endures a moment of petty cruelty. He stands at his locker, absorbing the verbal blow, and watches his foe lope down the hallway.

He thinks:

I so want to be his friend.

That was the surprising thought that woke me up. And it makes sense to me; it’s realistic for how kids think, especially in bullying situations, that paradoxical response, a middle-grade version of The Stockholm Syndrome. (BTW, not at all sure about the word “so” up there, which strikes me as lame and lazy, but I won’t fuss with that now; like birthday presents, when it comes to first drafts, it’s the thought that counts.)

Then another voice surprised me, a new character I hadn’t planned on. I mean, okay, I “planned” on there being more characters, just hadn’t figured out the details. No outline, nothing, just vague and formless thoughts. But before I could begin to conjure this one’s profile and backstory, there was her voice:

“No you don’t.”

In my notebook, as you might be able to decipher, I next wrote:

I turned to see _______ _______ standing next to me. A little awkwardly close.

This is what I think of placeholder text. I don’t have time to, or don’t feel like, actually visualizing the details right now. I know I need to describe her, set the scene, her lank hair and pale complexion, the way her arms hang limply at her side, but I’m just not ready to go there yet. What’s her name? What’s her story? And look at that sentence, “A little awkwardly close.” Again, I’m more interested in the idea — that she invades his space a little, and it’s uncomfortable — than the actual writerly part of things right now.

I had another notion, one I wasn’t sure about, and had to move quickly to get it down:

It was as if she could read my thoughts.

Hmmm. In this particular book, I want to be open to the magical, the psychologically true, so I can’t dismiss that possibility. Can she actually read his thoughts? Or was it just one of those things that happen happen when two people have a connection?

Now I have to think a bit. And write. Because usually it’s in the writing that we do our best thinking.

We don’t write what we know. We write to find out what we know.

Have a great weekend!

BYSTANDER in Paperback: New Cover, Old Hype

Good news for schools interested in using Bystander as part of a “One Book, One School” program, or on Required Summer Reading lists, or as part of an anti-bullying initiative: The book will be available this May in paperback.

Read: Cheap, cheap, cheap!

Or, at least, cheaper.

Take a look at the new cover . . .

Preller has perfectly nailed the middle school milieu, and his characters are well developed with authentic voices. The novel has a parablelike quality, steeped in a moral lesson, yet not ploddingly didactic. The action moves quickly, keeping readers engaged. The ending is realistic: there’s no strong resolution, no punishment or forgiveness. Focusing on the large majority of young people who stand by mutely and therefore complicitly, this must-read book is a great discussion starter that pairs well with a Holocaust unit.” —School Library Journal, Starred Review.

“Plenty of kids will see themselves in these pages, making for painful, if important, reading.”Publishers Weekly.

“Expertly written and rich on multiple levels, “Bystander” weaves a realistic tale of the bully, the bully’s targets and the physical and emotional pain that the victims suffer. It explores what might happen when someone decides to no longer be a bystander and to do something about the bully’s behavior.”Kendal Rautzhan, Nationally Syndicated Columnist

Should be required reading for students in middle school or just getting ready to enter middle school.” Literate Lives.

The Tyranny of Silence

When I was working on Bystander, I kept running across different quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. He would often express the same idea in subtle variations. Dr. King issued an indictment against the tyranny of silence, reminding us all of our responsibility to speak up. King believed in the common good. He had an abiding faith in his fellow man. If only we would stand up to be heard, then justice and democracy and human kindness would surely prevail over cruelty and prejudice.

Here’s a few of my favorite quotes from Dr. King:

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Fan Mail Wednesday #106 (Friday Edition)

Here’s an easy one!

Hi, My name is Sheyanne and I live in Watseka, Illinois. I am in 5th grade, and I am doing a book report on The Case of the Haunted Scarecrow and one of the questions I have to answer is where did you attend school at in 5th grade? If you could answer my question I would be very thankful.
I replied:

Sheyanne, I attended St. Frances de Chantal Elementary School in Wantagh, New York, from grades 1-6. It was a Catholic school and we had to wear uniforms: dark green pants, white shirt, green tie. After sixth grade I transferred out early to attend public school and wear normal clothes.
It was better for the girls, though. They got to wear pink go-go boots with these really cool fringe leather vests that . . . no, not really. In fact, they wore ties, too. And high, thick green socks. Every girl in 5th grade had sweaty, itchy ankles. You need proof?
Here’s a photo of my 5th grade class with Sister Mary Edna. Count how many kids are in that picture: 23 boys, 18 girls. Yikes. There were no teacher’s aides in those days, just Sister Mary Edna and her strict rules and golden ruler.
Oh, what? Which one am I? Top shelf, fifth from the left. True story: One day we were on line to go to P.E. (in the auditorium, because we didn’t have a real gym, or a lunch room, btw). Anyway, Sister Mary Edna summoned me to her desk. She looked at me, slapped me across the face, and said, “Get a haircut!”
Guess what? I got a haircut.
POSTSCRIPT: I heard back from Sheyanne and have to share her sweet reply:
thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love your books!!!!

Boys Reading

I want to welcome you to my labor of love —

This week I launched the new blog, dedicated to the proposition of male role models playing an important role in the reading life of boys.

Please stop by to check it out. And please, if you care about this issue, share a link with a friend, post it on your blog, spread the word. I really believe in the potential of this site, and right now it needs your support (only 17 visitors yesterday!).

So far this week at Fathers Read:

* Author Jordan Sonnenblick, recent winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for After Ever After, writes about “Five Things About Me as a Young Reader.”

* Illustrator Eric Velesquez, recent winner of the Pure Belpre Award, shares his strong feelings about men and role models, and pays a moving tribute to Mr. Basquez.

* And always, some quick, fun shots of men reading, complete with snide commentary.

* In the future, there’s much more to come, as I hope to make this site a Grand Central Station for news and links regarding the reading gender gap.