Archive for April 28, 2011

“Bystander” Named to Ballot of 2012 Charlotte Award Nominees

This is amazing good news. Great news, in fact. I’m happy and proud to say that my book, Bystander, is included on the ballot for the 2012 New York State Reading Association Charlotte Award.

To learn more about the award, and to download a ballot or bookmark, please click here.

The voting is broken down into four categories and includes forty books. Bystander is in the “Grades 6-8/Middle School” category. Really, it’s staggering. There are ten books in this category out of literally an infinity of titles published each year. You do the math, people.

For more background stories on Bystander — that cool “insider info” you can only find on the interwebs! — please click here (bully memory) and here (my brother John) and here (Nixon’s dog, Checkers) and here (the tyranny of silence).

Below please find all the books on the ballot — congratulations, authors & illustrators! I’m honored to be in your company.



Bubble Trouble . . . Margaret Mahy/Polly Dunbar

City Dog, Country Frog . . . Mo Willems/Jon J Muth

Clever Jack Takes the Cake . . . Candace Fleming/G. Brian Karas

Lousy Rotten Stinkin’ Grapes . . . Margie Palatini/Barry Moser

Memoirs of a Goldfish . . . Devin Scillian/Tim Bower

Otis . . . Loren Long

Stars Above Us . . . Geoffrey Norman/E.B. Lewis

That Cat Can’t Stay . . . Thad Krasnesky/David Parkins

Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! . . . April Pulley Sayre/Annie Patterson

We Planted a Tree . . . Diane Muldrow/Bob Staake



The Can Man . . . Laura E. Williams/Craig Orback L

Emily’s Fortune . . . Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Family Reminders . . . Julie Danneberg/John Shelley

Fly Free! . . . Roseann Thong/Eujin Kim Neilan

Jake . . . Audrey Couloumbis

Lizards . . . Nic Bishop

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute . . . Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse . . . Marilyn Singer/Josee Massee

The Sandwich Swap . . . Queen Rania of Jordan & Kelly DiPucchio/Tricia Tusa

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride . . . Andrea Pinkney/Brian Pinkney



All the Broken Pieces . . . Ann E. Burg

Bystander . . . James Preller

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. . . . Kate Messner

Candy Bomber . . . Michael Tunnell

Cleopatra Rules! . . . Vicky Alvear Shecter

How to Survive Middle School . . . Donna Gephart

January’s Sparrow . . . Patricia Polacco

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook . . . Eleanor Davis

Slob . . . Ellen Potter

A Tale Dark & Grimm . . . Adam Gidwitz



Beautiful Creatures . . . Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

The Chosen One . . . Carol Lynch Williams

The Maze Runner . . . James Dashner

North of Beautiful . . . Justina Chen Headley

The Notorious Benedict Arnold . . . Steven Sheinkin

The Sweetheart of Prosper County . . . Jill S. Alexander

The Things a Brother Knows . . . Dana Reinhardt

Trash . . . Andy Mulligan

Truce . . . Jim Murphy

The Year of Goodbyes . . . Debbie Levy


By the way, who’s Charlotte?

Illustration: Garth Williams.

Overheard: “But Dad, it’s the mud room!”

Quick story from this morning:

Nick has already gone to school. Lisa, off to work. Maggie still asleep upstairs. And it’s almost time to get Gavin, my middle schooler, out the door. Not a problem usually, as he’s pathologically punctual, like his father.

I walk into the mud room by the side door, where we hang coats and backpacks and shelve our shoes (in theory!). Clang, bang, clang! Gavin is slamming together the soles of his Reeboks, mud flying everywhere in caked clumps.

To be clear: He is inside the house as he does this. And my son is doing it out of the goodness of his dutiful heart, since we’ve recently disparaged the trail of mud inside the house, through the halls, into the kitchen, across the rug. Yesterday I went so far as to hand my put-upon son a broom and dustpan, compelled him to sweep and other hideous punishments.

So watching him bang the sneakers together, I recognize it as some form of progess.

“Gavin, you do that outside,” I said. Maybe with a little something in my voice that conveys a hint of, just possibly, frustration.

“But Dad, it’s the mud room,” he replied.

I let that sink in for a moment, admire the logic of it. The mud room. Maybe not the best name in the world. In Gavin’s mind, a room dedicated to the accumulation of mud. There should be mud, in fact. And, in fact, he was doing a swell thing. Helping the cause! A good boy.

“Yeah, but,” I replied, gently, “let’s try to keep it outside. Okay? Bang the sneakers outside.”

So he instantly steps into the wet driveway in his white socks and starts to whack away. I almost talk about the wet ground and the white socks and how maybe that’s not the best combination in the world. How it’s possible to stand just inside and kind of lean out the door when whacking said sneakers. But decide against it.

We’re moving in the right direction, one soggy step at a time.

My Family, Getting Their Bronze On

Lisa sent along this snap from Florida — while I stayed home in the cold, damp, gray Northeast to work. No, no skin cancer for me! I’ve neatly avoided that trap by working in a windowless basement. Clever, eh? Lisa knew this photo would make me smile. Left to right: Gavin (11) reading The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin, which I purchased for him based on reviews like this; Nick (17) reading And Here’s the Kicker: 21 Conversations with Humor Writers on Their Craft by Mike Sacks, a book which I thoroughly enjoyed and passed along; and Maggie (10) reading Nature Girl by debut novelist Jane Kelley.

Don’t you just love debut novelists? The thrill of that first book, a dream come true, and so much promise of what’s yet to come. Good luck, Jane, whoever you are!

Yo Yo Ma & Lil Buck

Ah, the viral video. This one has been around for a few days, and I hadn’t clicked on it, because, obviously, I can’t click on everything. But it kept showing up, time and again, and finally I thought, okay . . . and clicked away. Glad I did. It’s sort of a small miracle, magical, wondrous.

If you haven’t seen this yet, trust me and give it a try.

Yo Yo Ma and Lil Buck, together for the very first time. I can’t wait to show this to Maggie.

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Famous Typewriters and Their Authors (and vice versa)

Flavorwire had a fun piece recently, just a series of cool photos, and I recommend you check it out by clicking the link.

If you’re still with us, here’s a taste of Flavorwire’s simple idea, below. For fun, see if you can correctly guess who is who. Or whom is who. Or who is whom? Because, like, anybody can guess incorrectly, that takes no special talent.

Write your answers in the comments section. First prize gets nothing whatsoever.

TIME OUT: You know what. Strike that. You want to lurk? You want to read, click through, but not be guilted into writing in the comments section? I get that. I do. So lurk away, it’s fine. It’s better than fine. I’m grateful that you’re here at all, like some enlightened camper, leaving no footprint behind. I hate going to concerts when the star starts desperately trying to enlist the audience into some sad sing-along. “Come on, everybody, clap your hands!”

Hell no.

Read, Dad, Read

I was recently asked to contribute a guest blog to the BookPig April Newsletter.

No, I didn’t know who they were, either. Something about “children’s books, Netflix style.” Which I kind of maybe understand.

Okay, I don’t. No clue. I think you mail them a book . . . and they turn it into a movie? Something like that.

Click on the link above if you’re so damn curious!

Here’s the brief blog I wrote for the BookPig Team . . .

Read, Dad, Read

Ninety-five percent of parenting is showing up. It’s not epic trips to Disneyland or tickets to a fancy show. It’s about being there. It’s about the small things. And if you believe in the importance of reading, then your children need to see you reading. This is particularly true for fathers, because these days boys are increasingly getting the message that reading is a girl thing.

It’s instructive to recognize the strangeness of reading from a boy perspective. To read means to be silent, to sit still, isolated. It’s shutting one’s self off from the world, at a time when many boys desire noise, and activity, and interaction with others. Reading, in that context, is downright weird.

Why don’t more boys read? Is it in their DNA? Are the books to blame? The way the school day is structured? Is it the video games? Perhaps it’s partly all of those things. Who knows. But this we do know: Boys look up to their fathers. Just observe a little boy as Dad shaves in front of the bathroom mirror, face covered with foam.

Now imagine that same boy as he spies his father in a chair with a book — or newspaper, or magazine, or e-reader — in his lap. Dad reads. It’s a powerful, transformative message that goes to the core of a young man’s self-image. Dad reads. Now listen as father and son talk about books, perhaps debating what might happen next with a certain character; or maybe together they pore over a box score from last night’s ballgame; or they look up facts on the computer to settle an disagreement. Dad reads. Because he enjoys it. Because it’s a guy thing. Guys like finding out stuff, figuring out the world a little bit. Getting smart.

Chances are good that boy will think, “And I read, too. Just like Dad.”

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Hippie Shame Spiral — the Video!

“Could I use butter and cheese and eggs in my cooking without going down some kind of hippie shame spiral? Yes. Of course I could.” — cookbook author, Gwyneth Paltrow


Folks, I’m fresh back from a pretty great trip visiting schools on Long Island and Irvington, NY.  So here’s a quick one, too good not to share.

I mean to say: Nice to be home. And, oh yes, I’m always up for a satiric, dramatic reading of any too-serious text. While Kristen Wiig’s take on the poetry of Suzanne Somers remains a personal favorite, here’s a recent performance by Robert Acquire reading from Gwyneth Paltrow’s autobiographical cookbook stew, My Father’s Daughter. Enjoy!

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Cue the Inspiration: Krazy Kat & Nancy Comics & Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces”

Ah, the writing life — or a book gone wrong, or right, I don’t know.

Hat tip to my newest blog find, a most worthy site for inspiration: The Improvised Life.

Check it out. Great photos, easy reading. A site that always gives you a quick take-away.

As a kid, I was a fan of Krazy Kat, the brick-tossing Ignatz Mouse, Offissa Bull Pupp, and company. I was too young for the original George Herriman newspaper strip, but enjoyed the cartoons and, later, learned to appreciate Herriman’s singular world view.

Too cool for words, though original, healthy, and legitimate are a good start.

Thankfully, there are pictures.

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Those must have been righteous days, when you could open up a newspaper and find Krazy Kat and Nancy, originally drawn by the sublime Ernie Bushmiller.

Here’s a favorite, passed along by my pal, illustrator Greg Ruth.

Actually, calling the above illustration a favorite doesn’t quite do it. More like, a recent obsession. I printed it out, now it’s hanging on my wall by the computer. An arm’s length away. I want to write a book that answers that illustration. I want a version of that reflective moment on a book cover.

It reminds me of the ending to one of my favorite films, Bob Rafelson’s “Five Easy Pieces.” For my money, it’s one of the great endings, ever. For the clip below, I’m thinking specifically of the scene in the bathroom at 2:30 – 3:30, though of course the full five minutes are worth watching, as Karen Black (Rayette Dipesto!) in anything so often is. But the real killer is Jack Nicholson catching a glimpse of himself in that mirror, turning away, the head’s slight turn, thinking, wondering, and finally coming back it (the reflection of his self) in that mirror: Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Where am I going?

We all understand that scene. Even Nancy. And I can watch it over and over again.

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Fan Mail Wednesday #112

Dear Mr. Preller,

My name is Chelsey. I am writing because I have a seven year old sister who came across your Jigsaw Jones books in her classroom. She has a birthday coming up and her one wanted item is the entire set of Jigsaw Jones. Unfortunately, the set is completely sold and I cannot cobble together a complete set out of the ones that are for sale online. No bookstore sells all of them, nor are they in a used bookstore. Our local library only has four. Is there any way you could help?

Thank you for your time and all your help.



I replied:


You are a kind and resourceful sister. And as for your younger sister, the birthday girl, she’s a pretty amazing kid — with impeccable taste and intelligence, obviously.

To my knowledge, the complete set is a tough get, as they say, with readers piecing it together through book stores, book clubs, thrift shops, garage sales, and by nosing through neighbors’ trash cans (warning: careful for raccoons & moldy cheese).

One idea: eBay. I know that a lot of folks, looking to get rich quick, perhaps retire to some tropical island, sell “gently used” copies of Jigsaw Jones quite frequently. My other suggestion is that you contact Scholastic Book Clubs at a toll-free number, 1-800-724-6527. They are often receptive to customer requests and, if you catch the right operator, will do everything possible to help you on your most worthy quest.

Good luck, brave knight!


P.S. If you send me an address via email, I’ll send a signed copy made out to your sister. Just because I’m so unbelievably nice.

Too Much Awesome: Posters, Student Writing, etc.

I know, Dear Reader, I know.

You are getting tired of my slipshod approach, the endless excuses about how busy I am.


Yesterday I coached two baseball practices, for two different teams. Threw batting practice to twenty-two different boys who are at a point, ages 11 and 12, where it’s no longer okay to just blob it over. They need the ball with a little heat. So my wing is sore.

Today I’m driving off to Geneseo with my oldest, Nick, for a second look-see. He’s a high school senior and we’re getting down to decision time for college. On Wednesday, my good wife Lisa flies down to Atlanta, where she’s going to learn how to perform minor surgery on a cervix — and frankly I do not want to know any more details than that. She comes home Sunday, the day I coach a doubleheader and drive down to Long Island for a week’s worth of school visits.

And, oh, yeah. There’s the job thing, too. Writing stuff.

So the blog suffers.

I wanted to share a few scans and photos. I recently visited a school down in Sicklerville, NJ, where the students filled the halls with creative responses to my book, Bystander.

There were posters and poems. Some students wrote journal entries from the perspective on a book character, and I thought those were particularly interesting and effective. Isn’t that the big lesson in To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout stands on Boo Radley’s porch and sees the world from his perspective? When she stands in his shoes?

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”Harper Lee.

So after my presentations were done, and the books signed, we walked around the halls and filled a big box with incredible artwork, posters, etc. I can’t show it all to you, but here’s a few samples:

Most posters were too big to scan. I loved the tagline that one boy came up with . . .