A local reporter, Tracey Putrino, sat in for one of my presentations during a recent school visit to Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The school itself was spectacular, warm and clean and bursting with pride, one of the sweetest elementary schools I’ve ever had the honor to visit.
I’ve said it a hundred times: Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits. And this was one school, friends and neighbors, that did it up right.
My thanks goes out to the entire school, including Leo the Janitor! Thanks, also, to Tracey Putrino, who did a really nice job on the article.
NOTE: I took photos with my bewildering phone, various decorations and learning activities that each class created in anticipation of my visit. The school looked so welcoming and awesome. Unfortunately, every photo appears upside down when I try to post here — and I can’t figure out how to fix it. Grrrrr.
Here’s the article (for the link, to prove I’m not making this up, click here):
A children’s author encouraged students at Westmoreland Elementary School in Fair Lawn to use what makes them unique as inspiration in their own writing.
“Enjoy what he has to share,” said Principal Christy Dell’Aglio as she introduced James Preller during his visit to the school on April 12.
Preller of Delmar, N.Y., has written more than 80 children’s books including about 40 as part of the “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series.
Using the uniqueness of fingerprints as an example, the author told students to consider what makes them unique because no one else has their parents, siblings or experiences.
“Begin with your life,” he said.
Preller has done the same with his stories and characters. Whether it came from being the youngest of seven children, his love of baseball or his memories of his grandmother, he said those experiences can lead to ideas.
“Where do you get ideas?” he asked the group of second- and third-graders during one of the three presentations he did during the visit.
From their head, feelings, observing what happens around them, books and things that happen to them and their friends were some of the answers.
Preller said an idea is just “a little seed” that can grow. He urged students to make lists and keep writing journals to jot down ideas that could later become stories.
As an example from one of his books, he said he was listening to the radio when he heard one of the announcers say, “You can’t hide broccoli in a glass of milk.” The line stuck with him and ended up in a scene with Jigsaw Jones when his friend, Joey, stays over for dinner in “The Case of the Million Dollar Mystery.” He read the passage to students as Jigsaw’s father asked him to finish his glass of milk than was beginning to turn green from the broccoli.
“A writer’s two most important words are what if?,” said Preller, noting if they ask that question and follow the path it can lead to a story.
The writer told students it is never too early for them to make their own books. He showed them an example of one of his earliest works that he wrote and illustrated about Tarzan. While he was not much of a reader as a child, Preller said he did love baseball and always checked out the box scores and read the sports section of the newspaper.
“My love of sports made me a reader,” the writer said.
His Jigsaw Jones book, “The Case of the Bear Scare,” came from reading newspaper articles about bears showing up in neighborhoods.
As the father of three, his experiences with his children have also sparked ideas. When his daughter asked him he had ever heard the story of Bloody Mary, the story about a ghost who appears in a mirror became a scene that he read to students from one of his newest books. It is part of a new series called “Scary Tales” that will be released this summer.