Archive for jimmy

Sample Chapter: “Armadillo Blues” from the BIG IDEA GANG

So, finally, two books are coming out on January 29 from my new series, “The Big Idea Gang.” A third title will arrive sometime in May 2019.

Essentially: a group of elementary school students use their powers of persuasion to make a difference in their local community. The challenge for me was to make that (covert) mission as entertaining as possible for the innocent reader who is seeking a good story.

The early reviews have been particularly kind. You can read them here and here.

One of my favorite quotes: “Preller addresses topics such as kindness, activism, immigration, community involvement . . . A fresh new series nudging readers toward social change and kindness towards others.” — School Library Journal.

Hopefully you’ll pick up a book and share it with a young reader. Below you’ll find Chapter One from The Worst Mascot Ever.

 

1

 

Armadillo Blues

 

         The trouble began when a giant, purple armadillo ran onto the field behind Clay Elementary School.

         Well, “ran” isn’t exactly the right word.

No, not “jogged” either.

         The armadillo stumbled.

         It bumbled.

         It huffed and puffed.

         It gasped.

         And finally paused, panting, to face a gathered crowd of students. The armadillo bellowed into a megaphone, “ARE YOU READY — FOR –- (gasp, wheeze) — THE FUN RUN?”

         Pointing his right front claw, the armadillo led the charge. He ran forward, but his tail snagged on a tree root. Rip! Whoops! No more tail! Cotton stuffing floated into the air, carried by the wind.

  Shivering on the cold November afternoon, students of Clay Elementary watched in wonder. They stood huddled together like a colony of penguins. The boys and girls were not dressed for the chilly weather. Most wore running shorts, t-shirts, and sneakers. A few pulled on wool hats and gloves. It was time for the annual Fun Run for Fitness.

         “I’m freezing!” Connor O’Malley complained. His teeth chattered. “I can’t feel my toes.” He turned to his twin sister, Lizzy. “Are my lips turning blue? I actually think my face has frozen solid. I might freeze to death.”

         Lizzy poked her brother’s cheek with a finger. “It feels like a hockey puck.” She grinned. “I think you’ll survive.”

 

  “Hey, why aren’t you cold?” Connor asked.

         “I came prepared. I stuffed heat packs into my socks,” Lizzy said. “Just call me ‘Toasty Toes.’“

         “Oh no!” Kym Park interjected. “Look now.”

         All eyes turned to watch as the school mascot, Arnold the purple armadillo, slipped and tripped and sprawled belly-first into an icy mud puddle.

         “Whoa, belly flop,” Connor said.

   “Ladies and gentlemen, the armadillo has landed,” Deon Gibson observed.

         Connor and Deon bumped fists.

         Every student at Clay Elementary knew that Principal Tuxbury was in there. Deon shook his head. “Worst . . . mascot . . . ever.”

         Lizzy frowned. “The costume does seem a little droopy.”

         “I’ll say,” Connor agreed.

         “It’s a sad, sorry armadillo,” Deon agreed.

         “I wonder why we have an armadillo for a mascot?” Lizzy wondered. “We live in Connecticut. I don’t think there are any armadillos in Connecticut. Are there?”        

         “We have possums,” Deon said. “That’s kind of the same. Isn’t it?”

         Lizzy frowned.

         Kym had other concerns. “I hope Principal Tuxbury isn’t hurt.” She was right to fret. Groans echoed from inside the armadillo’s plush-and-chicken-wired head. Ms. Baez, the school nurse, rushed to the fallen mascot. She began yanking on the armadillo’s head.

         “It’s stuck. Nurse Baez needs help,” Kym said.

         “Let’s go!” Connor roared.

         In moments, students and teachers formed a long chain –- all yanking and tugging on the fallen armadillo’s head.

“Oof, huzzuh, gork!” Muffled cries came from inside the mascot.

         The head remained fixed to the body of the costume. It would not budge. Principal Tuxbury was trapped.

         “Should we call the fire department?” Kym asked. No one replied to Kym’s question. Because no one heard it. The screaming was too loud.

         “Heave!” beseeched Nurse Baez.

         “Ho!” the students cried.

         “HEAVE!”

         “HO!”

         And finally, with one mighty tug, the head ripped off. It flew up into the sky. The long line of tuggers toppled to the ground, heels kicking the air.

         The grubby mascot sat up. The headless costume now exposed the bald, round, unhappy skull of Principal Larry Tuxbury. He looked around, dazed and confused.

         “Are you all right, Mr. Tuxbury?” Nurse Baez asked. “Perhaps you should lie down on a cot.”

         “Never again,” he muttered. “You’ll never, ever get me into that ridiculous suit again!”

         From that day forward, it would always be remembered as the best “Fun Run” ever.

         It was the day the armadillo died.

 

          

THANKS FOR STOPPING BY!

–       

GUILTY AS CHARGED: “The Wizard of Oz” named most influential movie of all time

According to the researchers at the University of Turin in Italy, The Wizard of Oz has been named the most influential movie of all time. This was determined by the amount of references made to it in other movies (47,000 were reportedly taken into account in the study).

Rounding out the Top Ten were:

1. The Wizard of Oz

2. Star Wars

3. Psycho

4. King Kong

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey

6. Metropolis

7. Citizen Kane

8. The Birth of a Nation

9. Frankenstein

10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

 

One thing that happens to a writer after a lifetime of words have been spilled — in my case, I published my first book in 1986 at age 25 — you begin to see patterns in the work. Sometimes it’s a worrying thing, falling back on familiar phrases or images, a troubling sense that you might be repeating yourself. That’s a sign of a lazy mind, returning to the old bag of tricks, and I try to be vigilant against it. And yet at the same time it makes perfect sense. If a writer is drawn to water images, for example, and spent a lifetime moved by water, heart filled with water, it only makes sense that watery imagery would leak into the writing.

I can see that with references in my books to The Wizard of Oz, which I’m sure I’ve done multiple times. Most recently, in Better Off Undead, I borrowed the basic plot structure from the film and loosely applied it to my story: the assembled characters going to meet the Wizard.

Here’s a page from The Fall, a book that’s based on a boy’s journal entries. This page contains the entire chapter:

I’m sure I’ve casually sprinkled references to the iconic movie in other books — did I ever use it in Jigsaw Jones? I can’t remember — though none spring immediately to mind. Oh, wait, there’s a brief reference in The Courage Test, page 169: “She leans into the camera. Her face looms larger, Oz-like.”

So many huge, iconic moments in that film. Think of the yellow brick road. The wicked witch. Dorothy’s quest to return home. Clicking her heels together three times. Flying monkeys and fierce, apple-tossing trees. A tin man absent a heart. The quest, the mission, the dark passage. What a story!

And my favorite: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” That line kills me every time. Maybe I’ve said it a hundred times. Probably more. It’s an idea that comes up a lot, perfectly illustrated in that one revealing scene.

Oh yes, for me, there’s no question: The Wizard of Oz is clearly the most influential movie of my life.

Lastly, okay, I admit the list is pretty ridiculous and not an accurate measurement of a film’s “influence” on popular culture. Metropolis over Jaws? The Birth of a Nation more influential than The Godfather?

Oh well. As long as The Wizard of Oz comes out on top, I’m good with it.

One Question, Five Authors #7: “How does a book begin for you?”

Welcome to “One Question,” the world’s laziest interview series. In today’s edition, we’re interested in origin stories — or the origins of story — those interstices of time between books. An author casts about, open-minded and perhaps a little lost, wondering what in the world that next book might be. And then, hmmm, like a fish nibbling on a line . . . something appears.

My thanks to Matt Tavares, Tony Abbott, Keely Hutton, Greg Neri, and Aimee Reid for their contributions.

Matt Tavares

Every book is different, but I’ll tell you how Red & Lulu got started — with a suggestion from my editor, Katie Cunningham, in late 2011 that I do a book about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I loved the idea, and began working on a nonfiction manuscript about the tree. I envisioned a book along the lines of those great David Macaulay books (Castle, Cathedral…), where I would show how they find the tree, how they chop it down, get it to the city, decorate it, etc. I spent a while working on that, and submitted a manuscript to Candlewick. They told me they liked it, but felt like it needed more of a story. My editor suggested I add some characters.
Meanwhile, I had this whole other idea about cardinals. I often noticed cardinals in my yard, and was struck by how whenever I saw a male cardinal, if I looked around a bit, the female cardinal was usually nearby. I wondered what would happen if they ever became separated. I felt like there could be a story there.
At some point, those two completely separate ideas became one, and my nonfiction story about the Rockefeller Christmas tree became a fictional story about two cardinals who become separated.
So, long story short: It was my editor’s idea.

Tony Abbott

Different motives begin a new book for me. Denis Ever After began when I read a single word in the newspaper. It was “Toms.” I don’t recall now whether it was a piece about Toms toothpaste, or some other reference, but the idea of their being two “Toms” in the same family — brothers — started me thinking about twins. Almost immediately after birth the first boy, already named Tom, succumbed, so when the second came out, and lived, they named him Tom, as a sort of remembrance. Thus . . . Toms. The story changed leagues from that, but that’s how it began. Origins are one of the most pleasurable parts of writing for me. The whole universe of story seems capable of being encompassed in a new novel. This new story will be about love, dreams, oak tables, stars, dust, shoes, the rings of Saturn, hot chocolate, and the Gulag. Only when the pages pile up do its contours shrink and define. So. No shoes, no prison camp, and more joy than first imagined. Anyway, a way of saying reality seeps in. In my new novel, The Great Jeff, coming in March, it was the chance “sighting” of a character from a book published a dozen years ago. I’ve written about this before, but it’s probably true of all writers (and, they hope, their readers), that characters live beyond the book in some place and time, and that a story written about them is by no means all that that character is. So I saw a boy in a library, alone, reading, and I was convinced that this boy was Jeff, from Firegirl (2006). He’d reappeared, and I had to write about him. That’s how it happened. I hope it happens again. There’s something deeply satisfying in knowing that these people we seem to create are, once born, living on and on.

Keely Hutton

I never know when inspiration for my next book will strike, but I’m always on the lookout for subjects that spark my imagination. The spark for my upcoming middle grade novel, Secret Soldiers, started with some confusion while I binge-watched the BBC show “Peaky Blinders” two years ago. The main character, Tommy Shelby, runs his family’s criminal organization in 1919 England and suffers from PTSD due to his time as a soldier in WW1. My editor and I agreed that my next book should be in the same vein as my debut novel Soldier Boy, so I’d been researching wars and child soldiers. I hadn’t found anything that really grabbed my attention until I watched Tommy Shelby’s flashbacks, which showed him fighting in tunnels. I kept asking my husband, “Why are they underground?” After my third such query, my exasperated husband kindly suggested I Google it, so I did. A quick search revealed that thousands of sappers and miners tunneled beneath the battlefields of the Great War to undermine the enemy’s position and break the brutal stalemate of trench warfare. Fascinated, I researched whether any child soldiers fought in WW1 and was shocked to discover that over a quarter of a million underage British boys lied about their ages to join the war. When I learned that many of those young soldiers were used as beasts of burden on and under the battlefields, I knew I had found my next story and began researching and writing Secret Soldiers.

Greg Neri

My cousin the horse thief. Who would’ve thought? When I was growing up, I went to Texas once to stay on my uncle’s ranch. He had thirteen kids. Ten of them boys — strapping ranch hands and school wrestlers who liked to surprise-attack each other in the middle of the night out in the bunkhouse their dad built for them in the fields. To be a girl in that family, you had to be tough and willing to stand up for yourself. I could see that in my cousin Gail straight off the bat. She didn’t take no guff, and she could dish it out just as hard as her brothers — maybe harder. But inside, she was thoughtful and caring, and she loved horses. I had met Gail Ruffu only once when I was younger. Thirty-some years later, at a Christmas party at my parents’ house in California, I met her again. In the intervening years, I had occasionally heard tales of her exploits. The Texas part of the family, like the state of Texas itself, was always bigger than life. When I asked what she’d been up to lately, she paused and pulled me aside. “I’m a wanted woman, ya know,” she said. For the next hour and a half, she told me a whopper of a story of how she stole a thoroughbred on Christmas Eve and became the first person in 150 years to be charged with Grand Theft Horse — a case that went all the way to the California Supreme Court. When she was finished, I sat there, floored. My first thought was that would make a great book. So I wrote it.

 

Aimee Reid

One ordinary night, I was tucking my then 2-1/2-year-old daughter into bed. As usual, she asked what our schedule was for the next day. No matter how simple our plans—visiting the library, dropping in to playgroup, or simply playing at home—she always delighted in looking forward to them. After I shared my thoughts about what we would do together, she wiggled her whole body in delight and said, “When I grow up and you grow down . . . .” She proceeded to list the everyday activities we would do together if our roles were reversed.

Zing! Her words flew like a spark to my imagination. This is a story, I thought. Not long afterward, Mama’s Day with Little Gray was born (Random House). It is the tale of a small elephant who dreams of growing big enough to take care of his mama just as she has cared for him.

That story began by listening to my daughter. Sometimes, words for a story will surprise me and start running through my head. For an upcoming book, All the Earth (Penguin Random House, spring 2020), my brain fed me the first line of a lyrical text. Zing! Those words became a rhymed picture book about animal babies being cared for by their parents.

Ideas can come from anywhere. What the best book ideas have in common for me is that spark of recognition. Zing! Then I know: this is a story I am meant to write and share with the world.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #280: Kicking Off the New Year

 

I may not know what day it is, but I do know the year — 2019, people. All. Year. Long. A strange year in my professional life with a wide variety of new books on the horizon: a new Jigsaw Jones, a new series (“The Big Idea Gang”), a middle grade survival thriller (Blood Mountain), and a picture book in haiku (All Welcome Here). Crazy, I know. All over the map. I’m hoping that folks find ’em, read ’em, like ’em, tell their friends.

Today’s letter comes from Lena in deepest Ohio:

 

 

I waited a year and replied:

Dear Lena,

Whew, that’s over. Welcome 2019, glad to be here, happy & alive & writing to you.

Your letter arrived during the holidays, so I set it aside. “I’ll deal with Lena next year.”

Yes, I have a birthday coming up. Soon to be 58 years old. You should try it someday, not as bad as it sounds (or looks!). Maybe like oysters in that sense. But I still refuse to eat clams, no matter what anybody says.

Anyway! I’m as old as your grampa and you and I share a birthday month. When it comes to presents, all I ever ask for is warm socks (a result of a mid-winter birthday) and books –- always books. I guess that’s another thing we have in common, the love of reading.

My favorite Jigsaw Jones title? Hmmm. I love The Case from Outer Space because it’s funny and The Case of the Buried Treasure because the mystery is so satisfying. I have a new one coming out in August –- does that seem far away? -– titled The Case of the Hat Burglar. I’m very proud of that one. I find that my favorite books tug at your heart a little bit. Maybe it’s just a moment in the book, a brief passage, but a true emotion can lift a book into the sky.

I do have a new book coming out at the end of January (that’s, like, soon!), titled Everybody Needs a Buddy. It’s part of a new series, “The Big Idea Gang,” and I’d say it is just a notch more challenging than Jigsaw Jones. Maybe you’ll give it a try?

As a reader, I like all sorts of things. I guess I’m always trying something different: sports, science fiction, biography, mystery, graphic novels. I listen to my friends. If they rave about a book, I’ll give it a spin.

Happy New Year, my new friend!

James Preller

Our New Pup, Echo

This is Echo, part border collie and part, we figure, hound. I see a resemblance around the mouth to P.D. Eastman’s dog in Are You My Mother?

Echo’s mother is from Kentucky. We guess that he might have a bit of pit in him. He was a rescue pup, so who is to say. And, really, who cares anyway.

The problem with having a dog is he makes me put down the fork, get off the chair, and step outdoors. 

Maybe that’s a good thing.