Archive for Along Came Spider

Geoffrey Hayes: An Appreciation Upon His Passing

1000163_567267949978579_99147726_n

A week ago, last Monday, I received this note from author/illustrator Geoffrey Hayes:

Dear James, I just came across your wonderful review of my book PATRICK AND TED while going through my files. So nice to read your kind words again. I think it may be time to bring this one back!

I replied:

It’s such a great book. I’m glad my appreciation gave you some pleasure.

Five days later, I learned that Geoffrey Hayes had suddenly passed away on June 2, 2017 He was 69 years old.

I never met the man. And only recently did we connect via Facebook. Now he’s gone; may his fine work and gentle spirit remain in our hearts for years to come.

Geoffrey Hayes was given the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award some years back. Today it seems only fitting to share again the tribute I wrote in late 2009 about the small, quiet, tender book I so deeply admire.

 

——————

I’ve been dwelling lately on the concept of “books for boys.” It’s a huge topic, one that I can’t possibly address in a single blog entry. I mean, yes, we’re all aware of the gender gap in reading, that many teachers and parents struggle to inspire in their boys a love for reading. There’s been progress made, an awareness that boys are different from girls, and that their tastes in books often reflect those differences. Enlightened teachers are allowing boys to self-select more of their own reading material; graphic novels are gaining popularity and respect; and so on.

Bu when I encounter lists of “books for boys,” I’m often left deeply dissatisfied — even troubled. Because these well-intentioned lists are often guided by limited stereotypes: boys like action, boys like trucks, bodily humor, adventure, violence, etc. Okay, true enough. But these lists led us to an extremely narrow view of what a boy is, and what a boy could be. What about friendship stories? What about sensitivity to others? Gentleness? Don’t boys love their mothers, don’t they struggle with relationships, don’t they ever feel lonely or afraid?

I’ve been thinking about an old favorite book, Patrick and Ted by Geoffrey Hayes. It is out of print. I first encountered this quiet little picture book back in the 80’s, when I wrote copy for the SeeSaw Book Club, edited by Craig Walker. Yet it has lingered in my memory ever since. I think it’s a perfect story, one of the few books I wish I’d written. So I finally got around to purchasing a used copy. Let’s take a look at it:

Whoops. Because the image is not available on the internet for screen capture, we’ll have to go to my cheap scanner. My apologies to Mr. Hayes — and to you, Dear Reader — for the darkness, the low resolution. The actual book looks a lot better.

It is the story of two boys, best friends. They did everything together, even quarrel sometimes. But those brief spats did not matter . . . “because Ted was Patrick’s best friend, and Patrick was Ted’s.”

Then, one summer things changed . . .

A quick aside: This is such a classic story format, and a great model for new (and veteran!) writers. So many stories begin by establishing a timeless permanence. The well-ordered past, where time is frozen and things are always true. We meet the character, or the place, find out what he or she or it is like. And somewhere along the line we turn the page to find a phrase like this: “And then one day . . .” The story leaps into the present moment (if not literally the present tense). Now the real story begins. I think of these as “and then one day” stories. You’ll find that  structure everywhere.

Back to those best friends, Patrick and Ted. One summer, Ted goes to stay with his aunt and uncle at their farm. He even advises Patrick, “Don’t let anyone else use our hideout.

Patrick is sad and lonely.

But as the days pass, he makes new friends, has new experiences. He joins in with others, he goes to the movies with Mama Bear, he plays alone.

A hideout of his own. Patrick is learning something valuable here, something vitally important.

Then, happy day, Ted returns — with two pet geese!

I love that sentence: “They were loud and quick, and Patrick did not like them.”

The boys argue, get angry with each other — Patrick pushes Ted against their hideout! — but they resolve the conflict to play happily together once again.

And yet there’s been a fundamental shift. Their world has changed . . . inside and out.

“. . . because Ted was still Patrick’s best friend, and Patrick was Ted’s.”

End of story. And by the way, isn’t that great, when you look back at the book, those two illustrations of the swing? First we see Patrick in solitude, seated on the swing, motionless. On the last page of the book we see the swing again: Patrick is smiling, swinging high, pushed by his friend. Again: just right.

Is this not a book for boys? My guess is you won’t find it on many lists. So when we try to serve boy readers, let’s not be so quick to put them in a box labeled, “What Boys Like.” Let’s remember that they have feelings, and struggle with friendships — that they experience confusing emotions — just like everybody else.

One of my favorite comments about my book, Along Came Spider, came in a blog review by Karen at Literate Lives. It was the first time anyone had reviewed the book:

I’ve read a lot of books recently about girls trying to make sense of friendships and themselves, so it was a delightful surprise to find and read an advance review copy of a book that deals with boys trying to find where they belong in Along Came Spider, by James Preller (due out September 2008).

Interesting, isn’t it? It came as a surprise to the reviewer, a fifth-grade teacher, to find a book that dealt with content typically found in a book for girls. Things like friendship, discovery of self, fitting in. Does that mean Spider, like Patrick and Ted, is destined for obscurity, the furnace where “out-of-print” books go to die? Perhaps so. Perhaps it’s not a book that most boys will naturally pick up. I mean: I realize that it isn’t. Just as I know that a book titled “Patrick and Ted” isn’t going to bring boys clamoring. But I can’t believe that when they read it, they won’t see themselves reflected in those pages.

It is, after all, a book for children.

——-

To learn more about Geoffrey Hayes, click here to read an interview.

He is also featured at everyone’s favorite blog, the always great Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, just click like crazy right here.

And thank you, Geoffrey Hayes, for writing and illustrating that wonderful book.

————-

POSTSCRIPT: The above piece first posted in October 26, 2009. In February of 2010 Geoffrey Hayes found it and wrote this to me.

Dear James,

I just happened upon your site and was surprised to find my book “PATRICK AND TED” mentioned so warmly. It seems like I wrote this story so long ago, but you reminded me that I’ve always written from feelings and emotions first. I never thought of this as specifically a “Boys Book”, maybe because it doesn’t focus on those things that one traditionally finds in books for boys. In my opinion there is a narrow view in today’s publishing world about just what boys will and won’t read — stories with a female protagonist for one. For every generality you can apply to boys (and girls) we tend to forget that each child is an individual and therefore multifaceted. Thanks again for your kind words and fond memories.

Sincerely,
Geoffrey Hayes

Thank You, Arizona Library Association!

Good News! I received an email from Kerrlita Westrick and Shirley Berow, co-chairs of the Grand Canyon Reader Award, organized by the Arizona Library Association. Instead of telling you about it, you can read the important bits for yourself:

Dear Mr. Preller,

It is out pleasure to inform you that your book, Justin Fisher Declares War, has been nominated for the Intermediate Book category of the 2015 Grand Canyon Reader Award! Congratulations!

The Grand Canyon Reader Award is a children’s choice award with approximately 45,000 Arizona students voting each year. Your book, along with nine other tiles, will be read by teachers, librarians, and students all over Arizona and voted upon by April 1, 2015.

Well, that felt good.

Justin FisherAs a writer, all I’ve ever wanted was to be read and, hopefully, acclaimed to some extent. Approved of. Valued. Appreciated. I dream that at least some fraction of the reading public will say, in essence, “Hey, you did good.”

Making it on these state lists is so important to keep a book in circulation. So, absolutely, a heartfelt thanks from me. Much appreciated. When I look at the other titles on the list, well, it’s just crazy. Not expecting to win, that’s for sure.

Though it’s been well-reviewed, and sometimes even praised, Justin Fisher has been pretty much ignored by the purchasing public (not to mention my own publisher). A paperback edition has never been made available in stores.

Justin Fisher was conceived as part of a series of school-based stories, including Along Came Spider, which was honored by the NYPL back in 2008. Both books share characters and the same setting, Spiro Agnew Elementary.

UnknownHere’s a nice review of Justin from a 5th-grade teacher, Franki Sibberson, who called it “One of my go-to funny books for boys.”

From the first  moment I saw these covers, I thought: “Uh-oh.” I expressed my worries to my editor, that they didn’t at all convey the stories were school based, but was told that the decision had already been made. End of discussion. Oh well. Everybody does their best, I guess.

To help the humor come out, I had really, really wanted the books to be illustrated, ala “Wimpy Kid,” but that was not in the cards either. But most wonderfully, a group of students from Pennsylvania sent me their own illustrations a couple of years back. I love student artwork. Here’s some highlights:

justin-1

justin-1a

justin-5

Now I can only hope for an invitation to visit school in Arizona.

February is wide open! Brrrrr.

Fan Mail Wednesday #178: Crayola’s Dumb Mistake

Yes, we’re gonna do this again . . .

This sweet letter came from Ohio!

I replied:

Dear Alexis:

Ah, you read one of my favorite books.

Quick, sad story: That book came out in 2008, was named one of the top 100 books of the year by the awesome folks at The New York Public Libraries . . . and it went out of print three years later. Just like that, poof, gone.

Hard to find these days, especially in paperback.

Can you imagine how that feels for me?

Anyway, ah, pish and tosh. I like ALONG CAME SPIDER for the same reasons that you did, for the mixed feelings it gave you. Friendship is a complicated thing, and it’s not always clear what’s the right thing to do. I do believe, personally, that we know the answers in our hearts, or in our stomachs, if you prefer. Unfortunately, the right thing to do is often not the easiest.

Anyway, favorite books? That’s tough. I’m liking BYSTANDER a lot, and feel that might work for you, too. Lately I’ve been having a blast writing the “Scary Tales” series. So much fun. Right now I’m trying to create a toxic swamp creature.

Could anything be more fun than that? I don’t think so!

Of course, I’ll always love my favorite character, Jigsaw Jones.

I wrote a new book, THE FALL, due out in 2015. It’s a tough, sad book set in a middle school and I’m really excited about.

Be well, take care. Sorry, I don’t have any photos that I can send out – consider yourself lucky!

James Preller

P.S. As a reader of the book, you might enjoy this recent photo I discovered. I guess the folks at Crayola finally wised up. Good for them.

For readers of this blog who don’t know the book, Trey is a boy on the spectrum. He enjoys drawing, especially with his crayons. At one point, Trey muses, accurately:

There used to be a color called Flesh, but in 1962 — the same year that Wilt Chamberlain scored one hundred points — the name got changed to Peach. Trey had read about that once. It made perfect sense to him. People were different. They came in all colors and shapes. You couldn’t say that one color was Flesh, and Trey thought it was really dumb of the Crayola people to make that mistake.

Photo: A Couple of Guys I Met

A wonderful, dedicated teacher took time off from her afternoon to bring these two students to my signing at Pooh’s Corner, a bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

All those got was my signature and a few friendly words.

But I got this terrific photo, those two great faces. Winning!

Thank you for the hospitality, Sally and Camille. Long live the great independents.

Photo from a Michigan Classroom

I love looking at these faces. This class, along with every other 4th-grade classroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan, received free copies of my book, Along Came Spider, as part of their “One City, One Book” program. Then they entered a contest and won a visit from the author.

How come I feel like the winner?