Archive for Big Idea Gang

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!

–       

Another Terrific Review for EVERYBODY NEEDS A BUDDY!

 

“Preller addresses topics such as kindness,
activism, immigration, community involvement . . .
A fresh new series
nudging emerging readers towards social change
and kindness towards others.”

— School Library Journal

I am so glad to pass along this incredible review for my “buddy bench” book, Everybody Needs a Buddy. Thank you so much, Kate Nafz, of School Library Journal. Many nice things here, including a comparison to Wonder and a shout out to the illustrations of Stephen Gilpin. Pub date is late January.

Would I like to see our young people socially active and engaged in making this a kinder planet? I’m counting on it!

This full review will be published in the December issue of SLJ.

Gr 2-4–Preller, author of the popular “Jigsaw Jones” books, launches a new series about friends who strive to make their school community a better place. When Deon notices a new kid standing sadly by himself during recess, he and his friends brainstorm possible ways to involve this student, as well as other loners, during recess. The Big Idea Gang has lots of ideas, including assembling a spaceship on the playground, until they hit upon the idea of a “buddy bench” as a place to go for kids who are feeling lonely during recess, signaling to others that companionship is needed. It is up to the gang with the help of their engaged teacher Miss Zips to make a case for adding a buddy bench even without the necessary funds. The narrative features children of various cultural backgrounds and genders hanging out together and cooperating in order to improve their community. Preller addresses topics such as kindness, activism, immigration, community involvement, and the dangers of gossip in an approachable way for a young audience. Readers will appreciate the numerous cartoon illustrations, short chapters with snappy titles, and large print with wide page margins. This title has classroom appeal and is perfect for kids not quite ready for Wonder. The other title in the set, The Worst Mascot Ever, appears to be the series opener, but readers can jump into this volume with no trouble. VERDICT A fresh new series nudging emerging readers towards social change and kindness towards others.–Kate Nafz, Fair Lawn Public Library, NJ

BEE THE CHANGE: Long Live Stan Lee

 

BRIEF EXCERPT from Bee the Change (Houghton, May, 2019), the 3rd book in my new “Big Idea Gang” series. Illustrations by Stephen Gilpin. School Library Connection said of Everybody Needs a Buddy (Jan, 2019): “Abounds with examples of kindness, empathy, friends who listen to each other, and ways to strike up a friendship and to make a difference at your school.”

 

Chapter 4

Slug Man

 

Meanwhile, in a secret hideout in a galaxy far, far away (well, okay, in Deon Gibson’s basement), two boys sat down with an amazing plan. Connor O’Malley and Deon Gibson decided to create the most terrific, most awesome, most really-really cool superhero comic book of all time.

They were ready to rock and roll.

They had plenty of paper. Pens and markers. Drinks and snacks. Everything two artists could possible need.

Except . . .

“We’re missing one thing,” Deon concluded.

“Yeah, what’s that?” Connor asked. He tossed a pretzel nugget into the air and tried to catch it in his mouth. The nugget bounced off his forehead and onto the rug.

Deon smirked. “You are really bad at that, you know.”

There were already half a dozen pretzel nuggets on the floor.

“Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up before we go,” Connor said.

“That’s right you will,” Deon said. “But first, read out loud what we’ve got so far.”

Connor picked up his notebook.

He coughed and began to read. “Deep in his remote hideout.”

Connor stopped reading. He set down the notebook and looked at Deon.

Deon looked back. “That’s it?”

“So far,” Connor said.

“It’s not bad,” Deon said.

“Not bad is pretty good,” Connor reasoned. “Maybe we should take a break.”

Deon shook his head. “We can do this, Connor. We’ve just got to work at it. Look at the popularity of superhero movies — all making huge money. Iron Man, Thor, Batman, Ant-Man, Black Panther. We need to come up with our own action hero.”

Connor leaned forward. He brought his elbows to his knees, tucked his fists under his chin. “Let’s think of different animals. We can’t use bats and spiders or ants, obviously.”

Deon nodded. “Already taken. What about . . . Gorilla Man?”

“Too much like Tarzan,” Connor replied. “The rhino?”

“Nah,” Deon replied. “I think that’s one of the bad guys in the Spider-Man comics. He crashes into walls or something.”

“Rats,” Connor groaned.

“Rat Man?” Deon said, eyebrows raised.

“Sounds too much like Batman,” Connor said. He tossed another pretzel into the air, lunged to his left, and the nugget hit him in the eye. It seemed to give him an idea.

“I’ve got it!” Connor exclaimed. “How about . . . SLUG MAN!”

Deon’s eyebrows arched. “What’s his superpower?”

“He slimes people!” Connor said.

Inspired, Deon snatched up his markers. He drew a crude picture of a bad guy trapped in green ooze. Deon added a word balloon: “DRATS! I’ve been oozed by green crud!”

“Great writing!” Connor said, patting Deon on the back. “What about, like, I don’t know, if you added a big long trail of slime?”

“Genius,” Deon said, giggling. He reached for a green marker.

“What other powers should he have?” Connor wondered. He snapped his fingers. “Hey, slugs have those weird antennae, don’t they? Maybe he can hear stuff that’s far away?”

“Yeah,” Deon said. “He, like, senses vibrations in the galaxy.”

That’s how the two friends spent the next hour, laughing, snickering, drawing, and writing. But after a while, their comic book lost steam. Slugs were kind of boring, they eventually decided, even ones with superpowers.

“It kind of looks like a giant booger,” Deon conceded.

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” Connor said, frowning. “Maybe a slug with superpowers is not what America needs right now. These million-dollar ideas are tough.”

Oh well. At least the two friends had a good time.

Connor never did catch a pretzel nugget in his mouth.



 

LONG LIVE STAN LEE!

 

GREAT NEWS: Terrific Review for “Everybody Needs a Buddy.”

“The book abounds with examples of kindness,
empathy,
friends who listen to one another,
and ways to strike up a friendship
and to make a difference
at your school.”

— School Library Connection

 

How’s that for a review quote?

I’m grateful for the kind words and sympathetic reading by Phyllis Amerikaner. That one sentence really captures what we are trying to do with this series, which I see as a direct response to today’s political climate.

I’ve pretty much given up on the adults.

My hope is with these kids.

Anyway, if you don’t know, “The Big Idea Gang” features a group of students who use their powers of persuasion to make a positive difference in their school community. By working together, they achieve their modest goals: a new school mascot, a buddy bench for the playground, a more “bee-friendly” garden.

Three titles are finished and coming soon: Worst Mascot Ever and Everybody Needs a Buddy (January), and Bee the Change (May). Grades 1-4.  

Thanks in advance, teachers, for giving these books a chance. We need to inspire and support these young kids, their voices and their ideas.

Full review below.

Preller, James

The Big Idea Gang: Everybody Needs a Buddy

Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. 2019. 96pp. $15.99 hc. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 9781328857194. Grades 1-4

This second book in the Big Idea Gang series opens with a lunchtime debate about the best part of the school day. For friendly, easy-going Deon, it’s recess. No contest. Then at recess that day, Deon notices an unfamiliar boy looking miserable and wants to help him. When the Big Idea Gang meets the next day to discuss news of a surplus of cash in the PTA treasury, Deon suggests a buddy bench, where kids can go when they need a friend. The problem is that the PTA has announced its plan to use the money to buy books for the library. The resolution of the story—Deon’s successful pitch to get not one, but two buddy benches—leaves it unclear if there was room in the PTA budget for books, too. However, the book abounds with examples of kindness, empathy, friends who listen to one another, and ways to strike up a friendship and to make a difference at your school. Other positive plot elements include lessons on how rumors can spread, and, best of all, a librarian explaining her rationale for weeding outdated books. Illustrations break up the simple text of this beginning chapter book, and fans of Preller’s Jigsaw Jones mysteries will welcome the arrival of this new, appealing series. Phyllis Amerikaner, Head Librarian (Retired), Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California

Recommended

Meet the New Librarian: Culling the Books

 

“The book sailed through the air,

as if its pages were wings,

and landed in the box marked TRASH.” 

— from Everybody Needs a Buddy.

Over the years, I’ve been entertained by different blog sites that feature hilariously outdated books still found in libraries. This scene from Everybody Needs a Buddy, the second book in the upcoming “Big Idea Gang” series, revolves around the zippy new librarian at school, Ms. Ronson. The kids are working on their project, hoping to persuade the school to install a “buddy bench” in the playground, when this encounter takes place.

But first, a brief description from an earlier page:

Ms. Ronson didn’t look much older than most middle schoolers. Small and thin, she wore her hair short and dyed bright red at the tips. Ms. Ronson was young and energetic. She wore colorful scarves and six earrings in each ear. She even had tattoos. And, of course, the kids loved her immediately — mostly because of her lively personality. 

And later:

“Excuse me, Lizzy? Padma?” a voice called. It was Ms. Ronson, now on her hands and knees by a back bookshelf. “Could you please bring over those boxes? Thanks ever so much.”

Ms. Ronson dumped some of the books in the first box. “Good riddance,” she muttered.

Lizzy was alarmed. “What are you doing? You can’t throw away books! It’s a waste of money.”

“Oh, Lizzy,” Ms. Ronson said, “some of these books have been here forever. No one reads them. They are taking up valuable space. Look at this book.” The young librarian held up an old science book. The cover read FUN WITH COMPUTERS! “This book is twenty years old. It’s terribly out of date. It’s useless, Lizzy, and it’s got to go.”

Lizzy could see that Ms. Ronson was right.

“Here’s another,” Ms. Ronson said, her voice rising. The cover read CAREERS FOR WOMEN. Ms. Ronson flipped through the stale, yellowed pages. “Look at these jobs. Secretary, flight attendant, piano teacher, bank teller!” Ms. Ronson actually growled, grrrrr. “Where’s scientist? Or financial analyst? Or astronaut? Or how about president? Maybe that’s what our country needs — a woman in the White House!”

The book sailed through the air, as if its pages were wings, and landed in the box marked TRASH. 

Ms. Ronson laughed. “I’m sorry, it just makes me crazy.” She swept an arm across the room. “Our graphic novel section is much too small. I can’t keep enough scary books on the shelves, because they are so popular. I don’t have any of this year’s new award-winners. Libraries have to change with the times. This is why it’s so wonderful that the PTA has decided to donate money for books. Don’t you agree?”

Lizzy and Padma nodded. Yes, they sure did. Lizzy tugged on Padma’s arm. “Come with me,” she whispered. “I want you to talk with the rest of the gang. I think I’ve got an idea — but we’ll need your help.”

Illustrations by Stephen Gilpin. Coming: January 2019, 96 pages, grades 1-4, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Also look for Worst Mascot Ever from the same “Big Idea Gang” series.