Archive for Bullying

“Sticks and Stones” in Honor of No Name-Calling Week (Yes, It’s a Thing)


This is no name-calling week (and yes, click the link, learn how your school can participate, and you can even buy the pencils!). And in honor of this week’s theme, I’d like to share the second-shortest chapter in my most recent book, Better Off Undead. The shortest, by the way, is only one word; try to beat that.

To set the scene, Adrian, a zombie, is having a hard time adjusting to middle school life. He begins the book as more or less the ultimate outsider, being the only zombie officially registered at Nixon Middle School, where they clearly had never heard of “No Name-Calling Week.” A real shame. Here on pages 47-48, Adrian reflects on some of the names he’s been called . . . 


Let’s list the names:

I am shuffler, ankle-dragger, shape-shifter, howler, freak. I am living dead, soulless corpse, brain-sucker, crawler, spitter, wraith, wuss, dumb butt, flailer, mutant, hant. I am gorgon, raver, basilisk, shambling undead, moaner, groaner, ghoul, death talker, puke machine, shade, half-life, cadaver, wailer, flailer, biter, roamer, feeder, lurcher, loser, infected fleshbag, vermin, oddball, slob, dipstick, drooler, death rattler, human fail. 

I am other, alien, outcast, misfit, and I live in your town. 

I am zombie, and names will never hurt me.

But inside, I’m a flower rising up through a crack in the sidewalk. I’m a hawk riding the upswells of wind, an athlete leaping hurdles, heart pumping, blood pulsing . . . 

Inside, in the places that no one can see, I’m freaking amazing. 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #265: After the Skype

Fresh from my Skype visit, I received this kind note from North Carolina, which is an actual state in the United States.
Thanks again for the wonderful Skype session today!  My classes had some great discussions about the responses that you gave to their questions!  It was an incredible experience for them, and me!
I would love to purchase a Bystander poster.  Please let me know if you have such a thing to offer.
I finished The Fall today.  I loved it, too!  I ordered The Bell Jar because I am very curious after you referenced it several times in the text. 
I am attaching a photo from our session today.  Our media specialist may have more, but this is the only one that she sent me.
IMG_1672 (1)
I am looking forward to ordering your latest book!   Also, my students are begging me to read The Fall to them.  I have asked our guidance counselor to read it first to make sure that she thought it would be ok as a read aloud.  It obviously touches on a more sensitive topic than Bystander. It will definitely be made available for checkout to my students either way.
Thanks so much! 

I replied . . .

Dear Susan,

Thank you for this note and the photo. Was I really that dark during the Skype? Or is it just the photo? I wonder if I should focus on proper lighting in the future.
I enjoyed the questions and the experience, thank you for making it happen.
9781250090546.IN01I appreciate your thoughts on The Fall. I understand where suicide is a sensitive issue, and should give any educator pause before sharing the book with a large group. However, The Fall was (loosely) inspired by real events. These terrible things happen. The book is not really “about” the suicide, but goes deeper into the potential implications of cyberbullying, i.e., how we treat each other. Honestly, for me, the deepest theme in the book is forgiveness.
I’m proud of that book and know that many readers, generally grades 7-up, have been enthusiastic about it. The book was nominated for the Sakura Medal in Japan and listed in the 2017 ALA midwinter meetings (by YALSA) as a “quick pick” for reluctant readers.
If this is any help, I’ve listed some review comments below.
“Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan. Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007).” — Booklist.
“Told through journal entries, Preller’s latest novel expertly captures the protagonist’s voice, complete with all of its sarcasm, indifference, and, at the same time, genuine remorse.” — School Library Journal.
“With its timely, important message and engaging prose style, Sam’s journal ought to find a large readership.” (Fiction. 10-16) — Kirkus.
 “It was 2:55 am as I finally gave up on the notion of sleep.  Having started reading THE FALL by James Preller earlier in the day, I knew sleep would not come until I had finished Sam’s story.  Now, having turned the last page, it still haunts me and will for quite some time.”Guys Lit Wire.
“I didn’t realize the emotional impact this book had on me until the very last sentence when it brought tears to my eyes. This was a heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship, bullying, and the aftermath of all of it.” — Expresso Reads.
Thank you, I hope our paths cross again.
James Preller
And yes, Dear Readers, there’s even a postscript — because Susan wrote back with this . . .
I agree with everything that you said about The Fall.  Our guidance counselor is halfway through it and says that she absolutely loves it!  We both agree that it does not focus on the actual suicide.  The theme of forgiveness, as well as students realizing what could possibly happen as a result of bullying is very powerful.
My students are begging me to read it, so I feel almost certain that it will happen!
Thanks again for being so approachable!  We met with a parent this morning and all she said her son was talking about last night was the SKYPE with you!  This is such a powerful opportunity for our students, and I feel very fortunate that I was able to make it happen!

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #264: Bystander on Long Island



Here we go . . . my 10th year of sharing a small selection of my fan mail on the interwebs. An honor I never take for granted.

Scan 4

Scan 5


I replied . . . 


Dear Samantha,

Thank you for your impressive, typed, two-page letter. It’s nice to hear from a reader on Long Island, my old stomping grounds. I was born in Wantagh, emptied garbage cans at Jones Beach, road my bicycle to the mall, and, yes, even hung out at President Nixon’s dog’s grave near my high school. My mom, age 91 (long, slow clap for that!), lives out in Greenport on the North Fork. Wine country, I guess. So I still find myself out there, though I now live in upstate.

I’ve been to Commack, and not just to drive past (though, yes, I confess: mostly that). I vaguely remember doing a school visit out there at some point. It all tends to blur. So we have that in common, the Island and good bagels.

9780312547967Anyway, I’m glad that Bystander made you reflect a little bit on your own life. I agree with your thoughts about social media, how bullying is actually more subtle, less obvious than what we (typically) see in movies, i.e., the big dumb kid shoving someone into a locker.

I feel there are endless ways of writing about bullying, a million stories to tell. No book can hope to say it all. I sometimes think that Mary was the secret hero of Bystander, though I suspect her story is under-written; it mostly takes place offstage. For better and for worse, I decided to focus primarily on Eric. When a book or movie can get us to think, to make connections, to become aware, that’s a very good thing. That’s art, right? The movie you see and keep wondering about days later. The poem that makes us shut to book and gaze out the window, wondering.

Ultimately, I tried to write a good, fast-paced, involving story. The rest is up to you.

My best,

James Preller

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right . . .”

I’m just going to put this here.

The wounds we inflict on our soul. 

That phrase kills me every time.

Carry on.



FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #243: From Johanna in CT


I recently turned 56. That’s 8 in dog years, or time you start thinking about getting a new puppy. You know, to ease the transition. It’s disconcerting to discover that I’ve been getting a little weirder over the years. A tad stranger. Or maybe that’s just the liberation of time, of caring less what might be misconstrued, of feeling free to speak my (scattered) mind. It might be a good thing, writing-wise. Anyway, I sometimes feel a little sorry for the poor kid who sends me a beautiful letter and receives whatever I might dash back. When it comes to answering fan mail, I’m not a machine. There’s no brilliant strategy here. I just start typing and try to keep it real. For better and for, I’m sure, worse.

Here’s the opening of Johanna’s two-page letter, followed by my reply:

Scan 3

< snip >


I replied:

Dear Johanna,

Thank you for your well-written (typed!) letter.

While reading it, I found that I admired you quite a bit. Not because you liked my book. I’m not that shallow. But because your words revealed a pensive, inquisitive, open mind. An admirable brain & spirit!

I don’t know. I’m fumbling. What am I trying to say?

I’ll never forget when a friend in college said to me, in a casual, offhanded sort of way, “Oh, I learned that question yesterday.”

41m-cvcfcxl-_sx337_bo1204203200_It struck me as funny. The idea of learning a question. Aren’t we supposed to learn answers? Figure stuff out? Know things? And now I think . . . well, yes and no. A big part of life is learning the questions. And one of the biggest is, What do I do with time here on Earth? How should I spend my days? How do I treat others? What does it mean?

I don’t think a book, or an author, or anyone else can provide us with the answers. We find those inside ourselves. We discover, we learn, we grow. And it all begins with the search -– the seeking, the quest! –- the quest/ions –- the inner desire to think and learn. You’ve got that, I could instantly sense it, and that’s a great quality to have. It’ll take you far.

Anyway, I’m sorry; feeling weirdly philosophical today. Maybe it was the tone of your letter. You seem to be the kind of person who enjoys that sort of conversation.

Oh, hey, not to turn this into a commercial, but you might also very much like my book, The Fall, which touches on some of these same themes but goes to a darker place. Check it out at your school or town library. Or hey, go buy it in paperback for $6.99 and line my pockets with gold.

I really appreciate your (deep!) thoughts, thanks.

James Preller