Archive for In the Classroom

Here are 6 Videos I Made for Teachers and Homeschoolers to Share with Young Readers

I posted a week ago about our collective struggle to find ways to do something meaningful, helpful, positive during this challenging time. As a children’s book author, my immediate goal has been to provide some online material that teachers and parents can share with young learners.

As of today, March 26, I’ve created six videos and posted them on my own Youtube channel (link below). I’ve also learned how to embed them here, also below. For me, that’s saying something.

Technology: ick.

But, as we’re finding in these days of physical distancing, a valuable way to connect.

Please feel free to share these videos with fellow teachers, media specialists, parents, students, children.  If you have ideas or suggestions for future videos, I’ll be happy to respond to that. Thanks for what you are doing.

Stay smart, keep safe, and enjoy the moments we are given. In my house in upstate New York, we are hunkered down with two of our three children, Gavin (20) and Maggie (19), along with my midwife-wife, Lisa (no age given). Our oldest, Nick (26), is in his NYC
apartment, working online. We miss him terribly. Each night, we’ve been enjoying lovely family dinners. We’re rotating who cooks and (purportedly) who cleans. In many respects, it’s been a beautiful experience. Trying to hold onto those positive feelings. Not worrying, for now, about all the lost income, the stress about bills, all the money stuff. There will be time to recover from that. For now, we embrace the now.

Here’s a link to my Youtube Channel.

I’ve included a brief description and target age level immediately below each video

 

THIS IS THE FIRST VIDEO I made, and the shortest, and it touches upon a theme I try to emphasize before every student I meet, regardless of age (though the delivery gets more sophisticated at middle schools): “You are unique. You have stories inside you that only you can tell.”

 

I MADE BOOKS WHEN I WAS a little kid. I sold them to my friends and neighbors. My mother saved one and I read it here. Kind of funny, I think. Hopefully this video inspires young people to make their own books. In the case above, I needed help with the words from my oldest brother, Neal. Ages 4-up.

 

FOR FANS OF JIGSAW JONES: Here I talk about what I was like as a kid — more of a spy than a true detective — and how I gave my favorite childhood toy to Jigsaw Jones. I read a scene from THE CASE OF THE BICYCLE BANDIT.

 

FOR GRADES 4-UP, JUST RIGHT FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLERS. THIS VIDEO LESSON centers around a writing tip first offered by Kurt Vonnegut Jr: make awful things happen to your leading characters! I discuss that idea and, to make the point, read two passages from BLOOD MOUNTAIN, my most recent middle-grade adventure novel and a 2019 Junior Library Guild Selection.

 

HERE’S ONE FOR THE YOUNGEST READERS, ages 3-up, where I read from WAKE ME IN SPRING. I also describe the creative process, the thinking, behind the story. And again, as always, I try to turn it back to the reader, to inspire their own creativity moving forward.

 

MY “SCARY TALES” BOOKS are often wildly popular on school visits. Though the books seem to hit that sweet spot of grades 3-5, I’ve met very young readers who are impervious to fear, second graders who love them, and also, by design, readers in uppers grades and middle school who have enjoyed this high-interest, low-reading level stories with the super cool artwork by Iacopo Bruno. For some, their first successful reading experience of a full-length book that is not heavily illustrated. Here I read from the first two chapters of GOODNIGHT, ZOMBIE. 

 

I’LL CONTINUE TO POST MORE VIDEOS — including a full reading of “ZOMBIE” — as time allows. Please, by all means, feel free to share these videos far and wide. Obviously, if I hear positive reports, I’ll be encouraged to do more. Thanks for stopping by.

Thought for Teachers (and Parents!) on a Friday

This meme speaks to a feeling that I experience on school visits every time I make a presentation, or even speak one-on-one with a child. And with that feeling comes an immediate identification with teachers, because I recognize that they must feel it, too, every single day.

As a parent, I’ve experienced it constantly

To the point where it must speak to the essence of what it is to be a teacher, to be a parent.

Scattering seeds to the wind.

On visits, I’ll have 45-50 minutes with, say, a group of 200 students. I’ll joke, tell stories, read something, explain my writing process, show photos of my dog, try to pass along my love of literacy, answer questions, maybe even impart bits of wisdom gained in 34 years as a published author. Then time’s up and they dutifully file out of the big room, shuffling off to what comes next.

And I wonder: Did I connect? Did my words make a difference?

Again, I could be talking about my four-mile walk yesterday with my son, Gavin, age 20. Did he hear me? Did I say anything of value? And also, along with that: What did I learn? Was my heart open?

In the end, we have to keep faith that our efforts have meaning. Yes, many the seeds will not thrive. In busy schools, the days are packed. There’s always the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. A flowing river of next things. But we also know that sometimes, for certain kids, those experiences miraculously do stick. A thought, a feeling, an idea clicks. Maybe not today. Maybe in five years it resonates anew.

And maybe the memory of that experience lingers for a lifetime.

Imagine that.

Imagine making that kind of impact on a life.

It’s what teachers do every single day.

The seed finds fertile soil. The rain comes down, the sun shines warmly. And one day a green sprouts lifts its head, says “I am,” and starts to grow. 

All we can do is keep scattering those seeds, doing what we can, hoping for ears that listen, hearts and minds that are open.

Every time I am invited to a school, I am grateful for that opportunity.

Look for All Welcome Here, by James Preller, illustrated by Mary GrandPre, coming this June.

 

Shades of Meaning: Hey, Teachers, Here’s an Easy Idea for Your Classroom!

I like it when I get to sit in real classrooms. I look around, check out what’s on the walls and in the bins, try to absorb all the details. I don’t often have the chance to do that on school visits. I’m usually in the library or the auditorium or the (dreaded) cafetorium, which smells of old cheese and ammonia, then maybe I’ll duck into a side closet to sign books.

Recently I visited the cozy Richmond Consolidated School in Massachusetts, a visit organized by a force of nature known as Rachel Kanz. Zipping from one spot to the next, we dashed into Rachel’s 6th grade classroom for a pit stop. 

I noticed this on the wall:

 

Are your eyes not what they used to be? I know the feeling. Here, step closer, take a closer look:

“Clever,” I commented. “Shades of meaning. I like it.”

“I got it from Lucy Calkins,” Rachel said, crediting the influential author and founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. “Her idea. I just ran with it.”

 

New Series Coming in January, 2019

This year I’ve written three chapter books about these characters and look forward to the launch of the series in January, 2018. Essentially: four friends use their powers of persuasion to drive positive change in their school community, i.e., a new mascot, a buddy bench, a bee-friendly garden. Think globally, act locally. Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. I feel good about it. Good stories, diverse cast of characters, humor and heart. Hopefully elementary teachers who feature persuasive writing in their classrooms will enjoy these books and use them as mentor texts. Grades 2-4, I think.

A School with an Idea Worth Stealing

I had a happy experience on a recent evening at Ichabod Crane Primary School in Valatie, NY. I was one of two authors invited to an annual event at the school: Young Authors Night. The other invited guest was the brilliant Doreen Rappaport, who writes widely-acclaimed picture-book biographies. I’d met Doreen before and she’s simply the best; her work is second to none. We were asked to come from 4:00 – 6:00 to sign books. That’s it, just sit and sign. However, no payment — but we were assured that the Ichabod Crane community comes out strong for this event. 

Well, they sure did.

When I entered the school, I passed a large room lined with tables. On each table, neatly laid out, were books written by students. Each class, grades K-3, had its own table of handsomely-produced, original books. (This was the “young” authors section of the evening; Doreen and I represented a somewhat older demographic.) Tonight was the night when parents were invited to celebrate their children’s work. The not-so-young guest authors were stationed around the corner in a small library. Out in the hallway, a famed local bookseller, Rondi Brower, had set up an attractive display of our books. Note to potential idea-stealers: Rondi’s role is indispensable here. Partnering with a local bookstore is an essential part of the evening. (Oh, and a portion of the sales go to the school, so it’s a fundraiser, too.)

Inside the library, I was offered a chair, a desk, and a pen. Same deal for Doreen, across the room. Doreen and I chatted a bit, traded war stories, while the librarian, Alanna Moss, gracefully attended to last-minute details. Frequent readers of James Preller Dot Com may recognize “Miss Moss,” for she’s the librarian who hilariously had herself duct-taped to a wall to motivate end-of-year book returns. At almost 4:00, we took our places. “They’ll start coming in soon,” Alanna informed us.

I hope so, I thought.

Oh, and one other key detail: The school has been hosting this event for many years, always on the day of the school budget vote. Smart, right? It helps get parents out of the house, they visit the school, support literacy, vote “yes” for the budget, all before dinner. Genius. And an idea worth stealing!


I signed books nonstop for two hours. Same with Doreen.

No question that a huge part of the night’s success can be attributed to the aforementioned Miss Moss, who did so much advance work prepping the students. She shared our books in the library, building anticipation and excitement for the “big night,” inspiring young readers to come on out and get their books signed by real (and evidently still live) authors.

“Get ’em while we last!”

I have one last image to share. Because the lines are long and the event is so well-organized, students came to my table with their names neatly printed on Post-It notes. This is extremely helpful and efficient, and it also frees us up to discuss topics other than how exactly to spell, say, MacKenzee. I’d take the note, slap it on the table, sign the book, we’d chat a bit — “What are you doing this summer?” “What was your book about?””Any brothers or sisters?” “Have you read Jigsaw Jones before?” the usual light banter — and move on to the next. Toward the end of the night, my desk looked like this:

 

This is just to say: Thank you, good folks at Ichabod Crane Primary School for letting me share a slice of this special night. It was impressive all the way around, particularly the way the families came out for their children — to support literacy, to vote, to have some family fun. A true community of readers. Well done!