Archive for Jigsaw Jones

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.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #298: Request From a Teacher Who Wants to Read Online to Her Class

 

I’m sharing this letter from a 2nd-grade teacher since I know it’s representative of what’s going on out there for so many parents and educators. 

 

Good evening! 
I’m a second grade teacher in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My class has been reading some of your Jigsaw Jones books and I was wondering if I could have permission to create, maybe You Tube, a video that my students can access at home. Or, if you have another idea I am welcome to it! We are on chapter 9 of The Case of the Stolen Baseball Cards but I’d probably have to start at the beginning since it’s been over a week since we have been in school. 
We’ve already read The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster and hope to read The Case of the Race Against Time next.
Thanks so much for your support!

Lori,

I replied . . . 
Lori,

Illustration by R.W. Alley from Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar.

Thank you for your email. You are doing valuable work, and I appreciate the request. Yes, emphatically, by all means, read and share and keep doing what you do.

The only request I have, suggested by my publisher, is that you delete the videos once school is back in session.
My best to you. Stay smart, stay safe, protect the vulnerable.
With love in my heart (I’m growing extra-sappy in these times).
And again, I feel very strongly that I’m the one who should be thanking you.
James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #297: Includes a Free Pro Tip on Becoming a Writer!

 

Fan Mail Wednesday actually falls on a Wednesday this time around, because eventually that’s bound to happen. The law of averages! This letter comes from Max, a Jigsaw Jones fan in Kentucky, which I understand is a state somewhere near Ohio. Never been there, though my rescue dog, Echo, hails from those parts. I’d love to do school visits in Kentucky someday.

Don’t make me beg, people. Zing me a text at Jamespreller@aol.com and we’ll work it out. Of course, we can wait for this virus to settle down. Weird, right?

BTW, I love it when a FREE BONUS DRAWING is included. Thanks for that, Max. Anyway, the letter: 

I replied:

Dear Max,

Thank you for your kind letter. I’m so happy you read The Case from Outer Space. It is one of my favorites. Were you surprised by the ending?

Illustration by R.W. Alley.

One of the first inspirations for that book came from my love for “Little Free Libraries.” I’d seen them popping up all over the place and they appealed to me enormously. I’ve even seen schools that have them. Leave a book, take a book. I love that!

So I began to ask myself a writer’s two most important words: WHAT IF? Those are the magic words that get the imagination wandering. I thought, What if someone finds a mysterious note tucked inside a book in a Little Free Library?

Could such a thing be possible? I talked to librarians. They told me they find items inside books all the time. Photos, grocery lists, baseball cards -– even a banana peel.

Another part of the book came from a long interest in NASA and space exploration. I’ve often gazed at the stars and wondered if anyone else might be out there, somewhere in the twinkling beyond, far past our solar system of eight planets and into the outer reaches of the expanding universe. Wow. I smile just thinking about it.

If you truly wish to become a good author, there’s good news. You are already on the right path! Keep reading, keep feeding your brain with words and ideas. Just about every writer I know started out by being a reader. But you don’t have to sit around reading all day. Live! Do things! Play sports, run around, make friends, build stuff, look at clouds and trees, cook yummy desserts, enjoy yourself and everything there is in this amazing world of ours –- and, okay, also read.

And, you know, Max, maybe one day you’ll pick up a pencil and draw a picture. You’ll write down some words. Maybe start a story of your own.

Keep thinking, keep reading, keep being good old Max.

Thank you, my new friend in Kentucky, I’m so glad to receive your letter.

James Preller

 

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #296: This Detective Means Business!

 

I spent the last six weeks engrossed in the stretch run of a manuscript that was due on March 1st. During that phase of the process, the big finish, I’m focused and absorbed. I don’t want to eat, or shower, or change my clothes. I’m locked in on writing the book, therefore neglecting some of the other administrative duties that come with being a professional writer: school visits, book festivals, fan mail, etc. In the middle of February, I received a brief email from “Detective Andrew K.”

It read . . .

 

Hi Mr. Preller,

My name is Andrew, and I am a huge fan of your books. They really inspired me. Specifically, I enjoyed the Jigsaw Jones series.

Now, I am a detective. I hope you’ll make some new books soon.

From, 

Andrew

I wrote back . . . 

Andrew,

Wait a minute. What do you mean, you’re a detective?
You solve mysteries? You work for the FBI? Are you an old guy leaning back in a chair, feet on the desk, smoking a cigar? Or a kid, inspired by Jigsaw Jones, who solves mysteries?
Please tell me more.
(And thanks for reading my books.)
My best,
James Preller
Andrew replied, again briefly (a busy detective, I assume), to clarify the situation. Here is the entirety of that response  . . .
First of all, I’m a kid. Who is 8 years old. And your last answer was correct.
I zinged back a response . . .
Andrew,
Good to hear back from you. Thanks for reading my books. I’m glad they inspired you.
Best of luck, detective!
James Preller

I figured that was it. Now I’d have to go back to work on my manuscript. But the best (by far) was yet to come. This time, Andrew’s email arrived with an attachment . . .

Hi Mr. Preller,
I wanted to write more but I can’t type well. Please check the picture.
From Andrew
So, yeah, that was awesome and deserved a more detailed reply . . . 
Dear Andrew,
I’ve been traveling, sorry for the delay in my reply.
I loved your letter. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
Do your seven chickens have names?
I was visiting with a group of school children just yesterday and one asked me, “Are you Jigsaw Jones?”
I explained that it rarely works that way, where a writer and a character are the same exact person, so I could never say, “That’s me!”
I’m not as smart as Jigsaw, or as focused and determined, but we do share a lot of similarities. Same sense of humor, I think, and similar world view.
I am the youngest of seven children, and my grandmother lived with us late in her life. When I began writing Jigsaw Jones, I made him the youngest in a large family. I had his brothers call him “worm,” just as my brothers did to me. And, yes, I gave him a grandmother who lived in the same house.
So I guess, in some ways, I’m a Jigsaw Jones “clone” just like you. That means we’d probably be friends if we ever met — or, who knows, maybe fierce RIVALS!
Stay safe, Detective!
James Preller

The Case of the Hat Burglar: A Visit to the Lab of Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III

Here’s the setup for this short excerpt: somebody has been taking items from the school’s “Lost & Found,” but no worries, Jigsaw Jones and Mila are on the case. However, they can’t possibly keep a watchful eye on the crime scene all day long. So they pay a little visit to Jigsaw’s old pal, Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III, a dapper lad who dabbles in gadgets and gizmos.

Now I’m a writer who loves process, especially the particular alchemy performed by illustrators when they turn rough sketches into final art. Here’s R.W. Alley’s sketch of the scene in Reggie’s lab:

If you are getting a James Bond-visits-Q vibe, you are on the right track. I’m paying tribute to that character and those old movies that I liked as a kid. 

From the book:

A while back, Reginald had started his own “secret agent” business. It didn’t work out so well. He thought being a detective would be fun, a chance to play with fancy gadgets and gizmos. But Reginald learned that solving mysteries could be a rough business. It took hard work and brainpower. Reggie was a nice kid, but he was as tough as a silk pillow. He promised I could borrow his gadgets anytime.

Today, I needed him to keep that promise. 

Reginald pushed open a door, then said over his shoulder to Mila, “Please come into my research room.”

I’d been here once before. The room looked like a laboratory. Various objects had been placed on marble countertops. “This is all your spy equipment?” Mila asked.

She picked up an old boot.

It was a mistake I’d once made myself. “Be careful, Mila,” I warned.

Sploinnng! A suction cup attached to a spring popped out of the shoe.

“Whoa,” Mila said, jumping back in surprise.

“Suction-cup boots,” Reginald explained. “For walking on ceilings.”

“It really works?” Mila asked.

Reginald shrugged and admitted, “I’m afraid to find out.”

Mila picked up two plastic goldfish. “What are these?”

“Underwater walkie-talkies,” Reginald explained.

“Glub, glub,” I commented — for no reason at all.

“And this?” Mila pointed to a tray of cucumber sandwiches. “Let me guess. Is it some kind of secret listening device?”

“No, it’s a tray of cucumber sandwiches,” Reginald said. “For snack time.”

“Cucumber sandwiches, yum,” I groaned. It was the last thing in the world I’d want to eat. I was a peanut-butter-and-jelly kind of guy. “Sadly, Reggie, we don’t have time for snack. We’re here on business.”

 

And here’s how it all looks in the book across two pages . . . and yes, I’m blessed to have R.W. Alley illustrating these books.