Archive for School Visits

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #335: A Gift from Sorella

Confession: I’m not sure if this is technically a piece of “fan mail.” The United States Postal Service was not involved, and it did not arrive to me via email. This note was handed to me toward the end of a school visit in Mahwah, NJ. 

I read the note — those extraordinary thoughts — and I looked at the young girl before me. “Is this for me? To keep?”

She nodded, shyly.

“Would it be okay,” I asked, “if we took a picture together?”

She thought that would be fine.

So here we are (note: permission granted by Sorella’s parents).

Days have now passed, a full week come and gone. I still wanted to respond in some way. But how? What words could I say beyond, simply, thanks?

My response below falls short, I suspect, but it’s something.

Dear Sorella:

It’s been a week since we meet at your school, Joyce Kilmer, somewhere in deepest, darkest New Jersey. Since then I’ve gone to concerts, read a lot, seen a movie, visited with family, walked my dog a million times, done all sorts of things . . . and yet I keep thinking about you and the kind note (with blobs of silver glitter!) that you handed to me in Mahwah. 

I’m sure that I don’t deserve it. I mean, I don’t think your note is really about me, “the real James Preller,” author of books for young readers. Instead, I think you captured something about how some of us feel about books and reading. You see, I’m a book lover, too. We have that in common. I know that feeling, of just holding a book in your hands, and in your heart, and feeling the wonder of it all, the deep pleasure of connection. Whole new worlds opening up before our eyes.

It’s amazing what a book can do. How we can sit silently, perfectly still, alone in a room, and yet feel intensely connected to the characters and events and, yes, even the author. We can read a book written more than a hundred years ago by a woman in a small English village and feel her thoughts and imaginings, intensely. I’m thinking, by the way, of Beatrice Potter, who published The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901. Potter is a personal favorite of mine, but I could have named anyone, really. We read a book and travel across time and space. We sit alone and yet we are not alone. We are free. As if we were sitting around the same fire. “Companions of the flame,” wrote the poet Hilda Doolittle.

If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. 

Speaking for every author I’ve ever met, thank you, Sorella, for the gift of being that good reader. I’ve long felt that books are only alive when they are read. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of a perfectly good tree. When my work is done, the book is no longer mine anymore. It’s yours, Dear Reader, Dearest Sorella. Magically, amazingly, you sat in a room and made it all come true. 

I’m grateful for you, and grateful for the kind heart that moved you to say such lovely words. “Flowers for the living,” the Irish expression tells us. I don’t deserve them, but I do accept them, gratefully, as a stand-in for anyone who’s ever dreamed of writing a book. Here’s the secret: The dream isn’t to write a book. The dream is for someone like you to come along one day and read it. 

Please keep reading, keep seeking new books, new authors. There are so many, many good ones out there. And, oh yes, please keep writing, too. And drawing. And decorating your missives with glue and silver glitter. You have a gift for it.

Your forever friend, 

James Preller

P.S. Please thank your wonderful and talented media specialist, Mrs. Oates. She’s the one who did all the work. Long ago, she invited me come to your school. We exchanged a dozen emails. And she put in all that work for you, for every student at Joyce Kilmer. I’m just the guy who got swept up in her good intentions. Lucky me. 

Booking Zoom Visits, Too!

I just booked another Zoom visit — 30 minutes, Q & A — with a class of 6th graders who all read Bystander over the summer. Books come and go, faster than ever these days, so I am especially grateful to the teachers who still find it valuable to share this book with students. I think of this one as a “talking book,” a springboard for conversations that are very probably more meaningful than any of the printed words that came from me. Anyway: feeling thankful for that. 
The prequel/sequel, stand-alone companion book, Upstander, is now available in paperback. Mary’s older brother suffers from a substance use disorder (SUD), and for some that might make this title for a slightly more mature audience. I believe it’s such an important issue — lives are being lost every day — I wanted to find a way to address it in a thoughtful, compassionate way.
Contact me directly at jamespreller@aol.com and I’ll be happy to respond to your query to create a visit that works for your specific needs. My fees are very affordable. 
Please note that I’ve done book-centered visits for a range of titles: Jigsaw Jones, Exit 13, The Big Idea Gang, The Courage Test, and more. 
                           

It’s Like a Petting Zoo — But with Real, Live Authors (6/24 in Poughkeepsie)

Hey, look! A brand new children’s book festival, 6/24 at Poughkeepsie’s Discovery Museum. Some good folks are trying something a little different — kicking off the summer with a celebration of books along with science demos and STEM crafts — and so I raised my hand and said, “Sure, count me in!”
Will anybody come? We don’t know yet. Authors live dangerously. But I’ll be there, ready to sign books, talk to young readers, discuss school visits, and maybe even get my face painted. Okay, probably not that. Carry on!

A Quick Stop at My Childhood, Hometown Library in Wantagh

While in the area to visit a couple of local schools — Mandalay and Wantagh Elementary — I stopped off at the town library to give them a few spare titles for the collection. The director actually knew my books but didn’t realize I grew up there. We had a nice conversation.

I took a quick snap of a seating area that I remembered across all these years . . . 

. . . and that I had reimagined for a scene from Bee the Change. Illustration by the wonderful & ridiculously talented Stephen Gilpin. When I present before young readers, we often talk about where ideas come from, and valuing the core experiences of our lives. Our families and pets, our town and community. This is a small example of that, I suppose. 

Here’s the book cover, the third in my “Big Idea Gang” series. Books that are about young people who work together to make their world a better place. In this case, installing a bee-friendly garden at their school.

Stephen –

Photos & Captions from a Recent School Visit

I’ve been visiting schools lately as a guest author. Here’s some photos from a particularly enjoyable visit to an elementary school in New Jersey. 

I always say the same line: Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits. The big variable is what happens in the school before I get there, the sense of preparedness and anticipation, the excitement or the obliviousness; whether the principal arrives to shake my hand, desires to introduce me before every presentation (sending a powerful signal to staff and students alike), or the principal I never meet, too busy administrating. A hundred variables effect the impact of a visit, whereas for the most part, I’m the constant. I do what I do to the best of my ability, and try in my heart to leave that school just a tiny bit better than when I arrived. The students and teachers more excited about books, and writing, and kindness, and (hopefully) about the infinite possibilities inside their very own selves. 

Anyway, I promised photos . . .

The day started off with a small, young group. What I’ve learned over the years is to stay calm and cozy with the youngest audiences. I sit at the beginning, keep in relaxed and gentle. It’s nice when these sessions can be done in a library, but every school has its own unique facilities and demands. 

 

Whoa, standing! We always end with questions — which, at that age, are often comments. “I have a dog, too!”

More students, older ones. The content of my presentation shifts dramatically. Time to stand up and bring more energy.

I had about 90 minutes to inscribe and sign more than 150 books. To me, that helps complete the circle: a child returns home, excited to read a book.

Sometimes I’ll be invited to eat lunch with students, in this case a group of 5th graders. I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because I never get to eat. I’ve come to prefer a shorter “cookies & conversation” session — usually for those kids who’d rather chat books with an author than run around at recess. 

Ah, the kids who linger after the presentation is over and everyone starts filtering out of the room. They want a moment with me: to ask a question, share a fact, or just be seen. It’s always a nice moment there at the end, those kids who want to stick around for me. But no, I do not sign foreheads (I’ve been asked, many times).

 

Thank you, Margaret (ace organizer and photographer!), and everyone else (too many to name) at Merritt Memorial in Cresskill, New Jersey. It was a privilege spending time with your students. 

TOGETHER WE MADE A PRETTY GOOD TEAM!