Archive for School Visits

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.

 

A Decade in Review: Book Covers from the 2010s

I’ve seen several author friends do this recently, a glance back at the past decade via book covers, before looking ahead to bigger and better things. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

 

                                                            

AND COMING IN JUNE, 2020 . . .

 

PRE-ORDERS NOW AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON . . .

With gorgeous multimedia paintings-and-collages by acclaimed artist Mary GrandPre, James Preller’s All Welcome Here promises to be an evergreen gift picture book for children about to take the big leap into their first days of school.

The bus door swishes
Open, an invitation.
Someone is not sure . . .

The first day of school and all its excitement, challenges, and yes, anxieties, are celebrated here in connected haiku poems. A diverse cast of characters all start―and finish―their first days of school, and have experiences that all children will relate to.

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.”

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #293: from Genesis to Revelation!

This letter was mysteriously left on a table, near my things, on the day of a school visit to Somewhere, CT. 

I replied . . . 

Dear Genesis,

My apologies for not responding sooner. In my haste, I stuffed your letter into my bag and, well, basically spaced it out. Hopefully my reply will arrive as a nice surprise, sometime after you’ve given up hope.

I must say that you wrote kind of a brilliant letter, Genesis. You are obviously a reader, but more than that, you are a deep reader, someone who seems to have natural insight into the fact that there’s an actual person who wrote the book. Doing research, getting inspired, making choices. You recognize the creative process that informs the book.

When asked to give advice to young writers, that’s often what I tell them: read like a writer, try to think like a writer as you read. So you are correct. Most people just want to happily enjoy the entertainment. Like you said, “they just like the book, but they miss the effort it takes to write a book, the long hours, days, or months to just write a chapter.”

You asked about my thinking process and inspiration. I don’t have an easy answer. When I’m at my best, I think of my brain as particularly “spongy.” I absorb things, receive the signals (like an antenna), maybe with a heightened sense of insight into others: how they feel, how they think. There’s no shortage of inspiration out in the world. The key is to be open. Eyes, ears, heart, brain. Seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking. Then giving yourself time –- and a blank page — to sort it out.

Today I had an idea about the character that I’m writing about, Mary from Bystander. I decided she could have a tarot card reading. I’m not sure why that popped into my brain today. I met a woman over the summer, at the dog park, who gives tarot readings. We’ve talked about it a little. I’m not sure I believe in any of that, but I do find it interesting. For me to write the scene, I’d need to talk again to her, maybe go out for coffee, ask questions, take notes. Or perhaps I should go for my own tarot card reading? Experience it for myself.

The important thing is that the idea appeals to me. It sounds like fun, learning that stuff, writing it. What does Mary discover in the reading? Does she believe it? Does she become upset? Who gives the reading? So many questions to answer. I think, maybe, it could be a friend’s older sister. Somebody just learning about the cards, fooling around with them a little bit. Maybe during a sleepover.

I don’t know, Genesis! The thing is, I’ll work it around in my brain, chew it over, talk to my expert, see if I can fit it into my story. I may ditch it -– or it might become a crucial scene, a pivot point in the story.

As for my desire to write, ha, it comes and goes. This is a tough business, filled with disappointments and great satisfactions. Up and down and up and down and up and down. Endlessly. Like most writers, I’m a reader. And I am perfectly okay with being alone. That’s important. I have the right disposition for the job. I know writers who are very disciplined. They sit in a chair and refuse to rise until they churn out 500 words. That kind of thing. For me, I need to have a certain feeling of fullness. Like, I don’t know, I’m ready. I can’t force it or fake it. Some days, I wish I could.

Thanks for your terrific letter. And thank you for expressing interest in my new book, Blood Mountain. If you do read it, please write back. I’d love to hear what a smart, thoughtful reader like you makes of it.

My best,

James Preller

 

 

Together We Can Change the World

I took these snaps last week at an airport in Florida. I also took a similar (though less successful) photo at middle school in CT, which is not included here.

I love this movement with our public drinking fountains: A place to easily fill water bottles. The counter was a new one on me, and I liked that, too.

Do you have one in your public school?

As a visiting author, I’m always asked what I’ll need on my visit. If I have dietary restrictions, what kind of technology I’ll be using, and so on. And I always ask for water. Because of all that talking.

And because I’m a hypocrite. 

So when I visit, I’m provided with an endless supply of plastic water bottles. This year, I’m finally trying to put an end to that by bringing my own reusable bottle. A simple thing, a small thing, and long overdue. 

But that’s where I’m at these days. Whoever you are, whatever you believe, do what you can do to be a little bit better than yesterday. No judgment. Nobody’s perfect. And no matter where you stand, just trying pointing those feet in the right direction. You don’t have to become an entirely new person. You don’t have to become the best and the most. Every little bit helps. Think of the planet and do what you can. Make that small shift.

Together we can change the world.