Archive for School Visits

Morning Announcements: Tuesday Is Now Wednesday, etc.

I walked into a local school recently and saw this sign:

This kind of thing happens in schools all the time. And it reminded me of something I wrote in Better Off Undead, my “cli-fi” zombie comedy for middle-grade readers (grades 4-7).

Chapter 21 is titled “Morning Announcements.” I’m tempted to share the whole thing but let’s not today. Due to construction, the principal of Nixon Middle School has good news, bad news, and some really bad news to announce . . . 

“Until further notice, the cafeteria will be moved to the gymnasium. But P.E. will go on as scheduled. Just don’t confuse the meatballs with the dodgeballs! Heh-heh. The Choir Club will share a room with the Chess Club; they will both meet in the science lab. On Tuesday we’ll follow the Wednesday schedule, except for band members, who will adhere to their Thursday schedules — but only on Mondays. Lastly, the literacy center will be closed because of the asbestos problem recently brought to our attention by Janitor McConnell’s alarming rash. Get better soon, Mike!”

 

Summer Hours

Here at ye olde blog, I’ve given my entire staff the summer off.

It’ll be quiet until the school year starts back up. I might post a thing or two, as the spirit moves me, but not with any consistency.

As always, you can contact me directly regarding school visits, college application essays, whatever. That’s jamespreller@aol (dot) com. 

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Have a great summer. 

 

Blue Creek Elementary, Revisited: Remembering Ben

“Ben was gentle, he smiled often,
there was softness in his eyes:
a sweet boy.
And all the while, Ben looked at me
as if I was the one who was special.
As a writer, sometimes by some miracle
you touch someone. But with Ben it was different.
He was the one
who left a lasting mark.”

 

I recently enjoyed two days visiting Blue Creek Elementary. It was my first time back in schools as a guest author since the pandemic. It was a great pleasure and, always, a privilege. I loved seeing the children and the teachers, hanging out with Abby the librarian, signing books, all of it. 

As it happens, I visited Blue Creek 13 years previously, back in 2009. 

(Who says I never get invited back to the same place twice?!)

On that day, 13 years ago, I met a boy who I will never forget.

This is that story . . . 

 

—–

 

His name was Ben and he was waiting for me when I arrived at Blue Creek Elementary. Ben was holding my book, Six Innings, in his hands.

Could you . . . ?” a teacher asked.

Yes, yes, of course.

So we ducked into the empty library, where Ben and I could have a few moments together. I was told that Ben had osteosarcoma, the same illness contracted by a character, Sam Reiser, in my book.

We talked quietly. I told Ben about my oldest boy, Nicholas, a sixteen-year-old who had gone through five years of chemotherapy. “He’s doing great now,” I said. “Healthy, strong.” Both boys shared the same oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Pearce. I explained that Dr. Pearce helped me with Six Innings, and showed him where I thanked her in the acknowledgments. We agreed that she was very kind.

Ben was gentle, he smiled often, there was softness in his eyes: a sweet boy. And all the while, Ben looked at me as if I was the one who was special. As a writer, sometimes by some miracle you touch someone. But with Ben it was different. He was the one who left a lasting mark — on me and so many others.

I learned last week that Ben passed away, October 12th, 2009. He was nine years old.

I did not attend Ben’s wake. I was told by one of his teachers that among the objects displayed was a signed copy of my book. The story meant something to Ben. He may have related to Sam’s experience. “It’s been so hard,” Sam confided in the book’s last pages. But Ben probably most enjoyed the baseball, the humor, the fun of boys at play.

Ben was probably similar to my Nick. At least that’s what I saw, as I blinked back tears, when I looked into Ben’s eyes. Back when we first gathered to explain to Nick, at age nine, that he had relapsed with leukemia — that the cancer was back — Nick sat and listened quietly. Dr. Pearce laid out the protocol, the path Nick’s life would take over the next two years. This will happen, then this will happen, and then this will happen. Like a story unfolding, though no one could say with certainty how it would end. Dr. Pearce asked if Nick had any questions. Nick did. “Can I go to my friend’s house now?” he asked. That seemed to me, then and now, the perfect reaction.

I saw Ben only twice that day, once alone in a library, once as part of a larger group. But I’m looking at him now.

I’ll always remember the few minutes I spent with Ben Stowell.

Ben’s family has established The Ben Fund to assist other families dealing with childhood cancers, c/o HSBC, Latham Branch, 494 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, NY 12110. Ben leaves behind a twin brother, James, and his parents, Stacey and Tim. My heart goes out to them.

 


POSTSCRIPT, April, 2022: Ben’s father, Tim, contacted me recently. Time has passed and he’s now in a relationship with a woman who’s child, Charlotte, attends Blue Creek. Charlotte, a 2nd grader, said hello and told me about her connection to Ben. She never had the chance to meet him, but Charlotte knows James, though, Ben’s twin. He’s now in college and thriving. I’m not crying, you’re crying. 

Brochures Get Old . . . School Visits Never Do!

 

Here’s the “book side” of a two-page brochure I made for school visits — not too long before the pandemic shut us down. 

Missing here is Upstander, a sequel to Bystander, published in 2021. 

And coming soon . . . 

Fairy House in May, 2022, in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure format. 

And a new series, EXIT 13, coming in Fall, from Scholastic. Can’t wait to share more about this one. Think: “Schitt’s Creek” meets “Stranger Things” with a touch of Pet Sematary. It’s a middle-grade novel/graphic novel hybrid. Mostly a novel that occasionally breaks out into GN format. Super cool, fast-paced, creepy and mysterious. 

PLEASE CONTACT ME W/ ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT SCHEDULING A SCHOOL VISIT AT YOUR SCHOOL. I AM UNIQUELY ABLE TO SPEAK TO A WIDE RANGE OF READERS, K-8, WITH BOOKS THAT ARE AGE-APPROPRIATE FOR EACH LEVEL. 

Fan Mail Wednesday #309: It’s Easy (and cheap!) to Arrange a Virtual Visit with Your Class

“That was amazing!
The students are beaming and can’t wait
to talk about you!
They also can’t wait to write!”
— Rachel M, 2nd-grade teacher

 

Here’s a correspondence that I enjoyed with a classroom teacher from Queens, NY. I wish I had more visits with classrooms or entire grade levels. They feel so positive, and cozy, and joyful. I especially believe in book-specific visits, where the class knows my work and we can engage in a lively Q-and-A conversation. I can do this with any title or series. 

Is it terribly expensive? No, nope, not really, no. 

Read on . . .

 

Hello there!

I work at a school in Queens, NY.  Currently, I am the teacher of 30 second graders…was previously the drama teacher:)

My students are fully remote, meaning that they are all home and we learn virtually during the day.

I have been reading your books to them as our read aloud, and they are LOVING them! We have created a class detective notebook, where along with Jigsaw, they write their guesses, clues, thoughts, and suspects.

They have just started their writing unit on realistic fiction.

I was wondering what your pricing was, and if you are still doing virtual visits?

I thought a virtual visit from you, where they can ask you Jigsaw questions, and get some creative writing tips would make them smile from ear to ear!

Please let me know, thank you!

Rachel 

 

I replied . . .

 

Rachel,

Thank you for this lovely note.

I would love to visit with your class.

I like to get $150 for a virtual visit — but if your budget is limited, I’d work with whatever you’ve got that seems fair and reasonable to you.

I appreciate that you share my books with your class.

James Preller

 

And shortly after our visit, Rachel wrote back . . .

 

That was amazing!

The students are beaming and can’t wait to talk about you! They also can’t wait to write!!! 

I may have to give them a whole afternoon of writing time because they are so excited!!

Again, thank you so much. Everything that you said was beyond perfect for them to hear.

Of course their first question was, when can they talk to you again…

So, you may hear from me again and next year and so on and so forth 🙂

I will of course share your information with other teachers and the parent coordinator at my school, who usually shares things with all other schools in the area.

Thank you again for everything, that was a wonderful experience:)

Rachel

 

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