Archive for School Visits

You Are So Welcome!

Yesterday I cleaned out one of the bags I use for school visits. It’s surprising what I find in there. Old electric bills, paper scraps with hastily jotted-down ideas, Donald Trump’s taxes, lint-covered cookies (still delicious!), plus random notes and drawings that are handed to me by students mid-flight. As I rush down the hall seeking a bathroom, usually. The shy kid — with a friend, for bravery! — comes up and silently hands a paper to me. I am grateful, I am thankful, but I gotta go, so I stuff it into the bag, shake hands, and hurry to the next thing.

Thank you, sorry, gotta go.

Here’s one I wanted to share, because it’s all any of us ever really want. To feel noticed. To feel appreciated, recognized for our worth and our work. I am fortunate to enjoy a career where I am given notes like this one. Everyone should have that experience.

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THE FALL in Paperback Has Landed: To Celebrate, Here’s a Super-Short Excerpt

As an author, even after all these years, I never quite believe it until I have the actual book in my grubby little hands. Well, the box arrived yesterday and a few books cooperated for this photograph:

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As a reminder, this book may be seen as a companion to, and extension of, the themes first presented in Bystander. If readers enjoyed that book, they could pick up this one next — though, admittedly, it’s a little tougher, a little darker. Or start with The Fall and ignore Bystander altogether. It’s your life!

Before I get to the excerpts, some review quotes:

 “It was 2:55 am as I finally gave up on the notion of sleep.  Having started reading THE FALL by James Preller earlier in the day, I knew sleep would not come until I had finished Sam’s story.  Now, having turned the last page, it still haunts me and will for quite some time.” — Guys Lit Wire.

“Told through journal entries, Preller’s latest novel expertly captures the protagonist’s voice, complete with all of its sarcasm, indifference, and, at the same time, genuine remorse.” — School Library Journal.

“Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan. Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007).” — Booklist.

“With its timely, important message and engaging prose style, Sam’s journal ought to find a large readership.” (Fiction. 10-16) — Kirkus.

“I didn’t realize the emotional impact this book had on me until the very last sentence when it brought tears to my eyes. This was a heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship, bullying, and the aftermath of all of it.” — Expresso Reads.

Now for the actual four-chapter excerpt, pages 151-158. Yes, each unnumbered chapter is super short:

 

FACE MEETS FIST

 

    In retrospect, I don’t think getting punched in the face was that bad. I kind of liked it. I mean, I’m not recommending it. “Oh, yes, you simply must try the Punch-in-the-Face, it’s divine. Far superior to the Knee-to-the-Groin and half the calories!”

     Fact: Fergus Tick went blam and I went boom. Hitting the ground was worse than the punch -– no disrespect to Fergus, who packs a wallop, but that concrete was hard.

     To my surprise, I did not see stars. Pretty little birdies did not circle my head, chirping tunelessly. None of the typical things I expected after a lifetime’s education watching Loony Tunes cartoons. I got hit, I fell, and my coconut throbbed but didn’t crack. That was it. Fergus’s fist caught me on the right cheek below the eye -– Fergus was a lefty, who knew! Maybe a tougher kid staggers back but keeps standing. Not me. I flopped like a spineless jellyfish.

     One punch and done.

     Message received, loud and clear.

     Surprisingly: Fergus was the one who looked frightened, and so did Athena, who stood watching. My confession in speech class shook them up. I had broken the code of silence. I said out loud what I had done to Morgan Mallen. I spoke the unspeakable. I owned the thing that nobody else wanted. And even though I didn’t point fingers at anyone else, I could see that it scared Athena to the core.

     She didn’t look so pretty from my viewpoint on the ground. She looked like she’d just swallowed a poisoned apple. There was something evil in her soul and she was rotting from the inside out.

     The fallout after Morgan’s suicide had not been a good experience for Athena Luikin. I watched her closely those days and weeks after Morgan’s death. I followed her movements, where she sat, what she did, and I saw that she had become damaged goods. If Morgan was the dead girl, Athena was the one we blamed. At first, Athena put on a brave face, the tough girl who didn’t give a hoot. Over time, cracks appeared. Everyone knew Athena was the one most responsible for harassing Morgan. In a way, she fell victim to her own game. Athena was tagged, too. Her tag read: BULLY. One by one, Athena’s friends faded into the background until she stood virtually alone, if not for the unwavering loyalty of Fergus Tick.

     Rumors went around that Athena was transferring to a private school in another town. “Good,” we said. One morning, a FOR SALE sign appeared on her front lawn. There was talk of a lawsuit, damages and courtrooms. The reign of the Queen was over.

     So there I sat on the ground, head going boom-ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, fuzzzzzz.

  “Get up,” Fergus demanded.

     (So you can punch me again? I don’t think so.)

     “Leave him,” Athena said. “Come let’s go, Fergus.”

     And go they did.

     I waited for my head to clear. It wasn’t so awful, it felt like waking up any school morning, that torturous distance between head-on-the-pillow and feet-on-the-floor.

     I needed a hot shower. Or maybe a long hot bath. Morgan once said, “Baths make everything better.” It was time to find out if she was right.

     Despite all that, deep down, I felt fantastic. Like a million bucks. Terrific, awesome, happy.

     (How weird was that?)

     I wasn’t on the wrong side of life anymore. I was now an enemy of the bad guys -– and it felt great. I tasted something sweet in my mouth, a new flavor, but I couldn’t figure out what it was until I spat.

     Oh, blood.

 

 

I KNOCKED  

 

    I decided to do it. I had to.

     I stood at her front door yesterday.

     I breathed in and out, in and out.

     Steady as a willow in a hurricane.

     And I knocked.

     Bark, BARK, barkbarkBARKbark!

     I’d forgotten about Larry. The lunatic mop.

     I suddenly, fiercely, insanely wished I had a mint. I breathed into my open palm. Yuck, gross. How was my hair? What was I doing here?

     Time passed.

     And the door creaked open.

     The mother was standing there, wheezing slightly, sizing me up. The expression on her face said, What now, dear Lord, what now?

 

 

THINGS I LIKE  

 

     This is a list of random things I like.

     I like baseball games that last extra innings. “Free baseball,” we call it. I like weekends without homework, watching my little sister sleep with her puffy lips and how the saliva dribbles out of the corner of her mouth. I like my bed made with the blankets folded down nice and perfect, just right. I like the cold, numb feeling of a package of frozen peas on my swollen face. I like the last bell of the school day and the sound in the hallways of a hundred lockers slamming joyously shut and the big hum of let’s get outta here, let’s go. I like funny videos with absurd cats (I realize it’s a big joke to some people, but I do). I like memories of old vacations, camping trips and card games and nickel antes. I like the stars in the sky when the night is warm and silent. I like the sound of a swing and a miss on the baseball diamond, the absence of sound followed by a fastball popping into the catcher’s leather glove, the whoosh-and-pop combo. I like that just-beginning feeling when you see a girl and think, wow, that’s all, just WOW, and you know you have to find a way to stand next to that girl somewhere, somehow. I like a brand new box of my favorite cereal, when I know it was bought just for me. I like turning on the radio and a great song comes on that same instant. I like laughter, and promises kept, and friendly waves across open fields. I even like Morgan’s lunatic dog that barkbarkbARKed with the soul of wolf.

     I like being alive, and today I am, right now, saying yes to life. Yes, yes, and yes.

 
WORDS   

 

     Larry pounced on my shoes, barkbarkbARKing!

     “You remember me, don’t you, Larry?” I said.

     “And you are?” the mother asked.

     I didn’t have a good answer. And in fact, I never expected to see the mom. That wasn’t my plan. Yet here she was, a fairly gigantic woman in a huge floral housedress. She might have weighed three hundred pounds. She smelled of butterscotch and a scent that reminded me of Morgan, the faint whisper of booze.

     She eyed me suspiciously, the door only half-open, ready to slam shut.

     (I am Sam, Sam I am.)

     All I had to do was open my mouth. It’s all anybody ever wanted me to do, my parents, Mr. Laneway, Morgan. “Just talk,” they said. “It’s easy. Try it. Say one word. Start with your name . . .”

     Seriously?

     What good would that do? My name is . . .

     Use.

     Less.

     Ness.

 

YES, I LOVE TO DO SCHOOL VISITS -- EVEN SCARY MIDDLE SCHOOLS!

YES, I LOVE TO DO SCHOOL VISITS — EVEN SCARY MIDDLE SCHOOLS!

 

DEAR EDUCATORS: Now Seeking School Visits for Fall, Spring 2016

 

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DEAR EDUCATORS,

An important and rewarding aspect of my career in children’s books is when I  get out from behind my desk to visit schools. I very much enjoy meeting teachers and speaking with students, sharing my love of books. It’s also an important source of revenue for me as a writer. In truth, school visits allow me to keep doing what I love — writing books for young readers.

795.Sch_Jigsaw_jones_0.tifAfter answering a series of individual emails on this topic over the past decade or so, I finally decided to get around to providing a general description of a typical visit. Hopefully it will help to answer questions in advance and give you some idea if I’m the right guy for your school.

I am relaxed and experienced speaking with students at any grade level, though, of course, the content of those talks varies according to age level. I’ve written a range of books that are appropriate for kindergarten up to middle school, and many of them available in paperback at affordable prices.

Typically, I’ll do three 45-50 minutes presentations during a full-day visit. In addition, schools sometimes like to set up lunches with a small group of students, and I’ve always enjoyed that. I am also very happy to sign books. It is understood that the sponsoring organization will handle all book sales.

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For the best results, I’ve found that it makes a huge difference when students are familiar with my work and have thought about questions in advance. Like just about everything else in life, what you get out of it is in direct proportion to the energy that’s put into it. If the school leaders are excited and enthusiastic, that energy transfers to the students –- and we all have a terrific, rewarding experience.

CourageTestFrontCvrI don’t juggle, blow bubbles, or stand on my head. I’m an author talking about what I do for a living, reading a bit, answering questions, all (hopefully) in an authentic and entertaining fashion.

Fees are available upon request. I do try to be flexible to the specific needs of each individual school. For schools that require serious travel, it works best for me if 2-5 days worth of visits can be arranged with different schools in your district. Sponsors should plan on paying for travel expenses, which can be shared with other area schools. I can’t tell you how often I am asked to visit a school in, say, Montana. For one day. And sadly, that just never works; there has to be more of a coherent, cohesive plan to get me from here to you, way out there. That said, I’ve been to SC, FLA, CT, MA, NJ, PA, IL, MI, OH, OK, NY, and more. But my real dream is a week in San Francisco. So come on, folks, let’s make that happen!

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Please Note, A Word About “Scary Tales” Series

61ZJfCfXgSL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_July, 2013, saw the launch of a new series of books for me, called SCARY TALES. I am very proud of these books, and I’m confident the books will reach even reluctant readers. They are best for grades 3-5, but these things are hard to pin down. As a visiting author, I fully recognize and respect that distinction between, say, a parent-purchased book in a store compared to a guest author in a school, where children do not have choice. Therefore, in a grade 2-3 presentation, I will talk about the series in terms of using the imagination, asking “what if?” questions, story-building and characterization. I do not dwell on anything particularly scary. At the same time, I will likely read a carefully-selected passage that gives readers a sense of the, um, literate creepiness of the books. I’m trying to say, I can work with you on this, not looking to scare young readers. I’m looking to inspire and motivate them. October makes for an especially fun time of year to highlight these stories (there are six in the series in all).

Middle Schools, Bystander, Anti-Bullying

The popularity of the book, Bystander, opened up new worlds to me, specifically middle schools. In many schools around the country, Bystander has been widely read and shared, sometimes with an entire grade or school, cover_final_bystander_lo-203x300featured in a “One Book, One School” context. The idea is that it can serve as a positive, educational springboard for conversations and activities about the dynamics of bullying, and the various roles we all play in those situations. But I stress: it’s a story, a work of fiction, and I have been a published writer of children’s books since 1986. (You remember ’86, don’t you?) So while I am thrilled and honored to speak to large and small groups about this book, and the issues within it, I am not an anti-bullying presenter. I don’t offer ten easy steps for bully-proofing your school. I don’t climb on the soapbox. I love to visit middle schools, I am fascinated and inspired by this age group (today, 2012, I share my home with a 6th-grader and an 8th-grader), and I care about this issue very deeply. But I approach it as a writer, if that makes sense.

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NEW BOOKS

The Courage Test comes out in September, for grades 4-7. For more information on that book, a work of fiction which closely connects to the history of the Lewis and Clark Trail, this is a good place to start. 

TheFall-1The Fall, which serves as a strong companion to Bystander, will be available in paperback this September.

If you wish, please feel free to write to me and we can chat about it in more detail.

For more on a James Preller-styled school visit, plus some advice of running a successful author visit, you should click here. Really, that will tell you all you need to know. But if you really dig research, go to the “School Visits” icon on the right sidebar, under “Categories,” and click madly, deeply.

Here’s one particular post you might find instructive.

So, there it is in a clamshell. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thanks!

 

Write Your Elsewhere

On May 31, 1805, Meriwether Lewis wrote: "As we passed on it seemed as if those seens of visionary inchantment would never have an end." In my book THE COURAGE TEST, I needed my characters to travel through that same place.

On May 31, 1805, Meriwether Lewis wrote: “As we passed on it seemed as if those seens of visionary inchantment would never have an end.” In my book THE COURAGE TEST, I needed my characters to travel through that same place.

Write your elsewhere.

That’s a great phrase, isn’t it? I wish I could take credit for it, but it was written by Colum McCann, one of the great writers of our time. I love his work.

McCann issued that phrase in a brief blog post titled “Don’t Write What You Know,”  words that had me nodding my head in emphatic agreement. It felt like a post that I could have written, though not nearly as well, for I’ve shared those same thoughts. The way I’ve often put it in the past was: Write what you don’t know. That is, the inverse of the time-tested trope: Write what you know (which is also good advice — sometimes!).

Here’s McCann:

Don’t write about what you know, write towards what you want to know. Step out of your skin. Adventure in the elsewhere. This opens up the world. Go to another place. Investigate what lies beyond your curtains, beyond the wall, beyond the street corner, beyond your town, beyond your country even. A young writer is an explorer. She knows she wants to get somewhere, but she doesn’t even know if the somewhere even exists yet. It is there to be created. In the process of creating it we find out how varied and complex we are. The world is so much more than one story. Don’t sit around thinking about yourself. That’s boring. Don’t be boring, please please please don’t be boring! In the end your navel contains only lint. The only true way to expand your world is to think about others. We find in others the ongoing of ourselves. There is one simple word for this: empathy. Don’t let them fool you. Empathy is violent. Empathy is tough. Empathy can rip you open. But once you go there you can be changed. The cynics are the sentimental ones. They live in a cloud of their limited nostalgia. Leave them be. Step into an otherness instead. Believe that your story is bigger than yourself. In the end we only write what we know, but if we write towards what we don’t know we will find out what we knew but weren’t yet aware of. Rage on. Write your elsewhere.

As writers, people who are basically just wanderers with words in white space, it’s important not to be limited in our imaginings. Sure, it’s fine to tell young writers, “Hey, you’ve been to Cape Cod? You can write about that!” or, say, “You play soccer? Great, center a story around a soccer game!” But it’s not necessary that we end there, limited to only the things we’ve experienced. To write only what we know. For what is writing, if not some bold new experience? Or some new exciting way of knowing?

Step into an otherness instead. 

Believe that your story is bigger than yourself.

CourageTestFrontCvrIn my upcoming middle-grade book, The Courage Test (September, 2016), a father and son travel from Minneapolis, MN, to Seaside, OR, linking their trip to the trail originally followed by the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. However, I had a problem. I hadn’t been to most of those places, and I didn’t have the time or the budget to engage in that kind of direct research. Fortunately in today’s world there are incredible resources available to the (resourceful!) writer.

You don’t have to write what you know, as long as you make the effort to find out. To learn. To explore. To discover.

McCann again:

Adventure in your elsewhere.

A young writer is an explorer.

To site one example from my book, I knew that I wanted to get my characters on the water. Because, of course, that’s predominantly how Lewis & Clark traveled, and, hey, water. Ever since reading Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Homer’s “Odyssey,” I’ve been wise to the metaphoric possibilities of water: the passage of time, the collective unconscious, our watery beginnings in amniotic fluid, and so on. Water in literature is always a good thing. So after poking around in books and websites, looking at photos and blogs, I decided they would travel on the Missouri River from Fort Benton to Judith’s Landing, backtracking east with the current.

To that end, I ordered a Boaters’ Guide to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. The 64-page booklet was perfect for my intentions, rich in detail, and covered the exact passage that my fictional characters would travel. I imagined, appropriately, that they would possess a copy of their own. The booklet came with great maps and information about landmarks and hikes — places where my characters would walk, visit, see, and feel.

Young Will and Ollie made this hike in my book.

Young Will and Ollie made this hike in my book.

 

From The Courage Test, page 85:

That night, we camp where the Corps of Discovery camped more than two hundred years ago. Meriwether Lewis and his men. Under the same starry skies, staring into the same fire, beside the same chalky cliffs.

I want to tell my father about the bald eagle Ollie and I saw. And the pronghorn. And about the hard, dangerous hike to the top of the Hole in the Wall trail. How it looked so tiny from the river, but was twice my size when we finally got up to it after some dicey scrambling. How Ollie had pointed out ponderosa pines and cottonwoods. Instead, I ate and yawned and climbed into my sleeping bag. Dog tired. My heart confused.

This is the spot where Ollie, Will, and his father camped.

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That’s one message I sometimes share with young writers when I visit schools. A faint echo of McCann. Write what you know, surely. But don’t feel constrained by that. Break those chains. Travel that blank white space, pen in hand. Dare to write what you don’t know.

A young writer is an explorer.

Go, seek, find out.

And by all means, yes, bring back news of your adventures.

Three Rapscallions All In a Row

Avast, me hearties! This photo below was sent to me in anticipation of a school visit. These rascals must have been inspired by A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade and/or the sequel, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess.

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The image below is by illustrator Greg Ruth, who is amazing, from A Pirate’s Guide to Recess.

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