Archive for The Courage Test

THE COURAGE TEST: Now Available on Scholastic Arrow Book Club (Only $5.00, Cheap!)

During a school visit earlier this week, a teacher showed me a copy of the March Arrow Book Club. 

This is a book I truly love, and I’m very glad to see it get out there a little bit. Hopefully it find some readers — or vice versa!



My Nephew, Dan the River Man, in THE COURAGE TEST

0010arc 2

0017arc 2


I didn’t set out for a research trip. We were simply looking to have a family adventure whitewater rafting. We’re lucky, because my nephew, Dan Rice, works as a guide for the Adirondack Rafting Company. That’s Dan in a steel-gray helmet in the photos, steering us through the waters.

As I said, I didn’t intend to write a fictionalized account of that experience. But, absolutely, experience is a great foundation for any future writing. Once I had it in back pocket, it was something I knew I could use at a later date.

The opportunity presented itself when I began writing The Courage Test, which came out in paperback a few months ago ($7.99, cheap). I decided to have Will and his father go rafting on the Lochsa River. It made sense, since the Lewis & Clark Expedition navigated those same dangerous waters, and the book was conceived as a parallel journey. When it came time for me to describe the river guide, I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Here’s an excerpt from the book:


Finally, we gather around our boisterous river guide, who introduces himself as “Dan the River Man.” He’s a muscular, shaggy-haired, bearding outdoorsman, probably in his early thirties. He assures us that this is not his first rodeo. Our group includes six other adults in addition to my father and me, and we’re assigned a big orange inflatable raft. It looks bouncy and safe. We’re all dressed in rented wet suits and wear life vests and plastic helmets.

Before we even get into the water, Dan makes a few jokes to show us he’s a cool guy, and then shifts into a no-nonsense talk about river safety. We go over a list of dos and don’t — mostly don’t. Dan steps up and with a firm yank tightens each individual life vest. Next Dan drills us on paddle techniques. Some of it I already know, thanks to Ollie. We’re going to have to work hard and listen to his instructions, when to “dig in” and put our backs into it, when to shift our weight, and when to lie back. “We can’t possibly avoid every obstacle on the river. Let’s say, oh, we’re going to roll over a rock. I’ll shout out, ‘Bump!’ When that happens, you’ve all got to lean into the center of the boat. It’s critically important. We don’t want anybody falling over the side.” Dan scans the group, and his gaze lingers longest on me, maybe because I’m the youngest. “Mistakes can cost lives,” Dan reminds us. And he says to my father, “Make sure you two sit near me.”

Dan gives us a final inspection, and we put in at a quiet bend of the river. Soon the water carries us away. It doesn’t stay quiet for long.

The first hour is probably the most exciting sixty minutes I’ve had in my entire life. And then with a lurch the boat suddenly tips down, and there’s a bounce and a jostle, and Dan cries out, “Big bump! Lean in!” Before I can react, I’m popped backward into the air like a rag doll. My feet kick at the clouds. The paddle flies from my hands. 

I cry out something like, “Aaargggh!” or “Whaaaaazit!” But mostly it all unreels like a movie, a rapid-fire succession of flickering images across a screen. The only sound is the river’s unremitting roar.

I hit the water, and I’m instantly thrown into a frenzied, swirling liquid mass of pure force. I have no control over my body; I’m just tumbling and rolling in the helter-skelter of rapids. It’s like getting hit by a locomotive, then another one, then another one. I’m buried under for a horrifying ten seconds, gulping water in a panic, and then I’m thrown up into the light, lungs screaming for air. From the corner of my eye I see the raft ahead of me, shocked faces staring back, my father shouting wordlessly, arms waving, pointing. There’s Dan in his silver Ray-Bans, ever cool, standing at the back of the boat. He looks back at me over his shoulder, assessing the situation, while still navigating the course ahead. 

I am a bullet, shooting the rapids. 

I don’t want to spoil anything for future readers, so I’ll cut the scene here. I’m grateful to my nephew, the real Dan the River Man, who expertly took care of us on our happy, laugh-filled journey with the Adirondack Rafting Company. Good times, good times.

The lesson here? Hang out with writers at your peril. You just may find yourself in a book one day. 


“Preller stirs doses of American history into a first-rate road trip.”Booklist, starred review.

“There is plenty of action . . . A middle grade winner to hand to fans of history, adventure, and family drama.”School Library Journal.

“Whatever young explorers look for on their literary road trips, they’ll find it here.”Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Click Here for Free Teaching Guides: Jigsaw Jones, Better Off Undead, and The Courage Test

The good folks at Macmillan have worked hard to support teachers as they seek to effectively use books in the classroom. To that end, I’m grateful that they’ve produced a number of free teaching guides for my books. 

Just a click away.

Thought you might want to know.



Available in paperback this October!

The Courage Test Teaching Guide


Published in Hardcover on October 31st!

Better Off Undead Teaching Guide 


Available in both hardcover and paperback!

Jigsaw Jones: Case from Outer Space Teaching Guide 

Oh, and before you go . . .


You can click here for a special combo Teaching Guide for Bystander and The Fall. Two for the price of nothing!

Good News for “The Courage Test”

Good News: Happy to learn that The Courage Test was listed as one of “The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2017 Edition” by the good folks at Bank Street College. A nice honor to be listed among so many great books and artists.




A father-and-son journey along the Lewis and Clark Trail — from Fort Mandan to the shining sea — offers readers a genre-bending blend of American history, thrilling action, and personal discovery.

“A middle grade winner to hand to fans of history, adventure, and family drama..”School Library Journal.

“Preller traverses both domestic drama and adventure story with equally sure footing, delivering the thrills of a whitewater rafting accident and a mama bear encounter, and shifting effortlessly to the revelation of Mom’s illness and the now urgent rapprochement between Dad and Will. Whatever young explorers look for on their literary road trips, they’ll find it here. — Elizabeth Bush, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Preller stirs doses of American history into a first-rate road trip that does traditional double-duty as plot device and coming-of-age metaphor. Will is initially baffled and furious at being abruptly forced to accompany his divorced father, a history professor, on a long journey retracing much of the trail of Lewis and Clark. The trip soon becomes an adventure, though, because as the wonders of the great outdoors work their old magic on Will’s disposition, his father and a Nez Perce friend (who turns out to be a Brooklyn banker) fill him in on the Corps of Discovery’s encounters with nature and native peoples. Also, along with helping a young runaway find a new home, Will survives a meeting with a bear and a spill into dangerous rapids — tests of courage that will help him weather the bad news that awaits him at home.”—Booklist, Starred Review

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #239: No Cash Prizes for Hashi!


Every book gets its first piece of fan mail. Eventually! This one is from Hashi after reading The Courage Test. If we gave out automobiles or cash prizes here at Jamespreller Dot Com, Hashi would be a big winner . . . but I’d be broke.

So, oh well, tough luck, Hashi!

Ain’t life cruel?



I replied:

Dear Hashi,

I am glad to receive your letter. My book, The Courage Test, is fairly new to the world. As an author, I often worry about new books, freshly sent out into the world. Will anyone read them? Will anyone care?

Well, Hashi, you did. So thank you for that. I’m truly grateful.

Yes, you are right, the book featured a blend of nonfiction and fiction. There’s the made-up story of Will and his family, his road trip across the country, but there’s also the historical truth that they are traveling along the Lewis and Clark Trail.

couragetestfrontcvr-199x300When I started the book, I didn’t expect for that much of Lewis and Clark’s journey to seep into Will’s story, but as I did the research, I became more and more fascinated. I felt compelled to share what I learned and sought creative ways to push that information across. That’s when I hit on the idea of weaving those two main strands together, fact and fiction, past and present, like the braiding of long hair.

Readers often ask about what happens to characters after a book ends. I take that as a compliment. It means you are still left thinking about them, wondering. I like that about books and don’t feel that authors should attempt to answer every question. It would be like closing a door, and really it’s the opposite that we’re after. We want to open windows, knock down walls. That said, readers should see that Alejandro is a good cousin to Maria, a good man, and I believe he will help Maria and the baby in many ways. As for Will’s parents, my guess is they will stay divorced. Friendly, respectful, kind –- but no longer married.

Thanks for noticing the “good traits” in Will and the other characters. I came to like them quite a bit myself!

EDIT: Click here if you want to see 18 photos of real places featured in this fictional story. It’s pretty cool, trust me. Okay, here’s one photo, just because:

This is from around page 85-85 of THE COURAGE TEST. Same spot, more or less.

This is from around page 85-85 of THE COURAGE TEST. Same spot, more or less.


This summer I have a new book coming out, Better Off Undead (Macmillan, Fall, 2017), that’s set in the not-too-distant future. It is also interested in facts about the natural world . . . bees and bullies and climate change . . . and a bit of fantasy too. Okay, there’s a zombie. And a detective-thriller thread, too. And billionaire bad guys. I’m super excited about it. Weirdest book I ever wrote!

My best,