FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #260: Multiple Missives!

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Here’s a teacher who combined several short notes from Jaycie, Gracie, Jaxson, and Daynan in one email, so I took the all-in-one approach, too.

 

Hello Mr. Preller,

My students recently read Jigsaw Jones and The Case of the Christmas Snowman. As part of their assignment, they decided to email you a letter. I have attached their letters below. Thanks so much for writing such fun and engaging books for 2nd graders!
 
Andrea
 
Dear Mr. Preller,
 
I read the book the case of the christmas snowman. my favorite chapter is chapter three the christmas snowman. it is very funny. do you have some more books i can read like this one?  my favorite character is bigs melony. I like Bigs because he is funny.  How many Jigsaw books have you written?
 
Jaycie
 
Dear Mr. Preller,
 
I really like your book. i really like how you made a lot of interest in the book.my favorite character is jigsaw jones. i really like how its inspiring.my favorite part is when they dig in the in the snowman.i like the book because its really interesting . my favorite chapter is ten cause they tried to solve the problem. my question is can you make more jigsaw jones books,how did you become a writer. i like how they solve the book . but i really like how they solve the problem,and how they found the penny. how many books have you wrote.
 
Gracie
 
Hello Mr:James,
 

make more books please.I want some investigation. My favorite chapter was death of a snowman.Make a Halloween book and a christmas book.My favorite character was JigSaw and Bigs.My favorite part was when Jigsaw came to Bigs house. Why i liked the book because it has mystery’s.

 
Sincerely,
 
Jaxson
 
Dear Mr. Preller,
 
I really enjoyed your jigsaw jones books they’r really cool.your books are the best books can you please make more.can you do a holoween themed jigsaw jones book?did you know we use your jigsaw books for our class?my favorite jigsaw book is the case of the christmas snowman.is bigs maloney lieing or telling the truth? what are bigs maloney’s brother or brothers name?when are you gonna make a new jigsaw book ?
scinserely, Daynan.
 –
I replied . . .

Andrea,

Thank you for your patience. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks with trips to Rochester, Buffalo, and Clearwater. Thanks, too, for sharing The Case of the Christmas Snowman with your students. As you may know, the Jigsaw Jones books went out of print some time ago. The happy news is that 8 “classroom classics” are now back in print through Macmillan, revised and updated. In addition, I wrote an all-new book, The Case from Outer Space, which was published in August. I’m really proud of it. Good things are happening!
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 –
Your students wrote terrific letters.
 
Jaycie: I have written 41 Jigsaw Jones books. Some are hard to find. I love Bigs Maloney. On the outside, he’s rough and tough. But deep down, I think he’s a nice guy. I’m especially proud of how Jigsaw stands up for himself even though Bigs is a lot bigger. I try to be a little funny in all my books. Thanks for noticing.
 
Gracie: I’ve lost track of all the books I’ve written, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 books. I enjoyed writing this book in particular because I learned about coin collecting. I even visited a dusty, cramped store for collectors that helped inspire the scene in the book where Jigsaw goes into the store. I started writing my own stories when I was little. Then I stopped for a long time, only to get back into it in high school and college. The key to becoming a writer? Write, write, write and read, read, read. The more you do it, the better you get. You learn by doing.
 
Jaxson: Yes! I like that scene too. As a kid I used to love wrestling with my bigger, older brothers. On Mondays, my mother would go out bowling and my father was in charge. Which meant that I could pretty much run around like a wild man. I tied a towel around my shoulders like a cape and jumped on the sofa cushions, imagining epic battles with various bad guys. I think that memory played a part in this book.
 
Daynan: I am very grateful to your teacher for using Jigsaw Jones in the classroom, and I’m glad you think the stories are cool. I wrote about Bigs in a number of other Jigsaw Jones books. His family appears in The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur, which will be available in stores on November 21.  His father is a florist!
 –
Thanks, everybody, for the kind letters.
 
Keep reading, keep solving those mysteries!
 
And thanks again, Ms. L. Clearly you are the best teacher ever!
 –
James Preller
 –

McElligott & Preller Join Forces for a Super “Team Up” at The Open Door Bookstore: 12/2 @ 1:00 – 2:30

It’s two for the price of none! Matt McElligott and I are teaming up for a unique book signing at Schenectady’s Open Door Bookstore on 12/2 at 1:00 – 2:30. Come say hello and take care of that holiday shopping with signed books!

Matt is the big brain behind the ground-breaking “Mad Scientist Academy” series, which brings scientific fact to young readers in a fresh, graphic, fun-filled format. The latest title is The Space Disaster.

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“McElligott has concocted a winning formula for learning as entertainment.”Kirkus Reviews.

I’ll be there to celebrate the publication of my own space-themed Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, along with the return-to-print of eight “classroom classics.” In addition, I’ll be signing my hot-off-the-presses release, Better Off Undead, for slightly older readers (grades 4-8).

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“The latest early chapter book in Preller’s long-running Jigsaw Jones Mystery series has plenty of appeal for young independent readers.”Booklist.

“This uproarious middle grade call to action [Better Of Undead] has considerable kid appeal and a timely message. A strong addition to school and public library collections.” — School Library Journal.

 

 

 

INJURY REPORT: Everything Was Great Until I Got Hit in the Face with a Baseball


IMG_3351True story: I was having a wonderful time in Clearwater, Florida, playing for the Albany Capitals in a men’s 50-up hardball tournament. The team had rented condos on the beach, I had a great view from my balcony, the fields were pristine, I was playing reasonably okay.

I was the crafty lefty who could still get batters out with an array of slop. Hey, that’s not a terrible thing.

Down the right field line: The scene of my misadventure.

Down the right field line: The scene of my misadventure.

 

All smiles before the game. I had to get a photo of this teammate, who we called "ZZ" for obvious reasons.

All smiles before the game. I had to get a photo of this teammate, who we called “ZZ” for obvious reasons.

And then, while playing RF at beautiful Spectrum Field (home of the Phillies A-level minor league team), I ran a long way to field a fly ball on the line. I got there but lost the ball in the lights at the last moment. And wham, the ball hit me directly in the face. I was stunned and embarrassed and deeply concerned about my health. It reach for my nose; it was still there. I felt blood pooling in my mouth. The roof of my mouth seemed wholly altered. I checked for my teeth. And I did not wonder, not for one second, what happened to the baseball or the baserunners or the score of the game. I just wanted to be okay.

Minutes later, I was on the bench, spitting out huge amounts of blood, grateful that I still had my teeth. For the moment, at least. Next I took a trip to Urgent Care. One nurse looked at me, said, “Oh my gosh,” and sent me to the hospital. They insisted I spend the night. CT scans, and so on.

 

 

The game was at a "real" minor league field. Sweet dugouts with a tunnel that led to indoor batting cages and locker rooms. I took this photo a few minutes after sitting on the bench, spitting blood, dazed and down-hearted.

The game was at a “real” minor league field. Sweet dugouts with a tunnel that led to indoor batting cages and locker rooms. I took this photo a few minutes after sitting on the bench, spitting blood, dazed and down-hearted.

The next day, after an overnight in the hospital — fearing these Florida doctors, who didn’t seem to know anything — who kept talking about “pulling teeth” and “multiple fractures” and “possible bleeding in my brain” — I flew back home to NY for a hasty visit with an oral surgeon.

Goodbye Florida, three nights early. It was totally great until it suddenly so wasn’t.

Yesterday, with my wife at my side, the evaluation was far more optimistic than I’d been led to believe. Overall, no structural damage. My cheekbones, my jaw, good. My upper palate suffered some trauma but should heal itself. Some teeth might not make it, but maybe they will. Soft foods for next 10 days. We’ll wait and see how the body reacts.

View from my balcony, shared with 3 other teammates.

View from my balcony, shared with 3 other teammates.

I didn’t lose an eye. Whatever is broken can be repaired. I’m okay. Amazingly.

I caught a baseball with my face and I’m going to be perfectly fine.

So now I am left feeling sheepish, a little humiliated. The day before, I had pitched a solid game against a very good team, leaving in the 8th inning with a slim lead. The story in my head was a good one. I was 56 years old, having a great time in Florida, still competing, still a semi-athlete who can help his team win games. The next day I’m knocked down in the outfield, the ball is bouncing away, and I’m wondering what in the world I’m doing out here. Playing the outfield under the stupid lights. I hadn’t played a night game in over 17 years. I always play in natural light. My eyes are failing. I’m getting old and diminished. Who was I fooling?

I felt, right then, like an idiot. Ashamed. Never again, I thought to myself.

And yet 24 hours earlier, my story was completely different. Which one was true? Which image of myself was accurate?

I think in the end both narratives are true. Like Whitman said, I am large; I contain multitudes. I’m both things, the still-good player and the diminished fool with failing eyes and lost skills. I got injured and it was completely my fault. No one to blame but myself.

So now I’m home with a sore face and luscious, full lips. I might finally lose that last 5 pounds I’ve been unable to take off. I’ll work on Monday. And we’ll see how it goes.

Life turns on a dime, doesn’t it?

A quick snap back when everything was going great, glad to be exactly in that spot, preparing to play another ballgame.

A quick snap back when everything was going great, glad to be exactly in that spot, preparing to play another ballgame.

 

During the Day, I Don’t Believe in Ghosts . . .

 

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Found this meme the other day and it made me laugh. I believe that kids know what they like and don’t like, what works for them and what, well, doesn’t. In a room full of peers they might all raise they hands when asked if they like scary stories, but privately they might answer differently. It’s important to me on school visits to respect that distinction. I don’t talk about these books below 3rd grade and always in terms of the creative process — asking “What if?” questions — developing story ideas.

At book festivals I’ll meet young readers who looooove this series. They are disappointed there are only six titles. (I know that feeling; so am I.) Other kids reach a little hesitantly for one of the books. Drawn to it, curious, but unsure. Maybe Mom stands behind them, a little unsure herself. One tip I share is that if they are at all worried about it, maybe they should first try reading it during the day time. Like the meme says, it’s much easier to believe in scary things when the lights go out.

Here’s a piece of art from the great Iacopo Bruno from Nightmareland. I think of this one as my most Twilight Zone-inspired story, less scary, more twisty. But your mileage may vary.

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Making Connections (and Friends) with a Little Free Library!

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Here’s a quick story:

It was love at first sight. I first heard about Little Free Libraries five or six years ago. There are so many things to like: the community building, the celebration of literacy, the connectivity, and the creativity & craftsmanship of the objects themselves.

When I started writing a new Jigsaw Jones book — my first in ten years, my 41st overall — I knew I wanted to celebrate this small but powerful idea. Take a book, leave a book. So I centered the mystery in The Case from Outer Space around a note left inside a book found in a Little Free Library.

This one of the illustrations from my book, drawn by R.W. Alley:

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I had to create the character who put up this particular Little Free Library. What should he or she be like? Well, wonderful, right? Giving, kind, literate, fun-loving, happy. I decided to model this character — a key witness in our story — after my friend, author Robin Pulver. (She writes the “Language Arts Library” series and the classic “Mrs. Toggle” books, which were also illustrated by R.W. Alley, so there was a nice symmetry to it: you can learn more about Robin here.)

urlI didn’t ask Robin’s permission, I decided to surprise her. Fingers crossed, sensing she’d get a kick out of it.

I enjoyed writing that scene when my imaginary detective, Jigsaw Jones, interviews the fictional “Mrs. Pulver.” It was very meta. Here’s the essence of it, from Chapter 4:

I did push-ups on the Pulvers’ doorbell. A smiling woman with short hair answered the door.

I told her that I was a detective.

“How thrilling,” she said.

“I am working on a case,” I explained. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

I showed her my card:

NEED A MYSTERY SOLVED?

Call Jigsaw Jones or Mila Yeh, Private Eyes!

Mrs. Pulver whistled. “Wowee zowee.”

“It’s a living,” I said.

She told me about the library. She said that she read about Little Free Libraries on the Internet. “I thought it was a wonderful idea,” she said. “So I asked Harold to build one.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Harold?”

“My husband,” she replied. “He’s retired. I like to give him little jobs.”

I asked, “Have you noticed anything . . . strange?”

“Oh, Harold has been strange for years,” she said, laughing.

“No, I mean about the library,” I said.

She clasped her hands. “Lots of folks come and go. Friends, neighbors, even people I’ve never seen before. It’s lovely, actually. The books connect us.”

Here’s a sadly dark photo of Robin and me from last week’s Rochester Children’s Book Festival.

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But wait, I have to tell you about one more cool connection.

Yesterday I received this beautiful book in the mail. A gift from the author herself. A stranger to me, but now a friend.

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Margret Aldrich had discovered the Little Free Library reference in my book and was moved to send along a copy.

Once again I ask myself, How lucky am I?

Books really do connect us.

Margret included a kind inscription:

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