Jigsaw Jones & Winter

Just an image from the next Jigsaw Jones book, The Case of the Hat Burglar. Living in upstate New York, here in December, the weather described in this book did not require a great feat of imagination. My job is to make things up . . . most of the time.

 

Illustration by R.W. Alley.

One Question, Five Authors #6: “Tell us about one detail in your new book that particularly pleases you — a sentence, an image, an idea?”

No matter how they may feel about the book overall, all book creators can point to at least one small moment that gives them outsized satisfaction. So I put that question to a few talented friends: Nora Raleigh Baskin, Eugene Yelchin, Nick Bruel, Erin Dionne, and Alan Katz.

 

Nora Raleigh Baskin

I recently wrote a scene about a girl who is mourning the loss of her friend but doesn’t quite realize that yet. Throughout the book, and throughout her journey during the course of one day, her grief finds form and then wings and then she is able to let it go. Without knowing why, as I was writing some dialogue between my character and a stranger, I saw, in my mind, a heron lift into the sky. As my character listens to someone talking about her friend, the heron rises from the water and into the sky, until it is nothing more than a dot against the blue.
The heron hunches its shoulders, then spreads out its wings across the sky, past the sun, and lets its skinny legs dangle below.
Finding Joy by Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin (Knopf Spring, 2020)

Eugene Yelchin

The illustrated sequence that serves as the epilogue for The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, a book I co-authored with M.T. Anderson.  On the surface, our book is a fantasy narrative, but even a young reader will easily discern the parallels between the world of goblins and elves and the world we live in.

The formal tension in the book is between the written chapters (penned by M.T. Anderson) and the wordless ones (illustrated by me). The written and the illustrated chapters contradict each other. They are “at war” until a crucial moment in the book when the two opposing points of view converge.

During the course of our collaboration, M.T. Anderson had this brilliant idea of goblins shedding and preserving their skins as mementoes of their lives’ passages. As a result, I drew the epilogue sequence, in which Brangwain Spurge, who initially finds this skin business repulsive, sheds his own skin. As a metaphor, this metamorphosis is a complete character transformation, a complete reversal of one’s initial belief system.

Nick Bruel

Nearly two years ago, I was driving to go pick up my daughter from school when a story on the radio came up referencing how the current administration had decided to cut the number of refugees allowed into our country to 45,000 (that number has since been reduced to 30,000), a moot number considering the literally hundreds of thousands of refugee applications this country receives annually. As the son of a woman who lived in constant fear inside war ravaged Shanghai and a man who fled from Belgium just prior to Hitler’s invasion, I took this personally.

Bad Kitty: Kitten Trouble tells the story of what happens when Kitty’s owner decides to bring three kittens into the house, and Kitty does everything she can to sabotage their presence. It’s my Bad Kitty take on the refugee crisis, conflict, and conflict resolution.

This is a single panel of a three page, wordless dream sequence Kitty has in which she essentially experiences the reality the kittens came from. The collar in the foreground belongs to Puppy, her constant foil in nearly every book, but his fate is uncertain albeit likely grim. To me, this is the moment she truly understands the severity of the conflict the kittens escaped. Meanwhile, a hardly discernible sound effect appears for the first time in the background, one that will grow with every panel over the next page. Telling my stories with both words and pictures affords me a lot of latitude in how I choose to depict drama. In this case, dialogue would have only interfered.

 

 

Erin Dionne

It’s so hard to choose just one thing in Captain’s Log that I love, because illustrator Jeffrey Ebbeler did an incredible job bringing the words to life via his art. But, since you’re forcing me…It’s this page. Part of the text reads:

Later. (Day 1.)
The first mate and I led a shore party onto the glaciers. The wind howled! Snow flew!…
Jeffrey took those words and created a dynamic, funny moment that captures the story’s sense of imagination and exploration in a way I never would have expected. The Captain is bundled up in his winter gear, riding his “sled” (a battered folding chair), pulled by his trusty first mate. His expression and position convey his zest in the moment, and even the dog is into the romp!
When I first saw this page, I gasped out loud. To me, it represents the best of an author/illustrator pairing–my words interpreted by his art combining to make a dynamic story. I’m so grateful to the Charlesbridge team, including editor Karen Boss, for putting Jeffrey and I together on this book.
Alan Katz

I’ve written more than 35 books for kids, and I always tried to make them funny. I probably succeeded 14.34% of the time.

But for my two newest books, Awesome Achievers in Science and Awesome Achievers in Technology, humor was only half of the goal. I set out to write non-fiction profiles of unsung heroes; inventors and explorers whose accomplishments kids knew, but whose identities they probably didn’t. The inventor of Velcro, seat belts, the microwave oven, and more.

Frankly, I didn’t know if I could do that. But I did. Totally shocked and delighted myself. Wow, would Mrs. Furschmidt, who as you know was my sixth-grade teacher, be proud. Each profile is followed by several pages of funny; not mocking the achiever, but expressing creative ideas about how his/her work impacts my life.

My favorite marriage of non-fiction and humor came in the section about the inventors of Post-It Notes. Seems Arthur Fry had invented a slighty sticky glue, but had no market for it. Years later, he met a co-worker whose page markers repeatedly fell out of his hymn book. Voila… Post-It Notes!

Following their story, there’s a “letter I wrote to them,” offering up my inventions in need of partnership. Inspired by Mr. Fry’s non-sticking glue, I suggested…

Shampoo that won’t clean hair.

Scissors that don’t cut anything.

Dog food that dogs won’t eat…and more.

This, my friends, felt like the perfect blend of fact and humor, and I printed the pages with great satisfaction and stapled them together with my stapler that doesn’t hold staples.

Book Dedication: Blood Mountain

Today is our youngest child’s 18 birthday, which I guess makes it some kind of landmark in the annals of my long slog to old age and decrepitude.

But let’s not make it about me!

When it came to coming up with a dedication for my upcoming middle grade survival story, it was an easy decision to make. 

Thank you, Maggie, for the inspiration!

And from Blood Mountain (Fall, 2019) . . .

 

This book is dedicated to my daughter, Maggie —

because when I needed inspiration

for a girl character who was fierce,

determined, sensitive, and kind,

I only thought of you.

The Beauty of Bare Winter Trees: Haiku & Bill McKibben

Admittedly, I am contrarian by nature. I’ve always bristled at the idea of “peak season” when it comes to fall foliage. This idea that there’s a perfect weekend when the deciduous trees of the Northeast look their best. Sure, the colors are spectacular, no doubt. But I like the trees all the time, any day of the week.

Especially in the winter.

That’s when I can most admire their scaffolding, the structure and shape and enduring strength of the creature itself. They drop their leaves and apply their resources to more pressing matters, hunkering down to survive another long, cold winter.

These days, I frequently find myself driving from Delmar to Saratoga, up and back, about three times a week. My daughter, Maggie, rows for the Saratoga Rowing Association — and the water’s up there. So in the car we go. It’s more travel time than I’ve ever had in my life. I’m one of those people who gets excited every single time I see a hawk — or maybe it’s an eagle, it’s hard to tell. On a travel day, I spend about 90 minutes cruising on 87, listening to music and admiring the trees. And in winter, I can really see the random hawks perched on the limbs, feathers puffed up against the cold, giving them the appearance of jolly, fat assassins.

On most days, I’ll compose a few lines of haiku as I drive, hoping to jot them down later. I realize it’s a form derided by some literati, but I enjoy writing most of my haiku in the traditional 5-7-5 form, even though it’s somewhat out of style nowadays. I like the wordplay and rigor of it. Often my focus is on those trees, the winter weather. Here’s a few, like a fistful of almonds:

 

In the winter trees

her bony grip, long fingers

twisted and wind-whipped.

 

The wolf’s moon hangs low

beckons through bare branches, come:

a headlight drives past.

 

Where a branch broke off

the grandfatherly red oak

a barred owl now nests.

 

The plump winter wren

moves through the understory,

trills and whirls, tail down.

 

The tall trees lie down

in shadow across sunlit

snow, ever patient.

 

Amidst the white field

a stand of resolute oaks,

but not forever.

 

The sparse silhouette

against a gray winter sky

declares: hickory.

 

The beech holds its leaves

shimmering like winter moons

papery and light.

 

Steel-gray buckets tapped

into maples; the crows watch

from snow-covered limbs.

 

Crows seem skeptical

of melting snow in cold rain,

perched on bare branches.

 

The bare winter elms

reveal the assassin’s shape:

hawk perched on a limb.

 

Anyway, whatever. I don’t worry too much about ideas of quality — whether they are “good” or not — more interested in the process of attending to things, getting out of myself, and seeing. Basho’s “the journey itself is home.”

It made me happy to read the following passage in Bill McKibben’s most recent novel, Radio Tree Vermont.  I’ve been a huge fan of his work since reading his landmark book, The End of Nature, when it came out nearly 30 years ago. In this scene, Vern Barclay muses on Vermont’s trees after the giddy explosion of autumn colors has passed:

And when it was over, it was even better. The leaves were down by mid-October, and you could see the shape of the land again, see the late sun silhouetting the trees along the ridgetops as it set. You could sense the architecture of the hills, every hollow and creekrun and knoll visible from the road. When people thought of trees, they thought of leaves — that’s how a child would draw them. But the natural inclination of trees at this latitude was bareness — seven months of the year, at least upslope, they stood there stoic. Leaves were the fever-dream exception to the barren rule, and Vern felt calmer once they were down. 

 

AN ASIDE: My first book of haiku, written for children, comes out in the Fall of 2019, illustrated by the great Mary GrandPre (of Harry Potter fame). It is titled All Welcome Here and celebrates the community of the classroom on the first day of school.

From Sketch to Final: Jigsaw Jones, Before and After

I love the journey from written word to sketch to final art. Here’s a quick glimpse at two examples from the upcoming Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar, illustrations by R. W. Alley — but you can call him Bob.



  

I wrote the first Jigsaw Jones book in 1997. Since that time the series has rolled along, gone painfully out of print, and then miraculously sprang to life again — like Lazarus and Beef Jerky and Toto’s “Africa.” Yesterday I received the Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) for the newest title, coming this summer, the 42nd Jigsaw overall. Creating a book is a lengthy process, and nothing makes it feel like a real book quite like the day when the ARCs arrive. Still excited, still think it’s the best one yet, but now feeling more grateful than ever. Thanks, all. Carry on! Cover art & interiors by the great Bob Alley.

I have a few spare ARCs in my possession. If you are a teacher or librarian who would like to share this “unfinished” book with young readers — they’d be the first students on the planet to read it — please send me a note with your address at jamespreller@aol.com.