Tag Archive for All Welcome Here

ALL WELCOME HERE Among 3 Titles Featured in This Back-to-School Roundup

“James Preller pays tribute

to all the big feelings

that bubble to the surface when

a new school year begins.”

 

I was delighted to come across this article in The Virginian-Pilot. My thanks to Caroline Luzzatto for the kind words and excellent recommendations. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books mentioned, especially The Word for Friend by Aidan Cassie. Esperanto, anyone? Good luck with your books, Selina and Aidan!

 

As a strange school year comes to a strange end, it’s easy to see the long summer ahead as a welcome break from worksheet packets or Zoom class meetings. But it’s a bittersweet feeling for so many students — including my own, who said, as we met for the last time, that they missed school and were looking forward to returning to class in a way they never had before. June seems like an odd time to page through a stack of back-to-school books — but they are landing in bookstores this month, in anticipation of a summer filled with longing and a fall that children and parents alike hope is full of promise.

“All Welcome Here” by James Preller, illustrated by Mary GrandPre.(Ages 4 to 7. Feiwel & Friends. $18.99.) In haiku form, James Preller pays tribute to all the big feelings that bubble to the surface when a new school year begins, from “all the bright new things” in the backpack to the end of the day, when “One question remains: ‘May we/ come back tomorrow?’ ” Mary GrandPre’s exuberant mixed-media illustrations show a diverse group of students at desks, rugs and library bookshelves, in a school that welcomes them as they ponder lunch, recess, name tags, and belonging: “At every desk,/A chair with tennis-ball feet,/A place just for you.”

“One Golden Rule at School: A Counting Book” by Selina Alko. (Ages 2 to 6. Henry Holt and Co. $17.99.) Selina Alko’s dynamic mixed-media illustrations give young readers so much to look at in this warm and welcoming book that offers not just a chance to count but also a message of community. The book counts up through the beginning of the day, then back down as the school day ends, offering a reassuring look at “ONE great day at school,” complete with “ONE golden rule” that encourages students to treat others as they wish to be treated.

“The Word for Friend” by Aidan Cassie. (Ages 4 to 8. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $18.99.) Kemala is a high-spirited, talkative newcomer (and, incidentally, an adorable pangolin) ready to find her way when she comes to a new country with her mother. She gazes out the window: “Somewhere in her new town was her new school. It was filled with new friends.” And perhaps it is — but Kemala, unable to speak her classmates’ language, doesn’t know how to connect with them. Mortified by her future friends’ reaction to her own language, she curls into an armored ball (as pangolins do). But Kemala is too bold and energetic to be discouraged for long — and using the universal language of play, she finds one friend, and then many. Cassie’s tale is encouraging and warm, offering a peek inside the mind of a language-learner who doesn’t yet have the words to express herself. (An extra bonus for language fans: To make the experience universal, rather than particular to any country, the new language Kemala is learning is Esperanto, which is discussed in an endnote.)

 

True Support, and a Beautiful Idea

Two friends in TN sent me this shot. They are huge book people who make it a point to support the arts: they buy books. Recently they purchased a copy of my book All Welcome Here and placed it in a nearby Little Free Library. Pretty awesome if you ask me. Thanks, Lance and Jeannette!

A Letter to Educators, Summer Hours, & Zoom Thoughts

In the best of times, my creativity ebbs and flows. This past month, I’ve found it difficult to put a post together. Part of that is my own distracted, short-circuited mind; another aspect is a nagging sense that few people care anyway. I guess a lot of writers feel that way from time to time, though my case has been acute of late. Strangely, I’ve still been actively writing manuscripts. Good ones, too, I think. But I am a little disheartened about my place the industry; I’m just not confident that my recent stories will see the light of day. What’s a writer to do? A strange place to find myself after spending the past 35 years in the children’s book world. On the positive side, I completed a prequel/sequel to my middle grade novel Bystander, titled Upstander, which should come out sometime next year. No cover yet, still waiting to see what that will look like.

So if you are here now, reading this — thanks for that. I hope to never take you for granted. 

SUMMER HOURS

I generally cut back on ye olde blog posts in the summer, since a lot of my traffic seems to revolve around the school year. I’ll still post when I’m moved to do so, or if something spectacular comes up, though for the most time it’ll be quiet. But before we all pitch tents in our backyards, I wanted to share with you a publicity letter I wrote to “select” educators who expressed interest in my new book, All Welcome Here, illustrated by the legendary Mary GrandPre. 

ALL WELCOME HERE: A LETTER TO EDUCATORS

Dear Educator,

As an author who has worked in children’s books for more than half my life, I’ve visited hundreds of schools across the country. I always come away with a good feeling in my heart, not only because of the students, who are amazing, but also because of the vibrancy and intimacy of the classroom. I’m moved by the good work that people like you are doing, day after day, year after year, sometimes under extremely challenging circumstances. Online learning anyone?

Teachers can be counted on to open their hearts and their classrooms to every child who comes through that door. All those values we hold close to our core -– empathy, inclusion, kindness, community –- become a living reality in your classroom. This is the great promise of the American Experiment played out before our eyes. It truly works, you’ve seen it, and it’s beautiful.

I was inspired to write All Welcome Here early in 2016. The world as I knew it felt fractured and divided. Today, four years later, it seems all but shattered. But together we’re picking up the pieces, working to cobble together a better, brighter, more loving and ethical land of the free.

Please think of this book as my thank you for that great effort. I know you work hard to foster those values in your school community. Hopefully this book, so gorgeously illustrated by Mary GrandPre, will serve as a springboard for positive conversations between you and your students. Also, I hope that you find it to be entertaining, and funny, and joyful. Jon-Kim spilling his crayons, Chloe’s laughter, and the way a shy girl tentatively makes a new friend. Even the shaving cream behind Principal K’s ear. This book is my tribute to those everyday moments that happen in your school lives, day after day, year after year. Thank you for your valuable work.

Be safe, stay healthy, and good luck!

James Preller

 

ZOOM VISITS

I’ve enjoyed several Zoom and Google Meets Visits over the past few weeks. Some have been particularly meaningful, I think, making me a true convert to the value and impact of a properly structured Zoom Visit.

To me, the key figure in an online visit is the teacher. It is the teacher who inspires, who prepares, who builds anticipation, and who actively moderates (thank you, “mute button!”) an online visit. A Zoom Visit with one class can be a profoundly (and surprisingly) intimate experience. It is very much like stepping into a classroom for a loose, easy-going conversation between students and author.

And guess what? In normal times, that never happens. There’s no time for a visiting author to move from classroom to classroom; instead, we present to entire grades or multiple grades: hundreds of students at one time. That’s awesome and powerful, too. But a Zoom Visit can be inspirational in its own unique way. A standard in-person presentation is a broadcast with a short Q & A tagged on at the end; a Zoom Visit is more interactive, featuring more of a direct one-on-one connection.

I recently heard from an enthusiastic teacher on Long Island who wrote to me after a visit with her class. She said:

“I had to share some more feedback I have received from parents . . . you truly have influenced many of my students. I realize the technology was a bit of a pain, but the outcomes are so worth it! I cannot thank you enough for your time and inspiring words!!”

She included some follow-up emails from parents:  

“Danny was so jazzed up after this he wants our whole family to write a book. He has assigned us all jobs to do and he is the author. I never would’ve thought that he’d be so into this. Thank you again. I haven’t seen him this excited about something in a while.”

Here’s another:

“Super inspirational!!! And so so patient. Like when they asked the author similar questions he just patiently answered! It’s inspiring us (at home) to maybe build a mini library!”

Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE.

Note: I believe I talked about my love of Little Free Libraries, which I featured in Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space. Pretty cool if a family reads my book and turns around to build one of their own. That’s the literacy connection, how books bring us together and help build communities.

My point here is not to toot my own horn (though, obviously, I’m doing that), but to express again that I AM SOLD ON ZOOM VISITS.

I think we’ve still got to figure out the money — it has to be very affordable, but at the same time “more than free.” We can individualize visits, or even create recurring visits, around concrete themes. For example: haiku poems. We could talk about them, share them, learn together. Or writing mysteries. Last week I enjoyed a visit with a Texas librarian that centered around dialogue. 

In short, I think it’s more productive to think of a Zoom Visit not as “the James Preller show” but more of a unique way to bring an author into your classroom to directly connect with and inspire your students. 

Feel free to write to me at jamespreller@aol.com to discuss it. I’m open and flexible and eager to meet your students.

THANKS AGAIN FOR STOPPING BY!

 

-Z

 

Sneak Peak: Final Art & Sketch from ALL WELCOME HERE, Coming in June!

Sneak peak at a spread from our upcoming picture book, ALL WELCOME HERE, illustrated by the great Mary GrandPre. Coming in June (we think!), from Macmillan. It’s a first day of school story, told in connected haiku. Do yourself a favor, click on the image to see it larger and appreciate the colors and details in Mary’s artwork. She is best known, of course, for doing the art in the U.S. editions of the Harry Potter books. So talented — and kind, too!

 

Just for comparison, here’s the rough sketch Mary submitted to the publisher. Here’s where much of the most important work takes place: the thinking, the plotting, the visual organization. Here Mary takes two separate haiku and unifies them in one “moment” that captures several distinct realities, if you will. As much as I admire Mary’s palette and technique, I might most respect her intellectual rigor. The way she thinks about her work before dipping a single brush into paint.

Sometimes in this business you just get lucky. That’s how I feel about Mary doing the artwork for this book. Lucky me.

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.