Tag Archive for Along Came Spider

“One of my go-to funny books for boys.”

Thought I’d share a few reviews for my middle grade novel (grades 3-5), Justin Fisher Declares War!

Thanks to anyone who picks up this book and gives it a try. When I first wrote it, I thought of Justin as a light-hearted, character-centered book that might appeal to reluctant readers. It’s extremely easy to read. Though the characters are in 5th grade, I see this as a book that’s best for 3rd graders and up. Sigh, I’ll never understand the thinking behind the cover, but there’s nothing to be done abut that.

The first review is from Jaci Miller at Young Adult Books Central. To read it in full, go here:

James Preller’s likable book about class clowns and their inner workings will strike a chord with readers. Everyone wants to be liked and Preller intuitively taps this through Justin Fisher, a young man who tries just a bit too hard.

In a satisfying, but age-appropriate way, characters grow and change, including the antagonist, Mr. Tripp. Readers will root for Justin and, at the same time, shake their heads at his antics. Both student and teacher have been crafted with solid character motivations.

The short chapters also make Justin Fisher Declares War! a friendly read for more reluctant readers. A delightful addition to the world of humorous middle grade fiction.

Vikki Van Sickle of the Pipedreaming blog says that, Justin Fisher Declares War is officially one of my go-to funny books for boys.” Here’s another section of that review:

This book could be considered a loose sequel to Along Came Spider, but only because both books take place in the same setting and there are a few crossover characters. It is not necessary to read one to understand he other. James Preller’s writing style is breezy and fun. Having spent some time in elementary school classrooms myself, I found his dialogue and classroom antics very authentic. At some points I found myself thinking of Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine books. This is high praise, as Clementine is one of my all-time favourite early chapter book heroines. I think boys will relate to Justin and enjoy laughing along with his misadventures. Coming in under 150 pages, with short chapters and a fast-paced story, Justin Fisher Declares War is a great transitional book for boys.

Doret of the fabulous blog, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, also reviewed the book, and I’m grateful for that:

I really enjoyed Justin Fisher Declares War. Preller’s has a created a character in Justin, that isn’t all good or bad. The author previous novel Along Came Spider, is also set at Spiro Agew Elementary School. Anyone who has read it, will like being able to see how best friends Trey and Spider are doing. I don’t know if the author plans to set anymore novels at this school. But I hope so. Justin Fisher Declares War is a great suggestion for fans of Andrew Clements or Dan Gutman.

Lastly, I probably shouldn’t say this, but here goes: I have to grin when I see Justin on various Mock Newbery lists. The thoroughness of some of these folks is impressive and commendable. But let me tell you, just so you don’t fly to Vegas to lay down money on a longshot, this book is nowhere close to a Newbery. It does not belong in the conversation, and aspires only to be an easy, entertaining read with, hopefully, a few glimmers of hard-won insight thrown into the soup. I’d be happy with a review of, “Good fun!” I fully realize that a book like Justin, school-based fiction aimed at quasi-reluctant readers, isn’t going to make me rich. Honestly, it’s possibly too quiet for widespread boy appeal, but it was the story I needed to tell. I do hope this book picks up some readers along the way . . .

Speaking of the Newbery, last year it was obvious that When You Reach Me was the hands-down favorite. The year before that, I had read The Graveyard and wasn’t surprised by the selection. This year? I just don’t know.

Do you have a favorite?

Does an Author Have Any Say on a Book Cover?

People frequently ask me, “Do you have any say over a book cover?”

Big question, and the answers vary depending upon the clout of the author and the disposition of the publisher.

Here’s the new paperback cover for Along Came Spider (May, 2010). And my answer to the question? In this example, for this book with Scholastic? No, no say at all.

And my new book with Scholastic, Justin Fisher Declares War! (Hardcover, August, 2010), a funny school-based story that concludes with a talent show:

Same thing. I did not have a voice in the process.

So I cross my fingers and hope the experts are right.

Fan Mail Wednesday #59 (Thursday Edition!)

Check it out, y’all: Fan Mail Wednesday is busting out all over the place, spilling onto Thursday, causing a ruckus. My three kids started school yesterday: Maggie, 3rd grade; Gavin, 5th; and Nick, 11th. And after a long, wonderful, and highly disruptive summer, I’m thrilled to re-enter the routine. As kids in the 70’s, we’d blast “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper on the last day of school. You’d hear that meaty guitar riff and your spirits would soar: freedom! Now as a parent, I want a song that works that same way on the FIRST day of school, as my kids board that bus: a monster guitar hook, a blast of freedom! Somebody please write that song because I want to play it right now.

Oh yeah, the mail. In this rare case, I’m using some full names with permission  . . .

Hi Mr. Preller,

My name is Lester Betor and I am a 5th grade teacher at Slingerlands Elementary School.  You visited my classroom a few years ago on Baseball Day!  We enjoyed your visit.  I just wanted to let you know that a colleague and fellow fifth grade teacher suggested that we begin our school year by reading your book, Along Came Spider.  I just finished reading it and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it.  As a fifth grade teacher, I have had a Trey, a Spider, an Ava, and a Ryan in my class.  I also work next door to the library and enjoy our version of Ms. Lobel.  The Slingerlands fifth grade teachers will enjoy reading Along Came Spider as our first read aloud of the school year and trust that it will set a tone of mutual respect, tolerance and kindness.  I also wanted to piggyback on your acknowledgement of Chris Porter.  My son Andrew had Mrs. Porter several years ago and we couldn’t agree more.  Chris is an outstanding teacher and an admirable colleague.  Thanks for sharing your story of Trey and Spider.  We hope it will inspire our students to follow our Slingerlands Motto:  “Always our Best.”

Sincerely, Lester Betor

I replied:

Lester, yes, I do remember you — you had a lot of energy and, as I recall, used an effective poem or technique for getting the kids to quiet down. Does that ring a bell?

It was very kind of you to write.

Baseball Day, yes, I remember lots of caps and jerseys and fresh-faced kids spitting out brownish chunks of chewing tobacco. But perhaps my recollection is not entirely accurate. That was even before I wrote Six Innings and Mighty Casey. I’m always happy to celebrate baseball, though this year, let’s try not to discuss my hapless, unwatchable New York Mets.

I’m proud of Spider. I don’t think it was a great seller — it’s a quiet book, with nary a wizard or vampire in sight, and I suspect that boys don’t immediately gravitate to it — but I’ve always believed that in the hands of a good teacher, it could be a meaningful one in the classroom. I’m grateful whenever teachers and librarians can help a reluctant reader discover this story. It’s a particular honor that you find it worthy for kicking off the school year. Along with Six Innings, Along Came Spider was named by The New York Public Library in its 2008 list of the “100 Best Books for Reading and Sharing.” So thanks for doing exactly that.

You can see the full list by clicking frantically right here. It could be a good resource for future reading.


Lestor wrote back to confirm my hazy memory . . .

Hi James,

When I taught 3rd grade, I used the following to quiet them down:  “Eyes are…watching, ears are…listening, hands are…quiet, feet are…still, lips are…smiling.” You have a good memory. I haven’t used that since I last taught grade three.  Feel free to use my email in your fan mail.  My email was sincere and very accurate.  We loved Spider.  My best to your children with the start of the new school year.

Take care, Lester

Me, again:

Yes, eyes and ears! I’m pretty sure I copied that down and used it in a Jigsaw Jones book, just can’t remember which one! That’s right, I stole it from you. Didn’t you receive the royalty check? Hmmm, probably lost in the mail. Have a great school year, and thanks again for the inspiration.


Research: Finding Gems

I want to tell a quick story about doing research. Specifically about Crayola crayons and the book, Along Came Spider. But first, a little back story:

As I was writing Spider, I did a lot of research in different directions. As I began circling this character of Trey Cooper, trying to figure out who he was, I wanted to show in his personality a number of traits that were consistent with children “on the Spectrum,” as they say.

Trey has difficulty reading social cues, struggles during transitions, and generally comes off to his classmates as a quirky, even weird, kid. I also wanted to show Trey’s many strengths and outstanding qualities. He’s an expert on birds, for example, and builds wonderful bird houses. One of his talents is an interest in art and coloring. He loves his huge set of Crayola crayons.

In order to write about that, I did some quick research on Crayola. Specifically, I was looking for the names of their crayons. Well, one click led to another and I found this factoid:

1962: Partly in response to the civil rights movement, Crayola decides to change the name of the “flesh” crayon to “peach.” Renaming this crayon was a way of recognizing that skin comes in a variety of shades.

Wow, I thought, and immediately knew it would have to find its way into the book. Just a little nugget, a gem I came across while looking for something else. And I think that’s the core of research, trying to stay open to what you might find, casting a wide net, and recognizing the gems along the way. Sometimes what you (think you) want isn’t what you need.

What would Trey think of a crayon called Flesh? Would he know, or care? (He hates the name Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown, which was added in 1998 — way too babyish.)

I’ll sometimes talk about all this on school visits. I’ll say something like, “When doing my research, I learned that Crayola used to have a color named Flesh. But they changed that name in 1962. Would anyone like to guess why?”

The answers are often surprising. And maybe a little disappointing. One boy speculated that it was too disgusting — flesh, yuck, gross me out the door. But sooner or later, with or without a hint, somebody figures it out. We’ll talk about it briefly and move on. But hopefully it gets these kids to think a little, about research, about differences, our assumptions and our attitudes.

Fan Mail Wednesday #30

I’ve thought about whether I should pick this one or not, because it’s sort of grossly self-aggrandizing, but isn’t that what Jamespreller.com is all about? Hopefully my reply might be helpful to somebody out there. Note: As always, I’ve removed any names that would identify the writer or, in this case, her son.

Dear Mr. Preller,

I wish I could find the words to thank you for your newest book Along Came Spider.  My son, who is in the fifth grade, has been recently diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.  I’ve always known that he’s struggled with the whole playground rules and pecking order but after reading your book, I’ve gotten an even better understanding.  My heart breaks to see how his classmates talk to and treat him.  I’m coming to understand that it probably hurts and upsets me more than it does him.  He says he knows he weird and different from everyone else and while he’d like to fit in he’s also come to accept the fact that he won’t.  As a parent, that’s hard to hear.  I suppose I need to come to accept what my son has already accepted.  I’d like to think there are teachers and educators in the school systems similar to your characters who have these children in their eyesight and are willing to go the extra mile for them without a parent having to fight for it or for being afraid of administration.  We all have a part of us that likes to believe that everyone is there for the greater good.  I’m finding I have to fight tooth and nail for administration to see the need for special services.  Something as simple as your characters allowing Trey to have a special quiet place to escape to would be wonderful for my son.  Unfortunately, I am required to prove that he needs something as little as that and that means paying for private psychological testing, private OT assessment and therapy, and psychiatric consultations.  Short of the psychiatric consultations, the school system should have provided me with the other two but they refused.  I wish your book would be a “mandatory” reading for anyone in an educational setting. Instead of frowning upon, criticizing and singling a child out for their oddities, perhaps they would see the wonderful traits and characteristics children like Trey and my son possess.  Thank you once again for this incredible book.


I replied:


Thank you for sharing that remarkable letter. I am truly touched. As much as this book touches upon Aspergers, it is also, I hope, relevant to any child who might be something of an outcast in school. As the trend continues to move toward inclusive classrooms, it’s so important for everyone to become more alert to these issues.

I profoundly recall when my oldest son, Nicholas, was diagnosed with leukemia at two years old. Suddenly we were thrown into a world that was confusing, frightening, overwhelming. We had to become instant experts. We would be called upon to be “strong” in ways we weren’t sure we were capable of. One great solace through all that was the slow realization that we were not alone. There were communities available, support groups, information. I mean to say: There’s help out there. And you are stronger than you think.

Here’s a few links that might be useful:

* Children’s Disabilities Information — featuring an annotated list of support groups for children with autism/Aspergers/PDD.

* The Parenting Aspergers Resource Guide by Dave Angel.

* O.A.S.I.S. — Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support.

* A Directory for Asperger Syndrome — support groups and organizations.

Jana, the very fact that you read Along Came Spider tells me  you are already well on your way in finding the resources you need. For books, I’ve found the life and work of Temple Grandin . . .

to be particularly . . . insightful and inspirational.

Another book that really got me thinking is called Elijah’s Cup by Valerie Paradiz. Subtitled, “A Family’s Journey into the Community and Culture of High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome,” it is a mother’s story, and she happens to be an incredibly gifted writer — insightful and honest.

Highly recommended. There’s so much great information out there, so many amazing books.

Good luck, my best to you and your son. Remember, you are not alone — and there’s a bright future ahead.

James Preller