Tag Archive for Bee the Change

Dreams, rejections, good news from the Junior Library Guild, etc.

I’ve got a picture book manuscript making the rounds with publishers these days. I teamed up with illustrator Jennifer Sattler, who lives not far in Saratoga. She’s incredible.

          

(And, clearly, she’s slumming).

It was nice to collaborate for a change. The process was refreshing, open-hearted and often hilarious — together we came away convinced that this was a good story, a meaningful story, borderline brilliant, and we were confident that it would find a publisher. Maybe a few.

That hasn’t quite happened yet. We are told that summertime is slow. Nonetheless we still received a few rapid rejections, like machine gun fire. But this time we had each other, which was new for me in this mostly solitary business.

Here’s the thing. Despite all the best advice, my usual reaction to rejection is to . . . believe it. I get defeated and figure they are probably right. And it changes the way I view the manuscript, and my own worth. I guess I do suck.

WARNING: Don’t try this at home, people!

I mean to say: That’s not a pro tip. The smart money tells us to believe, believe, believe. To hang in there, pull up our socks, keep plugging away, have faith, blah blah blabbity blah.

After one disappointing rejection, I texted Jen: “This stupid business is going to break my heart.

She texted me back: “It’s okay. Someone will get it, it’s a great story.”

Nice, right? Just what I needed to hear. I even kind of believed her for an entire afternoon.

Last week, while out on the Cape, dodging tornadoes and sharks, I awoke to the memory of an anxiety dream. An editor replied that our book was either the best thing she’s ever read or the worst, she couldn’t be sure, and for that reason was sorry to reject my submission.

Ha, ha, ha. It felt then, and still feels now, about right. 

I’ve never had great success with picture books. I’ve had seven published over the years. I’ve discovered that a typical reply from a picture book editor is that the story didn’t knock her socks off. Imagine how that feels to the writer. It’s a fair desire, I suppose — kablooey, socks blown off feet — but such an elusive, arbitrary goal to achieve. How does one knock someone else’s socks off, especially if she is wearing shoes? Simply write something amazing, I suppose.

I guess that’s the business. As we say in children’s publishing, it’s a bunny eat bunny world.

That same morning, I opened an email and learned that my upcoming novel, Blood Mountain (Macmillan, October 10), was just named a Junior Library Guild selection. It’s a huge honor and an encouraging sign at a time when the book has not yet been reviewed (October pub date). A bellwether of future success! That’s the third novel of mine that has earned such a nod from the folks at the Junior Library Guild, including Bystander and The Courage Test. I’m extremely grateful to them for shining the spotlight. Books tend to get lost in the flood.

So there we have it: Despair and small triumph before I have my second cup of coffee. What a business. 

And, oh yes, I have a new book out today. It’s pub day for Bee the Change (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the third book in the “Big Idea Gang” trilogy. 

I ain’t dead yet. 

Be the Change: An Author Reflects on a Career in Books

“These books are my attempt to brainwash young readers

into believing

they can make the world a kinder, smarter,

more compassionate place.”

 

This week we’ll see the publication of the 3rd book in “The Big Idea Gang” trilogy, Bee the Change. I thought I’d write a little bit about this series before turning the page, moving on to the next small thing.

At its core, these books are my attempt to brainwash young readers into believing that they can make the world a better place. If I can inspire a little bit of that, amen. 

Because that’s where my hope resides these days. I realize it’s a little pathetic, for here I am, a 58-year-old man looking to 9-year-olds for strength and wisdom and salvation. Sorry, guys, but I believe the adults in your world have let you down. We’re not going to dig you out of this mess.

The books intentionally focus on kindness and cooperation, on compassion and friendship, on seeing the world at an extremely local level and wanting to make it better. No, not wanting. On working together to make a difference.

Each book features a minor focus on persuasive writing, and includes tips in the back matter. On how to make a compelling statement, to support that statement with facts, to build a strong argument for your case. We see these characters earn a new mascot in their school, install two buddy benches in their playground, and help create a “bee friendly” garden at school. 

Quick story: My daughter is working as a nanny this summer for a local family. Three kids, five dogs. One boy couldn’t believe that the “famous author” James Preller was her father. He figured that I lived in a mansion somewhere. Ah, ha, ha, ha. Good one!

In my career, which began in children’s publishing in 1985, there’s usually a lot of silence out there. Sales that don’t often amount to much, titles that go out of print — the waves my work makes never go much beyond a ripple. Oh well. I don’t control what happens after I write the book. I try to let it go. Be sanguine about things. Though, yes, there’s a lot of disappointment. But I am truly grateful that, so far, I’ve had the opportunity to put these stories out into the world. If the world shrugs, if I’m not an “it” author of this or any moment, I can only do what I’ve always done. 

Write stories the best I can. Visit schools when I’m lucky enough to be invited. Keep on keeping on. 

After Bee the Change in late July, the next Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar, comes out a week later (Macmillan, August 6th). In late October, my middle-grade adventure novel, Blood Mountain, comes out. Next Spring, finally, we’ll see the publication of All Welcome Here, a picture book of haiku illustrated by Mary GrandPre; it quietly celebrates the openness and acceptance of our public school teachers and classrooms.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

 

              

     

      

Summer Hours, School Visits, Free Books

I blinked and July appeared. No, that is not my new secret power. My blinking didn’t cause the calendar to turn. I was more trying to make a point about . . .

Nevermind.

Let’s try this: Whoa, July already!

Over the years, I’ve learned that readership slows during the summer months. In response, I don’t put up as much new content. Think of me as a turtle overwintering in the mud — but it’s summer, and it’s a blog, and there’s really no connection whatsoever.

I mean to say, it’ll be quiet around here, but not silent.

SCHOOL VISITS

Yes, please! Send your queries to me at jamespreller@aol.com. School visits are an important aspect of what I do, the role I play on this planet, and they mean the world to me.

For more information, click on the “School Visits” toward the top of your screen. Or just write to me to get the ball rolling. It’s friendly and personal and you will be dealing directly with me. I’m not a huge consortium of anything. Just Jimmy, trying to earn a living. Happy to speak on the phone.

BOOKS

I have two books coming out this summer. In fact, just got my complimentary author’s supply in the mail, a big box of The Big Idea Gang: Bee the Change.

I like this series a lot, and I’ve been grateful for the positive reviews.

To me, these are political books that came directly out of our current reality. These are simple stories about empowerment, about young people making a difference in our world. And by featuring persuasive writing as a subtext, the books help provide some of the tools that are necessary for changing minds, for becoming powerful instruments of positive change. Hopefully they will be inspiring to a new generation of budding activists. Check them out.

Or, hey: If you are a classroom teacher or school librarian interested in sharing these books with your students, drop me a line at jamespreller@aol.com. Make the subject heading: FREE BOOK. I’ll sign it and send it out to you while supplies last. 

On August 6th, we’ll see the publication of an all-new Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar. I’m so happy with this book. I had written 40 books about Jigsaw and Mila, and then there was a long fallow period when I was off writing other things (Six Innings, Bystander, The Courage Test, Better Off Undead, etc). I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to visit those characters again. But things changed, opportunity knocked, and I was able to write a new Jigsaw Jones book after about ten years away. Thing is, I believe I’m a better writer today than I was 22 years ago when I wrote the first book in the series.

Thank you, faithful readers, so grateful you stopped by. Have a great summer — and please think of me for school visits. It’s one of my favorite things in the world to do.

 

BEE THE CHANGE: First Review!

It’s not just the good ones. If I had a terrible review, I’d share it with you.

Of course I would.

Well, okay, almost definitely not.

(I had a review from Kirkus, long ago, where the reviewer playfully suggested that I never write poetry again. That felt good! Actually, it was an off-hand, thoughtless remark and I didn’t give it much weight. In fact, I’ve forgotten all about it! Wiped from my memory!)

I’m a little thin-skinned when it comes to negativity. Fortunately, not a lot of it comes my way. My work tends to elicit indifference, a yawn echoing through the stratosphere, rather than outright hostility.

The universe can be a cold place.

Which is all a blathering preamble intended to say, cool, look, here’s a review for Bee the Change, the 3rd book in my “Big Idea Gang” series, illustrated by the tremendous Stephen Gilpin. This is what they said about it in School Library Journal:  

PRELLER, James. Bee the Change. 96p. (Big Idea Gang). HMH. Jul. 2019. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781328857705; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781328973399.

K-Gr 2–The Big Idea Gang is back in this beginning chapter book series featuring third graders who hope to make a difference in their community. Kim and Lizzy visit beekeeper Ozzie, whose charismatic personality and enthusiasm for bees motivate the girls to raise awareness of the important environmental role that bees play. After pitching the idea to their supportive teacher, Miss Zips, the kids brainstorm at the library and come up with a plan to invite Ozzie as a guest speaker and plant some flowers in the school garden. Friendly characters who want to effect change are paired with upbeat text and cheerful pencil drawings. Endpapers include bee facts.  VERDICT A solid choice for series fans and early chapter book collections.Ramarie Beaver, Plano Public Library System, TX

 

That’s fine, right? Not amazing, but solid enough. Honestly, many series books don’t even get reviewed, so I’m grateful to see the series get some attention. Thank you, Ramarie Beaver!

What else am I grateful for?

Stephen’s incredible illustrations, the way he made these characters come alive before my eyes. I’ve never spoken to Stephen, I suppose he’s gone on to bigger and better things, but I’m very glad he passed my way. 

Here’s a few samples of Stephen’s style from the book:

 

Early in our story, Ozzie introduces Kym and Lizzy to his honeybees. He talks to them about colony collapse disorder, and about the vital role bees play in our ecosystem. It’s all connected, you see. Kym and Lizzy leave inspired to make a difference. 

 

 

Here’s Deon and Connor, the other two founding members of the “Big Idea Gang.” This series has been noted for its kindness — good kids basically treating each other with respect and cheerful generosity — and Stephen’s art deserves much of the credit.

 

 

Quick story: This shaggy-haired character appeared in a large-group illustration in the first book of the series, Worst Mascot Ever. He stands up, enthusiastic as a puppy, after Lizzy gives a terrific speech. Understand: He was just a drawing at this point. No dialogue. Just a face in the crowd. But what a face. I decided we needed to meet him, so made him a key character in Bee the Change, based solely on Stephen’s rendering.

Thank you, Stephen.

Thank you, SLJ.

And thank you, teachers and media specialists, for giving these modest little stories space in your Book World. 

BEE THE CHANGE: Long Live Stan Lee

 

BRIEF EXCERPT from Bee the Change (Houghton, May, 2019), the 3rd book in my new “Big Idea Gang” series. Illustrations by Stephen Gilpin. School Library Connection said of Everybody Needs a Buddy (Jan, 2019): “Abounds with examples of kindness, empathy, friends who listen to each other, and ways to strike up a friendship and to make a difference at your school.”

 

Chapter 4

Slug Man

 

Meanwhile, in a secret hideout in a galaxy far, far away (well, okay, in Deon Gibson’s basement), two boys sat down with an amazing plan. Connor O’Malley and Deon Gibson decided to create the most terrific, most awesome, most really-really cool superhero comic book of all time.

They were ready to rock and roll.

They had plenty of paper. Pens and markers. Drinks and snacks. Everything two artists could possible need.

Except . . .

“We’re missing one thing,” Deon concluded.

“Yeah, what’s that?” Connor asked. He tossed a pretzel nugget into the air and tried to catch it in his mouth. The nugget bounced off his forehead and onto the rug.

Deon smirked. “You are really bad at that, you know.”

There were already half a dozen pretzel nuggets on the floor.

“Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up before we go,” Connor said.

“That’s right you will,” Deon said. “But first, read out loud what we’ve got so far.”

Connor picked up his notebook.

He coughed and began to read. “Deep in his remote hideout.”

Connor stopped reading. He set down the notebook and looked at Deon.

Deon looked back. “That’s it?”

“So far,” Connor said.

“It’s not bad,” Deon said.

“Not bad is pretty good,” Connor reasoned. “Maybe we should take a break.”

Deon shook his head. “We can do this, Connor. We’ve just got to work at it. Look at the popularity of superhero movies — all making huge money. Iron Man, Thor, Batman, Ant-Man, Black Panther. We need to come up with our own action hero.”

Connor leaned forward. He brought his elbows to his knees, tucked his fists under his chin. “Let’s think of different animals. We can’t use bats and spiders or ants, obviously.”

Deon nodded. “Already taken. What about . . . Gorilla Man?”

“Too much like Tarzan,” Connor replied. “The rhino?”

“Nah,” Deon replied. “I think that’s one of the bad guys in the Spider-Man comics. He crashes into walls or something.”

“Rats,” Connor groaned.

“Rat Man?” Deon said, eyebrows raised.

“Sounds too much like Batman,” Connor said. He tossed another pretzel into the air, lunged to his left, and the nugget hit him in the eye. It seemed to give him an idea.

“I’ve got it!” Connor exclaimed. “How about . . . SLUG MAN!”

Deon’s eyebrows arched. “What’s his superpower?”

“He slimes people!” Connor said.

Inspired, Deon snatched up his markers. He drew a crude picture of a bad guy trapped in green ooze. Deon added a word balloon: “DRATS! I’ve been oozed by green crud!”

“Great writing!” Connor said, patting Deon on the back. “What about, like, I don’t know, if you added a big long trail of slime?”

“Genius,” Deon said, giggling. He reached for a green marker.

“What other powers should he have?” Connor wondered. He snapped his fingers. “Hey, slugs have those weird antennae, don’t they? Maybe he can hear stuff that’s far away?”

“Yeah,” Deon said. “He, like, senses vibrations in the galaxy.”

That’s how the two friends spent the next hour, laughing, snickering, drawing, and writing. But after a while, their comic book lost steam. Slugs were kind of boring, they eventually decided, even ones with superpowers.

“It kind of looks like a giant booger,” Deon conceded.

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” Connor said, frowning. “Maybe a slug with superpowers is not what America needs right now. These million-dollar ideas are tough.”

Oh well. At least the two friends had a good time.

Connor never did catch a pretzel nugget in his mouth.



 

LONG LIVE STAN LEE!