Tag Archive for James Preller Jigsaw Jones

“What Level Is This Book?”

A number of Jigsaw Jones books have been offered through Scholastic Book Clubs. My niece, Jamie, sent along a snap:

 

As my many biographers are well aware, I began my career as a junior copywriter in 1985 at Scholastic for $11,500. My first job was writing the SeeSaw Book Club. 

I noticed those data points at the bottom right:

LEX: 360L-450L

GRL: 0

DRA: 34-38

I confess that I don’t know what any of those numbers mean. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. Should I be aiming for a higher or lower “DRA”? Clearly, this is some kind of “important information” (yes, in quotes) about the level and age-appropriateness of the books. To help guide parents/teachers about the level of the product offered.

Heaven forfend if the book is too hard or too easy.

Honestly: I’m curious. How long have book clubs been incorporating this info into the kits (as we called them back in the day). Do you see this as good information? Bad information? Misleading?

From time to time, I’m lucky enough to sign books at festivals. And more and more I’m hearing that question from parents: “What level is this book?”

And I don’t know the answer.

I mean, I have an idea of the interest level; I have a notion of the difficulty. This series has been around for two decades. My sense is that now parents are looking for highly specific information. They’ve been taught to look for this info. 

Are we overthinking this?

Why, as a book lover, does this little group of numbers and letters make me want to cry a little bit?

Because often there’s a kid standing next to mom when she asks this question. A kid who maybe wants to read the book, or maybe not. What level is it? I sure don’t know the answer.

I can’t help but wonder if this is some new version of “Dick and Jane” readers, where everything is controlled and identified. The stages of reading. 

Note, also, that this information is not included on the book itself. This comes from Scholastic Corporate, evidently in response to a perceived a need, a way to better serve customers. Who want to know the answer to the question: “What level is this book?”

When did people start asking that? What brave new world is this?

I don’t mean to be snarky. I’m grateful to Scholastic for offering my books. I’m just curious what’s going on here. It might be a positive thing, I don’t know.

But here’s a thought:

Note: I am not familiar with Jillian Starr, a classroom teacher, or her work. This was just a meme floating around the interwebs. It seemed to be saying something important. A reminder.

Thoughts, ideas?

ADDENDUM . . .

After posting this piece, I came across Donalyn Miller’s post, “On the Level,” originally posted at the terrific Nerdy Book Club site. Here’s the opening two paragraphs, but please click on the link to Donalyn’s post for full effect:

While I was visiting an elementary school library in Chicago last spring, a group of third graders came into the library to return and check out books. The children wore index cards clipped to their shirts. On one side of the card was the child’s name. On the back, layers of sticky labels with the top label indicating the child’s current Lexile reading level. The poor librarian was required to check the reading level on the cards against the books the children wanted to check out. If a child picked a book that wasn’t on their level, she had to take it from them and tell them to get another one. Imagine what it feels like to hear you can’t read a book you want to read and must choose another one. Imagine your entire class witnesses this exchange. How do you feel about reading? How do you see yourself as a reader?

Again and again, I see reading level measures used to rank children, sort them into reading groups, identify at-risk readers, or generate grades. To what end? If we truly value a whole child model of education, children’s development of lifelong reading habits and skills should matter just as much as reading scores. Does our institutional zeal for reading levels have long-term negative consequences for young readers?

A Few Snaps from School Visits: A Typical Day on an Elementary School Visit

There’s nothing particularly outstanding here, but I thought I’d throw up a few snaps from recent school visits and walk you through a typical arrangement.

12809566_10153214560221534_2166136738651197185_n

 

Yes, that’s truly “a good sign” for any author visit. It is welcoming and shows that the school has invested time and thought into the visit. I’ve said it a thousand times: Authors don’t do school visits, schools do author visits.

IMG_1048 (1)

 

I visit elementary schools and middle schools. Next week, for example,I’ll even be speaking to 380 students in one packed auditorium, grades 7-12. When I visit traditional K-5 elementary schools, I try to arrange to meet with K-only groups for shorter, more intimate visits. Then I’ll see groups of grades 1-2, grades 3-4, and grade 5 only. My material and message seems to fall in line with those groupings.

 

IMG_1057

 

When I see grades 5-only, it allows me to include in my presentation a bit about Bystander and bully-themed issues. It’s a little older, more mature, a little deeper.

 

IMG_1046 (2)

 

For K-only, I’ve learned that it’s best to sit in a chair, speak softly and gently. I tell kids how the bear in Wake Me In Spring reminds me of my father, snoring in his big, comfortable chair.

 

IMG_1059 (1)

 

Reading from the first chapter of Bystander. I’ve pretty much got that thing memorized.

 

James Preller author visit1

This is a grades 3-4 group, where they are extremely enthusiastic about “Scary Tales.” We talk a lot about the creative process here, building a story. The photo on the screen is of a swamp. I’m talking about the setting of one of my stories, one of the basic building blocks of any story: where, who, what; setting, character, plot. For grades 1-2, I tend to center it around Jigsaw Jones and writing from real life.

Fan Mail Wednesday #150: Weirdness & Other Fine Qualities

To mix things up, I thought I’d run a “Fan Mail Wednesday” piece on an actual Wednesday. I think it’s good to keep readers off-balance. So, here’s a good one. I only wish I could share with you the name of the letter writer, it’s just one of those perfect names that authors like me love to steal.

I replied:

Dear H____,

Thanks for your wonderful letter, I really enjoyed it. I don’t hear from many students who write in cursive –- I thought it had gone the way of the dinosaurs. These days I sign my books in print, because I assume that most kids can’t even read cursive.

Smart that you picked up on Joey’s eating. There are many characters in the Jigsaw Jones series, 40 books, 250,000 words. I try to make each character complete – an individual. I do that by trying to give each one a few distinct traits. Joey is a little goofy, sweet-natured, and he often takes things too literally, like Amelia Bedelia (as when, in The Case of the Rainy Day Mystery, Jigsaw tells him to “put a tail on Bigs Maloney”). But the real key to Joey is his enthusiasm for food. He eats fast, and usually has a crumbled Oreo in his back pocket.

Art by Jamie Smith from The Case of the Rainy Day Mystery. Sadly, it looks like Scholastic has let this most excellent book go out of print. I dream of  getting the rights back for these neglected books, and republishing them myself. I know I could sell ’em.

So, hmmm, some people think you are weird. Maybe you are a different, I don’t know. But there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m often bored when I meet super-normal people, you know what I mean? I think it’s our quirks and oddities that make us interesting. And believe me, everyone has a little bit of weirdness inside. We’re human beans, after all; it’s our differences that make the world go round.

Anyway, as we travel through life, we eventually find and attract the right kinds of friends –- the people who like us for who we are. If someone thinks you are weird . . . so what. You don’t have to “not like them,” but I do recommend not paying much attention to that kind of thinking.

Be yourself, H_____. Thanks for your kind, well-written letter. You made me happy, and I think you’re terrific. My best,

JP