Tag Archive for James Preller photos

One Book, One School: Some Photos & Reflections

I love this photo, somehow it says everything. This is why you write for children, those faces up there.

A while back I posted about how Bystander was being featured in some special “One Book, One School” reading programs. Lately I’ve been getting more requests in that area, and all I can say is that I love the idea of a shared reading experience that cuts across, and unifies, an entire school. It’s a tremendous honor when the educational leaders of a school select my book for that purpose. Stunning, amazing.

I was recently sent some photos by Joan Scott, the Library Media Specialist at Ephraim Curtis Middle School in Sudbury, MA. Here’s a few more:

For this particular visit, I was able to enjoy lunch with a select group of students. It’s just so much fun to sit down with these kids and really talk together — and for me, to hear them speak, and watch them fiddle with their Oreos, and listen as they share their thoughts and more than a few laughs.

I’m sorry that I can’t recall the name of this particular teacher, but it’s a great opportunity for me whenever I get the chance to sit down with real teachers in the trenches and learn from their perspective.

I’ve said it before. Just as in every other aspect of life, what a school puts into an author visit has a direct correlation to what the students get out of it. At Ephraim, the students were focused, prepared, and engaged — and that’s the key to a successful author visit, and a tribute to everyone at the school.

Here I am with the school principal Stephen Lambert and Joan Scott, who spearheaded the event. On some visits, I never meet the principal, as they are busy people with demanding jobs. Other times, I’ll meet one whose presence, whose attention and personal commitment, sends a powerful message to every student. This topic is important to us, we place value on this moment, and we care about you. Throughout the day, I chatted with this Principal Lambert and I can’t begin to express how impressed I was. Our conversations were wide and thought-provoking. Conclusion: This is a good man attempting to do the absolute best for the students and fellow educators in his school.

Honestly: Is this a remedy for bullying? Do events like this help? No one can say for sure. It can’t be measured. But I do believe that open honest dialogue, back and forth, feels like a crucial step in the right direction. Change can’t happen in a day. And a single book isn’t going to amount to much. But when an entire school comes together like this, the message is loud and clear:

We are a community of learners, we value things like respect and tolerance and compassion, because we understand that learning can’t begin without those qualities firmly in place.

In an interview earlier this year, I was asked: Is there anything that readers of [Bystander] can take from this story in order to better deal with bullies? I replied:

There are no easy answers. Quick story: My oldest son is sixteen. I often worried when he didn’t talk about his feelings. He’d clam up. Then I realized, he doesn’t necessarily have the vocabulary to even know what he’s feeling. To paraphrase Ron Burgandy in “Anchorman,” he was trapped inside a glass booth of emotion. Language is important, it’s a tool to help us perceive things, name things, understand. It’s common for kids to say something like, “Oh, I didn’t know that was bullying; I was just making fun of her shoes.” Like any good book, hopefully Bystander enriches the way readers understand their world.

I’m grateful I was able to spend a day at Ephraim Curtis Middle School, and inspired by their effort to address the issue with open, ongoing, thoughtful communication. Everybody pulling on the same oar. My thanks to everyone who helped make it possible. For those who may be curious, please know that Bystander will be published in paperback in Fall, 2011.

Jigsaw Jones, The Musical: Both Thumbs, Way Up

I want to share a few photos and give my belated reaction to seeing the musical, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Class Clown. From left to right in the above photo: Benjamin K. Glaser (Jigsaw Jones), Jill Kurzner (Helen/Athena), Johnny Deem (Ralphie), Claire Duncan (Mila), James Preller, and my two special guests, Elizabeth and Maggie (in fake nose). The stage manager, Trey Johnson, snapped the photo.

First of all, I’m not built for this kind of thing. And lately I’ve come to see myself in this way: I was one of those kids who hated the idea of embarrassing himself in public, caused by a sorry combination of fear, shyness, and overall uptightness. My answer, of course, was to NOT do things — especially if they involved trying anything new. Don’t go off the high dive in the town pool, don’t try out for a school play, don’t dance in public, and on and on. That is partly why, I tell kids, I became a writer. There are no witnesses. You work alone. And you only share what you choose to share (you try to edit out the belly flops and pratfalls).

So I went to this show, put on by ArtsPower, was a degree of dread. What if I hated it? What if no one shows up? It was out of my hands.

I arrived early at the Egg performing arts center in Albany . . .

. . . bringing along a small but crucial sampling of the target audience, my daughter Maggie and her friend Elizabeth. I had arranged to meet the cast before the show, catch a sound check, and settle into our seats.

I immediately liked the cast of four young thespians. They were enthusiastic and energetic, and acted genuinely pleased to meet me. Wait. Come to think of it, they were actors. Highly skilled actors. Maybe they weren’t pleased to meet me after all!

I sat through the show . . . and loved it. From the adaptation, to the stage set, to the songs, to the performances, it was extremely well done. Special appreciation goes to Greg Gunning, who adapted the book and penned the lyrics. Greg and I spoke on the phone, he listened patiently to my comments and (very few) suggestions. Richard DeRosa wrote the music, which was lively and upbeat (I want the soundtrack!). I watched in that theater feeling just so thankful, and happy, and proud of what I’d done, and what they had done to make my little six-thousand word story come to life in a totally different way. There it was up on stage — breathing. Greg streamlined and improved upon the story, expertly trimming down the cast of characters while bringing the book’s main themes into sharper focus, and each actor gave an appealing, fresh-faced, thoroughly professional performance.

For me, it was a quietly stirring, emotional experience. I can’t really explain it except to say that I felt it: Wow, I put this story out into the world; it came from me. And I thought, You know, this is actually good work. It has heart and wit and kindness . . . and I can hum to it!

I recommend this show without reservation.

(Yipes! What is happening with my hair in this photo? Do I really walk around like that?)

I should add that it’s an absolute honor to have my book selected for theatrical interpretation by the folks at ArtsPower. Out of all the books available, they picked mine, the twelth in a series of forty titles. Amazing. Thank you very much, Gary Blackman, executive producer.

If anyone is interested in booking a show, please know that it will be touring through 2011. Here’s the info you need to get started.