Tag Archive for James Preller school visits

Last School Visit of the School Year!

I was feeling pretty drained from yesterday, my last school visit of the year. A hot one! We crammed everybody into the library — four presentations, K-5 — and we all pretty much constantly thought about how nice it would have been to have air conditioning.
I longed for a cool movie theater and a box of Junior Mints.
How on earth do teachers do it?
Drip, drip, drip.
The sound of students melting into puddles on the floor.
As always, but maybe never moreso than today, circa 2024, I am beyond grateful to still be invited into schools to encourage and (hopefully) inspire a love of reading and writing.
I am very aware that a book is nothing without a reader.
P.S.  Yes, please, I am eager to schedule more school visits for 2024-2025 school year, places near and far. Please contact me at jamespreller@aol.com and we can explore how I might be the best fit for your school or school district. 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #335: A Gift from Sorella

Confession: I’m not sure if this is technically a piece of “fan mail.” The United States Postal Service was not involved, and it did not arrive to me via email. This note was handed to me toward the end of a school visit in Mahwah, NJ. 

I read the note — those extraordinary thoughts — and I looked at the young girl before me. “Is this for me? To keep?”

She nodded, shyly.

“Would it be okay,” I asked, “if we took a picture together?”

She thought that would be fine.

So here we are (note: permission granted by Sorella’s parents).

Days have now passed, a full week come and gone. I still wanted to respond in some way. But how? What words could I say beyond, simply, thanks?

My response below falls short, I suspect, but it’s something.

Dear Sorella:

It’s been a week since we meet at your school, Joyce Kilmer, somewhere in deepest, darkest New Jersey. Since then I’ve gone to concerts, read a lot, seen a movie, visited with family, walked my dog a million times, done all sorts of things . . . and yet I keep thinking about you and the kind note (with blobs of silver glitter!) that you handed to me in Mahwah. 

I’m sure that I don’t deserve it. I mean, I don’t think your note is really about me, “the real James Preller,” author of books for young readers. Instead, I think you captured something about how some of us feel about books and reading. You see, I’m a book lover, too. We have that in common. I know that feeling, of just holding a book in your hands, and in your heart, and feeling the wonder of it all, the deep pleasure of connection. Whole new worlds opening up before our eyes.

It’s amazing what a book can do. How we can sit silently, perfectly still, alone in a room, and yet feel intensely connected to the characters and events and, yes, even the author. We can read a book written more than a hundred years ago by a woman in a small English village and feel her thoughts and imaginings, intensely. I’m thinking, by the way, of Beatrice Potter, who published The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901. Potter is a personal favorite of mine, but I could have named anyone, really. We read a book and travel across time and space. We sit alone and yet we are not alone. We are free. As if we were sitting around the same fire. “Companions of the flame,” wrote the poet Hilda Doolittle.

If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. 

Speaking for every author I’ve ever met, thank you, Sorella, for the gift of being that good reader. I’ve long felt that books are only alive when they are read. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of a perfectly good tree. When my work is done, the book is no longer mine anymore. It’s yours, Dear Reader, Dearest Sorella. Magically, amazingly, you sat in a room and made it all come true. 

I’m grateful for you, and grateful for the kind heart that moved you to say such lovely words. “Flowers for the living,” the Irish expression tells us. I don’t deserve them, but I do accept them, gratefully, as a stand-in for anyone who’s ever dreamed of writing a book. Here’s the secret: The dream isn’t to write a book. The dream is for someone like you to come along one day and read it. 

Please keep reading, keep seeking new books, new authors. There are so many, many good ones out there. And, oh yes, please keep writing, too. And drawing. And decorating your missives with glue and silver glitter. You have a gift for it.

Your forever friend, 

James Preller

P.S. Please thank your wonderful and talented media specialist, Mrs. Oates. She’s the one who did all the work. Long ago, she invited me come to your school. We exchanged a dozen emails. And she put in all that work for you, for every student at Joyce Kilmer. I’m just the guy who got swept up in her good intentions. Lucky me. 

GREAT NEWS: Four Books Coming in 2024!

 

Four new books? Well, ish.

I’ll explain.

 

COMING APRIL 23rd . . .

BLOOD MOUNTAIN

 

 

Not quite new, but . . . a new cover and new in paperback. Surely that counts for something. Grace and Carter and their dog, Sitka, struggle to survive in a mountain wilderness. Ages 9-up.

A Junior Library Guild Selection!

 

COMING JUNE 25th . . .

SCARY TALES: 3 SPOOKY STORIES IN 1

I’m thrilled about this 300-page collection, which brings together Nightmareland, One Eyed Doll and Swamp Monster in one heart-stopping, fast-paced collection. All for only $8.99. It is literally the deal of the century. Featuring the incredible art of Iacopo Bruno. Ages 8-up.

COMING SEPT. 10th . . .

SHAKEN (Hardcover)

For 7th-grader Kristy Barrett, soccer is life. It has always been at the center of Kristy’s world. Her friendships and self-worth, her dreams and daily activities, all revolve around the sport. Until she suffers from a serious concussion and has to set soccer aside. Kristy begins to experience stress, anxiety, and panic attacks which ultimately bring her to some questionable decisions . . . and the care of a therapist. Ages 10-up.

 

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST . . .

 

COMING IN SEPTEMBER 24th . . .

TWO BIRDS . . . AND A MOOSE!

 

A Level 1 easy-reader featuring an aspirational moose! I’m so happy to have a new book out for the youngest readers. My first at this age level since Wake Me In Spring and Hiccups for Elephant. Ages 3-6.

 

So that’s that.  My year in books. 

 

I’m proud of the range here. A well-reviewed wilderness survival thriller . . . three popular “horror” tales for readers who can’t get enough of heart-pumping, scary stories . . . an ambitious hardcover about a 7th-grade athlete whose life spirals after suffering from post-concussion syndrome . . . and an irrepressible moose who only wants to go up, up, up!

 

It’s not too early to think about school visits in 2024-25!

 

Welcome Back to School: Reach Out If You Are Interested In An Author Visit

Well, that flew fast.

Summer’s gone again. 

I began this blog in 2008 and the world of the interwebs has changed a lot since those days. People don’t read blogs as much as they used to, if they ever really did. I learned to take summers off when reading was especially light. But now we’re shifting again, turning the page, facing a new school year. 

Here’s one thing about writing that I’ve learned over the years. 

I’d do it anyway. 

Readers or not.

I’ve decided to reinvest my energies in this blog. Mumble to myself. Talk about things, and books, and writing, and life. Just get back to the core practice of keeping an open log, or journal. 

Here’s something I came across today: an old drawing of yours truly from a few years back, made by a student after a school visit.

A scary resemblance. Those are exactly my crazy eyes.

Anyway, yeah, school visits. I love them and I need them to survive. 

My books range from grades K-8 and I have at least four upcoming books in the publishing pipeline, ranging from easy readers, to picture books, to a middle-grade novel. 

As they say, I’m dancing as fast as I can. 

I’m also teaching another class for Gotham Writers, which I enjoy immensely, despite all the work & awful pay. There’s not quite so inspiring to me as an aspiring writing, full of heart and hope and dedication. If I can help those folks, even just a little bit, it feels good. 

So: If you are a PTA/PTO parent, or a teacher, or a librarian or school administrator, I invite you to send a query directly to me at  jamespreller@aol.com. I’ll respond personally, and we can even set up a phone call if you’d prefer. We can discuss your needs, your wildest hopes, and we can see if I’m the right fit for your school. 

As for now, I’m sitting in the Bethlehem Public Library in Delmar, NY. I often work here, hungry for the buzz of humankind. So much of my life is spent in solitude. I just grabbed 10 new picture books off the shelves, semi-randomly. Books by John Schu, Audrey Vernick, Ame Dyckman, Carson Ellis, Kevin Henkes, Kevin Lewis, Jeff Newman, and more. 

Maybe I’ll talk about one of ’em sometime down the line. I’m here to learn from the best. 

More, later. 

Tonight I’m excited to see David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” at my local movie theater. Just $7 on Tuesdays for classic oldies. I originally saw Blue when it came out in 1986. I was 25 and that movie shook me. I remember walking out of that NYC theater wondering what I’d just seen. It felt new and disturbing and edgy and wildly unforgettable. I’m excited to see it again tonight on the big screen. 

Thanks for stopping by. 

5 QUESTIONS with Jay Cooper, author/illustrator of the “Bots” Series, “The Last Kids On Earth” Graphic Novel, and the New “Styx and Scones” Books!

Jay Cooper is just another one of those young, vibrant, obnoxiously talented people that I’ve learned to despise with every fiber of my being.  

Wait, did I say that out loud?

I mean: Jay is a great guy, full of kindness and warmth and vast enthusiasms. I take pleasure in watching his career lift off into the stratosphere. Terrific things are happening. And a big part of Jay’s success — besides the fact that the man works damn hard — is that he has a gift for connecting with young readers. The sensibilities align. It’s a tired cliche to say that it’s because Jay’s a kid himself. This is a grown actual man with a job and a wife and children and a house. I’m pretty sure he pays federal income tax. But you get the sense that Jay still gets jelly smeared on the sofa cushions and sometimes forgets to flush the toilet and lines up hours in advance for Marvel movies and roots like a kid, with pure innocent glee, for his/our beloved New York Mets. Every pitch, every game. He’s that kind of guy.

Let’s say hello.

 

 

1) Welcome to James Preller Dot Com, Jay Cooper. Grab a milk crate and have a seat. I sometimes puzzle over the question:  Why do I like Jay Cooper so freaking much? And I’ve settled on this: It’s because you have so many passions and enthusiasms. You look at this crazy, mixed-up world of ours and respond with optimism and good cheer. So Jay, without giving this any deep thought — since I know that’s difficult for most illustrators —  please name 10 random things that you are loving right now. You’ve got 30 seconds . . . 

This is starting out like a game show, and I’M HERE FOR IT. (Rubs hands…sets timer… GO!)

  1. Only Murders in the Building
  2. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie: stylistic, cool, and crunchy
  3. Kimberly Akimbo on Broadway
  4. Cross-hatching
  5. School visits (Man, I missed getting in front of a crowd over the last couple years.)
  6. The Maurice Sendak-themed vintage leather jacket I just painted for a gala
  7. Wednesday (The Addams Family themed show… not the day of the week.)
  8. Old school comic books
  9. Svengoolie monster movies on Saturday night
  10. Running in the morning (I need to do more)

DING!

Hold on. What jacket? Show us, please.

2)Ah, thanks. It reminds me a little of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album photo — but for book nerds. Question: Who or what or when were the big influences on your art work? What feeds it?

Wow, that is such a gigantic question.

Sorry!

I’d say my primary source of inspiration since the beginning has been Graphic with a capital “G”: It started with Sendak and Seuss at 4, web-slung straight into Marvel comics at age 6 via Stan the Man, John Buscema, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, George Perez then went SPLOINK into Mad Magazine and the humorists around age 9 or 10 with Sergio Aragones’s Groo, Spy Vs. Spy, Don Martin… And afterwards, of course, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams and Neil Gaiman filled in the grave in my teens. And this is of course the tip of the iceberg… so very, very many more have inspired me over the years.

.             

3) It’s hard to answer this question, but it’s something that many kids find mysterious and otherworldly, so please give it a try: Where do your ideas come from? I mean, here you are, bursting with books, making it all look easy. Perhaps you could answer in terms of this new series, Styx and Scones.

The short, cryptic answer is: ideas come from everywhere, anywhere and nowhere.

Now for the long answer: the germ of an idea is still just the germ—you have to give it soil and space to grow into something special and strong. Styx and Scones is a great example: that dog and cat have been in my head for 9 years now and are finally becoming a book this June. Styx was originally created for an unpublished board book, Ciao Meow. She rode a Vespa and wore Penelope Pitstop helmet. For my first school visit presentation, I dropped the Vespa, reimagined her as “Words” and teamed her up with a dog “Pictures” to demonstrate to children how pictures and words are often not expected to interact in literature. My agent suggested using them for a book, but some essential element was missing. Two years ago, I drew a witchy cat flying and out-of-control broom with an assortment of other witchy pets for an agency calendar, and I knew that was the world this pair should live in. Once I added some magic, a couple of old witches and mashed up the world of the Smurfs with some Gorey cross-hatching goodness it all made sense: a pink witchy cat named Styx, and her best friend, a witchy dog named Scones. That’s a roundabout way to say that inspiration is quite often a long, multi-step process. Sometimes you gotta stir the risotto a long time.

Not really a question: Who wins more games this season for the New York Mets, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander? (We should start a message thread with children’s book people who are also Mets fans. Paging Alan Katz! I think that’s everyone.)

Scherzer. But only because he’s got two different colored eyes, and he’s such a character. I’m always drawn to characters. I still miss Justin Turner as a Met. He wasn’t great on the team per se, but I loved that red hair and beard. I used to shout out a John Sciezka title whenever he came to bat: “Viking It and Liking It!”

Wait. Did I mention John Sciezka earlier as an influence? Lane Smith? Those guys were BIG inspirations right after college.

4) Do you ever consider writing a book with more text, more serious topics? How are you going to surprise us in the future? Any ideas on the back burner?

Oooo! GOOD QUESTION, Jimmy! I do have an idea for a middle grade novel. But (see above) it’s still only a germ. So not sure how long it needs to cook. And I think it needs a co-writer. I’m big on teams. My favorite books are collaborations. (Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is my favorite book going on thirty years!)

5) I remember first meeting you at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival. You came up to me and said hello. A young guy with a fabulous waxed mustache (at the time), relatively new to the business. I’ve been rooting for you ever since. I see that you’ve started to do some school visits. How has that experience gone for you, walking through those doors, speaking to all those kids? They must love you. Do you have a message or a main idea that you are trying to get across?

Mister, I’d never have talked to you if you didn’t just radiate goodness. I knew literally no one. I think that was my second festival? (I’m still a bit shy around other creators.) Kids, however, are a different animal entirely. I LOVE getting in front of them and just cutting loose: funny stories, drawing exercises… I think I sweat off a few pounds each time I present.

And I do have a message. A few, actually. 

The first is that reading what you love makes you a strong reader. Don’t listen to any noise about what you read being too goofy, silly, violent, poopy, whatever. I’m the person I am because I fell head over heels for comic books and humor magazines. Comics boosted my vocabulary,  they taught me grammar, and narrative structure. Positively reinforced reading leads to more. I’m living proof that Spider-Man leads to loving Shakespeare, and Mad Magazine to Maya Angelou. 

The second is it took three failed books for one to succeed. That process was necessary. And learning from mistakes and not giving up is key (that’s one for all the aspiring writers/illustrators out there!)

The third is just built-in to the presentation. Growing up in Dover, Delaware in the 70s and 80s, I never met a person who worked as a creative professional (aside from my art teachers, who I adored). Books felt like they were handed down from the gods atop Mt. Olympus. When I moved to NYC and met people who were creative for a living my whole perception of the world shifted. The impossible was suddenly tangible and quite possible, if I was determined to put the work in. 

I feel like I should ask you a question, Jimmy.

Oh, wow, yeah. Normally I’d be happy to loan you money, Jay, but you see —

No, I’m not asking for money.

Okay, fire away. 

I’m seeing some awesome school visits you’ve been on recently. You radiate calm, cool and collected. I am an energetic mess. Any tips how I can pace myself? Second question: how do you balance the content to make it more about the students and less about yourself? That’s one thing I’m trying to tweak.

Okay, briefly: In terms of pacing, I used to ask that, too. How do teachers do it? This is exhausting! I quickly realized that I’m not a jugular, I’m not a magician. So I’ve tried to calm down and just be authentic, honest, and respectful. I’m not here to razzle-dazzle anyone. Sure, we try to laugh, too. And I work hard. But ultimately, you can only be yourself.

And regarding the second part, it’s a good sign that you even ask that question. If you love the kids, and I know you do, then it will flow out of you naturally and everyone in the audience will see it, and feel it, and know in their hearts that you are there for them.  We’re just vehicles given the amazing opportunity to try to inspire readers, writers, compassionate thinkers. It is 100% for them and about them. Far bigger than you or me. 

JAMES PRELLER is the author of a wide range of books, including the popular Jigsaw Jones series. He has also written middle-grade and YA novels: Bystander, Upstander, Blood Mountain, The Courage Test, The Fall, and more. Look for the first book in his strange & mysterious EXIT 13 series for readers ages 8-12: The Whispering Pines. Book 2 comes out in August — so save up!