Tag Archive for James Preller school visits

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.

 

School Visit Season Comes to a Close

Every year, I go out and visit as many schools as I can. And I guess I always will, so long as I’m invited. I don’t take that for granted. I’m grateful to every librarian, teacher, PTA member, administor, and school that has given me that opportunity and responsibility. I do the best I can, give it all I’ve got, and hope to leave each school just a little bit better than when I arrived. It’s not about me; it’s about books, and literacy, and creativity, and the love of learning. Hopefully I help light that fuse.

Yes, please contact me directly at jamespreller@aol.com (go ahead, make your AOL jokes, I can take it) with your queries about future school visits. It’s helpful to get those dates on the calendar for next year. If your PTA finds itself sitting on a pile of extra money, zing me an email. Maybe we can squeeze in one last visit before the school year ends — launch these kids into summer reading. Discounts available.

The photo below was taken in Gravesend, Brooklyn, on a visit to Magen David Yeshivah on McDonald Ave. So nice to visit a school for a second time. It’s a great treat for me to spend time in Brooklyn, my old stomping grounds. Love it there.

Thank you, all!

More Photos: A Middle School That Goes the Distance

I’m an unusual author — hey, let me finish the sentence before you start nodding your head! — in that I write across the board for grades K-8. That means I regularly get invited to elementary and middle schools. In general, elementary schools are warmer, fuzzier. The kids are more outwardly excited, more likely to come up and hug me around the knees. And they buy more books. 

Whereas middle schools tend to be a bit colder. You don’t get the same level of excitement and energy. There are all sorts of reasons why. The biggest, I think, is that it’s easier for an elementary school to get everyone on board. Whereas in middle schools, it’s every teacher for herself, everyone doing his or her own thing. I realize that’s a big generality, and there are exceptions in both directions.

Nonetheless!

At a recent visit to Algonquin Middle School, I enjoyed so many kind, warm, one-step-beyond-the-norm moments. All those little things contributed to a truly positive visit. Here are a few . . .

 

 

Ha, ha, ha. Will the real James Preller please stand up? These guys, along with their entire class, met me first thing in the morning. Hysterical and a little frightening.

 

     

 

A display in the main hallway that featured student artwork.

 

 

Cake. Yes, cake! The book won’t be out until October, but we’re excited about it already. I even ate lunch with a handful of students.

 

 

This young man, James, was really excited to meet me. He claims to have read all my books. Even my mother doesn’t go that far. Obviously, he’s some kind of a genius. A really nice guy, too.

 

 

One of the sweetest photos ever. I’m signing books, and this girl, Kath, is looking back at her mother; the shivery excitement is real. Forget that it’s me. Plug in any other author. The point is: this student, this young woman, quietly thrilled to meet a real, live author. To go home with a signed book, eager to read.

 

      

 

Another bulletin board in the library featuring more of my books.

 

And best of all, the energy and enthusiasm of young readers. They wouldn’t stop reading. None of it happens without the incredible dedication (and preparation) of school library media specialist Rebecca Ekstrom and the support that comes from the school principal, Mr. Messia, whose presence was felt (and appreciated) throughout the day. He cares and he models it for teachers and students. Thank you all, so much.

Baseball Comes Round Again: Recalling “Six Innings” and How Cancer Came Into Our Lives

I sometimes tell this story on school visits, if I am in the right mood and have the right group before me. My oldest son, Nick, is a two-time cancer survivor. First diagnosed at age two. It was a hard time. The nurses at the pediatric oncology unit at Albany Medical Center would say to me — and let me tell you, those are truly inspiring human beings who will always have a special place in my heart — “You are an author, you should write about this.” At the time, I couldn’t conceive of it, happy to just navigate the parking garage without getting into an accident. Mentally, just gone. Nick recovered, only to relapse again in 4th grade. All he wanted to do was run with the pack, play travel soccer, be a kid. I watched him face it all with strength and courage; and let us remember, there is no courage without fear leading the way, linked hand in hand. I watched Nick’s friendships, the way certain boys rallied around him. And to this day I can’t think about any of it without tears streaming down my face. 

Nick with Lisa holding him tight.

Around that time I started writing a book called Six Innings. A book about a Little League baseball game, and moreso, about the kids who played it. A lot of characters to dream up. As a useful storytelling device, and as a faithful recording of how things worked at my local Little League, I wanted there to be a kid announcing the game. “Now batting, Cleon Jones,” that kind of thing. And I vividly remember sitting in my chair, staring at the computer, when the thought came: What’s this kid’s story? And it hit me, Oh, he’s sick. He’s very sick. And so I gave that kid cancer. 

Six Innings is a baseball book, full of plays and on-field drama. But it is also about those kids, their lives and hopes and conflicts. I mean, there’s a lot of baseball in this book, so it’s not for everyone. Below I’ll share one scene that comes directly from our experience. When Nick relapsed, and we had to go through it all over again, our doctor came to our house for a family meeting. We sat together in the living room, stunned and serious and scared. She laid it all out before us, Nick included. While many details were altered, Nick’s response was the exact response I gave to the character, Sam, in the book, almost word for word. 

Six Innings was named an ALA Notable, and I’m proud of that. And it’s still in print, and I’m grateful for that. And Nick is strong and healthy and living in NYC, and goodness, I don’t even have words for it.

Here’s a scene from Six Innings. Thank you for reading: 

 

And now they gave it a name. Sam had osteosarcoma. Or, well, osteosarcoma had him. The two words — Sam and osteosarcoma — were joined now, entangled, entwined, forever linked. Buried inside the big word, he discovered the letters to his own name, s-a-m. It was there all along.

Doctor Shrivastava looked from one to the other: Sam, his father, his mother. Mostly though, and to her great credit, the raven-haired doctor with milk chocolate skin spoke directly to Sam, kept meeting his eyes, looking at him with sharp-eyed clarity and infinite kindness. She was nice. There was goodness in her. Sam felt it.

So. That was that. But what did it mean? It was as if doctors spoke only secret words no one could understand: biopsy, retinoblastoma, metastasize, limb salvage, and chemotherapy. Somehow all those words were stuck into Sam like darts, but they didn’t seem real. All Sam really knew, judging from the way his mother kept chewing on her lower lip, the way his father reached for Sam’s hand and squeezed, was this: Not good.

Sam’s mother kept scribbling on the legal pad, flipping pages, writing furiously. In Sam’s family, she was in charge of facts. For reasons no one could explain, Sam had contracted the most common type of bone cancer. It usually appeared in teen boys, often during growth spurts. A tumor grew in Sam’s leg. Doctor Shrivastava wanted to remove the bone before the cancer could spread. She said that they would replace the bone with a metal rod.

How weird was that?

This surgery, she said, would take place in about twelve weeks. During that time, and for nine months afterward, Sam would have to take some very strong medicine. The medicine, or chemotherapy treatment, would destroy the bad cancer cells in his body — but they would also make him feel very sick sometimes.

At a certain point, Sam stopped listening. He closed his eyes. It was dark, and he was swirling in an inky sea of words, drowning in the dark, mystic language. He needed to get away. Fly to some other place. He was tired of listening, tired of hushed conversations, of doctors and their white coats.

Dr. Shrivastava looked at Sam. “Most patients fully recover,” she assured him.

Sam stifled a yawn. He had been stuck in this office forever.

“Can we go now?” he asked his parents.

“Sam? What?”

“I want to go to Mike’s house,” he announced. “He just got the new MLB game on PlayStation. He says it’s awesome.”

“Mike’s house?” his mother repeated. “Sam, I . . . ?”

“It should be fine,” Dr. Shrivastava intervened, checking her wristwatch. “Perhaps that’s enough for one day.” She looked at Sam, smiled warmly. “Mike is your friend?”

Sam nodded, yes, of course. Mike was his friend.

That’s So Dumb: Tales from the School Bureaucracy

Here’s a true story that’s hard to believe. Unless, of course, you work in a bureaucracy. I gather that teachers could tell this kind of story all day long (and I’m all ears, folks!). The crazy, confounding things that happen at school because of goofy rules and red tape. 

Here’s one I can share. I’m in a library in Tennessee, a visiting author setting up for a morning presentation. The students are due to arrive any minute. I look at the wall to check the time. “Um? What’s up with the clocks?”

The librarian explains the situation with a mixture of bemusement and resigned frustration. The work order came in over the summer to install the new clock. However, the work order made no mention of removing the old clock. So the technicians drilled new holes in the walls, rewired things, and put in the new clock. At some point, some figure in the building asked, “What about the old clock?” The men (I assume, from how the story was told to me) examined the work orders — every word, period, and comma —  and concluded, “Sorry, there’s no mention of removing anything. That will require a separate work order.”

End of story.

I stood there, blinking. “Seriously?”

“Yes,” the librarian told me. “It’s going to be another year before they come back and remove all the old clocks.”

“Wait. You mean it’s not just . . . ?”

“Yes, there are two clocks in every single room in the elementary school.” 

I studied the clocks once more. “Do we know which one’s right?”