Tag Archive for James Preller school visits

Why We Do It — Thank You, Rochester Children’s Book Festival!

I’d like to share a story with you — a story that gets deeper and more lovely as we go along — and it all comes back to how blessed I feel to play a small role in this incredible world of children’s literature. Authors, readers, teachers, librarians, parents, all of us joined in the same magical dance of literacy and empathy and kindness.

It can be a hard way to earn a living, full of soul-crushing rejections and ever-present financial worries, but it’s also obviously the best job ever.

I visited two K-3 schools in the Rochester area last week, Thursday and Friday, November 1st and 2nd. This tied into the Rochester Children’s Book Festival, which took place on Saturday the 3rd. This is a unique festival, with heart and soul, and I’m grateful to have been invited several times over the years.

Let me tell you about this girl I met. For some reason, maybe because I was her first “real, live” author, Lauren was smitten with me. We connected during my school visit, to the point where she returned home and urged her mother to please, please, please take her to see James Preller (again) at the RCBF. Her mother obliged, gladly.

Let’s pause now for some photos, combined from those two visits, including several which were sent to me by Lauren’s mother, Kara, who granted permission to post them here. She wrote:

You made quite the impression on Lauren. She read the whole way home and drew an amazing picture of one of the Jigsaw Jones books you signed for her.

We’ll get to the heart-melting part of this post in a moment, but first some quick snaps . . .

This guy greeted me in the lobby at one of the schools . . .


Due to time and space restrictions, I gave “big” presentations to grades 1 and 2 combined . . .

. . . and a small one for the kindergartners. Pro tip: While I’m typically energetic for large groups, I always sit for K-only groups. We keep it mellow & super cozy. . .

Then at Saturday’s book festival, Lauren showed up, beaming . . .

We chatted and took a snap together . . .

Who’s cuter? Do I win?

My pal!

The car ride home was quiet . . .

And she drew a picture for me that very night.

The next day, Lauren’s mother and I exchanged some messages.

She wrote:

As I’m sure you saw from our facebook page, Lauren’s younger brother, Owen, died, and it’s given her an astonishing level of empathy and awareness for others. We actually started an entire book donation program in his name at the hospital where he spent his entire life, and she is very involved in the process of selecting the books for the kids at the hospital. It’s our attempt in turning unimaginable heartbreak into something good.

And it’s true: I had gone over to Kara’s page when I received her friendship request, and learned about Owen, Lauren’s brother, an infant who passed not long ago. Kara writes openly and courageously about Owen, and loss — always with warmth and wisdom. This is one recent message I found on her page, which I find profound and beautiful:

If you know someone who has lost a child, and you’re afraid to mention their child because you think you might make them sad by reminding them they died — you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you are reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived, and that is a great gift.

Remembering all of the beautiful gifts and appreciation for life that sweet Owen continues to give us, all the babies who left too soon, and the families they left behind.

 

 

As a parent of a two-time childhood cancer survivor, including five years of chemo, I can relate to Kara’s words. People don’t always know what to do. Whether to say something or, perhaps, not. In my experience, some kind of recognition is always best. And food is always welcome!

If you have something to give to Owen’s book donation program, that’s great. If not, that’s okay, too. Authors and illustrators get asked to do this kind of thing a lot. No matter how you respond, please give a thought to Owen, and remember Kara’s infinitely wise words.

Count your blessings every single day.

Kara credits Lauren with helping their family when they lost Owen. She also credits the kindness of friends, relatives, and perfect strangers. Here’s Kara’s email address if you wish to donate a book or two: Karaconners@gmail.com

Thanks for stopping by.

Oh, and — I see you, Lauren! Terrific drawing. Keep reading!

When You Enter This Library . . .

I stopped and took a quick snap of this banner outside a library at some point during one of my school visits this past year. Best guess: somewhere deep in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas. 

Still very much hoping to schedule more visits for this coming year. Give me a jingle.

Jigsaw Jones Update: 5 More Titles Coming Soon!

Question: So what’s new with Jigsaw Jones?

Answer: Funny you should ask! There’s actually a lot going on and I’m excited to tell you about it.

First, I handed in a manuscript last week for a new Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar. It centers around the school’s Lost & Found. We’ll see how my editor likes it (fingers crossed). I am not clear on the pub date for this or any of the following titles. Note to self: Find out!

As readers may know, I wrote many Jigsaw Jones titles over roughly a 15 year period. Those books were originally published by Scholastic. Over time, they slowly went out of print. It was sad. I regained the rights, and Macmillan quickly stepped up with a plan to republish the series. To date, I’ve written one all-new book, The Case from Outer Space. In addition, we’ve put out 8 “classroom classics.” Each book completely revised and reformatted (slightly larger trim size). 

Now I’ve been asked to revise and update 4 more titles (plus the aforementioned “all new” title). That will make 14 titles available in all. We’re making progress! Thank you, Macmillan. And thank you, Scholastic, for once more offering these books on your fabulous book clubs!

To recap:

ALL NEW!

The Case from Outer Space

 

COMING SOON!

The Case of the Hat Burglar

 

REVISED & UPDATED!

The Case of the Bicycle Bandit

The Case of the Glow-in-the-Dark Ghost

The Case of the Mummy Mystery

The Case of the Million-Dollar Idea

The Case of the Best Pet Ever

The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur

The Case of the Smelly Sneaker

The Case of the Buried Treasure

     

     

 

COMING SOON!

The Case of the Golden Key

The Case of the Bear Scare

The Case of the Vanishing Painting

The Case of the Haunted Scarecrow

 

Joey and Danika visit Jigsaw’s house in THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. This wonderful illustration is by R.W. Alley.

 

I very much look forward to sharing these stories with a new generation of readers. With 11 million Jigsaw Jones books in print, this series is fairly well-known with experienced (read: older) teachers. I’ve learned that quite a few newer teachers are less familiar with Jigsaw and Mila and the gang. Hopefully you’ll check them out! Please know that I am eager to sign up school visits for next year. Openings still available. Just drop a line to jamespreller@aol.com. Thanks!

An Author Confesses About School Visits

IMG_1430

I was sent this photo after a series of elementary school visits in Hudson, Ohio. The boy’s name is Alex, we had the chance to chat, and I guess he came away inspired to write his own stories. His mother took the shot and passed it along to his teacher, who in turn shared it with me. I post it here with their permission.

The visit was particularly successful because these schools did everything right. I’ve said it a thousand times: “Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits.” 

They shared my books with their students. They built up excitement and a sense of anticipation. They thought in advance about questions the students might ask. They created artwork. And they read, enthusiastically. Clearly, the feeling in that school was: “We’re having an author visit! Isn’t this exciting!”

Parents got involved. Volunteers put in hours of work. Teachers carved out time from their challenging schedules. By the time I showed up, all the important work had already been done. I was just the icing on the cake. A real, live author.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I’ve felt a gradual change in myself. School visits can be hard on an author. It’s not easy work. We leave our cushy routine, our home, our family, our kitchen full of snacks. We walk into schools we’ve never seen before and perform, calling upon an entirely different set of skills than we normally employ in our working lives. We’re good at being alone in empty rooms. So we get invited to talk to a sprawled group of 120 second-graders in a crowded cafetorium. Exhausting!

But like all good things in life, the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. Now that I’ve been visiting schools for more than 20 years, I can honestly say that I love these visits more than ever. I get it now; I’m all in.

I’m grateful to be invited, happy to interact with these young people, to talk about reading and writing — to answer questions — to listen — and to share with them my love of books. Because I believe in books, I believe that reading matters. I’m fortunate to have an opportunity to make a difference. 

Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll even inspire a few students along the way. Light a fire. Change a mind. It’s an incredible honor and — yes — it comes with great responsibilities and rewards.

Those kids, those faces. 

Our future.

I’ll confess: I’m cynical by nature. I tend to cringe when a rock star tells an audience that he/she “loves” them. “I love you, Houston!” I mean, come on, can you love 15,000 strangers? I’ve never quite believed it. But today, I’m not so sure.

I ask myself, “Do I love these kids?

And it kind of surprises me to sit here and conclude, “Yes, yes, I think I do.” 

I love what these school visits are all about, particularly the best ones. The visits when a school puts in the time and effort to make the day impactful, meaningful. You see it as the students walk into the room, the way they furtively wave to me in the hallway. I love their youth, their curiosity, their openness and sense of becoming.

It’s not about me. My books are fine, sure, but there are so many other amazing books out there. I’m just trying to open a door. Create some excitement. Share a positive message about literacy. The joy of books, and the value of self-expression. Of having something inside you that has to come out. Your own, unique fingerprint. It’s just an incredible feeling to be a part of that conversation.

To connect with these young people, and maybe, just maybe, to help them see that possibility within themselves. 

To dip their finger in ink. To make a mark.

So if you’ve ever invited me to visit your school, I’m here to say thank you.

Thank you very much.

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #271: Lilly’s Fabulous Letter

postalletter-150x150

 

Do yourself a favor. Take a moment to read one of my favorite letters, just exceptionally sweet & kind. 

You know, it’s not about me. It’s about Lilly, and kids like her. There are so many of them out there. Pure and good and excited about books, open and bursting with light.

It could be any author or illustrator who walks into a school. Who gets that opportunity to stand before these children, talk about reading and writing and our silly pets. On this day, it happened to be me, and I reached a receptive reader named Lilly.

Again: How lucky am I? 

 

Scan (4)

I replied: 

Dear Lilly,

I enjoyed my visit to your school, and was especially glad to receive a wonderful batch of letters from your class, taught by Ms. B.

I read each and every letter. But I have to confess that yours, in particular, stirred my heart. You were so kind, said such nice things, that I wanted to take a minute to thank you.

Writing is a quiet life. At this very moment, I am alone in silent room of my house, pecking away at a computer keyboard. Sometimes I will speak the words out loud so I may hear them, to know they are okay. My cats don’t talk much. I play music, daydream, try to write. It can be lonely at times. I sometimes fill with self-doubt. 

Even when I finish books and send them out into the world, I never really know what happens to them. That’s why school visits are nice; I get to meet kids like you. And sometimes, on very good days, some of those readers write letters. And that’s when I know I’ve made a new friend.

Please say hello to Cally, your bird -– and, of course, your terrific fish. 

Happy to be your new friend,

James Preller