Tag Archive for James Preller

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.

 

Fan Mail Wednesday #290: An 8th Grader Responds to THE FALL

Here’s a long, insightful one that an 8th-grader read for Health Class after reading The Fall.

 

Dear Mr. Preller,

Hey Mr.Preller! This is an 8th grader from O’Rourke Middle School in Burnt Hills New York. My name is _______, writing to you about the book you wrote called The Fall. Outstanding book by the way! I really enjoyed reading it. This book, as you obviously are aware of addresses a lot of health topics, such as suicide, online bullying and many more. These factors made it perfect for choosing as far as the book I had to read for health.

The topic that I would like to talk address first in this book is the suicide. This is a very sad and realistic tragedy, but I must ask, why do you think in your professional opinion that Athena would make that hateful gesture by making that game? That question was just out of curiosity, and I know that it sadly does happen in real life, but was there any specific reason that you were inspired to write that? I really hope that didn’t come off as rude, I meant it in the kindest way possible.

This book, I feel is important for young people to read because of a few reasons: First, a lot if kids who are in their teenage and adolescent years struggle with depression and being bullied and, unfortunately, contemplate suicide. Second, I think the pressures that today’s society put on kids makes them think of suicide because they think there may be an easier way out. Did you know that there is 1 in 65,000 kids ages 10-14 that die from suicide every year? And that Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds and 2nd for 24-35 year olds?

My mom works in a school with young children and there are a lot more kids each year that need support for mental health reasons. She talks to me about the pressures that school, even at a young age, and the rate of learning and expectations, puts a lot more pressure on kids today. Each year more and more kids need mental health support and we have to ask ourselves, why?? Is it the growing pressures of school and the expectations that school and home puts on us? Is it the online social media that is so relevant in kids lives today? Is it a combination of both? Everything is thrown into kids faces. Be better, work harder, have the most friends, or you will amount to nothing. These are important questions we need to ask ourselves and find some answers to.

Kids lives are much harder now than they were when my mom was in school. When she played a sport, you didn’t have to try out to play. You just played. Now if you don’t play a sport all year round, and travel on a team, you don’t get picked to be on a team. You also get told by coaches that you need to play all year to get good enough to amount to anything. What happened to playing sports for fun? And just to get outside, make some new friends and play a casual game? Is this added pressure adding to the stress and kids feeling like they just aren’t good enough?

There are so many ways kids can reach out for help. First, I think parents should limit the amount of social media that kids are exposed to. The more accounts they have, the more likely that they are to have someone bully them and do hurtful things. Online bullying, in my opinion is worse than face to face bullying. People that don’t even know you can bully you and there is no way to stop it, other than get off social media. At least with a face to face bully you can try to stand up to them. Second, I think schools need to be more involved with their students and get to know them more. Make connections. The more adult connections a student has, I feel, the less likely they will be bullied or be tempted to bully. Last, I think kids have to remember that school is such a small part of their lives. Once they walk through the high school doors at graduation, they get to start over. Who they were in high school does not matter at all. If they were a nerd, they were smart, and will get a good job and start a new life!!

Once again, I really like this book and I also enjoy the fact that the book is not too long, just around two-hundred pages is perfect for me! If I may ask, what do you think your favorite part of this book that you wrote was? I think my most favorite part of this book was definitely when Sam started to feel remorse for Morgan and started feeling bad that he missed an opportunity. I also feel that it was good in the sense that he felt that it was partially his fault, and in a way I think it kind of is. The reason I make this claim, is because not only did he take part in the bullying game started by Athena, but he also kind of dipped out whenever anyone was near him when he was with her, it was almost like he felt ashamed to be near her, or embarrassed to be near her. I feel that just because he didn’t want to be next on the bullying list he excluded her, which I feel partially lead to her death.

I am so glad that I get to express my feelings with the author of this amazing book himself! I would also like to express how I feel about the main character himself, I feel that he was a good kid, but I also feel that he was too little too late in the act of caring for this poor girl. Then after her death, he decided to visit the place of the her death and stand right where she stood, people who have the guts to do that typically care very much about the person, which is why I don’t understand. If he cared about her, then why did he wait until she was dead to show it? In my honest opinion about this book, I would rate it a ten out of 10. I think this book deserves an award, just because it displays real world problems, and serious health topics that need to be addressed nowadays. I think that Sam’s biggest character strength, was his sympathy, although he was too late with his sympathy, he stilled showed it even though Morgan was deceased.

I also want to help people I know by telling them if they ever need someone to talk to, the suicide prevention line is always open for someone to listen. They can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. I hope my letter prompts some good discussions about the topic of suicide in your book.

Yours truly, Gabriel

I replied: 

Dear G,

I’m so glad you read The Fall.

I was inspired to write that book for a couple of reasons. I had already written Bystander, which took a look at bully-related issues. While not a sequel, I do see The Fall as something of a companion book, a further exploration into that specific darkness.

I’ve never felt comfortable with putting the label “bully” on any young person. Bullying is a behavior, a verb, not a person, not a noun. We are all complicated people, with countless characteristics and attributes. No person can be accurately labeled and put in a box: THE BULLY. We are many things. Walt Whitman: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Friend, teammate, pet owner, son, poet, etc. Usually a so-called “bully” is a good person who is making some poor decisions. I believe we are more than our worst act.

So, there was that, the nagging idea that I wanted to give a sympathetic look at someone who bullied another person. Sort of rescue him from that narrow stereotype. Try to show the complexity of the issue, how a “good kid” can do a bad thing.

Then, one unforgettable day, I read about a 12-year-old girl who had committed suicide by jumping off a tower. The report stated that she was “absolutely terrorized” on social media. I immediately ached for that poor girl, her friends, her family. But I also thought of all those kids who wrote mean things to her on the internet, life’s little cruelties. Now they had to live with the consequences of those words. The things they did and didn’t do.

In my entirely fictionalized book, I didn’t try to explain the full reasons for Morgan’s suicide. I don’t think we ever really know why someone takes that final step. A chemical imbalance? Deeper issues at home? Bullying at school? It’s so hard to say. And, ultimately, I decided that wouldn’t be the focus of this book. I mostly wanted to tell Sam’s story, how he comes to “own” his actions, take responsibility. The book surprised me because, at the end, it becomes a meditation on the nature of forgiveness.

You are right that Sam fell short. Too little, too late. I think he tried his best to do the right thing. Life is hard, difficult, full of pressures, and we all make mistakes. I respect the process Sam went through on his own, with his journal, to honor, and remember, and account for Morgan.

Your mother makes a great point about anxiety and the pressures that so many young people seem to be experiencing. It’s hard to understand where, exactly, that comes from and what we can do to help.

G, your letter clearly demonstrates the work of a bright, active, perceptive mind. I was very impressed with it, and I’m grateful to have found a reader such as you. I fear that I failed to address all of the many ideas included in your letter, but hopefully you’ll be satisfied with this response.

Have a great summer! And look for my new book, Blood Mountain, coming this October. My wife says it’s my best book yet. I think she’s right!

James Preller

Meet the New Librarian: Culling the Books

 

“The book sailed through the air,

as if its pages were wings,

and landed in the box marked TRASH.” 

— from Everybody Needs a Buddy.

Over the years, I’ve been entertained by different blog sites that feature hilariously outdated books still found in libraries. This scene from Everybody Needs a Buddy, the second book in the upcoming “Big Idea Gang” series, revolves around the zippy new librarian at school, Ms. Ronson. The kids are working on their project, hoping to persuade the school to install a “buddy bench” in the playground, when this encounter takes place.

But first, a brief description from an earlier page:

Ms. Ronson didn’t look much older than most middle schoolers. Small and thin, she wore her hair short and dyed bright red at the tips. Ms. Ronson was young and energetic. She wore colorful scarves and six earrings in each ear. She even had tattoos. And, of course, the kids loved her immediately — mostly because of her lively personality. 

And later:

“Excuse me, Lizzy? Padma?” a voice called. It was Ms. Ronson, now on her hands and knees by a back bookshelf. “Could you please bring over those boxes? Thanks ever so much.”

Ms. Ronson dumped some of the books in the first box. “Good riddance,” she muttered.

Lizzy was alarmed. “What are you doing? You can’t throw away books! It’s a waste of money.”

“Oh, Lizzy,” Ms. Ronson said, “some of these books have been here forever. No one reads them. They are taking up valuable space. Look at this book.” The young librarian held up an old science book. The cover read FUN WITH COMPUTERS! “This book is twenty years old. It’s terribly out of date. It’s useless, Lizzy, and it’s got to go.”

Lizzy could see that Ms. Ronson was right.

“Here’s another,” Ms. Ronson said, her voice rising. The cover read CAREERS FOR WOMEN. Ms. Ronson flipped through the stale, yellowed pages. “Look at these jobs. Secretary, flight attendant, piano teacher, bank teller!” Ms. Ronson actually growled, grrrrr. “Where’s scientist? Or financial analyst? Or astronaut? Or how about president? Maybe that’s what our country needs — a woman in the White House!”

The book sailed through the air, as if its pages were wings, and landed in the box marked TRASH. 

Ms. Ronson laughed. “I’m sorry, it just makes me crazy.” She swept an arm across the room. “Our graphic novel section is much too small. I can’t keep enough scary books on the shelves, because they are so popular. I don’t have any of this year’s new award-winners. Libraries have to change with the times. This is why it’s so wonderful that the PTA has decided to donate money for books. Don’t you agree?”

Lizzy and Padma nodded. Yes, they sure did. Lizzy tugged on Padma’s arm. “Come with me,” she whispered. “I want you to talk with the rest of the gang. I think I’ve got an idea — but we’ll need your help.”

Illustrations by Stephen Gilpin. Coming: January 2019, 96 pages, grades 1-4, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Also look for Worst Mascot Ever from the same “Big Idea Gang” series. 

DIGGING UP THE LOST WORDS: Inspired by Haiku & Candice Ransom

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I’m blogging today to share an insightful article by children’s author Candice Ransom. I found myself nodding all the way through it, making connections to my own recent experience with haiku and, for lack of a better word, my effort, simply, to attend to things, to see the thing-specific, while desiring to learn the elusive words.

Ms. Ransom began her article, titled “Poetry from Stones” in Bookology magazine, this way: 

Outside my window right now: bare trees, gray sky, a brown bird. No, let’s try again. Outside my window, the leafless sweetgum shows a condo of squirrels’ nests, a dark blue rim on the horizon indicates wind moving in, and a white-crowned sparrow scritches under the feeders. Better. Even in winter, especially in winter, we need to wake up our lazy brains, reach for names that might be hibernating.

In November, I taught writing workshops at a school in a largely rural county. I was shocked to discover most students couldn’t name objects in their bedrooms, much less the surrounding countryside. Without specific details, writing is lifeless. More important, if children can’t call up words, can’t distinguish between things, they will remain locked in wintry indifference. Some blame falls on us.

Oxford Junior DictionaryA recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary swapped nature words for modern terms. Out went acorn, wren, dandelion, nectar, and otter. In went blog, bullet-point, attachment, chatroom, and voicemail. Updating dictionaries isn’t new. And maybe cygnet isn’t as relevant as database, but it’s certainly more musical.  If we treat language like paper towels, it’s no wonder many kids can’t name common backyard birds.

When I was nine, my stepfather taught me the names of the trees in our woods, particularly the oaks. I learned to identify red, white, black, pin, post, and chestnut oaks by their bark, leaves, and acorns. Labeling trees, birds, and wildflowers didn’t give me a sense of ownership. Instead, I felt connected to the planet. I longed to know the names of rocks, but they kept quiet.

< snip >

I’m sorry, but I can’t resist quoting Ransom’s great piece at some length. She goes on to discuss a new book, recently discovered . . .

The Lost Words: a Spell BookSo imagine my delight when I found a new book for children, The Lost Words: A Spell Book. British nature-writer Robert MacFarlane paired with artist Jackie Morris to rescue 20 of the words snipped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Words like newt and kingfisher are showcased as “spells,” rather than straight definitions. MacFarlane’s spells let the essence of the creature sink deep, while Morris’s watercolors create their own magic.

On their joint book tour throughout England, MacFarlane and Morris introduced children to words—and animals. On her blog Morris writes: “I was about to read the wren spell to a class of 32 six-year-olds when the booksellers stopped me. ‘Ask the children if they know what a wren is, first, Jackie.’ I did. Not one child knew that a wren is a bird. So they had never seen a wren, nor heard that sharp bright song. But now they know the name of it, the shape of it, so perhaps if one flits into sight they will see it, hear it, know it.”

The Lost Words makes me want to take children by the hand and tell them the names of the trees and birds and clouds that illustrate our winter landscape. By giving kids specific names, they can then spin a thread from themselves to the planet.


Ah. Long, slow clap.

6792381Sometime in December, wary of time wasted on social media, the allure of Facebook, and my own (possibly connected) struggles as a writer, I decided to make a change. I felt empty, scattered, and discouraged. You know, the writer thing. I promised myself to begin each day by reading and writing haiku. It became my daily practice. Ten minutes, half an hour, even longer, however it worked for that day. Sometimes I’d go to my haiku before I made the morning coffee, and absolutely — this was a rule — before turning on my computer. On some miraculous mornings, I’d think of a haiku before my head left the pillow. 

UrP4fwuq1G3L+lCQHXVjJ4WD9n1O4!fHVzU32t1zotb2XltGqt5NH08Zg1lv!rMx0rUDeeqoUwC9Vrx87vEQ1D!qv90OwVUiNQfyiA+baMM=I’ve been reading Richard Wright’s marvelous late-period haiku poems, written at a time he was deathly ill, as if clinging to the world; rereading Basho’s A Haiku Journey; slowly leafing through various collections. I don’t read too many poems at a time; it’s not something to take at a headlong rush, another box to tick off. What I love about reading and writing haiku is that the practice forces me to slow down, to be present, to (try to) see the pear in the sunbeam, so to speak. People have asked what I’m going to “do” with the poems, and I explain that for me this has been
about the process, not the product. The poems are secondary. Possibly irrelevant. Most of them are “bad,” if you need to measure them that way. I try to avoid thinking about result. In this sense, for me, it’s like yoga. It’s something I am doing for myself, tuning to a different frequency. I’m not trying to “beat” your downward dog.
411ouV3CMiL._SX347_BO1,204,203,200_Haiku traditionally places a primary focus on nature. Seeing the moment, hearing the rain. This relates, of course, to William Carlos Williams’ 20th century directive, “No ideas but in things.” Or earlier, Tolstoy’s “God is in the details.” The necessity for the writer to move away from abstraction, the world of ideas, to see the particular thing itself. At least, to begin there. To be present in a world of multi-tasking and lost words. This of course spills over into relationships, parenting, conversations in coffee shops. It is . . . a way.

41CT8T98W7L._SX255_BO1,204,203,200_During this time, even before I found Candice’s article, I’d been troubled with an old failing of mine. I’m not terribly good at knowing the names of things. My brain is fuzzy. I love nature and the great outdoors, but I’m not a trained naturalist. I need to do better. So as part of my haiku journey, living this new enthusiasm, I’ve been reading about trees and nature. Watching videos. Buying field guides. Studying up. Trying to dig up the lost words.

Because I believe the words connect us to seeing deeply, the words enrich our perception of reality. The words connect us to some vital spark in this world: to nature, to our planet, to each other. I often suspect that our temporary president has never once sat on a mountaintop and appreciated the wonder and awe of nature. Just listen to him speak. Look at his policies. Read about how he eats. This temporary man has never gazed at a sunset without wondering how he might monetize it. Turn a profit. I believe he’s empty in that regard, like any non-reader, full only of avarice and self — nature as a thing to be used. It shows in his incurious mind, his disregard for the care and well-being of our planet.

He doesn’t know the words.

écologie mains

 


FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #260: Multiple Missives!

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Here’s a teacher who combined several short notes from Jaycie, Gracie, Jaxson, and Daynan in one email, so I took the all-in-one approach, too.

 

Hello Mr. Preller,

My students recently read Jigsaw Jones and The Case of the Christmas Snowman. As part of their assignment, they decided to email you a letter. I have attached their letters below. Thanks so much for writing such fun and engaging books for 2nd graders!
 
Andrea
 
Dear Mr. Preller,
 
I read the book the case of the christmas snowman. my favorite chapter is chapter three the christmas snowman. it is very funny. do you have some more books i can read like this one?  my favorite character is bigs melony. I like Bigs because he is funny.  How many Jigsaw books have you written?
 
Jaycie
 
Dear Mr. Preller,
 
I really like your book. i really like how you made a lot of interest in the book.my favorite character is jigsaw jones. i really like how its inspiring.my favorite part is when they dig in the in the snowman.i like the book because its really interesting . my favorite chapter is ten cause they tried to solve the problem. my question is can you make more jigsaw jones books,how did you become a writer. i like how they solve the book . but i really like how they solve the problem,and how they found the penny. how many books have you wrote.
 
Gracie
 
Hello Mr:James,
 

make more books please.I want some investigation. My favorite chapter was death of a snowman.Make a Halloween book and a christmas book.My favorite character was JigSaw and Bigs.My favorite part was when Jigsaw came to Bigs house. Why i liked the book because it has mystery’s.

 
Sincerely,
 
Jaxson
 
Dear Mr. Preller,
 
I really enjoyed your jigsaw jones books they’r really cool.your books are the best books can you please make more.can you do a holoween themed jigsaw jones book?did you know we use your jigsaw books for our class?my favorite jigsaw book is the case of the christmas snowman.is bigs maloney lieing or telling the truth? what are bigs maloney’s brother or brothers name?when are you gonna make a new jigsaw book ?
scinserely, Daynan.
 –
I replied . . .

Andrea,

Thank you for your patience. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks with trips to Rochester, Buffalo, and Clearwater. Thanks, too, for sharing The Case of the Christmas Snowman with your students. As you may know, the Jigsaw Jones books went out of print some time ago. The happy news is that 8 “classroom classics” are now back in print through Macmillan, revised and updated. In addition, I wrote an all-new book, The Case from Outer Space, which was published in August. I’m really proud of it. Good things are happening!
OUTER SPACE_70 (1)
 –
Your students wrote terrific letters.
 
Jaycie: I have written 41 Jigsaw Jones books. Some are hard to find. I love Bigs Maloney. On the outside, he’s rough and tough. But deep down, I think he’s a nice guy. I’m especially proud of how Jigsaw stands up for himself even though Bigs is a lot bigger. I try to be a little funny in all my books. Thanks for noticing.
 
Gracie: I’ve lost track of all the books I’ve written, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 books. I enjoyed writing this book in particular because I learned about coin collecting. I even visited a dusty, cramped store for collectors that helped inspire the scene in the book where Jigsaw goes into the store. I started writing my own stories when I was little. Then I stopped for a long time, only to get back into it in high school and college. The key to becoming a writer? Write, write, write and read, read, read. The more you do it, the better you get. You learn by doing.
 
Jaxson: Yes! I like that scene too. As a kid I used to love wrestling with my bigger, older brothers. On Mondays, my mother would go out bowling and my father was in charge. Which meant that I could pretty much run around like a wild man. I tied a towel around my shoulders like a cape and jumped on the sofa cushions, imagining epic battles with various bad guys. I think that memory played a part in this book.
 
Daynan: I am very grateful to your teacher for using Jigsaw Jones in the classroom, and I’m glad you think the stories are cool. I wrote about Bigs in a number of other Jigsaw Jones books. His family appears in The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur, which will be available in stores on November 21.  His father is a florist!
 –
Thanks, everybody, for the kind letters.
 
Keep reading, keep solving those mysteries!
 
And thanks again, Ms. L. Clearly you are the best teacher ever!
 –
James Preller
 –