Tag Archive for Joe Pignatano

Joe Pignatano Passes, Joey Pignatanno Lives On: The New York Mets & Jigsaw Jones

By 1968, at 7 years old, I had became a huge fan of the New York Mets. That affliction was passed along by my mother, an old Brooklyn Dodgers fan who adopted the Mets on the day they were born in 1962. The Mets were, in a way, her 8th and final child. To this day, I credit the sports writers from that time — particularly Dick Young — for turning me into a reader. I remain grateful that ESPN wasn’t around in those days; I had to read to find out about the previous game, studying the box score, reveling in Bill Gallo’s cartoons, and working my way through the articles in the morning newspaper. We got the Daily News and The Long Island Press.

When it came time for me to write the first Jigsaw Jones book in 1997 (there are 42 in all, more than 11 million sold), I had to fill Jigsaw’s classroom with characters. So I named one Joey Pignattano, after the longtime Mets bullpen coach, Joe Pignatano. The old coach and former catcher passed recently at age 92. He served with the Mets from 1968 to 1981, working under managers Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, Roy McMillan, Joe Frazier, and Joe Torre.

Joe Pignatano was famous for growing tomato plants in the Shea Stadium bullpen.

“In 1969 I discovered a wild tomato plant in the bullpen and nurtured it the rest of the season,” he remembered. “We got some tomatoes off it, but most important we won the whole thing. After that, I kept up the garden as long as I was with the Mets as a good luck charm.”


Yes, 1969 was a good year to be a Mets fan. And amazingly, I was there at Shea for Game 5 of the World Series. I watched my hero, pitcher Jerry Koosman, throw the last ball and fabulous Cleon Jones in left field cradle it for the final out. Whew. Game over, miracle secured. And to think I’d had a few tears fall earlier during that game, when we were down 3-0 to the dreaded Orioles. 

As a kid I was captivated by that name. Joe Pignatano! It was perfection. Of course, as these things go, I managed to misspell it in Jigsaw Jones. 

Rest in peace, Joe. I hope you didn’t mind my little tribute. And if I didn’t say it before: thank you.


Art from Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space. That’s Joey Pignattano and Danika Starling. Illustrated by R.W. Alley.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names




Here’s one from the Sunshine State!

Dear Mr. Preller,
My name is Nicolas.  I am 8 years old and I am in 3rd grade at ____  Elementary School in Miramar, FL.  I am writing to tell you that I really liked The Case of The Sneaker Sneak.  This is the third Jigsaw Jones book I have read because I really like Jigsaw Jones.

51Xxdj8lrdL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Jigsaw is a lot like me.  He and I both like mysteries.  We like to solve puzzles.  I also like that Jigsaw plays sports.  I play sports too.  I play soccer, although I like to watch football like Jigsaw plays with his friends in the book. My family likes to watch and play football on Thanksgiving every year just like they do in the book.  I could really picture myself playing with those kids.  I think it is great how Mila and Jigsaw are always able to find clues to solve mysteries and help others.

One question I have for you is where do you come up with all the unique names of the characters in the book?  Do you know people named Solofsky, Pignattano, or Copabianco?  Do you have friends with nicknames like Bigs or Stringbean?

I really enjoy the Jigsaw Jones books and can’t wait to read the next one in my collection.



I replied:

Dear Nicholas,

Thanks for your terrific letter. I am so glad that you are enjoying the series. I just wrote a new one, The Case from Outer Space, and it will be out in the Spring of 2017 — less than a year away! (You can click here to read a sample chapter. Or not! It’s a free world here at Jamespreller.com.)
I’ve never really thought about it before, but I guess you are right. I do put some unique names in the books. Joey Pignattano came directly from my love of the NY Mets. When I was your age, the Mets won a World Series in 1969, and one of their coaches was named Joe Pignatano. I changed his name slightly by adding an extra “t,” and that was that. Copabianco came from a girl I knew in college. It was just one of those long Italian names that musically rolls off the tongue. I did not know anyone named “Bigs” or “Stringbean,” but I did have a friend that we called “Wingnut” because of his large ears. 
The books in the Jigsaw Jones series have been a little hard to find lately, because they are in the process of moving from one publisher (Scholastic) to another (Macmillan). Hopefully there will be more available next Spring, with all new covers. Look for them where fine books are sold.
Keep reading, Nicholas, and I’ll keep writing! And if you ever feel up to it, you might enjoy checking out my “Scary Tales” series. They are not much harder to read than Jigsaw, but you do have to be the sort of kid who likes creepy, suspenseful stories. 
My best,
James Preller
P.S. For a lot more background on The Case of the Sneaker Sneak, click here — you won’t regret it!


Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Food Fight

My wonderful editor at Scholastic, Shannon Penney, suggested this title to me. That happens sometimes, when book club editors will come up with a desired theme or vague concept, and Shannon will be assigned with the grim task of conveying it to me: Halloween, snowboarding, Halloween, Ghosts, Halloween, or whatever. I try to be open to them, find ways to make it work. But here was an idea that I instantly hated. “No, no-no, no NO-no NO,” I said. “Jigsaw would never do that, and it’s the last thing I’d want to celebrate in these books.”

Yet I could not completely deny the appeal of flying meatballs. It would be a fun scene to write. I said I’d think about it. Maybe there was a way.

Next I made a phone call to Ellen Mosher, a second-grade teacher at Westmere Elementary. Ellen did not recall witnessing any food fights, but she said there might have been a few isolated incidents of smashed cupcakes, etc. I asked, “What if a food fight happened. Let’s say it was a huge misunderstanding, no one was at truly fault, but it just kind of got out of hand. What would happen next?”

“Oh,” Ellen said. “It would be a very big deal. The principal would definitely get involved. The kids would have to do the cleanup, and write letters of apology.”

Hmmm, I thought. Maybe there was a way into this story after all. It wasn’t so much about the food fight, but about everything that happened next, the consequences. A teachable moment.  And a story I could feel good about telling.


Many Jigsaw Jones books have a connection to the New York Mets, usually in the names of bit players. In this book, the lunch aide’s name is Mrs. Minaya, after the Mets’ General Manager, Omar Minaya. The other lunch aide, Mrs. Randolph, was named after the Mets’ sourpuss manager at the time, Willie Randolph.

For the mystery, Mrs. Randolph mistakenly accuses Joey Pignattano — named after a coach from the Mets (1968-1981), Joe Pignatano, an ex-Brooklyn Dodger famous for growing tomatoes in the bullpen  — of starting the food fight.

“Jigsaw, you’ve got to help me,” Joey pleaded. “I’m innocent!”

Do readers notice any of this? Does anybody care? I kind of doubt it. Mostly it’s just a thing I’ve always done in this series to entertain myself — and possibly some random Mets-loving reader out there. When it comes time to make up the name of a character, I’ll begin my search with former New York Mets.


Around the time of this book, Paris Hilton was on TV with a FOX reality series called “The Simple Life,” a show where two socialites (Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie) attempt to work a series of low-paying jobs, such as doing farm work, working in fast-food restaurants, and so on. That’s where I got the idea of Paris Hilton working as a substitute school nurse. Funny, right? You know, flipping through a magazine while some kid hurls into a garbage pail. I imagined that she’d say something like, “Could you keep it down, I’m trying to polish my toenails.” So I created the character of Nurse Hilton, placed her in the middle of the mystery, and  was on my way. When I added her dog, I had the key to the mystery.

Jigsaw described her this way:

She was impossibly tall and thin. She had blond hair. And long legs that went all the way to the floor.

Jigsaw will eventually discover that Nurse Hilton was hiding Tinkerbell, her pet Chihuahua, in the filing cabinet. In the nurse’s office, Jigsaw takes in the scene:

I glanced around the room. The desktop overflowed with stacks of folders. Some had even fallen on the floor. A travel magazine opened to a photo of Paris. I saw lipstick and a hand mirror.

Why were so many folders on the desk?  Why had there been reports of barking in the lunch room? Jigsaw and Mila figure it all out in time to save Joey. And as for Nurse Hilton, she hasn’t been seen since.