Tag Archive for Kate DiCamillo

Come See Me at the Morristown Festival of Books



For the first time, I’ll be signing books and speaking at the Morristown Festival of Books. I’ve heard great things about this event. Please click here for full details.

What makes it a little unusual is that this festival features authors for adults as well as children’s books. And unlike many festivals, boasting 75 authors and illustrators, or “more than 90 authors and illustrators,” Morristown does not appear to be focused on quantity. Check the list and you’ll find an impressive array of names. From the children’s side:

I'll be featuring my new Jigsaw Jones book: THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, and many others.

I’ll be featuring my new Jigsaw Jones book: THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, and many others.

Libba Bray, Scott Westerfeld, Emmy Laybourne, Kate DiCamillo, Tracey Baptiste, Ame Dyckman, Lauren Tarshis, Wendy Mass, and more. Best of all, I believe that all of us will get an opportunity to speak.

Oh yeah, I’m invited, too. Somehow I slipped through their defenses. I’m hoping I have time to hang out and just be a fan, because I love authors, too.

Take heart, Westchester, NY, folks: Please note that the wonderful Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival will be happening the same weekend. I’ve been fortunate to be invited to that one for years — since the old Sunnyside days — but I’m not attending this year because of a mix-up. Meaning: I got mixed up. Oh well, the festival will be perfectly fine without me — and, hey, I landed on my feet with this trip to Morristown.

If you love books, it’s going to be a great weekend!

BYSTANDER Contender for “Global Read Aloud 2014”

I arrived home last night after a terrific trip to Michigan, courtesy of the good, kind folks at West Bloomfield Township Public Library. I was treated much too kindly and given the opportunity to speak with young people from 8th grade all the way up to preschool.

(See what I did there?)

More details on that trip another day.

This morning a friend directed me to this link, with information about “The Global Read Aloud.”

“What in the world’s that?”

According to the site:

The project was created in 2010 with a simple goal in mind; one book to connect the world. Now with three years under our belt and more than 30,000 connections made, we realize we are on to something larger than us so we look forward to continuing the global connections.

The premise is simple; we pick a book to read aloud to our students during a set 6-week period and during that time we try to make as many global connections as possible. Each teacher decides how much time they would like to dedicate and how involved they would like to be. Some people choose to connect with just one class, while others go for as many as possible. The scope and depth of the project is up to you. In the past we have used Twitter, Skype, Edmodo, our wiki, email, regular mail, Kidblog, and any other tools we can think of to make these connections. Teachers get a community of other educators to do a global project with, hopefully inspiring them to continue these connections through the year.

I was surprised and honored to see one of my books listed along with such company. It’s nice to be in the conversation, much appreciated. The project looks at books in various categories, according to grades. There’s “Picture Book,” “Grades 1-3,” “Grades 4-6” and “Grades 7-up.” Some of the folks named include some of my personal favorites, such as Peter Reynolds, Kevin Henkes, Kate DiCamillo, Anne Urso, Jo Knowles, and others.

Oh, wait. Before I forget, look at this cake that was made for me at Algonquin Middle School. It happened a while back, but I just found the photo on the net. I’m only a year and a half behind!

Here’s another sweet shot from that same visit to Algonquin. Thank you, Rebecca.

You can sign up for the Global Read Aloud right here.

Here are the 5 books listed for 7th-grade and up. It looks like I have some reading to do — which, to me, is always the primary point of these lists. Glad to be a contender:

  • Endangered by Elliot Schrefer
  • Bystander by James Preller
  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Gein

Fan Mail Wednesday #61

Wow, I’m busy today. I really don’t have time to mess around with . . .

Oh, right. You don’t care about that. You are a beast that needs to be fed, my monster under the floorboards, a fiery furnace that wants only one thing: Fan Mail Wednesday!

Back, Beast! Back! Maybe this email from Melissa in Florida with sate your gaping maw.

Dear Mr. Preller,

I have attached a letter I wrote you as my book report homework.  I will get extra credit if I send it to you. I have cc’d my teacher.

I am going to go to the library to get more of your books.


So I opened the attached document and found this:

Dear Mr. Preller,

My name is Melissa, I am 11 years old. I am in fifth grade in Clearwater, Florida.

Did you ever have a food fight? I never had a food fight.

Did you ever solve mysteries when you were a little?

I liked your book.

I replied:

Dear Melissa:

So. You liked my book. Sigh. Would it have killed you to lie a little? You could have closed your letter, “I loved your book.” Think of how much better I would have felt. But liked? Gee, that’s awfully close to a yawn. Very similar to: “Your book was okay, more or less.”

Or better yet, you could have told me it was the best book you ever read — and very probably the best book you will EVER read. That I’m terrific, sensational, stupendous!

Would that have been so hard, Melissa? It’s called “fan mail.” You know, short for FAN-atic. Let’s bump up the enthusiasm, shall we?

Now I’m depressed.

You see, that’s the way it is with authors. We are fragile flowers, shivering on cold nights, our teeth chattering in the wind. We need the warmth of constant love. And failing that, we’ll gladly settle for false praise! Remember that next to you write to Lois Lowry or Kate DiCamillo.

I previously answered your question regarding the food fight at some length in this greatly entertaining post, which you should read. Go ahead, click on that link; I’ll tap my foot and wait.

Hum-dee-dum, dee dum-dum.

As to your other question, Melissa, O Cold-Hearted Reader: Growing up, I was the youngest of seven children. While I never fashioned myself a detective in the mold of Jigsaw Jones, I absolutely did my share of spying. I specialized in finding Christmas presents far in advance of December 25th. It was naughty, sneaky fun — but made for some anti-climactic holidays. I also liked hiding under tables, eavesdropping. I discovered that if you are very quiet, very still, sometimes they forget you are there.

For a long time.

Sometimes, very long.

The truth is, Melissa, I once lived in a closet for three weeks. I was six. It got kind of sad after a while — but I’m better now! I’ve forgiven my parents. It was an honest mistake. They were busy. I sort of slipped their minds. It was during the 1960’s. A hectic time.



Sorry, silly mood today. Please check out my link for a more thoughtful answer to your question, with exclusive “insider info” on the making of that book.

My best,


P.S.: Now make sure your teacher forks over that extra credit!

The Book Nut’s 100 Top Middle Grade Books

This is nice. And more than a small surprise.

Someone named Melissa from Wichita, Kansas, a stay-at-home mom with “an Avid Love of Reading,” has put together a list of of 100 Top MG Books. You can keep up with Melissa’s book reviews at the aptly-named “Book Nut” blog.

It’s a strong list, and not just from my biased point of view. There’s classic and contemporary titles, diversity, and a wide variety of genre. Many of the names are what you’d expect. Joan Aiken, Lloyd Alexander, Judy Blume, Lewis Carroll, Kate DiCamillo, Sid Fleischman, Neil Gaiman, Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, Lois Lowry, Katherine Patterson, Mitali Perkins, J.K. Rowling, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E.B.. White, Jane Yolen . . . and, gulp, James Preller.

That’s crazy company. I keep hearing Cookie Monster singing, “One of These Things Doesn’t Belong.”

Thank you, Melissa!

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James Preller Interviews . . . Author Karen Roosa

A while back, I stopped by Julie Fortenberry’s most excellent blog and noticed the cover of her new book, Pippa at the Parade. The author’s name was Karen Roosa.

And I thought, I wonder if that’s my Karen Roosa? My Karen was an old stall buddy from Scholastic, back in the mid-to-late 1980s. We were copywriters together, working on book clubs and catalogs. Neighbors, we shared a cubicle wall, but had lost touch twenty years ago. So I contacted Julie, who kindly passed along Karen’s email, and here we are: She’s a big-shot famous author and I knew her when!

– – – – –

Karen, it’s so nice to catch up with you. You must be excited about your new picture book, Pippa at the Parade. It takes a long time, doesn’t it?

It is great catching up with you too, Jimmy.   It really does take a long time to see a picture book published. I had sent a different manuscript to Boyds Mills Press in late 2006, and got a call from the editor saying that story wasn’t quite right for them, but to send others.  They were looking for stories that would appeal to very young children.

Actually, I’ve heard that picture books are trending younger these days; publishers seem to be looking for titles that will appeal to the preschool crowd. We’re seeing less of the text-heavy, William Steig-type picture book.

Yes, I think that’s true — picture books for the very young child. So I sent a collection of summer poems and the Pippa manuscript, and he replied about a month later in early 2007 that they’d like to publish Pippa at the Parade. My part was essentially done right then, but an illustrator needed to be chosen, the artwork completed, and the book printed. Two years, or even longer, is fairly common.

Tell us a little bit about the inspiration for the book.

I was trying to write a “musical” story, something rhythmical and fun to read aloud, but nothing seemed to work. Once I started thinking about feeling the rhythm through the sound of the instruments, the idea of a little girl at a parade came to me.

I get the sense that your first love is poetry.

I do love poetry, reading and writing it. Trying to pare language down to its essence.

Did you have any input into the illustrations? How did that relationship with artist Julie Fortenberry work? And be careful, Julie might be reading this.

I didn’t have any input, which is not unusual. My editor fortunately chose Julie Fortenberry, a fine artist and illustrator.  I saw her work online and really liked her style.  Then I just had to wait to see the finished illustrations.

What was it like when you finally saw the illustrations? It’s an exciting but also a frightening moment.

It was very exciting. The art director at Boyds Mills sent me a PDF last summer to check the text one last time.  It was then that I could see the illustrations for the first time and I really loved them, very whimsical and playful.  They fit the story perfectly. It was a thrill to receive the finished book in the mail.

I see you already got a great review from Kirkus Reviews. And I quote in part:

“The marching band booms by and the onomatopoeic text enlivens the rhythm, “Clapping hands! / Clappity-clap. / Band is coming! / Tippity-tap.” As each section of the parade passes by Pippa is enchanted by the many instruments, which include trumpets, trombones and drums. First the gymnasts flip past, then the ten-foot-tall man on stilts . . . Fortenberry’s rippling illustrations, at once serenely indistinct and lovingly detailed, combine misty, milky hues with thick, robust pastels, presenting a celebration of excitement and indulgence that can only be fully appreciated in childhood.”

Pretty nice, Karen — you too, Julia, and thanks for the use of your illustrations. Personally, I’m frightened by reviews.

It is a little scary. But I have to look. And by the way, congratulations on Six Innings being named an ALA Notable Book — very exciting.

Thanks. I’m sorry that I missed your first book when it came out, Beach Day, illustrated by Maggie Smith. You must have been thrilled when it was named a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year. Now it looks like you are on a roll. What’s next?

I have a couple of picture book manuscripts that I’m sending out, and I’ve always liked the idea of trying a longer story for older children.  Plus maybe poetry, short stories . . .

Well, obviously, the big bucks are in poetry.

Yes, of course!

We shared a cubicle wall for at least a few years back in the way back, the late 80’s, when we both worked as copywriters for Scholastic Book Clubs. Was I good neighbor? I tried to keep the music down when I had large parties. You never called the cops.

Those were good days at Scholastic. The 80s!

Let’s pause here for a salute to the decade . . . and yes, I wore a black Members Only jacket. Their tagline: “When you put it on, something happens.”

A  touching tribute, Jimmy. That job at Scholastic was one of the best ever.  It was great being cubicle neighbors with you. I actually do remember a lot of parties on our floor.

As one of the few heterosexual males in the department, I used to joke with Craig Walker that I felt personally responsible for all the sexual tension in the building. It was pretty much up to me, Greg Holch, and the mail room guys. The pressure on us was enormous. I’d come home from work exhausted.

That’s funny, Jimmy, but you might be exaggerating a little.

Never! Eva Moore was the editor of Lucky Book Club back in those days. Each month, we had to read and describe more than 30 books for both teachers and young readers. It was quite an education, wasn’t it?

You’d get your box of books from Craig Walker for Seesaw Book Club, I’d get mine for Lucky Book Club, and I remember quite a few conversations about Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog.

I remember getting advice from Ed Monagle, the Chief Financial Officer for Scholastic at the time. Ed was a money guy, not necessarily a book guy. So one day he tells me, in his avuncular way, “Jimmy, you should really make up one of these popular characters. Look at Clifford the Big Red Dog. He’s a dog. He’s big. And he’s red. How hard can that be?”

I remember Ed and can hear him saying that. If only it were that easy!

Yeah, I told him I’d get right on it.

It was great working with Eva, and reading all of those books really was a terrific education in children’s literature.

Not to mention posters of cute kittens.

I recall many cute kitten posters in my box . . . and also glow-in-the-dark Halloween stickers.

Do you have any favorite memories from those days? I remember writing the first hardcover catalog, when Jean Feiwel launched the line back in 1986 or so. It had four books, total. Harry Mazur, Norma Fox Mazur, Julian Thompson, and I forget the other book, I think it was some kind of “stay away from strangers” type book. Anyway, we came up with an awful catalog cover that Jean absolutely (and correctly) hated. A simpler time.

I remember meeting Joanna Cole because the Magic School Bus was really big at that time, Ann M. Martin when she came in for the Babysitters Club, and a lunch with Norman Bridwell.  I still have the big red plush Clifford from our table that day.  It was a lot of fun just being immersed in children’s books all day with others who had the same interests.  And the camaraderie was great.

There’s a long gap from after you left children’s publishing to when you published Beach Day. It’s like the missing seventeen-and-a-half minutes of the Watergate Tapes – except it’s like seventeen years. What have you been up to –- and why or how did you decide to get back into it?

I left the city in the early 90’s and moved to Pennsylvania.  My children were very young and I wanted to try freelance writing. I’d send out manuscripts, but had no luck for a long time.

Many others have been defeated when faced with the same situation. What kept you going? Any advice?

I think it’s important to not give up. You never know when your story might match an editor’s tastes and needs for their list at that particular moment. I still have a huge stack of rejection letters. Occasionally a publisher would jot, “Send us more,” so I kept at it. One day I received a letter from an editor asking if I’d be willing to make a few changes in a manuscript that I’d sent; after tweaking the text a bit back and forth, Beach Day was published.

Did you celebrate?

I jumped up and down on the kitchen floor.

Okay, Lightning Round. Favorite children’s books?

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and the books of Kevin Henkes, Kate DiCamillo, and Mo Willems.

Kevin Henkes is just spectacular. I really admire his work. Such a talent, almost in an Old School tradition. Mo Willems is great, too. I met Kate a couple of times, I liked her a lot, very down-to-earth. She has a wonderful essay on her website, titled “On Writing.” You have to read it. Go on, I’ll wait.

Okay, I just finished. That is fantastic. It is all about really seeing, then doing the work of writing. Sitting down to write. Rewriting. And then somehow mysteriously having those ordinary moments undergo a magical transformation on the page.

What about favorite adult books?

Atonement by Ian McEwan, The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, the poetry of Mary Oliver, Basho, and William Carlos Williams.

I’m a huge fan all three poets, though moreso Basho and Williams. My favorite Basho line is, “The journey itself is home.”

Last question: Favorite movies?

The Crying Game, Pan’s Labyrinth, Once, The Graduate, The Ice Storm.

Thanks, Karen. I’m really glad to reconnect with you after all these years. I wish you all the success in the world, you deserve it. And as a parting gift, I was going to give you a plush version of Clifford the Big Red Dog, but you already have it. So I guess I just saved eight bucks. Sweet!

As a consolation prize, please enjoy this video of Mr. T’s fashion tips — “Hey, everybody got to wear clothes!” — and be glad we survived the 80’s with (most of) our dignity intact. (The link works, but it might take a double click.)

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