Tag Archive for Maggie Preller

REPOST, UPDATE: “Watch Me, Dad!”

Here we are, that odd little stunted week before Thanksgiving. Of course we want to work hard and be good citizens, but the holiday approaches. Thoughts of family, mostly. And in my case, the Prellers are a bit scattered these days. Nick down in NYC, drawing the short straw at his new job, asked to work on Wednesday and Friday; we won’t be seeing him this Thanksgiving. Gavin is in France, working on an organic farm, opening his heart and mind to the world. Figuring it out, we hope. And Maggie, our youngest, is back home from her first semester at college. 

Gavin and Maggie and one of our black cats. Long ago.

 

It can be a lot, college. My wise friend referred to it as “adjustment fatigue.” It’s all new: a roommate, a new town, dorm life, classes, eating in a cafeteria, away from home, all of it. So now for a few days she’s back with us. You think we’re happy, you should see the dog. 

Anyway, found this Maggie-centered post from 10 years ago and thought I’d share it again . . . time, it flies.

Lisa went out with Maggie last night to buy a new pair of basketball shoes, as they call ’em these days. Used to be sneakers, but whatever. Maggie was thrilled; she’s very excited about playing hoops on the grades 3/4 travel team. She practiced dribbling all night — in the kitchen, in the living room, wherever it might give me a headache. Lisa and I watched and said, “Good, good, keep at it.”

At bedtime, Maggie asked if she could bring her basketball to bed with her. She wanted to sleep with it. Yeah, sure, knock yourself out, just don’t forget to brush your teeth.

This morning I drove Maggie to school. We were running late. Maggie, of course, wore her spotless new kicks. Just before climbing into the car, she said: “I can run faster now.”

“You can?”

She nodded, smiled. Oh yes.

“Put down your backpack,” I said. “Let me see.”

“Where do you want me to run?”

“I don’t know, across the front lawn to Don’s driveway.”

She walked to the far end of the lawn, methodically got herself into running position, and said, “Tell me when to go.”

“Go,” I said.

She raced across the yard.

“Good,” I said. “Now run back on the street. Let’s see how they do on cement.”

So she did, just as hard and determined as she could.

“Wow, Maggie, that was a lot faster — and I mean a lot. Those are pretty fast shoes.”

She smiled, proud and happy, pleased with her new powers.

Don’t you just love being a parent?

College drop-off day. Not all grown up . . . but I’m getting there!

 

Book Dedication: Blood Mountain

Today is our youngest child’s 18 birthday, which I guess makes it some kind of landmark in the annals of my long slog to old age and decrepitude.

But let’s not make it about me!

When it came to coming up with a dedication for my upcoming middle grade survival story, it was an easy decision to make. 

Thank you, Maggie, for the inspiration!

And from Blood Mountain (Fall, 2019) . . .

 

This book is dedicated to my daughter, Maggie —

because when I needed inspiration

for a girl character who was fierce,

determined, sensitive, and kind,

I only thought of you.

Daisy (2007-2018) and the Letter She Wrote as a Puppy to Obama

We feel it at the doorway, those occasions of coming and going. We arrive now and home has been transformed into something different — a less welcoming place. No one meets us in the hallway, front paws dancing. The house does not stir. She got old in a day, an instant, and was gone. Leaving the house also conveys her absence, our loss. No one anxiously watching as we assemble ourselves, coat and shoes and keys, hoping we’ll reach for the leash. Sorry, Daisy, we’d say, you stay and guard the house. Other times, it was let’s go for a ride –- and Daisy bouncing out the door for a walk amidst the trees, off leash. Our peaceful communion. These days we move in and out of the house like ghosts. Pale shadows, we come and go and it almost doesn’t matter anymore. We miss her so.


I am reminded of a letter that Daisy wrote, and I posted, years ago at a different time in America . . .

 

Dear President-Elect Obama:

It is with some difficulty that I type this, as I am a dog and not really a Mac person.

I’ll try to be brief. My name is Daisy. You probably receive thousands of letters each week from dignitaries, heads of state, and ordinary citizens. But, really, how many come from dogs?

Since you are likely curious, I’ll explain. I became a reader when I was a pup, confined to a small newspaper-covered quadrant of the kitchen. It was during this tense house-breaking period that I first sought solace in the written language of humans. Soon enough, I began to follow the Presidential election with great interest.

Hold on, I’ve got an itch behind my ear. Scritch-scratch, scratch scratch scratch SCRATCH, scratch scratch scratch, scratchy-scratch!

Ahhhh. Much better. I was recently chewing on a fuzzy, delicious tennis ball when I overheard a dinner conversation. I learned that your family will be getting a new dog when you enter the White House. I immediately went to the recycle bin to fetch the newspaper. I found the full text of your November 4 victory speech, and I quote:

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Blah, blah, blah. I’m skimming, skimming . . . ah, here it is (!):

Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House.

Clearly, this is the first true test of your administration. The eyes of the canine world are upon you. Don’t blow it on a lunatic Irish Setter or Pomeranian. Clearly, an Alaskan Husky is out (unless you want to be post-ironic, which I don’t think is the best way to kick off an administration — just my opinion).

You can imagine my thrill when I learned you are considering adopting a goldendoodle. As I am myself a goldendoodle — and proud of it! — I felt compelled to type this message. (And if somebody would ever trim my nails, it would be a lot easier!)

Speaking for my brothers and sisters everywhere, I urge you to go with the goldendoodle. We don’t shed. We are hypoallergenic. We are gentle with children. And we certainly don’t yap-yap-yap like some breeds (I blame Bush’s skittish Scottish terriers, Barney and the odiously named “Miss Beazley,” for much of went wrong the past eight years).

And, though I am loathe to sound egotistical, we are undeniably cute.

Photo: Diamonddoodles.com.

But, yes, your every decision will be scrutinized. So in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit this up front: We might not look so great when soaking wet. But then, who does? Joe Biden? I think not.

True, we have our critics. Some sneer and call us “designer dogs.” Some say we lack backbone. To which I respond: It’s true. In times of danger, I’ll flop on my back and submit. We’re like Gandhi in that respect. Besides, You don’t need a junk yard dog. You already have that scary Rahm Emanuel . .

. . . .and those creepy Secret Service guys.

Here comes the most sensitive issue of all. We are not quote/unquote “a recognized breed” by the (snooty, unpatriotic) American Kennel Club. Not a recognized breed?! Pause a moment and let that sink in. Does it resonate, just a little bit? Not a recognized breed. Yes, sadly, it’s true, even in today’s America, when we had thought we had come so far. But it represents a bold new opportunity for your presidency. For isn’t this in keeping with your call for change, for new ideas? Let’s turn away from the old way of doing things! I quote again from your acceptance speech:

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

Make a statement, President-elect Obama, Sir. You are the bright, shining symbol for the disenfranchised everywhere. Open your arms wide! Embrace us! Go with the goldendoodle. Recognize us as a breed. Let us lay down by your feet.

I’m begging you, as only a dog can beg: Throw us a bone here, will you?

Speaking for doodles everywhere, we will love your daughters with all our doggy hearts.

Yes! We! Can!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a tail to chase.

Faithfully yours,

Daisy

That Feeling When . . . You Just Hit Send!

 

Yesterday I hit “send.” A year late, but I got there. Wilderness survival story, involving a brother and sister. Think “Hatchet” meets “Misery” . . . and there’s a dog.

I can’t wait to see this book out in the world. It might be the best thing I’ve written.

Oh, while I have you: When I start a new book, I have a ritual. I go to CVS and purchase a composition notebook. It begins that way. Brainstorming, reading, filling a notebook with random ideas and inspirations. Eventually I get to the computer and start writing. With this book, because I had to learn so much, the pre-writing process — which includes note-taking, tons of reading, and a lot of scribbled ideas — took about 18 months before I could even start. Funny how that works.

For this book, I had the title from the beginning. Same thing with Six Innings and Bystander. Other books, titles can be a wicked struggle.

I love all the characters in this book, but most particularly Grace. She is fierce and strong and courageous. In some respects, it was easy to write about her. I just had to think of my daughter, Maggie.  

Should be published in Fall, 2019. Only my wife, Lisa, has read it so far. But as Pusha T says, “When you know, you know.”

 

Great Article: “Horrors! This Child Is Reading Horror!”

Thanks to Google Alerts, I found this terrific & timely article by Paula Willey in The Baltimore Sun. Willey does a great job here, writing calmly and directly about the value of “scary books” for (some) young readers.

My lovely daughter, Maggie, some years back. To our surprise, she loves horror. Loves it!

My lovely daughter, Maggie, some years back. To our surprise, Maggie loves horror. Loves it!

Personally, I got into scary books late in life, after many school visits where I met young readers who loved that shivery, edge-of-the-seat feeling. This is not just a Halloween thing, btw. An affection for horror goes year round. After raising two boys who never cared for horror — and openly said so, I should add — my sweet Maggie came along and she loves those creepy, crawly feelings. Go figure.

Another reason why I wrote “Scary Tales” in the way that it’s written — short, fast-paced, easy-to-read, series format — was because of all the reluctant readers I’ve met over the years. I’ve had them in my own kitchen, munching Doritos, blithely telling me how they don’t like books. So I challenged myself to write stories that attempted to be so entertaining & enjoyable that even these boys would read to the last page (they are, alas, almost invariably boys). I wanted them to experience that proud, “I just finished a whole book” feeling. And to then realize, “Hey, I kind of liked it. I’ll try another.”

In the old days of publishing, we’d call books in this category “Hi-Lo.” High-interest, low-reading level. My estimation is that “Scary Tales” is written somewhere on the 3rd-grade level, but with stories that appeal all the way up to 6th grade. The look is cool and edgy, so there’s no stigma to reading “baby” books.

Here’s a snip from the article. Thank you for the kind mention, Paula Willey!

ONE-EYED DOLL.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from  SCARY TALES: ONE-EYED DOLL.

Picture, if you will, a smiling, well-adjusted child. She’s tucked into a corner of the couch, reading happily, quiet but for the occasional giggle. Is that an “American Girl” book she’s reading? A silly fractured fairy tale? On the cover, you spy a slime-drenched, bloody snake; the title is spelled out in dripping, neon-bright letters: “The Zombie Chasers: World Zombination!”

Horrors! This child is reading horror!

Many grownups are a little uncomfortable when a kid exhibits a taste for stories of terror and mayhem. They worry that their children will become desensitized to violence or will have nightmares. Some just want their kids reading “better” books. There’s a perception that scary books like the “Goosebumps” series by R. L. Stine are of low literary quality and have no value.

It’s true that “Goosebumps” books, along with series like James Preller’s “Scary Tales,” “Spooksville” by Christopher Pike and P. J. Night’s “Creepover,” are short, formulaic, and written at a fairly low reading level. However, librarians know that these books sometimes play a crucial role in inviting children into reading, or helping a reader bridge the gap between books he is beginning to find “babyish” and longer books with more complexity.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from SCARY TALES: NIGHTMARELAND.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from SCARY TALES: NIGHTMARELAND.

Many people who grew up to be very accomplished readers — and writers — claim to have read nothing but “Goosebumps” for years when they were kids.

In addition, children are very aware of their ability to handle scary stuff. When I help a child pick out a book, I’ll often ask, “How do you do with scary books?” Of all the questions that I ask during the book selection process, this is the one they answer most forthrightly: “No scary books!” or “I can handle medium-scary.” And then there’s the little angel who proclaims, “The scarier the better!”

 

For the full article, click here.

Paula Willey is a librarian at the Parkville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. She writes about children’s and teen literature for various national publications and online at unadulterated.us.