Tag Archive for Mary GrandPre

Look Who’s Illustrating My Next Book

Yeah, this artist, the great Mary GrandPre. Maybe you don’t know her name, but I’m pretty sure you know her work.

So. How does that happen? How does it work in publishing, the writer-illustrator connection? I get asked that a lot.

Though there are exceptions and variations, my book with Mary followed a well-established pattern. Back in 2016, I submitted a manuscript to my editor which was accepted for publication. Just words on a page. In this case, interconnected haiku.

Looking back on a my original submission to Liz Szabla, my editor, dated 4/22/16, I laid out my basic vision:

 

 

This collection of haiku celebrates the first day of school and a vision of community. It provides a loose, flowing narrative that carries readers through the multi-faceted moments in a school day as it touches a diverse variety of characters while they move from the bus stop to the morning pledge, to recess and lunch and the final bell.

The poems offer the illustrator opportunities to show a rich variety of children –- wild and brave, silly and earnest, friendly and a little frightened. Through the artwork, illustrations should highlight recurring characters and allow readers to see happy interactions and first steps toward friendship. We are witnesses to the beginning of a new, diverse, and open-hearted community.

There’s flexibility here. The final number of poems depends entirely on layout and editorial’s vision for the book. There are 39 included here (which strikes me as slightly high, compared to other haiku collections of this nature), whereas it could be decided to go with as few as, say, 23 poems –- allowing room for effective double-page spreads for a single haiku. 

Later in 2016, or possibly early in 2017, I was informed that Mary GrandPre had agreed to illustrate the book. I did not immediately recognize the name. The look of the book would be up to Mary, the art director and designers at Feiwel & Friends, as overseen by Liz. Often, that’s the beginning and end of a writer’s communication with the illustrator. My manuscript did not come with notes to the illustrator, as many do, beyond what I shared above.

To my delight, I did receive a lovely, complimentary email from Mary, asking for my thoughts about possibly cutting some haiku. There was a conflict where the weather described was inconsistent. We went back and forth — Mary was gracious and lovely — and I was very happy to eliminate some, because that was always my intention. I had individual haikus that highlighted the statue of liberty, a student in a wheelchair, and a teacher in a hijab. We realized that since those images would be reflected in the book visually, we were able to cut those haiku in order to make room for others.

For example, I believe everyone hoped there might be at least one spread where there was just one haiku. It turned out to be one that centered on the school library. I wrote:

 

LIBRARY

The library door

Opens: Hear the whoosh and thrum

Of the school’s heart beat.

 

Note on the haiku, which followed the traditional 5-7-5 syllable/line count: a haiku does not usually come with a title. But for this book, because it was intended for very young readers, I cheated a little and gave each one a title in the original manuscript. Somewhere along the line I fretted about that, it was a little impure, and asked Liz if maybe we should eliminate the titles. Liz replied that she liked them, believed they worked, and that they also added a visual element to the pages. I said, as I recall, “Okay!”

At a certain point in the process, it’s the only answer available. 

All Welcome Here will be published on June 16, 2020. I’m so eager to hold it in my hands — I’ll probably receive a printed copy in early May, best guess — but I’m more excited to visit schools and, perhaps, even develop some haiku workshops for students of all ages.

So, yeah, Mary GrandPre. How cool is that? How lucky am I?

Can’t wait.

 

Thought for Teachers (and Parents!) on a Friday

This meme speaks to a feeling that I experience on school visits every time I make a presentation, or even speak one-on-one with a child. And with that feeling comes an immediate identification with teachers, because I recognize that they must feel it, too, every single day.

As a parent, I’ve experienced it constantly

To the point where it must speak to the essence of what it is to be a teacher, to be a parent.

Scattering seeds to the wind.

On visits, I’ll have 45-50 minutes with, say, a group of 200 students. I’ll joke, tell stories, read something, explain my writing process, show photos of my dog, try to pass along my love of literacy, answer questions, maybe even impart bits of wisdom gained in 34 years as a published author. Then time’s up and they dutifully file out of the big room, shuffling off to what comes next.

And I wonder: Did I connect? Did my words make a difference?

Again, I could be talking about my four-mile walk yesterday with my son, Gavin, age 20. Did he hear me? Did I say anything of value? And also, along with that: What did I learn? Was my heart open?

In the end, we have to keep faith that our efforts have meaning. Yes, many the seeds will not thrive. In busy schools, the days are packed. There’s always the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. A flowing river of next things. But we also know that sometimes, for certain kids, those experiences miraculously do stick. A thought, a feeling, an idea clicks. Maybe not today. Maybe in five years it resonates anew.

And maybe the memory of that experience lingers for a lifetime.

Imagine that.

Imagine making that kind of impact on a life.

It’s what teachers do every single day.

The seed finds fertile soil. The rain comes down, the sun shines warmly. And one day a green sprouts lifts its head, says “I am,” and starts to grow. 

All we can do is keep scattering those seeds, doing what we can, hoping for ears that listen, hearts and minds that are open.

Every time I am invited to a school, I am grateful for that opportunity.

Look for All Welcome Here, by James Preller, illustrated by Mary GrandPre, coming this June.

 

A Decade in Review: Book Covers from the 2010s

I’ve seen several author friends do this recently, a glance back at the past decade via book covers, before looking ahead to bigger and better things. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

 

                                                            

AND COMING IN JUNE, 2020 . . .

 

PRE-ORDERS NOW AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON . . .

With gorgeous multimedia paintings-and-collages by acclaimed artist Mary GrandPre, James Preller’s All Welcome Here promises to be an evergreen gift picture book for children about to take the big leap into their first days of school.

The bus door swishes
Open, an invitation.
Someone is not sure . . .

The first day of school and all its excitement, challenges, and yes, anxieties, are celebrated here in connected haiku poems. A diverse cast of characters all start―and finish―their first days of school, and have experiences that all children will relate to.

Be the Change: An Author Reflects on a Career in Books

“These books are my attempt to brainwash young readers

into believing

they can make the world a kinder, smarter,

more compassionate place.”

 

This week we’ll see the publication of the 3rd book in “The Big Idea Gang” trilogy, Bee the Change. I thought I’d write a little bit about this series before turning the page, moving on to the next small thing.

At its core, these books are my attempt to brainwash young readers into believing that they can make the world a better place. If I can inspire a little bit of that, amen. 

Because that’s where my hope resides these days. I realize it’s a little pathetic, for here I am, a 58-year-old man looking to 9-year-olds for strength and wisdom and salvation. Sorry, guys, but I believe the adults in your world have let you down. We’re not going to dig you out of this mess.

The books intentionally focus on kindness and cooperation, on compassion and friendship, on seeing the world at an extremely local level and wanting to make it better. No, not wanting. On working together to make a difference.

Each book features a minor focus on persuasive writing, and includes tips in the back matter. On how to make a compelling statement, to support that statement with facts, to build a strong argument for your case. We see these characters earn a new mascot in their school, install two buddy benches in their playground, and help create a “bee friendly” garden at school. 

Quick story: My daughter is working as a nanny this summer for a local family. Three kids, five dogs. One boy couldn’t believe that the “famous author” James Preller was her father. He figured that I lived in a mansion somewhere. Ah, ha, ha, ha. Good one!

In my career, which began in children’s publishing in 1985, there’s usually a lot of silence out there. Sales that don’t often amount to much, titles that go out of print — the waves my work makes never go much beyond a ripple. Oh well. I don’t control what happens after I write the book. I try to let it go. Be sanguine about things. Though, yes, there’s a lot of disappointment. But I am truly grateful that, so far, I’ve had the opportunity to put these stories out into the world. If the world shrugs, if I’m not an “it” author of this or any moment, I can only do what I’ve always done. 

Write stories the best I can. Visit schools when I’m lucky enough to be invited. Keep on keeping on. 

After Bee the Change in late July, the next Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar, comes out a week later (Macmillan, August 6th). In late October, my middle-grade adventure novel, Blood Mountain, comes out. Next Spring, finally, we’ll see the publication of All Welcome Here, a picture book of haiku illustrated by Mary GrandPre; it quietly celebrates the openness and acceptance of our public school teachers and classrooms.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

 

              

     

      

Fan Mail Wednesday #283: Madalyn’s Note

 

It happens fairly often on school visits. After a day of presentations, somebody hands me a note. In this case, a friend delivered it for a friend. I said thanks and tucked the folded page into my bag. My reply is below.

 

 

Madalyn, 

I totally remember you. 

You asked a question — and you wore a Hufflepuff sweatshirt. Is that right? You self-identified as a huge Harry Potter “maniac.” I noticed you when I gave my presentation. You were present, listening, involved, soaking it all up. That is, in other words, you were perfect. And impressive. Thank you. I’ve had kids fall asleep, you know! Teachers, too!

Anyway, hey, thanks for going the extra yard and writing that kind note. 

I know you are a big reader. And I’m sorry to report I have not written any books that are 10,000 pages long. To me, reading and writing have always been connected. One feeds the other in a long, beautiful, continuous loop. Every writer is different, but we are all readers. Book lovers. 

Like you.

Get yourself a journal. A place to go with your thoughts. If you go to a movie, tape the ticket into it. Write about what makes you mad, or sad, or causes you to laugh out loud. Maybe start a story one day. Or not. It’s okay. There’s no hurry.

Oh: I forgot to tell you! I have a picture book coming out next year, ALL WELCOME HERE, that’s illustrated by Mary GrandPre. Yes, the incredible artist who did the art in all the original Harry Potter books. So I guess I have a Harry Potter connection, too. Isn’t that cool? I thought you’d appreciate it, as a Harry Potter fan. At least Madalyn will understand my excitement. After all, she’s a maniac.

     Love your self-portrait with the manga eyes. Stylish and hip.

Be well & keep reading, my friend,

James Preller