Tag Archive for Mary GrandPre

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

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #282: Art & Poems from Ohio!

I received one of those rare, beautiful packages that fortunate folks in my line of work sometimes get — an envelope bursting with kind wishes from a classroom of young artists and writers, all masterfully orchestrated by a creative, book-loving teacher.

Each second-grade student made a watercolor painting on one side of the card, along with a haiku on the reverse side. (And boy, wouldn’t it be great if that became a thing — sending me haiku written by elementary school students. I’m all in.)

Here’s a few random examples to give you an idea of the poems and birthday wishes . . .

 

 

 

Believe me, I could have shared any number of them. All the students did a great job. Thank you, boys and girls and class hamster.

I replied to the class:

 

Dear Mrs. L,

It is such a nice thing to have good friends in Ohio. I feel truly blessed to receive your spectacular package in the mail. It combines so many of things I love into one simple manila envelope: artwork by young people, haiku, a love of books, good memories, friendship.

I’ve laid out the cards on my floor and I’m admiring them now. Such variety: snowflakes and snowpeople and rainbows and falling snow. But it’s the haiku I love the most. As you know, I have a book of haiku coming out . . . someday. It takes so long. I wrote the haiku back in 2016. The artist, Mary GrandPre –- who illustrated the Harry Potter books –- signed on to do the artwork. But it takes time to make a book. In this case, four years. It’s been delayed twice. The waiting is the hardest part. Now I’m hearing Spring of 2020. Oh well. In the end, all that matters is the finished book. When you hold a book in your hands, you don’t worry if the art came in late or not. Or if the publisher was slow in the turn around. You just want a satisfying book that touches your heart.

In the meantime, I still try to write at least one haiku every single day. It doesn’t always happen, but I do try to take a few minutes to look at things, to appreciate the moment. Yesterday I drove in a gusty winter storm, watching the wind whip the light, powdery snow in swirls, so I wrote:

 

Wind-swept snow twirling

in graceful patterns -– dancers

In satin dresses.

 

I don’t think that haiku is quite right — maybe it will never be — but I’ll likely revise it over the next few days. No matter, now I’ll always remember the way the wind moved that light, powdery snow.

Maybe the wind and snow were dancing together?

You are right: R.W. Alley –- we call him “Bob” –- is a terrific illustrator. I love his work; he really makes those characters come alive. I think, also, that Bob sees the kindness in the Jigsaw Jones stories, and you can feel it in his warm drawings.

You know, people complain about the winter. Well, people complain about a lot of things. But right now I’m sitting with a puppy at my feet –- his name is Echo –- and he’s a terror –- and there’s a blanket of snow on the ground. I can’t see the shape of the sun, hidden in the gray haze, but there’s a sharp brightness trying to pierce through the clouds. Faint shadows of tall pines lay quivering on the land. The world is a beautiful place, don’t you agree?

I loved my visit to your school last year. You laughed and laughed. I can close my eyes and hear it still. Thanks for your friendship.

All good things, your friend,

James Preller

 

P.S. Mrs. L can call me Jimmy!

The Beauty of Bare Winter Trees: Haiku & Bill McKibben

Admittedly, I am contrarian by nature. I’ve always bristled at the idea of “peak season” when it comes to fall foliage. This idea that there’s a perfect weekend when the deciduous trees of the Northeast look their best. Sure, the colors are spectacular, no doubt. But I like the trees all the time, any day of the week.

Especially in the winter.

That’s when I can most admire their scaffolding, the structure and shape and enduring strength of the creature itself. They drop their leaves and apply their resources to more pressing matters, hunkering down to survive another long, cold winter.

These days, I frequently find myself driving from Delmar to Saratoga, up and back, about three times a week. My daughter, Maggie, rows for the Saratoga Rowing Association — and the water’s up there. So in the car we go. It’s more travel time than I’ve ever had in my life. I’m one of those people who gets excited every single time I see a hawk — or maybe it’s an eagle, it’s hard to tell. On a travel day, I spend about 90 minutes cruising on 87, listening to music and admiring the trees. And in winter, I can really see the random hawks perched on the limbs, feathers puffed up against the cold, giving them the appearance of jolly, fat assassins.

On most days, I’ll compose a few lines of haiku as I drive, hoping to jot them down later. I realize it’s a form derided by some literati, but I enjoy writing most of my haiku in the traditional 5-7-5 form, even though it’s somewhat out of style nowadays. I like the wordplay and rigor of it. Often my focus is on those trees, the winter weather. Here’s a few, like a fistful of almonds:

 

In the winter trees

her bony grip, long fingers

twisted and wind-whipped.

 

The wolf’s moon hangs low

beckons through bare branches, come:

a headlight drives past.

 

Where a branch broke off

the grandfatherly red oak

a barred owl now nests.

 

The plump winter wren

moves through the understory,

trills and whirls, tail down.

 

The tall trees lie down

in shadow across sunlit

snow, ever patient.

 

Amidst the white field

a stand of resolute oaks,

but not forever.

 

The sparse silhouette

against a gray winter sky

declares: hickory.

 

The beech holds its leaves

shimmering like winter moons

papery and light.

 

Steel-gray buckets tapped

into maples; the crows watch

from snow-covered limbs.

 

Crows seem skeptical

of melting snow in cold rain,

perched on bare branches.

 

The bare winter elms

reveal the assassin’s shape:

hawk perched on a limb.

 

Anyway, whatever. I don’t worry too much about ideas of quality — whether they are “good” or not — more interested in the process of attending to things, getting out of myself, and seeing. Basho’s “the journey itself is home.”

It made me happy to read the following passage in Bill McKibben’s most recent novel, Radio Tree Vermont.  I’ve been a huge fan of his work since reading his landmark book, The End of Nature, when it came out nearly 30 years ago. In this scene, Vern Barclay muses on Vermont’s trees after the giddy explosion of autumn colors has passed:

And when it was over, it was even better. The leaves were down by mid-October, and you could see the shape of the land again, see the late sun silhouetting the trees along the ridgetops as it set. You could sense the architecture of the hills, every hollow and creekrun and knoll visible from the road. When people thought of trees, they thought of leaves — that’s how a child would draw them. But the natural inclination of trees at this latitude was bareness — seven months of the year, at least upslope, they stood there stoic. Leaves were the fever-dream exception to the barren rule, and Vern felt calmer once they were down. 

 

AN ASIDE: My first book of haiku, written for children, comes out in the Fall of 2019, illustrated by the great Mary GrandPre (of Harry Potter fame). It is titled All Welcome Here and celebrates the community of the classroom on the first day of school.

Works In Progress: “The Big Idea Gang,” and More!

 

In a somewhat bizarre twist of fate, I have six new books coming out in 2019: one picture book of haiku, celebrating the inclusiveness of the school community: All Welcome Here, illustrated by legendary Mary GrandPre of “Harry Potter” fame; a new Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar, illustrated by R.W. Alley; and for older readers, a heart-pounding middle-grade /YA adventure novel, Blood Mountain, with a brother and sister, ages 11 and 13, lost in the wilderness for six days. The new year will also see the launch of a chapter book series, grades 2-4, the “Big Idea Gang,” beginning with two books in January. Above you’ll see a rough sketch by Stephen Gilpin — who is incredible — from the third title, Bee the Change. Each book loosely or directly links into persuasive writing concepts, children using their powers of persuasion to make a difference in their/our world. Honeybees played a big role in my middle-grade zombie novel, Better Off Undead, and I’m not done writing about them yet. Other titles in the series: The Worst Mascot Ever and Everybody Needs a Buddy (featuring playground “buddy benches,” of course). As usual, I’m hoping elementary school readers find these books.

Now eagerly booking school visits. Give me a jingle!