Tag Archive for Phoebe Yeh HarperCollins

Mila Yeh, Jigsaw Jones, and a Children’s Literature Fundraiser Against Anti-AAPI Racism



Every alert reader of the Jigsaw Jones mystery series knows that Mila Yeh is the brains of the partnership. I mean, Jigsaw is no slouch, but his strength is his energy and never-say-die attitude. Jigsaw never, ever gives up. As his best friend and partner, Mila Yeh quietly keeps asking questions, coming up with clues and new ideas, keeping the investigations (and Jigsaw!) on track. I don’t know where he’d be without her. Theirs is an equal partnership; they split the profits 50-50. And I’m glad, today, that Mila Yeh stands as a bright, lively, caring, strong female character in the world of children’s books — who also happens to be Asian-American. Fun fact: Mila Yeh is named after my old friend at Scholastic, Phoebe Yeh, who is still editing books today. 

Mila Yeh arrives at the home office, singing a song, at the start of a new case in JIGSAW JONES: THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. Art by R.W. Alley.


It’s been upsetting and heartbreaking to read about how attacks on Asian-Americans are up in this country. I don’t fully understand it, though obviously the former president’s racist insistence on called the Coronavirus the “China Virus” has contributed to an ugly groundswell of hatred and blame.

Here’s some info from a fairly typical recent article, as reported by Alexandra E. Petri and Daniel E. Slotnik in The New York Times:

Hate crimes involving Asian-American victims soared in New York City last year. Officials are grappling with the problem even as new incidents occur.

Sam and Maggie Cheng on the street where their mother was attacked last week in Flushing, Queens.

Maggie Cheng could stand to watch the video only once.

“I’ve never cried like that before,” Ms. Cheng said, describing her reaction to security footage that showed her mother being shoved to the ground last week on a crowded street in Flushing, Queens. “To see my mother get thrown like that, she looks like a feather. She looks like a rag doll.”

The attack on Ms. Cheng’s mother, which was highlighted by celebrities and gained widespread attention on social media, was one of four against Asian-American women in New York City that day. Taken together, they stoked fears that the wave of racism and violence that has targeted Asian-Americans during the pandemic was surging again in New York. Those concerns intensified after a man of Asian descent was stabbed Thursday night near Chinatown.

The number of hate crimes with Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department jumped to 28 in 2020, from just three the previous year, though activists and police officials say many additional incidents were not classified as hate crimes or went unreported.


In New York City, where Asian-Americans make up an estimated 16 percent of the population, the violence has terrified many.

“The attacks are random, and they are fast and furious,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, a nonprofit network of community groups. “It has stoked a lot of fear and paranoia. People are not leaving their homes.”


The increase in attacks in the city mirrors a trend across the United States. Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative that tracks violence and harassment against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, recorded more than 3,000 reported incidents from the start of the pandemic, said Russell Jeung, one of the group’s leaders and chair of the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University. Of those, at least 260 were in New York City.

These attacks have lasting effects, said Kellina Craig-Henderson, who works for the National Science Foundation and has studied the psychological impact of hate crimes. She said that people targeted because of their race and ethnicity can suffer ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder, often more acutely than victims of other crimes.

“If you’re a minority person and this happens to you, you’re going to be more fearful, you’re going to question your place in the world,” Dr. Craig-Henderson said.

I think many of us ask, “What can I do?”

It’s hard to know. We’re all different. One answer that I like is . . . to do what you’ve always done, but with more intention. You don’t have to become a new person, or a raging activist if that isn’t your comfort zone. Attend a rally, have a conversation, make a phone call, write a book, spread the kindness — find a way, even a small way, to make a difference.

One group of children’s literature professionals has put together an auction fundraiser. That’s one thing you can do. Click here — and give. I learned about it too late to contribute. But if you or your classroom does give to this cause in any many you see fit, doesn’t have to be this particular fundraiser, let me know at jamespreller@aol.com and I’ll send you a signed book (until supplies last).

Fan Mail Wednesday #69

Yikes, I’m getting behind on my fan mail — I can only marvel at how Santa must feel! How in the North Pole does he keep up with it?

I know! Santa has those eager little helpers.

I’ve got to get me some . . . Elvises!

Wait, hold on. That’s not right. I mean: cute little Elfs elves.

Urm. Hmmm. I was thinking something more along the lines of this . . .

(Excuse me, my wife is on the phone. This won’t take a minute.)

“What’s that, honey? I can’t . . . could you stop screaming . . . no, it was a joke . . . I’m just . . . PUT DOWN THE GOLF CLUB . . . yes, dear . . . yes, dear . . . you know I’d never . . . [CLICK] honey? . . . sugar lips? . . . dumpling?”

Oh, hey, I’m back! Gee, this is awkward. Actually, I’ve decided that life might be more peaceful around here if my helper looked like this . . .

In any event, let’s answer some mail before I get into any more trouble!

Dear James Preller,

My name is Aditya. I am 9 years old.  I live in Hong Kong.  I go to Glenealy School.

I am one of your greatest fan! I love your books especially The Jigsaw Jones Mysteries.They are the best books I have ever read! I have read so many of your books right now.

I want to ask; Do you have a friend called ‘Milla Yeh’ like Jigsaw Jones? And is your dog SLOBBERY like Jigsaw’s dog?

I hope to get a reply from you,

From one of your greatest fan.
Aditya V

I replied:


Thanks for your email. It’s so cool to hear from you all the way from Hong Kong!

That’s far away from where I live, in upstate New York. I just looked at the website for your school — it seems like a happy place. Do you wear a blue-and-white checkered shirt? When I was in elementary school, I had to wear green pants, a white shirt, and a green tie. Every day. For six long years.

I hate the color green. Sigh.

I have a friend named Phoebe Yeh, who is very proud of her Chinese heritage. I worked with Phoebe many years ago at Scholastic. She is now a very important editor at HarperCollins. I don’t think she minded that I stole her last name for my books. It was my way on honoring her a little bit.

As for the name Mila, boy, that’s caused a lot of confusion over the years. I once knew a girl name Mila (pronounced My-La), and I always thought it was a nice, unusual name. But I realize that some people pronounce it Me-la, such as the actress Mila Kunis. Anyway, that’s often how I come up with names for characters. I borrow them from people I know, kids I meet on school visits, or from old baseball players (Joey Pignattano, for example). Who knows, maybe I’ll steal your name one day. Aditya sounds like a swell name for a new character. Do you think she’d be nice?

There was a slobbering dog I remember from my childhood, owned by a kid around the block, Harry McCrystal (that’s a great name, too, by the way — funny how some names just feel right). Harry’s dog was this huge, black, clumsy Newfoundland — and it drooled slime all day long. It was a gentle dog. Harmless. But on hot summer days, watch out, or he’d slime you something awful.

Have you ever seen one?

Pretty cute, huh? That’s exactly the image I had in my mind when I wrote the first Jigsaw Jones book. But the illustrator had a slightly different idea. My current dog, Daisy, is a golden doodle. She’s not too smart, but I’m happy to report that she does not SLOBBER.

Thanks for writing, Aditya . . . all the way from Hong Kong!