Tag Archive for R.W. Alley

Artist’s Sketchbook: A Glimpse into the Process

I recently received a zippy little email from R.W. Alley, who is illustrating the next Jigsaw Jones book, The Case of the Hat Burglar.  I think that Bob — yes, I call him Bob — is a remarkable, sensitive talent. He really captures Jigsaw’s world, the essence of everything I hope to achieve through my words. Bob lifts it all up and makes it better. He’s done all the covers to the books, and (so far) the full interiors to three titles. The first two, much beloved, are currently out of print (grumble, grumble): The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster and The Case of the Christmas Snowman. Last year, Bob illustrated The Case from Outer Space, which is available, published by Macmillan. Very simply, I love his work. So grateful, so blessed.

Hey Jimmy,
I feel moved to let you know what fun I’m having sketching up this mysterious hat story of yours.
Here’s a little peek.
Happy wet Wednesday,
Bob
I’m a huge fan of process — except when it comes sausages — and it’s great fun for me to see how a book comes together over a long period of time. So many people touch it, shape it, contribute to the final “real” book. Mostly after I’m out of the picture. Just yesterday my editor, Anna Poon, sent along flap copy for my approval. Maybe I’ll share that another day. 
Must run now. Headed down to Westchester to speak at a middle school where all students (purportedly) read Bystander. Then on Saturday, it’s the glorious Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. Hope to see you there! Please say hello.

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!

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #262: A Remarkable Letter from Istanbul

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Such an impressive letter from a young reader in Istanbul . . . 

 

Dear Mr. James Preller,

Hello, my name is Damla. I am a 9 years old 5th grade student from İstanbul Hisar School. I read your book named “ The case from outer space”. Your book was very fun and interesting and I want to share my thoughts with you in this letter.

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First of all the Jigsaw Jones character was my favorite because he has good friends, he is smart and fun. Also he likes adventures and that’s why he is curious.

I chose to first read this book from the series because I am interested in getting to know more about space!

I was very curious about what would happen and what all those codes meant. So I kept reading and reading.

Finally finding out that it wasn’t an alien but a lady astrounot coming to school was a great surprise to me.

If I could be one of the kids I wish I was Jigsaw because you created this character with great curiosity, courage and power to finish whatever he starts.

Thank you for creating such a story and writing it so nicely so that I could read.

Best Regards,
Damla

I replied . . .

Dear Damla,

That was a gorgeous letter, Damla, so kind and thoughtfully crafted. Thank you very much for that.

And all the way from Istanbul, too!

You are right about Jigsaw. It’s not that he’s the smartest guy in the room. But he’s got spirit and integrity and he never gives up. Fortunately, as you noted, Jigsaw has good friends, especially Mila. She helps him a lot.

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Yes, I really like outer space too. It’s something that fascinates me. The great unknown. One of the ideas the book asks is if there’s life in outer space. Okay, perhaps not little green men from Mars. Or, um, definitely not men from Mars. But why not from some other distant planet? Perhaps a planet we don’t even know about yet!

When I researched for the book, I read about scientists who have made it their life’s work to listen for messages from deep space. They keep sending out signals, working to improve their equipment, hoping that someday, somehow, we people of earth will receive an answer. That’s why I ended the book the way I did, with the notion that maybe our current phones just aren’t good enough yet.

Like those cell phone commercials: “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?”

I particularly like that final chapter when Jigsaw, Grams, and his father walk out into an open field to stare up at the night sky. Haven’t we all done this?

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“Oh hush, you two,” Grams said. “Just look at the stars.”

And so we did.

We stood in an open field.

In the dark of night.

And gazed at the stars.

In perfect silence.

“That’s the real mystery, Jigsaw,” my father said. “Are we alone in the universe? We don’t know yet. It’s a mystery that can’t be solved –- even by the best detectives.”

“Not yet,” I said, gazing at the night sky. “Not yet.”

Not terrible, right? Don’t you love that illustration by R.W. Alley? His real name is Bob. I love those brief, quiet, family moments in these books. I try to tug at the reader’s heart a little bit if I can. 

Thank you for that truly exceptional letter, Damla. Here in the United States, a 5th grade student is usually 11 years old. Our 9-year-olds tend to be in our version of 3rd grade. It’s just one of the little cultural differences between us.

You know what? Boy, I’d love to see photo of you and your school. Your teacher. Your friends. Your dog. Whatever you want. You don’t have to send me anything — no pressure — I’m just happy to have a reader so far away. I’d love to see your face.

When you get a tiny bit older, and a more accomplished reader, you might like my new books The Courage Test and my brand-new one, Better Off Undead. I’d love to think of you with one of those books in your hands (and my words in your head).

Until then, I’d like to imagine that you and I will both step outside on the same warm night, to look up in silence at the same twinkling stars and distant planets, full of wonder and happiness.

Your friend, truly, 

James Preller

Making Connections (and Friends) with a Little Free Library!

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Here’s a quick story:

It was love at first sight. I first heard about Little Free Libraries five or six years ago. There are so many things to like: the community building, the celebration of literacy, the connectivity, and the creativity & craftsmanship of the objects themselves.

When I started writing a new Jigsaw Jones book — my first in ten years, my 41st overall — I knew I wanted to celebrate this small but powerful idea. Take a book, leave a book. So I centered the mystery in The Case from Outer Space around a note left inside a book found in a Little Free Library.

This one of the illustrations from my book, drawn by R.W. Alley:

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I had to create the character who put up this particular Little Free Library. What should he or she be like? Well, wonderful, right? Giving, kind, literate, fun-loving, happy. I decided to model this character — a key witness in our story — after my friend, author Robin Pulver. (She writes the “Language Arts Library” series and the classic “Mrs. Toggle” books, which were also illustrated by R.W. Alley, so there was a nice symmetry to it: you can learn more about Robin here.)

urlI didn’t ask Robin’s permission, I decided to surprise her. Fingers crossed, sensing she’d get a kick out of it.

I enjoyed writing that scene when my imaginary detective, Jigsaw Jones, interviews the fictional “Mrs. Pulver.” It was very meta. Here’s the essence of it, from Chapter 4:

I did push-ups on the Pulvers’ doorbell. A smiling woman with short hair answered the door.

I told her that I was a detective.

“How thrilling,” she said.

“I am working on a case,” I explained. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

I showed her my card:

NEED A MYSTERY SOLVED?

Call Jigsaw Jones or Mila Yeh, Private Eyes!

Mrs. Pulver whistled. “Wowee zowee.”

“It’s a living,” I said.

She told me about the library. She said that she read about Little Free Libraries on the Internet. “I thought it was a wonderful idea,” she said. “So I asked Harold to build one.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Harold?”

“My husband,” she replied. “He’s retired. I like to give him little jobs.”

I asked, “Have you noticed anything . . . strange?”

“Oh, Harold has been strange for years,” she said, laughing.

“No, I mean about the library,” I said.

She clasped her hands. “Lots of folks come and go. Friends, neighbors, even people I’ve never seen before. It’s lovely, actually. The books connect us.”

Here’s a sadly dark photo of Robin and me from last week’s Rochester Children’s Book Festival.

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But wait, I have to tell you about one more cool connection.

Yesterday I received this beautiful book in the mail. A gift from the author herself. A stranger to me, but now a friend.

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Margret Aldrich had discovered the Little Free Library reference in my book and was moved to send along a copy.

Once again I ask myself, How lucky am I?

Books really do connect us.

Margret included a kind inscription:

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FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #256: Favorite Characters

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Here’s one from Jake in Iowa . . .
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     dear mr. Preller,

my favrite charecter is bigs malony. And if your wondring i read your book The case of christmas snowman. Also your books are relley good i have read some of your other books. what is it like to be a author? how much time does it take to write chapter books? Because you are good at it. Right now my favorite book out of all yours right now is the case of christmas snowman. How much books have you written?
 
Jake 
2nd Grader 

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

I replied:

     Dear Jake,

I love writing about Bigs Maloney. Every class seems to have that one boy who is the biggest and toughest. That’s Bigs. He might seem scary on the outside, but deep down he’s a really sweet boy. He’s one of my favorite characters in Ms. Gleason’s classroom. I think Joey Pignattano is the funniest. He’ll eat anything!
A favorite moment from the series, when Jigsaw goes toe-to-toe with Bigs Maloney. Illustration drawn by R.W. Alley.

A favorite moment from the series, when Jigsaw goes toe-to-toe with Bigs Maloney. Illustration drawn by R.W. Alley.

I love being an author, especially when I receive kind letters like yours. I can write a Jigsaw Jones book in two months. It takes a while to figure out the mystery — to really think about it: the crime, the suspects, the solution — and then I can start writing. Good writing often begins with good thinking.
 
My brand-new Jigsaw Jones book is titled The Case from Outer Space and I am super proud of it. The books in the series had been hard to find the past few years, but now I’m a very happy to say that a bunch of them are back in stores and on Amazon. There will be 9 out in all by November. Unfortunately, The Case of the Christmas Snowman is still out of print. Good thing you have a terrific teacher who has an old copy. Give her a big hug for me.
Thanks for reading my books. Keep it up!
 –
My best,
 
James Preller