Here’s goes, the full text of the first two reviews for BETTER OFF DEAD along with a sample chapter for the curious.
From Booklist, with a STAR!
Preller takes the black-kid-in-a-white-school premise to the next level with Adrian, who is not only African American, but also a zombie. The author sets his tale in a near-future world in which climatechange and pandemics are wreaking odd paranormal phenomena as well as predictable havoc. Having inexplicably survived a fatal hit-and-run accident over the summer, aptly named Adrian Lazarus is off to seventh grade, sporting a hoodie to hide his increasing facial disfigurement and lunching on formaldehyde smoothies to keep himself together. Simultaneously resenting and yet understanding the varied reactions of his schoolmates—which range from shunning to all-too-close attention from a particularly persistent bully—Adrian is also surprised and pleased to discover that he has allies, notably Gia Demeter, a new girl with a peculiar ability to foretell certain events. Preller might have played this as a light comedy (and there are some hilarious bits), but he goes instead for darker inflections. Even as Adrian sees himself becoming ominously aggressive (while developing tastes for roadkill and raw meat), his discovery that fabulously powerful data miners Kalvin and Kristoff Bork are ruthlessly scheming to put him under the knife in search of the secret to his longevity cranks the suspense up another notch. Nonetheless, in a series of splendidly lurid exploits, Adrian beats the odds as he fights for a well-earned happy ending. — John Peters
From School Library Journal:
Gr 4-7–Adrian Lazarus is a middle school zombie, the result of an accident that left him “as undead as a toenail and not really thrilled about it.” The book is similar to Paolo Bacigalupi’s Zombie Baseball Beatdown; however, this cautionary tale is more than just a brain-eating gross-out. Set in the not-too-distant future when humanity is suffering from numerous self-inflicted woes, this story’s villains are the Bork Brothers, owners of K & K Industries, “the richest, most powerful corporation on the planet” and also the source of much of the planet’s environmental troubles. Like The Wizard of Oz, to which this book makes frequent allusions, the Bork Brothers control the world behind a curtain of extreme privacy, “pour[ing] their millions of dollars into helping certain politicians win elections.” With one of the brothers dying, they attempt to kidnap Adrian, hoping to glean the secret of cheating death. Adrian foils this plot with the help of his friends, one of whom is a thinly disguised Demeter-like creature. While following these fantastic adventures, readers learn about real environmental issues, such as the vanishing of bees, with the clear message to not be a “zombie,” but to instead take action to protect the planet before it is too late. VERDICT This uproarious middle grade call to action has considerable kid appeal and a timely message. A strong addition to school and public library collections.–Eileen Makoff, P.S. 90 Edna Cohen School, NY
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends * Pages: 288 * Price (Hardcover): $16.99 * Publication Date: October 2017 * ISBN (Hardcover): 9781250066480
EXCERPT NOTE: Below is chapter 3 of 39 chapters. The book is just settling in, and here we address the central dilemma. The actual plot — the new friends, the deeper themes, and the mystery that propels the book forward — come gradually later. Still setting the scene, meeting our main character.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
I was a busy guy during the first week of my death. Sort of the opposite of what you’d imagine, right? You’d assume it would be quiet, even relaxing, being dead and all. But not in my unlife. There was a lot to do.
For the first few days after the accident, I was seen by every medical expert in the area, even people from the FBI and mysterious others flashing U.S. Government badges. All day long they wandered into my hospital room to marvel at the new patient. They looked at me and frowned, clucked and murmured, and said helpful things like, “Hmmm, interesting, interesting.” I was a fascinating case, a puzzlement. I was tested, probed, poked, prodded, scanned, questioned, measured, charted and MRI’d until, finally, the folks in their white coats shrugged with a mixture of defeat and boredom. After three sleep-interrupted nights of liquids dripping and machines beeping, they told me to go home. Something about insurance costs. There was nothing to be done. After that, I was assigned to the primary care of Dr. Lewis Halpert. He was some hot-shot specialist flown in from who-knows-where. And so we visited his pristine office for regular check-ups at the K & K MediCorp building. As far as I could tell, I was his only patient.
On the day when my bad news got worse, I played with the controls of a leatherette recliner of the type normally found in a dentist’s office. My mother fiddled with her new watch computer, setting up the connection with my Dad who was still deployed at an unspecified location somewhere in the African continent. Dad couldn’t give us details on his work assignments, it was hush-hush, and we’d often go months without a word. Even so, he was supportive about my situation. Dad said he wanted to come home immediately, but, well, the Corporation couldn’t let him go just yet. He was a second lieutenant in a privatized army, outsourced by the government, and Corporate depended on him. The Skype was Dad’s way of being there, a grim-faced, tight-lipped, square-jawed head on a computer screen.
The room was filled with glass surfaces and glittering utensils. I kept catching my reflection staring at the strange surroundings like a startled woodland creature. Chap-lipped, sore-faced, hideous: zombie me. I missed the identity of my dark skin in our mostly white town. I used to be the black kid, but not anymore. Race, religion, politics, “zombie” trumped them all. After another routine examination –- reflexes, none; eyesight, failing; sense of smell, gone; etc. — Doctor Halpert looked at me, mustache drooping, eyes flickering with indecision. He parked heavily on a stool and rolled close to me, leaning in. “Adrian,” he began, raising his palms as a sign of surrender. “As doctors, we like to think we have all the answers. We possess all this expensive equipment, years of scientific research . . .” his voice trailed off, losing steam. He sighed, checked my mother with a glance, looked hopelessly at my father’s image in the laptop. “But there’s so much we don’t know. That’s just a fact.”
I watched him, gave a nod. At least he was honest.
“By every measure we currently employ, medically speaking, you should be dead,” Dr. Halpert said.
My throat felt dry. My tongue seemed to swell. I tried to swallow.
“You don’t have a heartbeat,” Doctor Halpert stated. “Yet here we are. We have tested you in every conceivable manner. And the fact is,” –- he ran his thumb and index finger down his thick mustache –- “the fact is,” –- repeating himself, struggling to find the words –- “we just . . . don’t . . . know . . . diddly.”
“But, Doctor –-“ my mother interjected.
“Oh, we have theories. We could sit around and speculate all day long. It might be this, it might be that. An exotic strain of virus. Ebola this, Superflu that, cancer-causing agents in the water table, the fallout from fracking, too many genetically-engineered foods, a new strain of dengue fever, or just plain bad luck. All I know, Adrian, is that you are –-“
“—- a freak,” I said.
“No, no, no,” Doctor Halpert said, “A miracle! And as a man of science, it kills me to say that. I don’t believe in miracles, Adrian. I believe in facts, hard data, research. We simply don’t understand how you are walking around today, much less why. Talking. Seeing. Thinking. And, seemingly, living. It makes no scientific sense. When it comes to your case, Adrian, we might as well be in the dark ages, applying leeches and burning incense.”
“Is it . . . contagious?” asked my mother, inching ever so slightly away.
“Not at all,” the doctor replied. “It’s certainly not an airborne virus or anything of that nature. Of course, I wouldn’t let him bite you, ha-ha-ha!” He turned to me, smiling broadly. “You’re not going to bite your mother, are you, Adrian? Of course not!”
I joked, “Yeah, no, I just had a big lunch.”
More laughter, ho-ho-ho, even my dad thought it was a laugh riot. Mom, however, didn’t seem amused. Her mouth laughed, but her eyes didn’t get the joke. Mom’s cell buzzed with an incoming message. She checked it, frowned. She was missing work for this appointment.
Dr. Halpert looked at me, waited. I didn’t know what to say. I rarely did. My thoughts refused to organize themselves; the words wouldn’t cohere. My mind was a buzz, a beehive, a blur, a whirr. I stared at him, blinking, thinking, coming up empty.
My father broke the silence. “Well, that’s not a very satisfactory answer, is it, doctor?”
Dr. Halpert shook his head. “No, it isn’t,” he admitted.
“So what now?”
Doctor Halpert glanced at me, and back to the computer image of his inquisitor. “Summer’s almost gone. School starts in another week or so. Middle school, I guess.”
“You think he can go to school?” my mother chimed in, shock registering in her voice. “You think it’s all right?”
“Life goes on,” the doctor replied. He scratched his cheek with nervous fingers, tugged at his white lab coat. Perhaps Doctor Halpert recognized the irony of his own words –- this crazy situation -– so he quickly added, “I mean, Mr. and Mrs. Lazarus, I don’t see the harm in it. Admittedly, Adrian’s is an unusual case. Bizarre, truly. No one has an explanation for what’s happened to your son. By everything we know, there’s simply no way on earth your boy should be sitting in my office having this conversation. There’s no heartbeat! He’s dried up, blood doesn’t course through his arteries. He’s a zom . . .”
The doctor stopped himself, embarrassed or unwilling to finish the word; so it hung in the air unspoken like a bubble on the verge of bursting. Zombie. I felt a twitch in my stomach. If I had anything to hurl, I would have upchucked right there on the floor.
The thought of going back to middle school, seventh grade, was sickening.
My mother sat staring at me, the downward sickle of a frown on her lips. She made a dabbing gesture on her face, as if applying phantom makeup. “Is there anything we can do to –-“
“Ah, yes! I almost forgot,” Dr. Halpert said, jumping out of his seat cheerfully. He pulled open a cabinet door, then another, reached for bottles, pushed others aside, scanned labels. By the time he was finished, the counter was cluttered with all sorts of medicines and potions. “The good news is, there’s some very simple things we can do to stave off the symptoms.”
The doctor read the question in my eyes.
“I don’t think we can cure you, Adrian –- this is uncharted territory for all of us — but there’s a lot we can do to keep the, urm, illness from progressing. You know, just by using standard over-the-counter products such as creams, lotions, eye-drops, salves, and whatnot. Chap stick, for example, works wonders,” Dr. Halpert said. “And drinking plenty of fluids will help, too.”
My mother listened intently, obviously interested. She finally had something to latch onto after days of helpless hoping. They weren’t going to try to cure my condition. Nope, they just wanted to conceal it.
“Essentially, Adrian, you’ve lost your vital secretions. You’re body is drying up, no juices, and we can’t have that.”
“I see,” my mother murmured, grasping the concept. She said, “It’s like putting on hand moisturizer. I do that every night before bed, Adrian.” She raised her smooth, well-moisturized hands as if they were exhibits in a legal proceeding.
I smiled weakly.
“Exactly,” Dr. Halpert chirped. “We’ve got to keep him . . . squishy.”
Both of them chuckled over the word. Squishy. Ho-ho. Meanwhile, I scratched at the skin on my dry, flaking knees. “Doctor,” I spoke up. “I don’t have a heart beat. My face is falling apart –- my face! Are you seriously telling me to drink lots of water?”
He shook his head. “No, no, no. I mean, yes . . . and no. The truth is, Adrian, water will help. Lots of it. A gallon a day, maybe two in your case. But I have something else in mind, too.” He plucked a pink pad from his front coat pocket, scribbled on it, tore off the top sheet, and handed it to my mother.
She scanned it and read, “Formaldehyde smoothies?”
“Formaldehyde is a common embalming agent,” Doctor Halpert explained. “It’s frequently used in, urm,” he gestured with his hand, pulled again on his thick mustache, and said in a muffled voice, “funeral homes and whatnot.” Cough-cough.
“On dead bodies?” I interrupted.
My mother gaped at me, neck stretched forward, as if to say: Don’t be rude. I felt pressure behind my eyes, a welling up, but no tears came. Not squishy enough, I guess. No juices. Real zombies don’t cry.
The doctor continued, “Formaldehyde helps preserve dead tissue –- though it’s most often used as a fixative for microscopy and histology, but nevermind that. The point is, Adrian, if you drink one of these smoothies every morning, I believe it will help keep you looking better, feeling better, and, urm, smelling fresher.”
He stood to open a window.
For a moment I thought about jumping out of it. But what would be the point?
As far as I’m aware — and I think I’ve been paying attention — no book from my Jigsaw Jones series has ever been reviewed. Until now. With the 41st title in the series.
Up in the treehouse with Danika, Mila, Jigsaw, and Joey. Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE.
Thank you, School Library Journal and Gina Petrie, for recognizing the happy news surrounding the revival of this popular series (more than 10 million books sold, and counting).
But most of all, my heartfelt thanks goes out to classroom teachers for keeping these books alive in the minds of young readers. I still receive a steady flow of fan mail, and I know that it’s because of teachers and librarians who have kept this series on the shelves and in the bins: tattered, mangled, well-used. Don’t despair. Eight “classic” titles will be reissued this year by Macmillan, revised and updated and available in paperback (cheap!), plus the brand new one, The Case from Outer Space. It’s out of this world.
But don’t take my word for it . . . read the official review from SLJ!
THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE
Jigsaw Jones Series
Author: James Preller
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Price (Hardcover): $15.99
Publication Date: August 2017 ISBN (Hardcover): 9781250110183
Jigsaw Jones is back! Preller’s puzzle-solving second grader returns for his first mystery in 10 years, coinciding with the republication of four original “Jigsaw Jones” mysteries. Fans of the 32-book series will be happy to once more see Jigsaw, fellow detective Mila Yeh, teacher Mrs. Gleason, and other familiar friends. Here, classmates Joey and Danika find a mysterious note in a book they borrowed from a neighbor’s Little Free Library. They are convinced it means that aliens are coming. Jigsaw and his friends spend afternoons investigating the mystery, while during the school day, they learn about the solar system. Then they catch the bus home, where they are involved in stakeouts, neighborhood canvasses, and code-breaking. As usual, Preller brings the threads together in the end. He references other real-world titles (Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s “Nate the Great”; David A. Kelly’s “Ballpark Mysteries”; Richard and Florence Atwater’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins), includes a secret code (a “Substitution Code” this time), and incorporates deductive reasoning, allusions, and similes. Jigsaw has the same droll sense of humor longtime fans will remember (“As a cook, I’m pretty good with a toaster.”). VERDICT Those who enjoy Preller’s works for younger readers will welcome the return of Jigsaw Jones. Highly recommended, especially for devotees of series such as David A. Adler’s “Cam Jansen,” Ron Roy’s “A to Z Mysteries” and “Calendar Mysteries,” and, of course, Marjorie Weinman Sharmat’s “Nate the Great.”–Gina Petrie, Catawba College Library, NC
More good news for my upcoming book, now just one measly month away from hitting the shelves. The Courage Test has already earned a starred review from Booklist and been named a 2016 Junior Library Guild Selection. Below, please find the full review from School Library Journal. While I am grateful for any positive attention, and impressed with the amount of information this reviewer conveys in a difficult, condensed format, I should clarify two points:
1) Will and his father live in Minneapolis and travel in a long, dull drive to Fort Mandan, North Dakota, where they pick up the old Lewis & Clark Trail. From that point on, they loosely follow the trail all the way to Seaside, Oregon.
Sacagawea on the trail with her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, nicknamed Pompy.
2) The character of Maria Rosa is 15 and pregnant, not coincidentally in the same condition as that of Sacagawea when the explorers first encountered her in Fort Mandan. Sacagawea grew up with the Shoshones and had been kidnapped by the Hidatsa tribe at around age ten. A few years later she was sold to a fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. It is not clear in The Courage Test that Maria is exactly a “runaway,” but it is strongly intimated that she came into the United States illegally from Mexico, seeking a new life. The title of Chapter Three is “An Illegal Girl,” for example.
THE COURAGE TEST
Author: James Preller
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Price (Hardcover): $16.99
Publication Date: September 2016 ISBN (Hardcover): 9781250093912
Gr 4-7–William Meriwether Miller—named after Lewis and Clark—is not happy about embarking on a wilderness adventure with the father who walked out on him and his mother. It’s not what he had in mind for his summer (he’s missing the chance to play on the All-Stars baseball team), but his mother insists. So he and his father, a history professor working on a book about the famous explorers, set off from Minnesota to North Dakota, driving, camping, rafting, and hiking along the Lewis and Clark Trail. As they work together to overcome obstacles and help a pregnant 15-year-old runaway, Will slowly gains a better understanding of his father. When he finally learns the reason behind the trip—his mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is starting treatment—he comes to appreciate his family as they are and not as he wishes they could be. The lively narrative is interspersed with Will’s entries for a school writing assignment, which contain lots of facts about the original journey, as well as postcards to his mother. Despite the emotional heft, there is plenty of action, including white-water rafting and a close encounter with a bear. VERDICT A middle grade winner to hand to fans of history, adventure, and family drama.–Laurie Slagenwhite Walters, Brighton District Library, Brighton, MI <<
The folks at School Library Journal reviewed the first book in my new SCARY TALES series, Home Sweet Horror.
Did they like it?
Would I be posting this if they didn’t?
“The thrills and chills are delightfully spine-tingling in this truly terrifying tale. A great choice for reluctant readers.” — School Library Journal.
Note: All books in the series are available in Hardcover, Paperback, e-book, and carrier pigeon.
Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.
Here’s the full deal, with thanks to reviewer Carol Hirsche for the kind words:
PRELLER, James. Home Sweet Horror. Bk. 1. illus. by Iacopo Bruno. 112p. (Scary Tales Series). Feiwel & Friends. 2013. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-1-250-01886-1; pap. $5.99. ISBN 978-1-250-01887-8.
Gr 3-5–Liam and Kelly move with their father into a new home after their mother passes away. Eight-year-old Liam is immediately bothered by the creepy old house. He hears sounds and feels like he is being watched. No one else in his family senses anything until Kelly’s friend, Mitali, comes for a visit. The scariness escalates when Mitali tricks them into repeatedly saying “Bloody Mary” in front of the bathroom mirror. An evil spirit is summoned, and no one can deny that something is wrong in the house. Frightening events follow, their dog disappears, and a mysterious message appears on their refrigerator: “Get out now. Love, Mom.” The scratchy black-and-white illustrations enhance the mood of the story. The thrills and chills are delightfully spine-tingling in this truly terrifying tale. A great choice for reluctant readers.–Carol Hirsche, Provo City Library, UT
I’ve enjoyed doing this semi-organized, possibly-ongoing series of interviews, especially when it comes to meeting important voices in the kidlitosphere. I hope you agree that it’s nice to get to know the people behind some of our more frequently-visited blogs. One such destination is the oft-entertaining, 100 Scope Notes. Travis has a lively mind, he’s young and insightful, and — to be perfectly honest — it seemed like it would be cool to hang out with him. I mean to say: If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it. I’m like a Roman Emperor that way, sort of a cross between Tiberius, Caligula, and Herod Agrippa, but with typing skills. But let’s move along, folks . . . because here comes Travis, hauling around a pile of books.
Greetings, Travis. It’s nice to finally meet you. Thanks for stopping by.
Well, it’s an honor. Sorry I’m late — I was away for a week visiting family.
How’d that go?
Great, but very filling. You ever have it happen where a trip back home all of a sudden becomes an eating tour? It’s like all decisions were based around food. I found myself saying things like, “Well, we can’t go to the ‘60s-style drive-in tonight, because I really wanted to get to the Italian restaurant with the moose head on the wall. And let’s not forget about the homemade cookie shop for dessert.” You can see how things can get out of hand pretty quickly.
Oh, I get it. You’re here for the cheese log.
You have one of those? If you’ve got a box of Toasteds crackers, it’s on.
You’ll be putting it on the Ritz, my friend. As the 1950’s ad campaign so truly proclaimed: “Nothing tastes as good as Ritz . . . but Ritz!”
So, tell me. You became a librarian in 2005, and started blogging back in the halcyon days of late 2007. That officially makes you a grizzled veteran of the blogosphere. Did you have a plan when you started?
Let me begin by saying I have played a lot of soccer in my day, and have thus taken many, many soccer balls to the head. I’ve always had a hard time remembering which books I’ve read and why I liked them or didn’t like them. My memory not what it should be, I began 100 Scope Notes mainly to record my thoughts and feelings about books I was reading. I also like the idea of making book reviews entertaining in their own right, so I’m always trying to accomplish that.
So it really began as a classic “web log” without any great ambitions. Did you think anyone would read it?
Hmm. Yes, I suppose I figured I could dupe a few shut-ins into reading my opinions, but I didn’t expect much more than that.
It’s very impressive what you’ve accomplished. (Listen to me, I sound like Yoda: “Lost a planet, Obi Wan has.”) Congratulations.
Thanks. Fun, it has been.
Grow up, where did you?
Northern Michigan. Are you familiar with the Mackinaw Bridge? Close to that.
A great place to grow up and very picturesque. I love it. Pretty far up there, however. Let’s just say that there were times in elementary school where I was slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn’t snowmobile for fear of getting shunned by my peers.
I find your blog very inspiring. I mean, authors tend to blog out of necessity, some sense of self-promotion. Other folks blog because it’s part of their job. But your blog, and others like yours, either by teachers or librarians or enthusiastic parents, comes from what appears to be a purer place, an abiding love of children’s books.
I definitely want the focus to be on books. Self-promotion isn’t really my bag. I have this completely unreasonable desire to Google my name and have it say “I’m sorry, that person must not exist, for we can find no evidence saying so”. I’ve been doing pretty well at that so far, although I guess this interview may hurt the pursuit of that goal. I’m a school librarian, so the blog is mostly for others in my profession. I use blogs I trust for finding great books, so I want to do the same for others.
So why children’s books? How did you get here?
That direction was not always clear. Roald Dahl was the first author I loved back in elementary school. In middle school I was huge into comics and then I went through a serious periodicals phase in high school . . .
Travis, hey, it’s perfectly natural for boys of a certain age. Bodies mature, maybe you discover your father’s (cough, cough) “periodicals,” as you prefer to call them, and . . .
Wow, I really walked right into that one.
I guess you did.
I had an agreement with the high school library aide where I could go behind the counter and grab the latest magazine issues before they went on the shelves. Thus I have perused more issues of Entertainment Weekly than I care to mention. When I went to college, I knew I wanted to work with the elementary school crowd. Getting back into children’s books stemmed from that. There are so many great books for kids that it was easy to get sucked back in. After I picked up my elementary teaching certification, I went back to school for library/media. Now I work in a school district with four elementary schools that I split time between.
You have an eye for book covers. I enjoy it when you highlight “Unfortunate Book Covers.” It pains you when a good book has a bad cover. Tell us a little bit about that. Do you think there are common mistakes?
I think folks who work in the book world can identify with this. You love a particular book and put it face out on the shelf, assuming that it will get snatched up right away. Most do, but occasionally there is one that seems to have been coated with child repellent. I’m glad that my hurt comes through, because it’s truly painful to see a great book sit just because its cover has seen better days.
Two of the books I’ve featured, Boy and Danny the Champion of the World, were especially difficult to call out, because I really, really love those books. I think sticking with a cover for too long is the most common mistake. I understand that there are lots of reasons why every book can’t get a makeover every ten years, but there are plenty of books that get passed over because they don’t look current. Really, there is an endless supply of these, so I see that feature popping up for quite a while.
I wonder if Jigsaw Jones falls into that category. He’s about that age.
Naw, I don’t find that that’s the case in the schools where I work. Actually, it’s pretty rare for series books to fall into the Unfortunate Covers territory. Readers get familiar with the characters and continue checking out books in the series, so a bad cover doesn’t have as much of a negative effect.
I enjoy your “cover controversy” posts, where you highlight look-alike covers. Do you have a larger point about imitation, or are you simply pointing out coincidences and trends just for the fun of it?
My whole motivation for pointing out similar covers boils down to something along the lines of, “Hey, look at that!” I would imagine that creating appealing covers is a difficult job, so I don’t get too frustrated that popular trends emerge. Although there are two cover types that I think have to go:
1. Girls in Victorian-era costumes.
I think I speak for everyone when I say that we appreciate your courageous vow to keep us “updated with any new sock-related cover art developments.” You strike me as a talented writer. Intelligent, inquisitive, and funny. Do you write fiction? And I’m really hoping that your answer is, “Yes.”
Do nonsensical ramblings count as fiction? If so, then yes, I write fiction almost daily. If that description doesn’t cut it, then the answer is no.
You’re in –- “nonsensical ramblings” definitely qualifies. It’s probably how most writers get started.
While I once toyed with the idea of writing a collection of “inspired by real life” short stories, all I have to show for it is a list of chapter titles that I lost a few years back. I have been getting some encouragements lately, however (and I’m counting this question as one), including some from an author/illustrator whom I really respect. So a commitment of pen to paper may be in the cards at some point.
What have you gotten out of the blogging experience? I’m sure a lot of people look at it and think, “Oh dear, that seems like a lot of work.” What’s the payback?
I like the fact that the work I do on 100 Scope Notes makes me better at my job. I’m able to make better decisions in terms of book purchasing and recommending because I’m reading and writing about these things all the time. I also like the creative aspect of it, coming up with different ways of talking about children’s lit.
What makes a good blog?
I have a prepared statement for this. Here goes. Ahem:
1. Authority. How well do you know your stuff? Can you explain why you liked/didn’t like a book? (Note: Writing in all caps is not a good way to show authority).
2. Voice. Do I feel like I can connect and identify with you? Do you like Frisbee? Me too – we can hang out.
3. Opinions. Dude, you gotta take a stand. Did you like a book or not? Don’t be shy. Do you seem like a reasonable person who makes sound judgments? Did you like the song, “We Built This City”? If so, then your opinions are suspect.
4. Updates. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, if you only post once a month, I’m going to lose interest.
Well said. And for the record, I can say with 100% conviction that I hate the song, “We Built This City.”
What about author blogs. What do you like about them? And what don’t you like?
I like the behind the scenes stuff. It’s also a plus if they have an opinion of some of the book-related topics of the day. Also, it helps when they don’t do that “click here to read more!” thing, which really cramps the style of anyone checking out the site from Google Reader.
I find some of them fall into the trap of being too relentlessly self-promotional. Like, I know you are a big success and everything, but I’m kind of getting turned off here.
You’ve gotta have a good balance — talk about your books, but talk about not your books too.
You seem really exited about going to ALA in Chicago. Why is that? Don’t get out much?
The short answer is no. Here’s the long response: I’m excited because it sounds like cool things happen there. I’ve always wanted to attend the ALA conferences, but could never swing it. This time there is no excuse, as the conference site is just a couple hours away. I’m going to write some posts for 100 Scope Notes and the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) blog while I’m there, so that should be fun. I’m expecting a good time. I got a little too excited and made up some business cards. Currently, I’m busy planning out my food schedule for the trip. So far I’ve got Ann Sather for breakfast, Shaw’s Crab House for dinner, and — wait, this is sounding familiar.
I hear that Matthew Cordell likes cupcakes. You should try to meet him.
Say no more. I just added a chance meeting with Mr. Cordell to my itinerary.
Keep a cupcake in your pocket just in case. Why did you pick the name, “100 Scope Notes”?
It wasn’t a moniker that I’ve always had in my back pocket. When I knew I was going to start a blog, I wanted the title to be a library term. I cracked open my Dewey decimal classification guide and started looking around for something. In true librarian form, I always have Dewey nearby –- even in the car, where I keep a travel-sized reference in the glove compartment. Just kidding, but that would probably be a big hit if someone published that. Anyway, when I came to the term “scope note” I figured that would be a good choice. A scope note helps to clarify or define, which I thought was appropriate. I added the 100 because I thought it would be easier for people to remember and find if they were doing a search for it.
With today’s changing delivery systems, this age of New Media, are you concerned about the future of “the book”?
You know that section in Popular Science where they look back at an article that appeared in the magazine 60 years ago that says something like, “In 1996, civilization will rely on invisible, fudge-powered trains for travel,” and we all say. “ha-ha, look how silly we were”? I think making a prediction about where books are heading might come off a bit like that. But if I had to make one it would be this: In the year 2012 we will have invisible books that will somehow be fudge-powered.
You also review books for the School Library Journal. Lately there’s been some blog chatter about blog reviews, the quality or lack of quality, etcetera. Is there a difference when you post a review on your blog compared to the reviews you do for SLJ?
I have been keeping up on that blog vs. journal discussion and it makes for some interesting reading. There is definitely a difference between my reviews for SLJ and 100 Scope Notes. In SLJ I do my best to stick to a more professional format. The length guidelines really force you to make every word count. Writing this type of review has definitely made me more conscious of getting to the point and has made me a better writer overall. Then I write a blog review and it’s like, “Hey, I can do anything I want here!” I like having the opportunity to do both styles. While some of my blog reviews are nontraditional, I still hold myself responsible for giving my honest opinion with information to back it up. I would like to think that the quality, while delivered in a different way, remains the same.
What do you think of negative reviews?
They’re essential. I don’t delight in writing negative reviews, but people need to know the truth.
But what if they CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH? (Um, sorry. That was my Jack Nicholson impression. Pretty intimidating, right?)
I have yet to upgrade my VHS version of “A Few Good Men”, but I would say that’s pretty accurate. The rub is that I’m always looking to read books that I think I’ll enjoy, thus you’re likely to find more positive reviews on 100 Scope Notes. This fact makes professional journal reviews so vital as they review everything: good, bad, ugly, unreadable, and ridiculous.
If you could meet any author, who would that be? I mean, besides me.
Well, my other number one would have to be Jon Scieszka. Although now that he’s the Children’s Lit Ambassador, a meeting might be tough to pull off. Security detail, helicopters, body doubles, armored cars, you know how it goes. I also have some mixed feelings when it comes to meeting authors. I never really know how to chat them up. Do I steer down the “undying affection” road and just talk about the author’s books, or should I go with the more difficult to pull off, “You’re famous but I’m cool so I’m going to talk to you about other things” approach? It’s a tough choice so I usually just hedge my bets and remain uncomfortably silent. Any suggestions?
I think you treat them the way you treat anybody else, from the waitress at TGI Fridays to your neighbor to the high-powered executive. As equals, you know. At the same time, if he or she has written something that has touched you in some way, that means something to you, that’s always a nice thing to hear.
Ah, the old, “Imagine you’re at T.G.I. Fridays” approach. Very crafty, Preller. I will attempt this technique.
Oh, please, Travis. You can call me, “Mr. Preller, Sir.” Lightning round: Five websites you can’t live without?
Yes, yes this music site has sort of gotten a bad rap lately due to large doses of hipster backlash, but I’ve been reading it for years and when they like an album, I often like it too. I also completely borrowed some of their ideas for my site.
A Fuse #8 Production
A great childrens lit blog: informative, funny, thought-provoking. This one was starting back when I was beginning my library career, and it’s been fun to follow ever since.
While I probably read every Entertainment Weekly from 1996-2004, I no longer have easy access to that magazine. BuzzFeed fills some of the gap. Slightly gossipy for my tastes, but they seem to have a thing for kid’s books, which I appreciate.
No description needed
Question: I’m 48, so I know what I’m doing on Facebook, i.e., misguided nostalgia, reconnecting with people who didn’t like me the first time around. But a young fellow like yourself, what are you doing? Connecting with old preschool buddies?
No, no, of course not. Elementary school buddies.
Working at four elementary schools, I place a lot of book orders. Follett’s Titlewave site is the best in the biz as far as I’m concerned. Wow, I really sound like a pitchman right now, don’t I? Moving right along…
This site is cool. Artists create works and they sell different sized prints beginning at 20 bucks.
What music are you listening to these days?
Music is a big thing for me dating back to my saxophone virtuosity in middle school band. I was the second to last chair, but then the last chair guy moved to another school, so I was demoted for the rest of my days. I also was a DJ for my college radio station where I did theme nights. As you can imagine, themes such as “Depressing Songs” and “Songs I Can’t Stand” made for uplifting listening.
Oh, you are one of those “mixed tape” guys. Confession: I make a new playlist on my iPod every month of the year. And Travis, I just have to say: Are you feeling this, too? Because I think we’re starting to bond.
I’m a bit obsessive with the iTunes –- I rate all the songs and make ridiculous smart playlists, like, “Please list songs that I have skipped less than 10 times, but have played more than 20. Move songs with artist names that contain the word ‘Cougar’ off the list.” Between iTunes, GoodReads.com, and 100 Scope Notes, I occasionally feel like I just rate things all day long.
What are your five most played songs on iTunes? No cheating.
“This Must Be the Place,” Talking Heads. “No One Does It Like You,” Department of Eagles. “Karma Police (Live on David Letterman),” Radiohead. “Trains to Brazil,” Guillemots. “Soul to Squeeze,” Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Any recent favorites, discoveries?
I really could go on for awhile on this question, so I’ll just list a few things:
Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala
The song “A Postcard to Nina” is one of my all time favorites
Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
I’ve talked about them a little on 100 Scope Notes. I would hazard to guess that this band may have more librarian fans than any other. This album should come wrapped in a cardigan.
Pete and the Pirates, Little Death
This is sort of a pop rock group. Great songs, but I still have trouble telling each song apart – I guess that means they’re consistent?
I just got this after hearing them on NPR’s All Songs Considered. I’m glad I did. Fans of Arcade Fire would likely get into this.
Would you burn me a CD, some kind of Travis hipster pop-geek mix?
I’m already mulling over some picks. I’ll just need your mailing address.
Five favorite movies?
This seemed completely original when it came out. Memorable characters with dialogue that immediately draws you in.
Every year Pixar comes out with a new movie some critic declares that it’s their best yet. Don’t believe them –- this movie is the best they’ve ever done. Successful on so many levels and entertaining the whole way through.
2001: A Space Odyssey
This one is sort of the classic “attention everyone, I have good taste” pick, but I loved it, and I really think it changed the way people think about movies. I’m still fairly shocked that this was actually in movie theaters in 1968. Things move slowly, but the tension that builds is crazy.
Cool Hand Luke
This one started a whole older movie craze for me. I didn’t think that watching a chain gang build roads and engage in egg-eating contests would be entertaining, but I was wrong.
Classic quote: “What we got here . . . is a failure to communicate.”
School of Rock
There may have never been a role more tailor made for an actor than Dewey Finn for Jack Black. Hilarious.
“I pledge allegiance . . . to the band . . . of Mr. Schneebly.” I put that quote in my upcoming book, Bystander, partly because I love that movie so much.
Five favorite children’s books?
This book was like my reintroduction to children’s lit. In college I wasn’t reading many kids books. I picked this one up right as I was beginning my student teaching. Amazing. The storyline fits together so well. I thought, “Dang, this is what books for kids should be.” I’m actually kinda getting chills just thinking about how great that story is.
Where the Wild Things Are
Aught Nine is the year of the Wild Things. With the movie coming out, everyone is getting nostalgic for this classic. I have to say that of all the books I read as a kid, this one stuck with me the most.
What you said about Holes is true for me with Wild Things. I found that book soon after college and it totally changed my thinking about children’s books. Everything was suddenly possible. These books could have real emotional and psychological depth. Which is why, of course, I wrote Hiccups for Elephant.
The City of Ember
Sci-fi masterpiece. There is such a great buildup in this book. A serious page-turner.
Arnie the Doughnut
This picture book should be in every library. Funny, with a delightfully absurd ending that never fails to make kids smile. One of my all-time favorite read-alouds.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
As a kid, I was on a mission to hunt down every Roald Dahl book ever written (The Vicar of Nibbleswick was the most difficult to find back in those pre-internet days, by the way). “Charlie” was the one that sent me down that path.
Well, Travis, it looks like our time is up. Thanks for hanging out and eating my entire cheese log. I admire your alert, open, engaged mind — and for a skinny guy you’ve got quite an appetite. Enjoy ALA! Blog like there’s no tomorrow! And eat like a Roman Emperor!