Tag Archive for Stephen Gilpin

BEE THE CHANGE: First Review!

It’s not just the good ones. If I had a terrible review, I’d share it with you.

Of course I would.

Well, okay, almost definitely not.

(I had a review from Kirkus, long ago, where the reviewer playfully suggested that I never write poetry again. That felt good! Actually, it was an off-hand, thoughtless remark and I didn’t give it much weight. In fact, I’ve forgotten all about it! Wiped from my memory!)

I’m a little thin-skinned when it comes to negativity. Fortunately, not a lot of it comes my way. My work tends to elicit indifference, a yawn echoing through the stratosphere, rather than outright hostility.

The universe can be a cold place.

Which is all a blathering preamble intended to say, cool, look, here’s a review for Bee the Change, the 3rd book in my “Big Idea Gang” series, illustrated by the tremendous Stephen Gilpin. This is what they said about it in School Library Journal:  

PRELLER, James. Bee the Change. 96p. (Big Idea Gang). HMH. Jul. 2019. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781328857705; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781328973399.

K-Gr 2–The Big Idea Gang is back in this beginning chapter book series featuring third graders who hope to make a difference in their community. Kim and Lizzy visit beekeeper Ozzie, whose charismatic personality and enthusiasm for bees motivate the girls to raise awareness of the important environmental role that bees play. After pitching the idea to their supportive teacher, Miss Zips, the kids brainstorm at the library and come up with a plan to invite Ozzie as a guest speaker and plant some flowers in the school garden. Friendly characters who want to effect change are paired with upbeat text and cheerful pencil drawings. Endpapers include bee facts.  VERDICT A solid choice for series fans and early chapter book collections.Ramarie Beaver, Plano Public Library System, TX

 

That’s fine, right? Not amazing, but solid enough. Honestly, many series books don’t even get reviewed, so I’m grateful to see the series get some attention. Thank you, Ramarie Beaver!

What else am I grateful for?

Stephen’s incredible illustrations, the way he made these characters come alive before my eyes. I’ve never spoken to Stephen, I suppose he’s gone on to bigger and better things, but I’m very glad he passed my way. 

Here’s a few samples of Stephen’s style from the book:

 

Early in our story, Ozzie introduces Kym and Lizzy to his honeybees. He talks to them about colony collapse disorder, and about the vital role bees play in our ecosystem. It’s all connected, you see. Kym and Lizzy leave inspired to make a difference. 

 

 

Here’s Deon and Connor, the other two founding members of the “Big Idea Gang.” This series has been noted for its kindness — good kids basically treating each other with respect and cheerful generosity — and Stephen’s art deserves much of the credit.

 

 

Quick story: This shaggy-haired character appeared in a large-group illustration in the first book of the series, Worst Mascot Ever. He stands up, enthusiastic as a puppy, after Lizzy gives a terrific speech. Understand: He was just a drawing at this point. No dialogue. Just a face in the crowd. But what a face. I decided we needed to meet him, so made him a key character in Bee the Change, based solely on Stephen’s rendering.

Thank you, Stephen.

Thank you, SLJ.

And thank you, teachers and media specialists, for giving these modest little stories space in your Book World. 

BEE THE CHANGE: Long Live Stan Lee

 

BRIEF EXCERPT from Bee the Change (Houghton, May, 2019), the 3rd book in my new “Big Idea Gang” series. Illustrations by Stephen Gilpin. School Library Connection said of Everybody Needs a Buddy (Jan, 2019): “Abounds with examples of kindness, empathy, friends who listen to each other, and ways to strike up a friendship and to make a difference at your school.”

 

Chapter 4

Slug Man

 

Meanwhile, in a secret hideout in a galaxy far, far away (well, okay, in Deon Gibson’s basement), two boys sat down with an amazing plan. Connor O’Malley and Deon Gibson decided to create the most terrific, most awesome, most really-really cool superhero comic book of all time.

They were ready to rock and roll.

They had plenty of paper. Pens and markers. Drinks and snacks. Everything two artists could possible need.

Except . . .

“We’re missing one thing,” Deon concluded.

“Yeah, what’s that?” Connor asked. He tossed a pretzel nugget into the air and tried to catch it in his mouth. The nugget bounced off his forehead and onto the rug.

Deon smirked. “You are really bad at that, you know.”

There were already half a dozen pretzel nuggets on the floor.

“Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up before we go,” Connor said.

“That’s right you will,” Deon said. “But first, read out loud what we’ve got so far.”

Connor picked up his notebook.

He coughed and began to read. “Deep in his remote hideout.”

Connor stopped reading. He set down the notebook and looked at Deon.

Deon looked back. “That’s it?”

“So far,” Connor said.

“It’s not bad,” Deon said.

“Not bad is pretty good,” Connor reasoned. “Maybe we should take a break.”

Deon shook his head. “We can do this, Connor. We’ve just got to work at it. Look at the popularity of superhero movies — all making huge money. Iron Man, Thor, Batman, Ant-Man, Black Panther. We need to come up with our own action hero.”

Connor leaned forward. He brought his elbows to his knees, tucked his fists under his chin. “Let’s think of different animals. We can’t use bats and spiders or ants, obviously.”

Deon nodded. “Already taken. What about . . . Gorilla Man?”

“Too much like Tarzan,” Connor replied. “The rhino?”

“Nah,” Deon replied. “I think that’s one of the bad guys in the Spider-Man comics. He crashes into walls or something.”

“Rats,” Connor groaned.

“Rat Man?” Deon said, eyebrows raised.

“Sounds too much like Batman,” Connor said. He tossed another pretzel into the air, lunged to his left, and the nugget hit him in the eye. It seemed to give him an idea.

“I’ve got it!” Connor exclaimed. “How about . . . SLUG MAN!”

Deon’s eyebrows arched. “What’s his superpower?”

“He slimes people!” Connor said.

Inspired, Deon snatched up his markers. He drew a crude picture of a bad guy trapped in green ooze. Deon added a word balloon: “DRATS! I’ve been oozed by green crud!”

“Great writing!” Connor said, patting Deon on the back. “What about, like, I don’t know, if you added a big long trail of slime?”

“Genius,” Deon said, giggling. He reached for a green marker.

“What other powers should he have?” Connor wondered. He snapped his fingers. “Hey, slugs have those weird antennae, don’t they? Maybe he can hear stuff that’s far away?”

“Yeah,” Deon said. “He, like, senses vibrations in the galaxy.”

That’s how the two friends spent the next hour, laughing, snickering, drawing, and writing. But after a while, their comic book lost steam. Slugs were kind of boring, they eventually decided, even ones with superpowers.

“It kind of looks like a giant booger,” Deon conceded.

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” Connor said, frowning. “Maybe a slug with superpowers is not what America needs right now. These million-dollar ideas are tough.”

Oh well. At least the two friends had a good time.

Connor never did catch a pretzel nugget in his mouth.



 

LONG LIVE STAN LEE!

 

GREAT NEWS: Terrific Review for “Everybody Needs a Buddy.”

“The book abounds with examples of kindness,
empathy,
friends who listen to one another,
and ways to strike up a friendship
and to make a difference
at your school.”

— School Library Connection

 

How’s that for a review quote?

I’m grateful for the kind words and sympathetic reading by Phyllis Amerikaner. That one sentence really captures what we are trying to do with this series, which I see as a direct response to today’s political climate.

I’ve pretty much given up on the adults.

My hope is with these kids.

Anyway, if you don’t know, “The Big Idea Gang” features a group of students who use their powers of persuasion to make a positive difference in their school community. By working together, they achieve their modest goals: a new school mascot, a buddy bench for the playground, a more “bee-friendly” garden.

Three titles are finished and coming soon: Worst Mascot Ever and Everybody Needs a Buddy (January), and Bee the Change (May). Grades 1-4.  

Thanks in advance, teachers, for giving these books a chance. We need to inspire and support these young kids, their voices and their ideas.

Full review below.

Preller, James

The Big Idea Gang: Everybody Needs a Buddy

Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. 2019. 96pp. $15.99 hc. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 9781328857194. Grades 1-4

This second book in the Big Idea Gang series opens with a lunchtime debate about the best part of the school day. For friendly, easy-going Deon, it’s recess. No contest. Then at recess that day, Deon notices an unfamiliar boy looking miserable and wants to help him. When the Big Idea Gang meets the next day to discuss news of a surplus of cash in the PTA treasury, Deon suggests a buddy bench, where kids can go when they need a friend. The problem is that the PTA has announced its plan to use the money to buy books for the library. The resolution of the story—Deon’s successful pitch to get not one, but two buddy benches—leaves it unclear if there was room in the PTA budget for books, too. However, the book abounds with examples of kindness, empathy, friends who listen to one another, and ways to strike up a friendship and to make a difference at your school. Other positive plot elements include lessons on how rumors can spread, and, best of all, a librarian explaining her rationale for weeding outdated books. Illustrations break up the simple text of this beginning chapter book, and fans of Preller’s Jigsaw Jones mysteries will welcome the arrival of this new, appealing series. Phyllis Amerikaner, Head Librarian (Retired), Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California

Recommended

Meet the New Librarian: Culling the Books

 

“The book sailed through the air,

as if its pages were wings,

and landed in the box marked TRASH.” 

— from Everybody Needs a Buddy.

Over the years, I’ve been entertained by different blog sites that feature hilariously outdated books still found in libraries. This scene from Everybody Needs a Buddy, the second book in the upcoming “Big Idea Gang” series, revolves around the zippy new librarian at school, Ms. Ronson. The kids are working on their project, hoping to persuade the school to install a “buddy bench” in the playground, when this encounter takes place.

But first, a brief description from an earlier page:

Ms. Ronson didn’t look much older than most middle schoolers. Small and thin, she wore her hair short and dyed bright red at the tips. Ms. Ronson was young and energetic. She wore colorful scarves and six earrings in each ear. She even had tattoos. And, of course, the kids loved her immediately — mostly because of her lively personality. 

And later:

“Excuse me, Lizzy? Padma?” a voice called. It was Ms. Ronson, now on her hands and knees by a back bookshelf. “Could you please bring over those boxes? Thanks ever so much.”

Ms. Ronson dumped some of the books in the first box. “Good riddance,” she muttered.

Lizzy was alarmed. “What are you doing? You can’t throw away books! It’s a waste of money.”

“Oh, Lizzy,” Ms. Ronson said, “some of these books have been here forever. No one reads them. They are taking up valuable space. Look at this book.” The young librarian held up an old science book. The cover read FUN WITH COMPUTERS! “This book is twenty years old. It’s terribly out of date. It’s useless, Lizzy, and it’s got to go.”

Lizzy could see that Ms. Ronson was right.

“Here’s another,” Ms. Ronson said, her voice rising. The cover read CAREERS FOR WOMEN. Ms. Ronson flipped through the stale, yellowed pages. “Look at these jobs. Secretary, flight attendant, piano teacher, bank teller!” Ms. Ronson actually growled, grrrrr. “Where’s scientist? Or financial analyst? Or astronaut? Or how about president? Maybe that’s what our country needs — a woman in the White House!”

The book sailed through the air, as if its pages were wings, and landed in the box marked TRASH. 

Ms. Ronson laughed. “I’m sorry, it just makes me crazy.” She swept an arm across the room. “Our graphic novel section is much too small. I can’t keep enough scary books on the shelves, because they are so popular. I don’t have any of this year’s new award-winners. Libraries have to change with the times. This is why it’s so wonderful that the PTA has decided to donate money for books. Don’t you agree?”

Lizzy and Padma nodded. Yes, they sure did. Lizzy tugged on Padma’s arm. “Come with me,” she whispered. “I want you to talk with the rest of the gang. I think I’ve got an idea — but we’ll need your help.”

Illustrations by Stephen Gilpin. Coming: January 2019, 96 pages, grades 1-4, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Also look for Worst Mascot Ever from the same “Big Idea Gang” series. 

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!