Tag Archive for Stephen Gilpin

Good News: Green Earth Award Nomination for BEE THE CHANGE

“A fresh new series
nudging emerging readers towards social change
and kindness toward others.”

Booklist.

 

       

I never expected this. Bee the Change, the 3rd book in my “Big Idea Gang” series (all published in 2019), was nominated for an actual award.

Where I live, being nominated is an award. So, yeah, I’m just going to eat a whole bag of marshmallows now. Back in sec.

Whoa, chest pain. Back to the good news!

Illustration by Stephen Gilpin.

But win it? I don’t think so, and that’s okay, it’s nice just to be recognized for contributing something positive, and earth-friendly, for young readers.

There’s literally a zillion books nominated for the “long list,” so I encourage you to JUMP ON THIS LINK for the complete lowdown on about 100 titles (not quite a zillion, admittedly), ranging from picture books to young adult, including fiction and nonfiction.

ABOUT THE GREEN EARTH BOOK AWARD

The Green Earth Book Award is given annually to children’s and young adult literature that best conveys the message of environmental stewardship.  They have bestowed the award for the past 15 years to bring national recognition to important works and their authors with its highly qualified “seal of approval” for environmental literature.  The winners are chosen by a panel of literary, environmental and educational professionals.

“Now, more than ever, these and many other eco-authors are delivering the goods that our younger generation hunger for –- how to make our planet healthy and sustainable,” said The Nature Generation President Amy Marasco. 

The 2020 Green Earth Book Award Short List and winners will be announced on April 22, 2020 – Earth Day. Winners will be awarded in the fall at the Salisbury University Children’s & Young Adult Literature Festival.

ABOUT THE “BIG IDEA GANG”

First: oh yeah, I like that, “eco-authors.” Nobody ever called me that before. It’s catchy.

The series grew directly out of our current political reality. These are simple stories about empowerment, about a diverse group of young people making a small difference in our world. And by featuring persuasive writing as a subtext, the books help provide some of the tools that are necessary for changing minds, for becoming powerful instruments of positive change. Hopefully these little books (grades 2-4) will help inspire a new generation of budding activists. The books intentionally focus on kindness and cooperation, on compassion and friendship, on seeing the world at an extremely local level and working together to make it better.

FROM BOOKLIST . . .

“Preller addresses topics such as kindness, activism, immigration, community involvement, and the dangers of gossip in an approachable way for a young audience. Readers will appreciate the numerous cartoon illustrations, short chapters with snappy titles, and large print with wide page margins . . . A fresh new series nudging emerging readers towards social change and kindness toward others.” — Booklist.

 

 

 

BEES IN BOOKS: “Anna Karenina” & Jen the Beekeeper

 

Illustration by Stephen Gilpin from BEE THE CHANGE, which is the third book in  “The Big Idea Gang” series.

We all have them, those books we feel that we “should” read . . . someday. For me, one such book was Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

I am pleased to formally announce to my Nation of Readers that I finally got around to it. And I enjoyed the book, too. Tolstoy gives each character a full interior life, and allows them the room to inhabit contradictions and complexity. Good writer, he might make it!

The book’s hero is Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin, an educated landowner in touch with the rhythms of the natural world. I was charmed when at the end of the book, sometime after page 800, we learn about Levin’s “new interest in bees.” It came out of the blue. Levin even takes his guests to visit the apiary. This is a clear sign — from Tolstoy — directly to me — that Levin is truly a good guy. He gets bees.

I admire bees, too. They’ve crept into my books of late. A bee plays a pivotal role in Better Off Undead, and (bizarrely) delivers the key line of the book, “It all connects.” In addition, a small group of students and a wonderful science teacher keep a hive on the grounds of the middle school. Bees are a theme that buzz through the book.

Here’s Jen now, smoking the hive to settle things down.

I borrowed the hive idea from a local science teacher and beekeeper, Jennifer Ford, who teaches at nearby Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland. Jennifer met with me, answered my questions, and even took me to commune with the hive at the middle school garden. Jen’s beekeeping activities extend beyond the school where she teaches; Jen and her partner Keith have run the Bees of the Woods Apiary in Altamont, NY, since 2008. They currently have about 20 chemical-free hives and produce beeswax candles, honey, and mead (honey wine).

For the third book of “The Big Idea Gang” series, Bee the Change, the narrative centered around honeybees. Lizzy and Kym visit with a beekeeper, learn some things about pesticides and colony collapse disorder, and become inspired to make a difference in their local community. These are characters who ask, “What can we do to help the honeybees?” Essentially the story revolves around the specific things they do to make positive change, concluding with the creation of a bee-friendly garden at their elementary school.

It’s funny how it works with books and reading and life in general. Once our antennae is up, we receive all kinds of signals that we’d have otherwise missed. If I read Anna Karenina even five years ago, I would have missed Levin’s bee infatuation. I’m glad I caught it.

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

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