Tag Archive for The Big Idea Gang

Be the Change: An Author Reflects on a Career in Books

“These books are my attempt to brainwash young readers

into believing

they can make the world a kinder, smarter,

more compassionate place.”

 

This week we’ll see the publication of the 3rd book in “The Big Idea Gang” trilogy, Bee the Change. I thought I’d write a little bit about this series before turning the page, moving on to the next small thing.

At its core, these books are my attempt to brainwash young readers into believing that they can make the world a better place. If I can inspire a little bit of that, amen. 

Because that’s where my hope resides these days. I realize it’s a little pathetic, for here I am, a 58-year-old man looking to 9-year-olds for strength and wisdom and salvation. Sorry, guys, but I believe the adults in your world have let you down. We’re not going to dig you out of this mess.

The books intentionally focus on kindness and cooperation, on compassion and friendship, on seeing the world at an extremely local level and wanting to make it better. No, not wanting. On working together to make a difference.

Each book features a minor focus on persuasive writing, and includes tips in the back matter. On how to make a compelling statement, to support that statement with facts, to build a strong argument for your case. We see these characters earn a new mascot in their school, install two buddy benches in their playground, and help create a “bee friendly” garden at school. 

Quick story: My daughter is working as a nanny this summer for a local family. Three kids, five dogs. One boy couldn’t believe that the “famous author” James Preller was her father. He figured that I lived in a mansion somewhere. Ah, ha, ha, ha. Good one!

In my career, which began in children’s publishing in 1985, there’s usually a lot of silence out there. Sales that don’t often amount to much, titles that go out of print — the waves my work makes never go much beyond a ripple. Oh well. I don’t control what happens after I write the book. I try to let it go. Be sanguine about things. Though, yes, there’s a lot of disappointment. But I am truly grateful that, so far, I’ve had the opportunity to put these stories out into the world. If the world shrugs, if I’m not an “it” author of this or any moment, I can only do what I’ve always done. 

Write stories the best I can. Visit schools when I’m lucky enough to be invited. Keep on keeping on. 

After Bee the Change in late July, the next Jigsaw Jones title, The Case of the Hat Burglar, comes out a week later (Macmillan, August 6th). In late October, my middle-grade adventure novel, Blood Mountain, comes out. Next Spring, finally, we’ll see the publication of All Welcome Here, a picture book of haiku illustrated by Mary GrandPre; it quietly celebrates the openness and acceptance of our public school teachers and classrooms.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

 

              

     

      

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. 

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

Great News: Here’s the First Review for “The Big Idea Gang” — and It’s Pretty Terrific!

The first two books in my upcoming series, “The Big Idea Gang,” won’t be out until January. But the first review just landed.

Money quote from Kirkus: “Upbeat and empowering!”

Here’s the full review, which is available online and will be, as I understand it, in the October print edition:

 

“A group of friends campaigns to change their school’s mascot. After a comedic mishap with the worn-out costume for Clay Elementary School’s longtime mascot—Arnold the Armadillo—friends Lizzy and Connor O’Malley (twins), Kym Park, and Deon Gibson see an opportunity to get the school a more compelling mascot: the bulldog. They propose it to their teacher (Isadora Zipsokowski, called Miss Zips), who insists they take their idea to the principal themselves. But not all of their classmates are in favor—domineering Suri Brewster opposes them, arguing against the bulldog and organizing a pro-armadillo contingent. The friends work on a new mascot idea—a dragon—and present their case to the principal, who puts their idea against the status quo, represented by Suri, to a schoolwide vote. The job of speaking for their side falls on Lizzy. In the face of her anxiety, her friends rally together to help her support her arguments. When the time comes, Suri speaks well, but Lizzy’s humor and sound logic carry the day. In a delightful twist, Suri is a story antagonist who isn’t antagonistic—she and Lizzy are mutually supportive as they face public speaking. A final segment provides tips on how to structure persuasive arguments. Publishing simultaneously is a sequel, Everybody Needs a Buddy. Lizzy, Connor, and Suri present white, while Kym is Asian and Deon is black. An upbeat and empowering series opener. (Fiction. 6-9)” — Kirkus.

New Series Coming in January, 2019

This year I’ve written three chapter books about these characters and look forward to the launch of the series in January, 2018. Essentially: four friends use their powers of persuasion to drive positive change in their school community, i.e., a new mascot, a buddy bench, a bee-friendly garden. Think globally, act locally. Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin. I feel good about it. Good stories, diverse cast of characters, humor and heart. Hopefully elementary teachers who feature persuasive writing in their classrooms will enjoy these books and use them as mentor texts. Grades 2-4, I think.