Tag Archive for The Case from Outer Space

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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Women of NASA Legos

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I absolutely love this. Lego is coming out with a new series of characters, “Women of NASA.”

Check the link for more details.

Of course, part of the inspiration for the new Jigsaw Jones, The Case from Outer Space, comes directly from the female astronauts who work at NASA. I’d give more details on that, but don’t want to ruin any of the book’s surprises by including spoilers here.

 

 

 

 

 

The real women pioneers who inspired the Legos.

The real women pioneers who inspired the Legos.

Come See Me at the Morristown Festival of Books

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For the first time, I’ll be signing books and speaking at the Morristown Festival of Books. I’ve heard great things about this event. Please click here for full details.

What makes it a little unusual is that this festival features authors for adults as well as children’s books. And unlike many festivals, boasting 75 authors and illustrators, or “more than 90 authors and illustrators,” Morristown does not appear to be focused on quantity. Check the list and you’ll find an impressive array of names. From the children’s side:

I'll be featuring my new Jigsaw Jones book: THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, and many others.

I’ll be featuring my new Jigsaw Jones book: THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, and many others.

Libba Bray, Scott Westerfeld, Emmy Laybourne, Kate DiCamillo, Tracey Baptiste, Ame Dyckman, Lauren Tarshis, Wendy Mass, and more. Best of all, I believe that all of us will get an opportunity to speak.

Oh yeah, I’m invited, too. Somehow I slipped through their defenses. I’m hoping I have time to hang out and just be a fan, because I love authors, too.

Take heart, Westchester, NY, folks: Please note that the wonderful Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival will be happening the same weekend. I’ve been fortunate to be invited to that one for years — since the old Sunnyside days — but I’m not attending this year because of a mix-up. Meaning: I got mixed up. Oh well, the festival will be perfectly fine without me — and, hey, I landed on my feet with this trip to Morristown.

If you love books, it’s going to be a great weekend!

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #255: Hobbies in Ohio

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Did you know I often include a baseball card with my letters to young readers? Yeah, I do. This guy, Jack, got a 1969 Topps Bobby Tolan because he played for the Cincinnati Reds. The Ohio connection.

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I replied:

Dear Jack,

Thanks for your terrific, well-written letter. I loved that you included colorful illustrations -– lucky me!

1055418.1443369346I’m glad to hear that reading my books is one of your hobbies. What other hobbies do you have? Wait, don’t tell me. Let me guess. Hmmmm. You like to carve wooden ducks in the basement? You collect and stack old marshmallows? You taught yourself how to speak Wookie? You build bridges made entirely of burnt pumpernickel toast?

No? Rats!

Reading books –- any books, even mine -– is a hobby that you and I share. Everybody knows that reading will make you smarter, but I think it also makes you happier. So I’m very glad to learn that you are enjoying books, too. Keep it up!

When I meet people who say they don’t like to read, I always think, Oh, boy, you are really missing out.

Yes, your teacher is right, Jigsaw does say “Yeesh” a lot. Though I think he’s saying it less and less these days. I’m not sure if he says it even once in the latest, The Case from Outer Space. The dot, dot, dot thing is called an ellipsis. It’s interesting that you noticed I do that. Now I’m worried that I might do it too much!

An ellipsis is usually an omission, words left out, but I mostly use it in the Jigsaw Jones series to indicate a pause. For example, Mila might say to Eddie Becker, “You like to eat . . . lizards?” To me, it tells the reader to give a little pause there, a little air, a little space, before going on to the next word.

That’s me, I’m always trying to help the reader out.

I found another one on page 53 from The Case from Outer Space. I’ll include the setup:

“Good,” I replied. “Are you sure she didn’t see you?”

Joey paused. His mouth said “No,” but his head nodded yes.

He had me confused.

I repeated the question as if I were talking to my dog. “Did . . . she . . . see . . . you?”

Joey shrugged. His nose twitched. “Maybe, sort of.”

“Maybe,” I echoed.

“Well, she waved to me,” Joey admitted. 

My best to you, kind Jack!

James Preller