Tag Archive for The Case from Outer Space

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

Free “Jigsaw Jones” Teaching Guide: Just Click the Link!

 

Copy-and-paste the link below for a free CCSS Teacher’s Guide for my new Jigsaw Jones chapter book, The Case from Outer Space. Thanks to the good people at Macmillan for making it happen. Sorry about the extra step of copying and pasting — you’ll really work up a sweat! — but it’s the best I can do.

That’s it, that’s all I’ve got for you today. Carry on!

 

https://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/activity-guides/9781250110176AG.pdf?utm_source=exacttarget&utm_medium=eblast&utm_term=na-201709mcpgschlinl&utm_content=na-learnmore-readingguide&utm_campaign=201709mcpgschlinl

 

Notes on Revising Jigsaw Jones, Confronting Sexism, and a Changing World

This piece was originally posted with the help of my friend Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer) at the Nerdy Book Club, a great site for teachers and librarians and book lovers of all sizes and shapes and backgrounds. On school visits, I’m often asked about revision. Actually, teachers often ask — the kids, not so much. Which pretty much underscores the issue. Revision is essential to all good writing, but most young writers just want to be done. They want to type those two glorious words, THE END. Maybe my little essay below will help pull the curtain back in an interesting way into one writer’s experience with revising books . . . that were already finished. It never ends, it never, ever ends.

 

Writers are not often given the opportunity to revise our work post-publication. We labor like the dickens throughout the writing process -– drafting, daydreaming, dithering -– until those last desperate hours of corrections. Then we let the book go scampering off into the wild. Not perfect, not ever perfect, but the best we could do at the time.

In the case of the Jigsaw Jones mystery series, I’ve enjoyed a unique experience. The books had gone out of print with my original publisher. And then, to my great delight, the good folks at Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan) decided to bring the books back into print. The plan was to launch with a brand-new title, The Case from Outer Space, but also to bring back eight previously published titles that had been unavailable.

I was given the rare chance to go back and fix things. Update, revise, tweak, correct. It’s been an instructive experience. I’ll begin with a specific example. Early in The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur, Jigsaw is having a catch with Mila. The book read:

 

I threw the baseball in a high, long arc to Mila. She drifted back and caught it easily. Mila is a pretty good ballplayer. She is also my partner. We’re detectives.

 

One word troubled me. Pretty. Mila was a pretty good ballplayer. There was something condescending there, a hint of sexism. It doesn’t read “for a girl,” but it’s implied. So, working closely with assistant editor, Anna Poon, we decided to simply strike that word. Now it reads: Mila is a good ballplayer.

There, much better. Plain and simple, a stated fact. For the most part, that’s been the kind of revision I’ve done. Sure, the world has changed; there were issues with phones in several places. But overall I was relieved to see that the sentences didn’t bother me. I wasn’t constantly pulling out my hair, ashamed at sloppy constructions. I didn’t feel a need to rewrite the books in a major way.

I’d learned while writing the series to (mostly) avoid specific cultural references. But even so, I slipped up. So I needed to strike references to Britney Spears’ bellybutton (shaking head, even now), Blue’s Clues, baseball slugger Mike Piazza, and Barney the (annoying) Dinosaur. It would be more relatable for young readers if I shifted to generic descriptions, i.e., the hit song on the radio.

Wait: Do radios still exist? Do stereos? Better to have the music blast from the speakers and leave it at that.

The world keeps shifting, and it was fascinating to see that change through the perspective of books that were written only 10-15 years ago. In The Case of the Bicycle Bandit, Jigsaw makes “photocopies” of a flyer. “Camcorders whirred” in The Case of the Mummy Mystery. But not anymore, folks.

I didn’t find much in the way of terrible, shameful mistakes. Some issues crept into a book here and there. Nothing horrible –- and even defensible from the perspective that the book’s narrator, Jigsaw Jones, might himself be a little imperfect. He’s just a boy after all. I didn’t want to sterilize the books, but here was my chance to revisit these stories and think them through one more time.

There was a star athlete in The Case of the Smelly Sneaker (formerly titledThe Case of the Sneaker Sneak, a title I loathed and was eager to change), Lydia Zuckerman. Something a little off slipped into my descriptions of Lydia. Her nickname, for example, was “The Brown Street Bruiser.”

At one point, Jigsaw made this regrettable observation: “She’s not a girl. She’s a . . . a . . . terrorist in tights.”

Um, not cool, not now, and not really what I meant to say. Also there was this description:

 

Lydia Zuckerman was in fifth grade, but she already looked like an NFL linebacker. Lydia was tough – a stomping, sneering, snarling mass of muscles.

 

On another page, Lydia is described as “big and mean.”

Okay, I get it. I was trying to be lightly humorous. I played up the fear that Jigsaw and the other boys might have for a strong, powerful, imposing girl. But in retrospect I feel like I missed an opportunity to say something deeper, more meaningful. After all, I am the father of a 16-year-old daughter, Maggie, who is a strong, tall, dedicated athlete. I didn’t want to reduce Lydia to a cartoon. So instead of “big and mean,” Jigsaw now describes her as “tall and talented.” And Lydia is now known as “The Brown Street Superstar.”

Nuance, mostly.

I feel better about it, glad that I had a chance to revise these eight books and share them again with a new generation of readers. And what is revision if not the chance to step back, to see again? And maybe, here and there, in small ways, to go back and try to make it better.

 

James Preller is the author of the acclaimed novels Six Innings, Bystander, The Fall, and The Courage Test and the Scary Tales series, all published by Feiwel and Friends. He has also written several picture books, but is perhaps best known for the Jigsaw Jones series. He travels to classrooms around the country and maintains a blog about writing and literacy. He lives in Delmar, New York, with his family.

Fan Mail Wednesday #253: From Selasie, a Writer in Texas!

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This one comes from a young author in Beaumont, Texas . . .

 

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I replied:

Dear Selasie,

Thank you for your letter and your kind comments about my Jigsaw Jones books.

I am impressed that you belong to a writing club at such a young age. When I was going into 3rd grade, my big life ambition was to see how many marshmallows I could cram into my mouth. I didn’t even begin to form the faintest dream of becoming an author until high school. But I did write, and really that’s where we all begin. With pen in hand, staring at that blank page.

So you are way ahead of me.

Sure, yes, please send along a manuscript. I’d love to read it. That said, please know that my belief is that the best thing you can do at this point is to write and read –- often, and widely –- rather than focus on publication. Enjoy yourself, follow your enthusiasms, have fun with it

Joey and Danika visit Jigsaw's house in THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. This wonderful illustration is by R.W. Alley.

Joey and Danika visit Jigsaw’s house in THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. This wonderful illustration is by R.W. Alley.

There is a new Jigsaw Jones book coming out this August 8th, The Case from Outer Space, along with four other titles. By November, there will be 8 “classroom classics” available for the first time in years –- previously published, newly revised and updated, all from Macmillan. Ask for them at your local bookstore.

I’m always glad to hear from my friends in Texas. I’ve wanted to get invited to visit schools in TX for years. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m not giving up hope!

Oh, and thanks for the SASE. I’ll save it for next time you write. I am sending along two posters, one for you and one for the kind teacher who hosts your writing club.

Keep writing. You inspire me!

James Preller

Notoriously Tough Critic Raves about New “Jigsaw Jones” Book

She’s 91 years old.

She’s tough as nails.

Mom’s motto: “Getting old is not for sissies.”

And she loved my new book, The Case from Outer Space, coming August 8th.

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Maybe I’ve been writing for the wrong demographic all along. Why write for young people at all? Picture books for preschoolers? Novels for tweens? YA?

Forget all that. I’m going after the untapped nonagenarian market!

Thanks, Mom.