Tag Archive for The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #258: Hamsters & 2nd Graders

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I’m feeling incredibly blessed lately. Every day something good comes my way. I don’t know what to make of it, frankly, or how long it can last, but I’m not taking any of it for granted. Check out this sweet little email I received the other day.

 

Hello,

Attached are some pictures of our hamsters and hamster cages inspired by your book, The Case of Hermie, The Missing Hamster.
My class loved this book and are now enjoying many of your other books.

Rose S____

Second Grade Teacher
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See what I mean?
This particular title is currently out of print, but it’s nice to see that it’s still loved. Maybe Macmillan will bring it back? What do you think, Liz Szabla? After all, it’s the book that started the series. 
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FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #231: These Kids Can’t Spell, But They Sure Can Communicate

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Just wanted to share four terrific thank-you notes that I received after a school visit. I find that select teachers do that immediately after an author visit: they go back to the room, talk about what happened, and everybody writes. Sounds perfect to me. The debriefing is a valuable part of any new experience. What just happened? What did we learn? What did we like?

I love the artwork and the invented spellings. However, these comments do tend to make my visits sound something less than deeply pedagogical. All I can say, in my defense, is that it’s funny what makes an impression. Despite all my “valuable content,” most young readers respond best to the small details that make an author seem like an actual human being. And, of course, we remember the things that make us laugh.

"I liked the part when you said the diaper on the monkeys. It was funny."

“I liked the part when you said the diaper on the monkeys. It was funny.”

Comment: Um, does this need explanation? As in: Why is a visiting author talking about monkey diapers with our students? I guess you had to be there. But in this case, I gave an example of how a writer works. I needed to write a scene in a pet store, so I took my writer’s journal and visited a pet store. I looked around. I took notes. I found a cage of monkeys that were all wearing diapers. So I put it in the book, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster. The word diaper always gets an easy laugh.

"I liked the pat when you said drive me bananas. I liked every part."

“I liked the pat when you said drive me bananas. I liked every part.”

Comment: Those bananas look suspiciously like giant pieces of macaroni to me. But how about that last line? So sweet. “Evre part.”

"I liked when you said that our grandma was wearing a dead animal on your grandma."

“I liked when you said that our grandma was wearing a dead animal on your grandma.”

Comment: Well, Dean, that wasn’t exactly what I said. But, yes, it’s true. My grandmother wore a mink stole fur wrap. It both fascinated and terrified me.

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Comment: The artwork in this one, by Lauren, is just insanely amazing. And again, yes,  this is true: early in talks, I sometimes joke to the little ones that if they call out and raise their hands while I’m trying to talk, that it will drive me bananas and I might jump out the window. Together we agree that wouldn’t be a great way to conclude an author visit — with a trip to the hospital. I ask to save their questions for the end. And then they ask me probing questions like, “I have a dog named Daisy, too.”

Fan Mail Wednesday #162

I’m one of those people who doesn’t feel particularly proud or accomplished, much more aware of what I haven’t done — and maybe can’t ever do — than what’s already past. I know, I know. But that’s just how I’m built, so you’ll have to write a letter to the manufacturer.

The truth is, I got a few great letters recently. I haven’t been sharing them of late, or been particularly tuned into the “James Preller” franchise — this business of being “James Preller” — just generally weary of this Industry of Self. Not the writing, not the books, not the real work: that stuff is great.

Anyway, here’s a letter from someone I met long ago . . .

Hi Mr. Preller,


I’m sure you wouldn’t recognize my name, but my name is Katie F. and I was in Ms. Goeke’s 2nd grade class when you visited back in ’98. Now I am 22 and about to graduate with my MBA, my how time flies! I still own the first couple of Jigsaw Jones books, and while reorganizing my bookshelf to make room for some textbooks I came across the second book, The Case of the Secret Valentine. I remember vaguely having a visitor in the class who Ms. Goeke had explained was an author. However, I had completely forgotten that my name is on the second page! You have clearly had great success with this series, I see there have been many more books published since I left that target age group; congratulations!

My question is, what inspired the main idea of the series? The characters? Did you already have a kids detective series in your head when you came to observe my class?

I used to jokingly tell people I inspired a kid’s series in elementary school because I used to play detective on the playground all of the time back then. I doubt I was actually the true inspiration, so I was wondering if you didn’t mind sharing that with me? I’ve been very curious!

Apologies if you have already answered this question on your blog somewhere!
Katie (Kathryn) F.
I replied:
The author mumbles to himself: “I am only as young as I feel, I am only as young as I feel, I am only as young . . .
Oh, hey, Katie, I didn’t see you standing there!
Thank you so much for that remarkable letter. I remember that time well, though you are correct, the names of the individual students in that class have long since slipped away.
Back then, fifteen or sixteen years ago, I was given a four-book contract to write a mystery series. This was based on something I generated myself, gave to an editor, and Scholastic decided, “Let’s see if he can do it.”
It was important to me to write accurately about the school life of children. Fortunately, I knew your teacher, Jen Goeke, and she welcomed me into her classroom. I visited many times, actually. In fact, I loosely modeled Jigsaw’s teacher, Ms. Gleason, after your (our!) Ms. Goeke. I admired so many of the little things so did with her students, the affection, the calm, the deft way of balancing the needs of individuals with the pedagogical objectives of the classroom. I’m sure you’ll agree, mostly she was really, really nice. There’s a lot of Ms. Goeke in those books.
I love this illustration by R. W. Alley from the first book in the series, The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster.
Here’s a snatch of dialogue from that scene:
“Ms. Gleason,” I said.

Ms. Gleason looked up and smiled. “Yes, what can I do for you two?”

“We really, really need to learn about snakes and hamsters,” I said.

Ms. Gleason put down her blue pencil. “This sounds serious.”

“It is,” Mila answered.

“Very serious,” I whispered. “It’s a matter of life and death.”

Ms. Gleason put her hand over her mouth. Her eyes got wide. “Oh, goodness,” she said.
Yes, I see that you are right. I dedicated book #3, The Case of the Secret Valentine, to the students in your 2nd-grade class. One other thing I tried to put into those books, and that I re-learned partly from those visits with Ms. Goeke, was how a child can truly and deeply fall in love with his or her teacher. She was beautiful and lovely and most of all she was kind. I wanted to pay tribute to that.
I am sorry to say that you were not the inspiration for the series. (Actually, my team of lawyers has advised me to say that, in fear you will be seeking a claim on royalties earned.) I already had the basics in mind before I walked into your classroom. But I did get inspired there, and I’m sure you played a part in that.
I wonder: Do you have a class picture? Could you send a file to me? I’d love to see one, if that isn’t too much to ask.
Thank you for taking the time to write. I was nice for me to find an excuse to revisit those times and that place. Congratulations on your MBA. Now go out there and fix the world! That was one of the things I learned, you know. Hopefulness. Belief in a better future. I’d sit in that classroom, surrounded by kids exactly like you, who were being taught by a young woman like Jen Goeke, and I knew that somehow we’d make it through, that it would all be all right somehow.
My best,
JP

Jigsaw Jones — the Video!

Wow, I just stumbled upon this Youtube video.

Thank you, director Katie Mauldin, and your four fabulous stars: Brooks, Jay, Lauren, and Greg. You all did an amazing job. You smell Oscar? I sure do!

I love your creativity and spirit. You really brought a smile to my face.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Fan Mail Wednesday #101

This lovely letter comes from Paige, and she even drew pictures of six little hamsters.

How lucky am I?

I replied:

Dear Paige:

Wow, you are a writer and an illustrator. That way you can do your own books and not have to share the money! When I do picture books, like Wake Me In Spring or A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, I only get half because I’m not good enough to draw my own pictures.

Grrrrrr.

It’s a funny thing about that first Jigsaw Jones book. You are right, Mila is allergic to fur, so Jigsaw uses her as a hamster detector –- she sneezes when the hamster is near.

Illustration by R. W. Alley.

However, I soon realized that I had written myself into a corner. Do you know that expression? Maybe it would help if I showed you a picture . . .

Anyway, Jigsaw has a big, furry dog named Rags. I couldn’t have Mila sneezing all the time in every book! That would get pretty gross. If Mila was allergic to fur, she couldn’t be hanging out with Rags. So in a later book, I mentioned that Mila had new allergy medicine that worked really, really well. That way Mila and Rags could be friends.

Thanks for reading my books. Keep up the good work!

JP

P.S. This is the cover of Wake Me In Spring, a book I wrote more than 15 years ago. Jeffrey Scherer drew the illustrations — and I think he did an awesome job!