Tag Archive for The Case of the Bear Scare

Fan Mail Wednesday #232: Bears In Backyards



I received this note from Ethan, who likes my style. But before I get to that, I should note that 98% of my fan mail comes during the school year, and many arrive with the aroma of “assignment.” That’s not a bad thing, mind you, just reality. In today’s case, this is a letter I received in late July, along with a stamped and self-addressed envelope (love that!). I can’t help but sense a  parent’s helping hand making this all possible.

“Would you like to write to the author?”

I don’t know where I’m going with that observation. Except to say that behind every enthusiastic reader, there’s usually a loving adult helping to cultivate & nurture that experience. Thank you for that, and for this:




I replied:


Dear Ethan,

Thank you for your letter. I am pleased to learn that you like my style. Yes, style points!

You know, it seems like every Spring there’s an incident in Upstate, New York (where we both live), when a bear wanders out of the woods and into a town, or near stores, or into someone’s backyard. It’s a worrying thing, because bears are big, strong,  wild animals. Often, animal control has to get involved for everyone’s safety. I read articles like this in the newspaper every year.

I wondered why this happens, so I found an animal expert. He told me that bears are “territorial,” they like to have their own area –- a territory is like the property of your house –- and that sometimes a big male bear will make a smaller male go find his own territory. They don’t like to share. So the young male goes looking for somewhere to live, and sometimes he gets confused, make a few wrong turns, and ends up at Crossgates Shopping Mall. Yikes! What’s a bear doing at Banana Republic? The poor bear is lost. Bears don’t want to hurt people –- bears are usually shy; they don’t look for trouble -– but bears can be dangerous. It’s a sad and scary situation for everybody.

Writers often start with “what if?” questions. And that’s how I began The Case of the Bear Scare. I’m so glad you read it. Thank you.

This is a rough sketch for an illustration in my upcoming Jigsaw Jones book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, illustrated by my pal R.W. Alley. The character depicted here is Joey Pignattano on a stake-out.

This is a rough sketch for an illustration in my upcoming Jigsaw Jones book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, illustrated by my pal R.W. Alley. The character depicted here is Joey Pignattano on a stake-out.

I just finished a new Jigsaw Jones book titled The Case from Outer Space. It will be out in the summer of 2017 and it’s pretty funny. I hope you check it out. My newest book is called The Courage Test (grades 4-7) and comes out in September. And guess what? There’s a mama bear in it, and a boy hiking in the woods of Idaho . . .

Stay cool and have a great summer!

Your friend,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #155: Cri-key!

Here’s one from Connecticut, asking about one of my favorite books in the Jigsaw Jones series (which, once again, seems to be out of print).

I’m grateful to all the classroom teachers and librarians who have helped keep these books alive for young readers, long after my has publisher lost interest. Even so, I still get letters almost every day from children to whom these books are new, and beloved. Thank you!

To be honest, that’s part of what I’m doing here. Not only sharing answers to fan mail, but also this: trying to document something I did — this thing I made — that has come and perhaps gone. Because even though time marches on, and so on and so forth, I am sad to see these books go.

I replied:

Dear Justin:

I’m glad you read The Case of the Bear Scare. It’s one of my favorites.

I loosely modeled the character of Lightning Lou after a real person, the great Steve Irwan, known on television as “The “Crocodile Hunter.”

Lighting Lou’s visit to Jigsaw’s school inadvertently inspires a new mystery.

Steve Irwan was Australian, full of life and funny expressions. He used to be very popular, but he died tragically while filming his television show, pierced in the heart by a venomous stingray. It was sad when he died, just a few years after Bear Scare came out.

I had to learn a lot about bears to write that book. I read books and, finally, picked up the phone and called an expert. He was a nice man, named Lou Berchielli, and he was the one who told me that roaming bears will often eat from bird feeders. Ah-ha, I thought. Now I had an idea for an important clue in my story.

Yes, it was definitely gross when Lou stuck his finger in the poop –- er, bear scat – but he realized that it was a trick. “Shonky business,” the Australian called it. And he even gave Jigsaw the final clue, related to the phony bear poop, he needed to solve the mystery.

Lightning Lou eyed me closely. “You’re a detective, right?”

I nodded.

“It’s been nice to meet you, mate,” he said. Then Lightning Lou did a curious thing. He rubbed his belly and said, “I’d love a blueberry muffin right about now. Too bad blueberries aren’t in season.”

He gave me a long, slow wink. Then he walked away.

Thanks for your kind letter,

James Preller

In this amazing must-see clip, Steve Irwan’s poised 7-year-old daughter pays moving tribute to her father . . .

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