Tag Archive for Tony Abbott

Fan Mail Wednesday #56

Sometimes fan mail comes from unexpected places . . . and says just the things you long to hear.

Hello Mr. Preller,

I am a full time dad for 3 young boys, Isaiah (8), Luke (7), Noah (3). Your books have been a staple for our bedtime reading time. I’ve found myself reading on after I hear the 3 stooges snoring away. I genuinely appreciate your style and content. My 8 year old is usually the one to discuss possible outcomes and facts about the stories the next day. In a time when innocence, manners and values seem to escape our kids media, I admire Jigsaw Jones for the stories that make us think and still hold to some old school innocence.

If you’re ever down around Newport News, Virginia, let me know. Our Elementary school may be interested in your appearance next year.


I replied:


Thanks for that great letter. As much as my books are intended for children, I always wonder about the parents out there. After all, I identify with both perspectives, much in the way I see myself in both Jigsaw and his father, Mr. Jones. Like you, I’ve spent many, many hours reading to my children. I know what it’s like to read on after they’ve fallen asleep; I know how it feels when we discover a wonderful, worthwhile story to share. And, yes, I’ve read poorly-written books and cringed at TV shows and movies with inappropriate language.

In our house, words like “dumb” and “stupid” and “fat” are considered bad words — language that my children are not allowed to use. I never expected that I’d become a conservative parent (as I am one heck of a cool guy, believe me!), but in this regard my wife and I are mindful of setting limits for our children. It’s so disappointing to encounter those same words, and more significantly, the attitudes that inform those words, in popular media. When I started this series, I decided that my readers were young, and that there was time enough for them to encounter those things . . . elsewhere. So thank you for noticing. And while I strive to avoid obvious messages, writ large — I gag at the Berenstain Bears, for example — I am fully aware that values are imbedded in every story we tell. The way characters interact, the way I might describe someone’s appearance, or how I depict a dinner scene. I’m proud of Jigsaw’s friendship with Mila, the respect and caring they show for each other.

You know what TV show I really came to admire? This is almost embarrassing, and might even surprise you . . .

. . . but, yep, Full House. I know, I know. How uncool is that? But the more I saw it, the more comfortable I became with allowing my children to watch it. Those characters were genuinely decent. They were a family — Jesse and Joey, D.J., Stephanie, Danny and Michelle — all doing the best they could, struggling with everyday problems: Joey has to change his first diaper . . . Stephanie is afraid of going to kindergarten . . . D.J. struggles with music lessons . . . and a frozen turkey threatens to ruin Thanksgiving! A little bland? Um, yes. But also realistic and reassuring for young kids. It’s not easy to pull that off, week after a week, in a culture that celebrates all things “edgy.” Fortunately, there are many, many great children’s books that are age-appropriate. There’s no end to the good things available to you and your family — and to me and mine.

As for being down in Newport News, I don’t have anything planned. Since I live outside of Albany, New York, a trip like that would require the coordinated efforts of a school district, where I would have the opportunity to visit schools for 3-4 consecutive days. There’s travel, hotel arrangements, basic economics to consider. That said, it’s been done before. I’m always happy to discuss the possibilities with any school that shows interest.

Have a great summer — and thanks again for bringing my books into your home, and sharing them with your children. I consider it an honor and a responsibility.

My best to Isaiah, Luke, and Noah!


ADDENDUM: I just discovered that author Tony Abbott, a fine writer and a deep thinker and a friend, took on this topic of “responsibility” over at his blog. Check that out by clicking here.

Best Books of 2008, and so on . . .

I have a lot of ground to cover this morning — and hopefully some of it will be in the snow-covered woods and in the company of my dog, Daisy. So check this out:

Sue Corbett, author of 12 Again and Free Baseball, writing for The Miami Herald, named Six Innings in her list of “best children’s books of the year.” Which is just an incredible honor. Though I’ve been involved in children’s books since 1986, the year 2008 was like a coming out party for me. I published two hardcover books (I published only one before, in ’98 or so, and good luck finding it!), started this blog, and have had a lot of nice things come my way.

Sue writes of Six Innings:

The group portrait of the members of a Little League baseball team takes place over the six innings of a championship game. Perceptive and funny, sketches introduce us to the players while the nail-biting action keeps the pages turning. Kids will be nodding in agreement at the truths laid bare.

Sue Corbett’s full list:


• “Owney the Mail-pouch Pooch,” by Mona Kerby, illustrated by Lynne Barasch.

• “Knucklehead,” by Jon Scieszka.

• “A River of Words,” by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

• “The Trouble Begins at 8,” by Sid Fleischman.

• “We Are the Ship,” by Kadir Nelson.

• “What To Do About Alice?” by Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham.


• “Airman,” by Eoin Colfer.

• “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,” by E. Lockhart.

• “Graceling,” by Kristin Cashore.

• “The Possibilities of Sainthood,” by Donna Freitas.

• “Six Innings,” by James Preller.

• “What I Saw and How I Lied,” by Judy Blundell.


• “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever,” by Marla Frazee.

• “How to Heal a Broken Wing,” by Bob Graham.

• “Sergio Makes a Splash!,” by Edel Rodriguez.

• “Swing!,” by Rufus Butler Seder.

• “Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes,” by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury.

Sue previously gave the book a starred review in Publishers Weekly and (outrageously) compared it/me to Judy Blume. (Thanks, I’ll take a dozen!) I especially appreciate Sue’s kind words, because she’s a real-deal baseball person. I know that Six Innings isn’t for everybody, and I’ve read how some adult readers complain that there’s too much baseball in it, so it means a lot coming from a stranger like Sue who knows and respects that world, who knows those boys, who can read it and say, “Yes, he got it right.”

– – – – –

Over at The Reading Zone, a sixth-grade teacher named Sarah appears to subsist entirely on books, dry toast, and water. After giving her list of favorites for 2008, she writes: “I read about 150 books this year, as of December 26th. These are just a few of my favorites. Ask me again tomorrow, and you will probably get a different list!”

I’m grateful that on this particular day, Sarah thought to mention my book, Six Innings, in such esteemed company. Again: I’m honored and grateful.

Sarah wrote of Six Innings:

I don’t even like baseball and I loved this book! A great book to hand to boys and girls alike, it goes much deeper than just baseball and deals with life. The characters are realistic and easy to relate to. It’s just a great book all around!

Hey, a convert to the Church of Baseball! Sarah’s full list:

Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume.

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost.

Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass.

Six Innings by James Preller.

The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

My Father’s Son by Terri Fields.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby.

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell.

– – – – –

I find this funny. Tony Abbott has been running a series on his blog that focuses on writers’ workspaces. He’s received and posted descriptions from Nora Raleigh Baskin, Elise Broach, David Levithan, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Lisa Yee. But recently it’s all gone downhill.

When first launching the series, Tony wrote:

“The actual earthly position a writer chooses (or maybe doesn’t choose) to do his or her work seems to me vital to the functioning of the art that takes place there. Or, if not, it’s at least interesting to me, and when I visit classes, I never fail to speak in revered tones about where writing happens, and where it doesn’t happen. For some writers, the space he or she works in is, possibly, the only three-dimensional reality they have.”

And at some point, Tony made the miscalculation of asking me. Or maybe it was a good idea, as counter-balance, because I couldn’t be more different. I don’t have any of those sacred space feelings, and am actually embarrassed by my (basically crappy) workspace. No revered tones here. In fact, no offense, I don’t think I’d ever be caught dead referring to it as a “workspace.”

Anyway, to learn more, stroll on over to Tony’s blog by clicking right here!

Getting Crowded, Getting Press

Okay, people, you are all going to have to take a step back — squeeze in, please — we’ve got to make room in the blogosphere for one more author. I know it’s tight, but I’m pretty sure this is the last one. That’s right, Tony Abbott (“Secrets of Droon” series, Kringle, Firegirl, The Postcard), has finally started up his own blog. I look forward to reading it, because Tony is a smart, talented guy who has a world of experience in children’s books. And he’s funny, too. It’ll be nice to hang out with him a little bit, here in the bloggy world.

You can check out Tony’s blog right here.

In other news, my local paper, The Times-Union, did a Sunday feature piece on me after eighteen years under the Cone of Silence. Here’s the link which, fortunately, does not include photographs. I always find this sort of publicity to be embarrassing and awkward — a necessary evil — but I admit that the writer, Mike Lisi, did a nice job and somehow kept me from coming off as a complete idiot. No small thing, that.

New York Times Book Review!

Yesterday was a big day for me, because Six Innings was reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review by Lisa Von Drasek. By the way, isn’t that a great name? Lisa Von Drasek. I immediately think of vampires and fog-enshrouded castles, the howling of wolves, the whispering of black capes in musty hallways. “Von Drasek? Surely not the daughter of . . . Count Von Drasek?”

The money quote: “It was “Six Innings” that made a baseball lover out of me.”

Thank you, Lisa. I’ll never joke about your name again!

You can read the full review by clicking here. It’s a very well-written piece — featuring two other baseball titles, Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park and The Big Field by Mike Lupica. I’m really happy about it. I’m not a guy who typically visits Cloud Nine, I tend to downplay things, but I’ll admit to treating myself to a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream last night. Good times, good times.

As my first hardcover novel, Six Innings was destined to get reviewed by the standard industry magazines such as Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist. I was excited by that prospect, and vaguely terrified. I asked my editor, the fabulous Liz Szabla, to not tell me about any of the reviews: I didn’t want to know (but of course I did, but I didn’t, and yet I did! Ack!).

You see, I had spent a large part of the previous eight years writing the “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series (along with a long list of side projects — anything to pay the mortgage). But despite writing thirty-plus chapter books in the series, those books were never reviewed. Not once, not anywhere. Absolutely, positively, critically ignored. As a series, the books were unworthy, the ugly stepsisters of the publishing world. Yes, I got a lot of fan mail. But in the world of children’s literature, and to a large extent within the halls of my own publisher, those books almost didn’t exist beyond the category of “product.”

And yet I put everything I had in them.

So now I’m faced with a strange, new experience. Today I find myself in the New York Times Book Review. Wow. In many respects, that’s the mountaintop. Finally, I wrote something that people are reading closely — people other than, I should say, the boys and girls for whom the books are intended.

Series writers are somehow slotted into a sub-category, like a sub-species, Boo Radley in a darkened room. And yet as everybody knows, series literature (if we may use the L-word) is widely read. That’s what the industry demands, it’s what editors want, it’s what kids read. I’m talking about popular series like “The Secrets of Droon” by Tony Abbott, “The Baby-Sitters Club” by Ann M. Martin, or “Animorphs” by Katherine Applegate (to name just a few). Each of those authors I’ve listed went on to later write, ta-da, Real Books that received critical attention and acclaim. As if, wow, maybe they suddenly learned how to write! But I’d bet that they are just as proud, if not prouder, of the paperback series they wrote than all the great reviews they later earned for their “more important” hardcover books. It’s too bad. I wish our reviewers gave more recognition to series publishing, the good and the bad.

Okay, I’ll step off the soapbox. Besides, I’ve got to run out to make a xerox of that Times review. My mom needs a copy (whether she knows it or not)!