Tag Archive for Wolf in the Snow

Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” as It Figures in My Book, “The Fall”

It began almost twenty-five years ago when I first started writing the Jigsaw Jones Mystery Series. I’d drop quick references to actual books that my characters were reading. Bunnicula, Shiloh, Nate the Great, and so on. Sometimes I’d do more with it, as in The Great Sled Race, where Jigsaw’s class is reading Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner. In another example, The Case of the Buried Treasure, the students in room 201 had to do a “story maps” assignment based on Wolf in the Snow, the 2018 Caldecott Medal Winner by Matthew Cordell. This strategy was a nod of appreciation and a  way to connect the real world with Jigsaw’s fictional world. Maybe a reader would think, Hey, I read that book, too

I carried on that tradition over to longer works for middle-grade readers and beyond. It wasn’t a plan, exactly, it just sort of happened. In some ways, it poses a good question for a writer to ask of any character: What book would this person love? In Blood Mountain, there’s a former marine with PTSD. He’s living off the grid in the mountains. The dog-eared book he carries around is Lau Tsu’s Tao Te Ching. The fact of that book served as an entrance point into the struggles and mindset of the character.

For The Fall, I used Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. There was a time in our world when seemingly everyone read that book — I remember grabbing it off an older sister’s bookshelf. I decided to make The Bell Jar an important book for Morgan Mallen. It was fascinating for me to read it again through the eyes of that character. After Morgan’s death, by suicide, the book finds its way to The Fall’s narrator, Sam.

Here’s one passage where Plath’s book comes into play:

Morgan had marked up The Bell Jar here and there, little checkmarks and passages underlined.

The evocative, transcendent cover of the Japanese translation of THE FALL.

I never found my name in it. There was no secret message. Believe me, I looked.

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead” was underlined in red.

There was a loopy star next to “I wanted to be where nobody I knew could ever come.”

(Oh, Morgan.)

Another star: “I had nothing to look forward to.”

It was that kind of book, and I guess Morgan was that kind of girl. There was a sadness inside her, a darkness I couldn’t touch. Strange as it seems, all the while I imagined her reading those words, dragging her pen under important sentences, drawing stars in the margins.

Reading is the most along thing in the world.

But she was with me the whole time.

Weirdness. The book brought us closer, across time and impossible distance. We shared this.

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ABOUT THE FALL . . . 

 

 “Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan. Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007).” — Booklist.

“Told through journal entries, Preller’s latest novel expertly captures the protagonist’s voice, complete with all of its sarcasm, indifference, and, at the same time, genuine remorse.” — School Library Journal.

“With its timely, important message and engaging prose style, Sam’s journal ought to find a large readership.” (Fiction. 10-16) — Kirkus.

 “It was 2:55 am as I finally gave up on the notion of sleep.  Having started reading THE FALL by James Preller earlier in the day, I knew sleep would not come until I had finished Sam’s story.  Now, having turned the last page, it still haunts me and will for quite some time.”Guys Lit Wire.

“I didn’t realize the emotional impact this book had on me until the very last sentence when it brought tears to my eyes. This was a heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship, bullying, and the aftermath of all of it.” — Expresso Reads.

NOMINATED FOR THE SAKURA MEDAL IN JAPAN!

YALSA “QUICK PICK” FOR RELUCTANT YOUNG ADULT READERS!

 

Things I Kind of Hate: “You Guys Are Like Rock Stars!”

Maybe “hate” is too strong. I know so many terrific people — usually librarians and teachers — my peeps! — we’re talking the best people — who mean it as the highest compliment. Heck, my sister said it just the other day. She was trying to be nice. Who am I to complain?

Just the curmudgeon I’ve always been, I suppose. A prickly pear. Hey, you kids, get off the lawn!

But, come on, rock stars? Is that all you’ve got?

Children’s authors and illustrators are way cooler than rock stars.

Okay, most rock stars. Almost all of them, actually.

Patti Smith would be tough to top, granted, but I’m trying to make a point here.

I mean, who really cares about rock stars anymore? We’re more interested in chefs and Youtubers these days. Have you looked around at our world? Who are we talking about anyway? Jon Bon Jovi and his spray tan? 

I admit there’s still enthusiasm among the masses for a certain sort of media-hyped “pop” star: Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, I suppose. Kendrick is cool. Rhianna, I like her.

So maybe that would be okay. I visit a school — there’s a pulse of anticipation in the building — and a kind librarian might smile and explain, “You’re like Beyonce to them.”

Oh yeah, I am. #iwokeuplikethis.

I suppose that wouldn’t be exactly true. Can’t quite match those Instagram views. Apples, oranges, old prunes.

Sidenote #1: My friend Susan is a pediatric oncological nurse. She works with kids who have cancer. It’s probably the hardest, most rewarding job I can imagine. My oldest child is a two-time cancer survivor. I tear up just thinking about those nurses. True fact! Today a friend commented that pediatric oncological nurses are like — you guessed it — rock stars! Oh, please. They are light years cooler and braver and and stronger and more loving than any rock star on the planet.

We need to stop giving rock stars so much credit.

Let’s come up with a better cliche.

We’re writers and artists who have dedicated our work to young readers. That’s what we do. Doesn’t make us heroes or worthy of putting up on a platform. Hopefully we do good work, inspire young minds, make a small difference in the world. Not really better than anybody else. Except, of course, lawyers, because they’re the worst.

We haven’t written “Louie, Louie” or “Satisfaction,” but we did come up with The Giver and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Ghost and Hello, Universe and Wonder and Coraline and The Tale of Desperaux and Go, Dog, Go and Wolf in the Snow and P.S. Be Eleven and Last Stop on Market Street and They All Saw a Cat and on and on and on.

Let’s see rock stars compete with that greatest hits package. Maybe someday in the future a band will get a standing ovation in Madison Square Garden. Just bring down the house. The place totally bananas. And somebody will rush up to say, intending the highest compliment, “You’re like Lois Lowry to them!”

 

My newest novel, Blood Mountain, is due out October 10th where fine books are sold. And, sure, it’s okay if you want to compare me to a rock star. I know what you mean. Thanks.

 

New Stamps Honor Ezra Jack Keats and “The Snowy Day”

 

I’m going to need these stamps . . .

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Ezra Jack Keats, the creator of the groundbreaking children’s book, The Snowy Day, was born on March 11, 1916, nearly 100 years ago. To commemorate his achievement, the U.S. Postal Service will issue stamps featuring Keats’s artwork.

I think it’s a wonderful idea and a much deserved honor.

To me, the beautiful thing about this book is not that it was about a black boy in the snow in an urban setting, though that was (amazingly) a revolutionary thought at the time, published in 1962. Rather, Keats captured a universal expression of joy and wonder in this book — of a child, any child, every child, playing in the snow.

Transcendent and unifying.

NOTE: As of March 1st, still no stamps. So while many of us hoped the stamps would come out this winter, on the heels of the announcement, that now seems unlikely. I guess it’s better hope for November of 2017. But that’s only a guess. Sorry if I got your hopes up.



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Just an aside, but anybody see the connection in Matthew Cordell’s widely-acclaimed new book, Wolf in the Snow?

I wonder if that’s intentional.

I’ll have to ask him.

EDIT: My pal Matt replied via Facebook, but I’ll post it here.

“The red coat was probably a subconscious hat tip to The Snowy Day, but not overly intentional. Just something about red on white snow that feels very bold and iconic. I used a red coat on my first pic book too (Toby and the Snowflakes, by Julie and me). Worth repeating! Then, of course, there’s the red riding hood throwback… who else did I steal from?”

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