UPSTANDER: Listening to the Audiobook

Here’s something I’ve studiously avoided until now — I’m actually listening to one of my own books on audio, borrowed from the library via Libby (though you can buy a copy if you prefer). Normally the idea of that gives me hives. But Upstander is read by a talented voice actor named Caitlin Davies and, to my relief, she does an incredible job conveying tone, pace, meaning, all the while somehow managing to “voice” a wide array of characters.

That’s a curious sidenote, btw: how many characters have spoken dialogue in this book? I’d never considered that before, never added them all up, but it must be more than 20.

Let’s see . . . I’m curious. There’s Mary, Jonny, Chrissie, Alexis, Chantel, Griffin, Cody, Hakeem, Mrs. O’Malley, Mrs. Williams, Ernesto, Mrs. Brown, Drew, David, Eric, Dez, Vivvy, Officer Goldsworthy, Sinjay, Tamara, Beatrice, Azra, Jamilah, Football Player #1.

I was wrong. Caitlin was required to give voice to 24 different characters.  And she does it far, far more masterfully than anything I could have stumblingly mustered.

This listening experience once again underscores the basic truth of publishing: it takes so many people to make a book & put it out into the world. These folks are dedicated, serious, and talented. Art directors and copyeditors, administrative assistants and production managers and, yes, even professional voice actors who can take a text on the page and make it come alive. Thank you, most especially, Caitlin; you are very good at what you do and I’m grateful for that. I’ve actually enjoyed the book so far. What a relief. But I’m only halfway through, so — NO SPOILERS PLEASE!

NOTE: Upstander is a prequel/sequel to Bystander. It begins before the Bystander timeline and then overlaps it in the second half of the book, offering a different perspective on a few “tentpole” scenes while also wandering down new avenues as well. It is not required that you read Bystander in order to enjoy Upstander. There’s no preferred order. However, I think that reading both would be pretty cool. As I have come to think of it, not a longer story, but a larger one. Thanks, as always, for stopping by!

Thankful for a Thousand Different Reasons

I’m lucky in a thousand different ways. I realize that. And one of those ways is that I get invited to participate in children’s book festivals. Rochester, Chappaqua, Hudson, Princeton, Morristown, Thousand Islands, Warwick, all over. Best of all, sometimes I even get invited back.

The continuity becomes part of the experience for organizers, authors, and attendees. I used to think that people would get tired of seeing the same authors and illustrators sitting behind tables — it’s important to bring in fresh faces, diverse talent — but there’s a particular beauty to the familiarity. The kid who you saw last year, or two years ago, coming back for another book, another conversation. But this time reaching for a title that’s a little longer, a little older. Or maybe just completing a series, finding that last book for the autographed collection.

Last time in Chappaqua, a familiar face strode up to the table. A good-looking kid, clear-eyed, sturdy & athletic, still wearing soccer gear, still smiling. He knew me and I knew him. “You’re back!” I said. He grinned. There had been a few meetings over the years, now stretching out across the wide pandemic. I was grayer, he was taller. His mother asked, once again, for a photograph. And in turn I wondered if she had kept any of the old ones.

A week later, she sent these along with a brief note: “Below are the photos from the Chappaqua book fair that you requested. It was amazing to see you again, and I loved talking to you as always.”

       

Like I said, I’m a lucky guy.

P.S. Hey, my friend, if you ever do start that soccer blog, please let me know. I’d love to read your work for a change!

5 QUESTIONS w/ London Ladd, Illustrator of “Black Gold”

Hey, we’re back again with “5 Questions 2.0” — the new & improved interview format that asks some of the best folks in children’s literature five — and this time, only five! — questions.

My guest today is London Ladd, a brilliant artist and friend. We’ll be focusing on his brand new book, Black Gold, written by Laura Obuobi. It’s already creating quite a buzz, along with two starred reviews (and counting).

1. London, I’ve been a fan for a long time, though I believe it was your amazing work on Frederick’s Journey that first really turned my head. That’s when I thought: This guy’s a rising star. And yet this is your first published book in five years. Could you tell us what you’ve been up to?

Thank you! The five-year gap started in early 2017, and I felt a little burned out and uninspired by my artwork. It was too formulaic, very basic! Don’t get me wrong, I was proud of my artwork then, but I desired something more in-depth, true to my artistic spirit, visual voice, whatever to describe it. I wanted to step away but was fearful that I may never be able to return. After experiencing multiple personal setbacks in late 2017 and early 2019, I abandoned art altogether.

Oh, no!

Still, thankfully a person I deeply respect urged me to enroll in grad school at Syracuse University. The three-year program was intense, a chance to learn and experiment with art in new ways. One of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I decided if I were going to do this grad school thing, I would fully commit myself to embrace art in ways true to my heart without fear. I was able to fall in love with art again. This is reflected in the artwork I produce now and moving forward.

2) Observing you from the outside, mostly via social media, it looks like you’ve been on a deeply personal, artistic journey. You seem to be focused on growth and free experimentation. What did you learn these past few years?

To not be afraid, to take more chances, to see what happens. The stuff I do now is more in line with my sketchbook. Personal time without criticism of others, whether positive or negative, doesn’t matter to anyone but me. I was able to develop my visual voice, my philosophy, and my reasons for what I create. There’s unfiltered freedom in it that’s hard to explain. But I love it!! 

3) I can feel your enthusiasm — your new boldness — and see it in your work. What was it about this manuscript by Laura Obuobi that made you want to illustrate it?

I was and still am amazed by the unconditional love expressed throughout her writing. The level of detail described from page to page, building to a crescendo on the last page — “I am a child of the universe, I am Black Gold.” It spoke deep within my spirit as a parent and creator of art. I doubt I’ll ever experience something like this again with another project because each project can be so different in theme, plot, lyrical tone, and color palette.

Young London’s first Christmas.

4) Here at James Preller Dot Com we love process, and appreciate any glimpses behind the scenes. It strikes me that Black Gold — a highly poetic, original creation myth — was an incredibly liberating book to illustrate because anything was possible. All that freedom. But also extremely difficult, because anything was possible. All that (scary) freedom

For example, here’s the text from six pages of the final book:

Then the universe breathed in and breathed out. Her power hovered around you.

You breathed in.
Her power flowed into you. You breathed out.

Alive!

How did you even begin tackling it?

Black Gold was such an experience for me. I drew from my journey to this moment as an illustrator and person, using symbolism and surrealism to convey Laura’s words in a spiritual way that is both honest and complementary to her beautiful words. Those pages spoke of rebirth, so what better way than to symbolize it than butterflies?

Lots of sketchbook work and research — thinking, looking at things that inspire me, journaling, drawing quick thumbnail studies, all of it builds my emotive visual library that pours onto the page.

After submitting a refined tighter sketch to the art director, I apply their ideas to another tighter sketch to share with them for any final feedback. Afterward, I put the final on the illustration board to start layering my mixed media elements — cut and ripped paper, tissue paper, acrylic paints, or whatever creates interesting textures. It’s my technique that is uniquely me and radiates throughout the spread.

5) Wow, what a stunning journey. Thank for you sharing your process so openly and honestly. Are we going to have to wait another five years for the next book?

Nope lol. This January, I have TWO books being released!! You So Black (Denene Millner Book/Simon & Schuster) is based on the titled poem of the amazing spoken word artist Theresa Tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. And My Red, White and Blue, written by Alana Tyson (Philomel Books). Two vastly different books with powerful messages where Black children of all walks of life can find themselves and those around them.

Also, I’m currently working on three more picture books in various stages, along with my first authored book, so you’ll be seeing a lot more of me over the next five-plus years.

What good news — and what a happy interview with a true artist! I can’t wait to see what comes next. 

JAMES PRELLER is the author of many books for young readers, including Bystander, Upstander, Blood Mountain, Six Innings, All Welcome Here, and the popular Jigsaw Jones mystery series, along with the Scary Tales series. Look for his strange & mysterious middle-grade series, EXIT 13, on Scholastic Book Fairs and Book Clubs. It will be available in stores in February, 2023. 

Happy News Comes in the Mail: Two Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Awards!

It’s a pretty terrific day when an author opens the mail to receive not one but *two* Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Awards. In this case, for BLOOD MOUNTAIN and UPSTANDER. Check out ’em out if you get the chance. Thank you, my gifted-kind-patient-and-insightful editor Liz Szabla at Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. I’m lucky to have you on my side.

 

       

 

These books are both available only in hardcover, and I don’t think they’ve found their audience yet, but I hope they do.

I guess that’s up to you. 

And it is all — all of it — thanks to you, the readers, the lovers of the arts, the people who believe and the folks who support.

Thanks. 

       

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #327: Speed Reader Meets EXIT 13!

 

I was at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival over the weekend and had the opportunity to share some Advance Reader’s Copies (ARCs) with various folks: teachers, librarians, and some uniquely interested young readers. It’s exciting when there’s a new book to share, and a little scary, because you never know what the reaction will be. In this case, along with my table crammed with other books, I had a sign announcing EXIT 13, my new middle grade series that’s only available (for now) through Scholastic Book Fairs and Scholastic Book Clubs. We couldn’t sell them at the festival. Thus, the ARCs.

That same night, I received this email from a parent: 

 

Hi,
My daughter and I met you earlier today at the Rochester Children’s Book Festival. You gave her an advanced copy of your novel Exit 13. She finished it ALL today and LOVES it!!! And can’t wait to read the next installment! She’s passing it along to her twin brother (who was at baseball practice and we bought books for), and then her little brother (who was also there), and is going to tell everyone at school to be on the lookout when it comes out in February.
Thank you so much for sharing it with her and helping encourage her passion for reading!! You have definitely gained a huge fan, and we will recommend your books to everyone we know.
Thanks,
Kara
THANK YOU, SPEED READER! I’M SO GLAD WE HAD THE CHANCE TO CONNECT AND SHARE OUR LOVE FOR READING, MYSTERY, AND CREEPY THINGS!
P.S. THE SECOND BOOK, THE SPACES IN BETWEEN, COMES OUT IN AUGUST. SO, YEAH, THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART. I’M VERY LUCKY TO HAVE A READER LIKE YOU. 
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