FAN MAIL #313: Feeling Great About These Sweet Messages from a Teacher in Terra Haute, Indiana

It’s a hard career, I’ve got to admit. Ups and downs and times when I’ve wanted to give up. But I received the sweetest email the other day from a special education teacher in Terre Haute, Indiana. There’s a bit of background about this particular group of readers that I won’t disclose here, other than to say that as a group they struggle with reading. Many of us do. According to the email, “None of them are very excited about reading as it is extremely difficult for them.”

Anyway, here’s an except of the first of two emails I received . . .

Dear Mr. Preller,

 

< snip >
I recently began reading some of your Jigsaw Jones books to them, and they LOVE them!  They have so enjoyed using the clues to make predictions and inferences.  We have used the stories to practice finding the main idea and details, problem and solution, and visualization. They are so engaged with these books they have begun checking them out of the library to read on their own. We recently finished The Case of the Mummy Mystery and they were so disappointed.  They said, “That can’t be the end, what about the mummy that walked through town on Halloween?  Who was the mummy?”  They were still talking about it the next day, so I took advantage of their engagement with a writing assignment.  They have written you a letter asking if you would consider writing another version of the book and they even included some ideas.
I want to thank you so much for giving my students the joy of reading.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see them so excited and engaged with a book. I will send you an email of their letter, but wanted to explain things first.  I also noticed that you do Zoom meetings with classes and was wondering if you could give me some more information on that? Thank you again for writing such engaging stories.
Sincerely,
Mrs. J
I immediately wrote a response to the class (below) and we’re already planning for a little Zoom get-together just for the fun of it. I also wanted to share this email I received after my reply. Maybe other authors will be cheered to read it. Maybe teachers will see the value in making these connections.

Hello Mr. Preller,

I read your reply to the students today and they were beyond thrilled!!! They couldn’t believe that you actually took the time to respond to their letter.  As I read your explanation of the mummy, it was like little light bulbs went on above their heads.  One student said, “Oh…I get it. The

mummy wasn’t real, it was just a story.  So there weren’t any clues for Jigsaw to follow.” They were all very excited when you talked about them writing their own book. They couldn’t stop talking about their ideas – from the title to the plot! What struck me the most though, was when I read “Your friend, James Preller”.  One student asked, wonderingly, “He’s our FRIEND now?”  and another said, “Wow!  I always wanted to have a famous writer for a friend!”  You will never know how much that email meant to them…or to me.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my students feel special, loved, and IMPORTANT.  Thank you for encouraging them to keep reading (and recommending books!)  I can’t wait for our Zoom meeting when they will have a chance to talk to you “in person”.  Until then, please know that you have made 6 children and 2 teachers very, VERY happy!!!

Mrs. J
And while we’re here, this is the long, rambling reply I sent:

Wow, you guys are tough!

But before I get into answering your comments and questions, a few things. I received the nicest letter from your teacher, Mrs. Johnson. You are so lucky to have a teacher like her —- someone who reads full books out loud, someone who really cares about you, someone who believes in you. 

Please, please, take a moment in your hearts and be grateful for that. We all need someone who believes in us.

I will get to your FANTASTIC IDEAS about future mummy stories. But first, a word in my own defense:

I’d give you a SPOILER ALERT, but since you already read the book, I guess I can’t exactly ruin the ending.

I appreciate that you are careful readers. If you go back to the story, you’ll see that all of the talk about the mummy was just that . . . talk. Stories, legends, and possibly exaggerations. Not necessarily the truth. It begins with Jigsaw’s older brothers, in Chapter 3, “The Legend of the Mummy,” telling Jigsaw a scary story. Is it true? Or are they just having fun scaring the pants off their little baby brother? Did they make it all up?

Fun fact: I am the youngest of 7 children, with 4 older brothers. Do you think they ever tried to scare me with made-up stories? 

I’m the little guy, surrounded by giants.

Oh yeah, they did!

Later, Ralphie Jordan repeats another mummy story that he heard. Is it true? Is it a fact? Maybe. But there’s no reliable witness we can trust. It’s just a story. Like, oh, all those legends we hear about Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Is it really real? Personally, I have my doubts. No one knows for sure. 

Meanwhile, for Halloween, we see that Joey is dressed as a mummy. Is he the “real” mummy from the stories? No, it’s just Joey. So when Geetha see “the mummy,” it’s just good old Joey Pignattano. 

Was there a real, actual MUMMY walking in graveyards, pushing poor Earl Bartholemew?

Nobody knows. That’s for you to decide. The job that Jigsaw got hired to do was the make sure that Joey didn’t get cheated in the bet, and I think he earned that money.

Thanks for all your wild, smart, creative ideas. I’m impressed. I wish my brain worked that well! Forget me, you are the ones who should be writers! I had to laugh at your recurring comment, “you take it from here.” Ha, ha, ha. Everybody has work for me! 

Well, here’s an idea: YOU WRITE IT!

You have my official permission to write your own mystery. If you wish to include Jigsaw Jones, yes, please, go for it. Or invent your own character. If you are not an illustrator, maybe you could act out the mystery and take photos, telling the story that way.

(Note: If you do write a story —- together or individually —- please send it along. I’d love to STEAL YOUR IDEAS!)

Mostly, I just want to say how happy I am that you enjoyed my books. I have been a reader all my life. It’s not something that happens overnight. Slowly but surely, book after book, I became a more skilled and enthusiastic reader. It took time. And yes, reading will make you smarter and it will help you in school. It will help you in work, too. But most of all, reading has given me a lifetime of pleasure. It’s given me happiness. I couldn’t imagine life without good books to read, to enjoy, to learn from.

You are all doing great. Thank you for reading Jigsaw Jones. By the way, you might enjoy my “Scary Tales” books. I recommend Swamp Monster or I Scream, You Scream or Goodnight, Zombie or Nightmareland or One-Eyed Doll. Any of them, really, though I think Home Sweet Horror is the scariest and maybe not the best place to start. The books are not too hard to read and grades 3-5 love ‘em! No one gets hurt in those stories. But I do want readers to lean in on the edge of their seats, heart pounding. I love suspense. The doorknob slowly, slowly turns . . . 

Happy Halloween and please keep reading —- my books or any books at all!

Your friend & fellow reader, 

James Preller

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