Tag Archive for bullying in middle school

Fan Mail Wednesday #141 (Bystander)

There’s a great line in the last paragraph of this letter: “I really hope you keep writing books because I will keep reading them as long as they are as good as this one.”

He didn’t add, because it was unnecessary, “But if they suck, no dice.”

I replied:

Dear ____:

Thanks for your great letter. I know you wrote it a long time ago –- you’ve probably forgotten about it by now – but I want you to know that I really, really appreciate that you took the time to read my book, BYSTANDER, and send along a typed letter.

I have a new book coming out in July, titled BEFORE YOU GO. It has a little bit of mild language in it, as they say, some alcohol, but not much. I guess it’s up to individuals as to where they draw the line on those issues. The main characters are ages 16, 17. Essentially the setup is this: Opening scene, four unnamed teenagers drive on a dark road. The car spins out of control, hits a tree. One passenger dies. Next page, we rewind six weeks into the past, and gradually meet all the characters. The reader doesn’t know who is going to be in the car, or who will die. The book catches up to the accident about 2/3 of the way through, so it is divided into two sections: “Before” and “After.”

I’m also in the middle of writing a crazy (and fun, and funny) book about about a 12-year-old zombie, but I don’t like to talk about books until I finish them.

Thanks for reading my book, and thinking about it. I loved your line, “This is one of my favorite books because it shows how life really is, the side of things that no one really wants to see even though we know it is all around us.

Smart guy, ______.

My best,


Bullies in the News: Feature Article on BYSTANDER

The news has been so sad, so disturbing, so upsetting lately. It’s as if the world has woken up and suddenly, wherever you look, there’s news and columns about bullies and victims and bystanders.

On that note, I was recently the subject of a feature article, “A Book for the Bullied,” written by Doug Gruse for the Glens Falls Post Star. Doug is a thoroughly professional, careful, thoughtful writer and I believe he did a great job with the piece. I tend to dread these things — the awkward quotes and mangled quotes and (to my mind) the often misplaced emphasis. But Doug did a great job. Very grateful for that. Here’s how it begins:

Most people outgrow their childhoods, but James Preller relives his almost every day.

Preller, best-known for his “Jigsaw Jones” children’s series, is an author who never underestimates young readers.

“I think from an outsiders’ point of view, people think kids’ books are light and fluffy — until they start reading them and see what’s out there,” Preller said.

The writer, who has published everything from picture books to young adult novels, will appear on April 15 at Barnes & Noble in Saratoga Springs.

His most recent book, “Bystander,” tells the story of a new kid in town who witnesses bullying at his middle school. Although bullies are not a new literary topic, Preller worked to approach the subject from a different and more honest perspective.

“I had the idea that evil has a pretty face. I wanted the bully to be verbally [skilled], charming and charismatic,” he said

The author, who lives in Delmar, made the story more complex than just a big kid at school muscling other students, and he didn’t want to give the book a Hollywood happy ending.
“This is not the revenge fantasy where all the nerds get together and teach the bully a lesson. I resisted the easy solutions because I don’t think they are there,” he said. “I don’t think bullying is going to end, and I can’t provide those simple answers.”

He does, however, believe most students [given support] are strong enough to overcome the negative experience and move past it.

“Bullying does reach its peak in middle school and does tend to diminish as kids get older. When we look back, we survive it and we get through it. It’s not that we triumph and all the bad guys learn a valuable lesson, but the rest of us can figure out how to diminish the harm they do,” he said. In the book, Preller makes it clear that boys aren’t the only ones who engage in bullying. A group of girls in the novel uses the Internet to harass a fellow student.

“Cyber bulling is absolutely a problem. I think with girls, that’s where you tend to see more of the cyber bullying,” he said.

Although the book covers difficult territory, Preller said he made an effort to keep the story entertaining for young readers.

“When you write a book like this that maybe has a hot topic, it gets lost that you are still trying to tell a good story. You don’t want the reader to be conscious that they are being taught a lesson. If they feel that they are, they are going to put the book away,” he said.

For the full article, click here.

For a sample chapter, click here.

And lastly, this blog is filled with background information on the book. Just click on “Bystander” under categories in the right sidebar. I think this entry was especially relevant.