Tag Archive for James Preller school visits

GREAT NEWS: Four Books Coming in 2024!

 

Four new books? Well, ish.

I’ll explain.

 

COMING APRIL 23rd . . .

BLOOD MOUNTAIN

 

 

Not quite new, but . . . a new cover and new in paperback. Surely that counts for something. Grace and Carter and their dog, Sitka, struggle to survive in a mountain wilderness. Ages 9-up.

A Junior Library Guild Selection!

 

COMING JUNE 25th . . .

SCARY TALES: 3 SPOOKY STORIES IN 1

I’m thrilled about this 300-page collection, which brings together Nightmareland, One Eyed Doll and Swamp Monster in one heart-stopping, fast-paced collection. All for only $8.99. It is literally the deal of the century. Featuring the incredible art of Iacopo Bruno. Ages 8-up.

COMING SEPT. 10th . . .

SHAKEN (Hardcover)

For 7th-grader Kristy Barrett, soccer is life. It has always been at the center of Kristy’s world. Her friendships and self-worth, her dreams and daily activities, all revolve around the sport. Until she suffers from a serious concussion and has to set soccer aside. Kristy begins to experience stress, anxiety, and panic attacks which ultimately bring her to some questionable decisions . . . and the care of a therapist. Ages 10-up.

 

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST . . .

 

COMING IN SEPTEMBER 24th . . .

TWO BIRDS . . . AND A MOOSE!

 

A Level 1 easy-reader featuring an aspirational moose! I’m so happy to have a new book out for the youngest readers. My first at this age level since Wake Me In Spring and Hiccups for Elephant. Ages 3-6.

 

So that’s that.  My year in books. 

 

I’m proud of the range here. A well-reviewed wilderness survival thriller . . . three popular “horror” tales for readers who can’t get enough of heart-pumping, scary stories . . . an ambitious hardcover about a 7th-grade athlete whose life spirals after suffering from post-concussion syndrome . . . and an irrepressible moose who only wants to go up, up, up!

 

It’s not too early to think about school visits in 2024-25!

 

Welcome Back to School: Reach Out If You Are Interested In An Author Visit

Well, that flew fast.

Summer’s gone again. 

I began this blog in 2008 and the world of the interwebs has changed a lot since those days. People don’t read blogs as much as they used to, if they ever really did. I learned to take summers off when reading was especially light. But now we’re shifting again, turning the page, facing a new school year. 

Here’s one thing about writing that I’ve learned over the years. 

I’d do it anyway. 

Readers or not.

I’ve decided to reinvest my energies in this blog. Mumble to myself. Talk about things, and books, and writing, and life. Just get back to the core practice of keeping an open log, or journal. 

Here’s something I came across today: an old drawing of yours truly from a few years back, made by a student after a school visit.

A scary resemblance. Those are exactly my crazy eyes.

Anyway, yeah, school visits. I love them and I need them to survive. 

My books range from grades K-8 and I have at least four upcoming books in the publishing pipeline, ranging from easy readers, to picture books, to a middle-grade novel. 

As they say, I’m dancing as fast as I can. 

I’m also teaching another class for Gotham Writers, which I enjoy immensely, despite all the work & awful pay. There’s not quite so inspiring to me as an aspiring writing, full of heart and hope and dedication. If I can help those folks, even just a little bit, it feels good. 

So: If you are a PTA/PTO parent, or a teacher, or a librarian or school administrator, I invite you to send a query directly to me at  jamespreller@aol.com. I’ll respond personally, and we can even set up a phone call if you’d prefer. We can discuss your needs, your wildest hopes, and we can see if I’m the right fit for your school. 

As for now, I’m sitting in the Bethlehem Public Library in Delmar, NY. I often work here, hungry for the buzz of humankind. So much of my life is spent in solitude. I just grabbed 10 new picture books off the shelves, semi-randomly. Books by John Schu, Audrey Vernick, Ame Dyckman, Carson Ellis, Kevin Henkes, Kevin Lewis, Jeff Newman, and more. 

Maybe I’ll talk about one of ’em sometime down the line. I’m here to learn from the best. 

More, later. 

Tonight I’m excited to see David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” at my local movie theater. Just $7 on Tuesdays for classic oldies. I originally saw Blue when it came out in 1986. I was 25 and that movie shook me. I remember walking out of that NYC theater wondering what I’d just seen. It felt new and disturbing and edgy and wildly unforgettable. I’m excited to see it again tonight on the big screen. 

Thanks for stopping by. 

5 QUESTIONS with Jay Cooper, author/illustrator of the “Bots” Series, “The Last Kids On Earth” Graphic Novel, and the New “Styx and Scones” Books!

Jay Cooper is just another one of those young, vibrant, obnoxiously talented people that I’ve learned to despise with every fiber of my being.  

Wait, did I say that out loud?

I mean: Jay is a great guy, full of kindness and warmth and vast enthusiasms. I take pleasure in watching his career lift off into the stratosphere. Terrific things are happening. And a big part of Jay’s success — besides the fact that the man works damn hard — is that he has a gift for connecting with young readers. The sensibilities align. It’s a tired cliche to say that it’s because Jay’s a kid himself. This is a grown actual man with a job and a wife and children and a house. I’m pretty sure he pays federal income tax. But you get the sense that Jay still gets jelly smeared on the sofa cushions and sometimes forgets to flush the toilet and lines up hours in advance for Marvel movies and roots like a kid, with pure innocent glee, for his/our beloved New York Mets. Every pitch, every game. He’s that kind of guy.

Let’s say hello.

 

 

1) Welcome to James Preller Dot Com, Jay Cooper. Grab a milk crate and have a seat. I sometimes puzzle over the question:  Why do I like Jay Cooper so freaking much? And I’ve settled on this: It’s because you have so many passions and enthusiasms. You look at this crazy, mixed-up world of ours and respond with optimism and good cheer. So Jay, without giving this any deep thought — since I know that’s difficult for most illustrators —  please name 10 random things that you are loving right now. You’ve got 30 seconds . . . 

This is starting out like a game show, and I’M HERE FOR IT. (Rubs hands…sets timer… GO!)

  1. Only Murders in the Building
  2. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie: stylistic, cool, and crunchy
  3. Kimberly Akimbo on Broadway
  4. Cross-hatching
  5. School visits (Man, I missed getting in front of a crowd over the last couple years.)
  6. The Maurice Sendak-themed vintage leather jacket I just painted for a gala
  7. Wednesday (The Addams Family themed show… not the day of the week.)
  8. Old school comic books
  9. Svengoolie monster movies on Saturday night
  10. Running in the morning (I need to do more)

DING!

Hold on. What jacket? Show us, please.

2)Ah, thanks. It reminds me a little of Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album photo — but for book nerds. Question: Who or what or when were the big influences on your art work? What feeds it?

Wow, that is such a gigantic question.

Sorry!

I’d say my primary source of inspiration since the beginning has been Graphic with a capital “G”: It started with Sendak and Seuss at 4, web-slung straight into Marvel comics at age 6 via Stan the Man, John Buscema, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, George Perez then went SPLOINK into Mad Magazine and the humorists around age 9 or 10 with Sergio Aragones’s Groo, Spy Vs. Spy, Don Martin… And afterwards, of course, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams and Neil Gaiman filled in the grave in my teens. And this is of course the tip of the iceberg… so very, very many more have inspired me over the years.

.             

3) It’s hard to answer this question, but it’s something that many kids find mysterious and otherworldly, so please give it a try: Where do your ideas come from? I mean, here you are, bursting with books, making it all look easy. Perhaps you could answer in terms of this new series, Styx and Scones.

The short, cryptic answer is: ideas come from everywhere, anywhere and nowhere.

Now for the long answer: the germ of an idea is still just the germ—you have to give it soil and space to grow into something special and strong. Styx and Scones is a great example: that dog and cat have been in my head for 9 years now and are finally becoming a book this June. Styx was originally created for an unpublished board book, Ciao Meow. She rode a Vespa and wore Penelope Pitstop helmet. For my first school visit presentation, I dropped the Vespa, reimagined her as “Words” and teamed her up with a dog “Pictures” to demonstrate to children how pictures and words are often not expected to interact in literature. My agent suggested using them for a book, but some essential element was missing. Two years ago, I drew a witchy cat flying and out-of-control broom with an assortment of other witchy pets for an agency calendar, and I knew that was the world this pair should live in. Once I added some magic, a couple of old witches and mashed up the world of the Smurfs with some Gorey cross-hatching goodness it all made sense: a pink witchy cat named Styx, and her best friend, a witchy dog named Scones. That’s a roundabout way to say that inspiration is quite often a long, multi-step process. Sometimes you gotta stir the risotto a long time.

Not really a question: Who wins more games this season for the New York Mets, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander? (We should start a message thread with children’s book people who are also Mets fans. Paging Alan Katz! I think that’s everyone.)

Scherzer. But only because he’s got two different colored eyes, and he’s such a character. I’m always drawn to characters. I still miss Justin Turner as a Met. He wasn’t great on the team per se, but I loved that red hair and beard. I used to shout out a John Sciezka title whenever he came to bat: “Viking It and Liking It!”

Wait. Did I mention John Sciezka earlier as an influence? Lane Smith? Those guys were BIG inspirations right after college.

4) Do you ever consider writing a book with more text, more serious topics? How are you going to surprise us in the future? Any ideas on the back burner?

Oooo! GOOD QUESTION, Jimmy! I do have an idea for a middle grade novel. But (see above) it’s still only a germ. So not sure how long it needs to cook. And I think it needs a co-writer. I’m big on teams. My favorite books are collaborations. (Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is my favorite book going on thirty years!)

5) I remember first meeting you at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival. You came up to me and said hello. A young guy with a fabulous waxed mustache (at the time), relatively new to the business. I’ve been rooting for you ever since. I see that you’ve started to do some school visits. How has that experience gone for you, walking through those doors, speaking to all those kids? They must love you. Do you have a message or a main idea that you are trying to get across?

Mister, I’d never have talked to you if you didn’t just radiate goodness. I knew literally no one. I think that was my second festival? (I’m still a bit shy around other creators.) Kids, however, are a different animal entirely. I LOVE getting in front of them and just cutting loose: funny stories, drawing exercises… I think I sweat off a few pounds each time I present.

And I do have a message. A few, actually. 

The first is that reading what you love makes you a strong reader. Don’t listen to any noise about what you read being too goofy, silly, violent, poopy, whatever. I’m the person I am because I fell head over heels for comic books and humor magazines. Comics boosted my vocabulary,  they taught me grammar, and narrative structure. Positively reinforced reading leads to more. I’m living proof that Spider-Man leads to loving Shakespeare, and Mad Magazine to Maya Angelou. 

The second is it took three failed books for one to succeed. That process was necessary. And learning from mistakes and not giving up is key (that’s one for all the aspiring writers/illustrators out there!)

The third is just built-in to the presentation. Growing up in Dover, Delaware in the 70s and 80s, I never met a person who worked as a creative professional (aside from my art teachers, who I adored). Books felt like they were handed down from the gods atop Mt. Olympus. When I moved to NYC and met people who were creative for a living my whole perception of the world shifted. The impossible was suddenly tangible and quite possible, if I was determined to put the work in. 

I feel like I should ask you a question, Jimmy.

Oh, wow, yeah. Normally I’d be happy to loan you money, Jay, but you see —

No, I’m not asking for money.

Okay, fire away. 

I’m seeing some awesome school visits you’ve been on recently. You radiate calm, cool and collected. I am an energetic mess. Any tips how I can pace myself? Second question: how do you balance the content to make it more about the students and less about yourself? That’s one thing I’m trying to tweak.

Okay, briefly: In terms of pacing, I used to ask that, too. How do teachers do it? This is exhausting! I quickly realized that I’m not a jugular, I’m not a magician. So I’ve tried to calm down and just be authentic, honest, and respectful. I’m not here to razzle-dazzle anyone. Sure, we try to laugh, too. And I work hard. But ultimately, you can only be yourself.

And regarding the second part, it’s a good sign that you even ask that question. If you love the kids, and I know you do, then it will flow out of you naturally and everyone in the audience will see it, and feel it, and know in their hearts that you are there for them.  We’re just vehicles given the amazing opportunity to try to inspire readers, writers, compassionate thinkers. It is 100% for them and about them. Far bigger than you or me. 

JAMES PRELLER is the author of a wide range of books, including the popular Jigsaw Jones series. He has also written middle-grade and YA novels: Bystander, Upstander, Blood Mountain, The Courage Test, The Fall, and more. Look for the first book in his strange & mysterious EXIT 13 series for readers ages 8-12: The Whispering Pines. Book 2 comes out in August — so save up!

Photos & Captions from a Recent School Visit

I’ve been visiting schools lately as a guest author. Here’s some photos from a particularly enjoyable visit to an elementary school in New Jersey. 

I always say the same line: Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits. The big variable is what happens in the school before I get there, the sense of preparedness and anticipation, the excitement or the obliviousness; whether the principal arrives to shake my hand, desires to introduce me before every presentation (sending a powerful signal to staff and students alike), or the principal I never meet, too busy administrating. A hundred variables effect the impact of a visit, whereas for the most part, I’m the constant. I do what I do to the best of my ability, and try in my heart to leave that school just a tiny bit better than when I arrived. The students and teachers more excited about books, and writing, and kindness, and (hopefully) about the infinite possibilities inside their very own selves. 

Anyway, I promised photos . . .

The day started off with a small, young group. What I’ve learned over the years is to stay calm and cozy with the youngest audiences. I sit at the beginning, keep in relaxed and gentle. It’s nice when these sessions can be done in a library, but every school has its own unique facilities and demands. 

 

Whoa, standing! We always end with questions — which, at that age, are often comments. “I have a dog, too!”

More students, older ones. The content of my presentation shifts dramatically. Time to stand up and bring more energy.

I had about 90 minutes to inscribe and sign more than 150 books. To me, that helps complete the circle: a child returns home, excited to read a book.

Sometimes I’ll be invited to eat lunch with students, in this case a group of 5th graders. I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because I never get to eat. I’ve come to prefer a shorter “cookies & conversation” session — usually for those kids who’d rather chat books with an author than run around at recess. 

Ah, the kids who linger after the presentation is over and everyone starts filtering out of the room. They want a moment with me: to ask a question, share a fact, or just be seen. It’s always a nice moment there at the end, those kids who want to stick around for me. But no, I do not sign foreheads (I’ve been asked, many times).

 

Thank you, Margaret (ace organizer and photographer!), and everyone else (too many to name) at Merritt Memorial in Cresskill, New Jersey. It was a privilege spending time with your students. 

TOGETHER WE MADE A PRETTY GOOD TEAM!

Blue Creek Elementary, Revisited: Remembering Ben

“Ben was gentle, he smiled often,
there was softness in his eyes:
a sweet boy.
And all the while, Ben looked at me
as if I was the one who was special.
As a writer, sometimes by some miracle
you touch someone. But with Ben it was different.
He was the one
who left a lasting mark.”

 

I recently enjoyed two days visiting Blue Creek Elementary. It was my first time back in schools as a guest author since the pandemic. It was a great pleasure and, always, a privilege. I loved seeing the children and the teachers, hanging out with Abby the librarian, signing books, all of it. 

As it happens, I visited Blue Creek 13 years previously, back in 2009. 

(Who says I never get invited back to the same place twice?!)

On that day, 13 years ago, I met a boy who I will never forget.

This is that story . . . 

 

—–

 

His name was Ben and he was waiting for me when I arrived at Blue Creek Elementary. Ben was holding my book, Six Innings, in his hands.

Could you . . . ?” a teacher asked.

Yes, yes, of course.

So we ducked into the empty library, where Ben and I could have a few moments together. I was told that Ben had osteosarcoma, the same illness contracted by a character, Sam Reiser, in my book.

We talked quietly. I told Ben about my oldest boy, Nicholas, a sixteen-year-old who had gone through five years of chemotherapy. “He’s doing great now,” I said. “Healthy, strong.” Both boys shared the same oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Pearce. I explained that Dr. Pearce helped me with Six Innings, and showed him where I thanked her in the acknowledgments. We agreed that she was very kind.

Ben was gentle, he smiled often, there was softness in his eyes: a sweet boy. And all the while, Ben looked at me as if I was the one who was special. As a writer, sometimes by some miracle you touch someone. But with Ben it was different. He was the one who left a lasting mark — on me and so many others.

I learned last week that Ben passed away, October 12th, 2009. He was nine years old.

I did not attend Ben’s wake. I was told by one of his teachers that among the objects displayed was a signed copy of my book. The story meant something to Ben. He may have related to Sam’s experience. “It’s been so hard,” Sam confided in the book’s last pages. But Ben probably most enjoyed the baseball, the humor, the fun of boys at play.

Ben was probably similar to my Nick. At least that’s what I saw, as I blinked back tears, when I looked into Ben’s eyes. Back when we first gathered to explain to Nick, at age nine, that he had relapsed with leukemia — that the cancer was back — Nick sat and listened quietly. Dr. Pearce laid out the protocol, the path Nick’s life would take over the next two years. This will happen, then this will happen, and then this will happen. Like a story unfolding, though no one could say with certainty how it would end. Dr. Pearce asked if Nick had any questions. Nick did. “Can I go to my friend’s house now?” he asked. That seemed to me, then and now, the perfect reaction.

I saw Ben only twice that day, once alone in a library, once as part of a larger group. But I’m looking at him now.

I’ll always remember the few minutes I spent with Ben Stowell.

Ben’s family has established The Ben Fund to assist other families dealing with childhood cancers, c/o HSBC, Latham Branch, 494 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, NY 12110. Ben leaves behind a twin brother, James, and his parents, Stacey and Tim. My heart goes out to them.

 


POSTSCRIPT, April, 2022: Ben’s father, Tim, contacted me recently. Time has passed and he’s now in a relationship with a woman who’s child, Charlotte, attends Blue Creek. Charlotte, a 2nd grader, said hello and told me about her connection to Ben. She never had the chance to meet him, but Charlotte knows James, though, Ben’s twin. He’s now in college and thriving. I’m not crying, you’re crying.