Tag Archive for Kid Detectives

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #296: This Detective Means Business!


I spent the last six weeks engrossed in the stretch run of a manuscript that was due on March 1st. During that phase of the process, the big finish, I’m focused and absorbed. I don’t want to eat, or shower, or change my clothes. I’m locked in on writing the book, therefore neglecting some of the other administrative duties that come with being a professional writer: school visits, book festivals, fan mail, etc. In the middle of February, I received a brief email from “Detective Andrew K.”

It read . . .


Hi Mr. Preller,

My name is Andrew, and I am a huge fan of your books. They really inspired me. Specifically, I enjoyed the Jigsaw Jones series.

Now, I am a detective. I hope you’ll make some new books soon.



I wrote back . . . 


Wait a minute. What do you mean, you’re a detective?
You solve mysteries? You work for the FBI? Are you an old guy leaning back in a chair, feet on the desk, smoking a cigar? Or a kid, inspired by Jigsaw Jones, who solves mysteries?
Please tell me more.
(And thanks for reading my books.)
My best,
James Preller
Andrew replied, again briefly (a busy detective, I assume), to clarify the situation. Here is the entirety of that response  . . .
First of all, I’m a kid. Who is 8 years old. And your last answer was correct.
I zinged back a response . . .
Good to hear back from you. Thanks for reading my books. I’m glad they inspired you.
Best of luck, detective!
James Preller

I figured that was it. Now I’d have to go back to work on my manuscript. But the best (by far) was yet to come. This time, Andrew’s email arrived with an attachment . . .

Hi Mr. Preller,
I wanted to write more but I can’t type well. Please check the picture.
From Andrew
So, yeah, that was awesome and deserved a more detailed reply . . . 
Dear Andrew,
I’ve been traveling, sorry for the delay in my reply.
I loved your letter. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
Do your seven chickens have names?
I was visiting with a group of school children just yesterday and one asked me, “Are you Jigsaw Jones?”
I explained that it rarely works that way, where a writer and a character are the same exact person, so I could never say, “That’s me!”
I’m not as smart as Jigsaw, or as focused and determined, but we do share a lot of similarities. Same sense of humor, I think, and similar world view.
I am the youngest of seven children, and my grandmother lived with us late in her life. When I began writing Jigsaw Jones, I made him the youngest in a large family. I had his brothers call him “worm,” just as my brothers did to me. And, yes, I gave him a grandmother who lived in the same house.
So I guess, in some ways, I’m a Jigsaw Jones “clone” just like you. That means we’d probably be friends if we ever met — or, who knows, maybe fierce RIVALS!
Stay safe, Detective!
James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #43 (Monday Edition)

I spent time last night writing a post on a different topic, but then hit a snag that made it “unpublishable.” So I decided to answer this overdue letter instead. That’s right, a special Monday edition of Fan Mail Wednesday!

Dear: Mr. Preller

My name is Benjamin. I am 6 years old and in grade one.  I am doing a project on secret codes. I have read some of your Jigsaw Jones mystery books and would like to know all of the secret codes that you use in your stories.

How do they work? How do you decide what codes to use in your books?  Where did  you come up with the idea to use secret codes and how did you get the idea to do the ones you use?

My favorite book is The Case of the Spooky Sleepover.

I like the secret codes you use in your books, a lot.

From Benjamin

I replied:

Dear Benjamin,

Thanks a lot for your note. Or let me try that in code:


Did you figure it out? I used a Weather Code. The only words that mattered were the ones that came right after a weather word. So to solve the secret message, just circle all the weather words. Then underline all the words that come next. The underlined words — or the words that come immediately after a “weather word” — make up your secret message.

What’s fun about the Weather Code is that you can easily change it to make up new codes in the same manner. A Baseball Code. A Color Code. An Animal Code. Whatever you want.

As a kid, I definitely thought that codes were awesome. So when I started this series, I knew I had to include a new code in every book. I’ve used many different codes, including Substitution Codes, Space Codes, Up and Down Codes, Alternate Letter Codes, Telephone Codes, IPPY codes, Vowel Codes — even Pig Latin.

Today as a writer, I love codes because they offer clever ways of playing with language. I think readers learn by puzzling over codes. You have to use Brain Power.

Benjamin, I could talk about codes forever. I’ve built a small collection of different books about codes and I keep them on a nearby shelf. I read through them to find a code that seems right for Jigsaw. That’s part of the research I do for my job, and I love it. Even better, I discovered that after I learned a few codes, that I could make up my own. And you can, too!

IPPY Codes are also fun. All you have to do is add the letters IP after every consonant in each word. So the word DOG becomes DIPOGIP and SLIME becomes SIPLIPIMIPE. Of course, it’s important to know a consonant from a vowel — but I bet you do.


To learn all the codes I’ve used, I’m afraid you’ll have to read all my books. Oh, the misery! Or, hey, wait: You could buy the book, Jigsaw Jones’ Detective Tips. It doesn’t include every code I’ve ever used, but it will help you think, look, and act like a top detective.

Okay, here’s another code. It’s called a Zigzag Code. You have to start at the top left, read down, then up in a zigzag, then down, in a zigzag pattern. The tricky part is that there are no spaces between each word, so you have extra work to do.

C  N  O  S  L  E   Y  Y  T  R  C  D

A  Y  U  O  V  M  M S  E  Y  O  E

Space Codes are also easy to write (but harder to solve). All the words are spelled correctly and in the right order, but the spaces are in the wrong places. When you write the message, just put the spaces in weird places.