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1. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #231: These Kids Can’t Spell, But They Sure Can Communicate

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Just wanted to share four terrific thank-you notes that I received after a school visit. I find that select teachers do that immediately after an author visit: they go back to the room, talk about what happened, and everybody writes. Sounds perfect to me. The debriefing is a valuable part of any new experience. What just happened? What did we learn? What did we like?

I love the artwork and the invented spellings. However, these comments do tend to make my visits sound something less than deeply pedagogical. All I can say, in my defense, is that it’s funny what makes an impression. Despite all my “valuable content,” most young readers respond best to the small details that make an author seem like an actual human being. And, of course, we remember the things that make us laugh.

I liked the part when you said the diaper on the monkeys. It was funny.

“I liked the part when you said the diaper on the monkeys. It was funny.”

Comment: Um, does this need explanation? As in: Why is a visiting author talking about monkey diapers with our students? I guess you had to be there. But in this case, I gave an example of how a writer works. I needed to write a scene in a pet store, so I took my writer’s journal and visited a pet store. I looked around. I took notes. I found a cage of monkeys that were all wearing diapers. So I put it in the book, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster. The word diaper always gets an easy laugh.

I liked the pat when you said drive me bananas. I liked every part.

“I liked the pat when you said drive me bananas. I liked every part.”

Comment: Those bananas look suspiciously like giant pieces of macaroni to me. But how about that last line? So sweet. “Evre part.”

I liked when you said that our grandma was wearing a dead animal on your grandma.

“I liked when you said that our grandma was wearing a dead animal on your grandma.”

Comment: Well, Dean, that wasn’t exactly what I said. But, yes, it’s true. My grandmother wore a mink stole fur wrap. It both fascinated and terrified me.

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Comment: The artwork in this one, by Lauren, is just insanely amazing. And again, yes,  this is true: early in talks, I sometimes joke to the little ones that if they call out and raise their hands while I’m trying to talk, that it will drive me bananas and I might jump out the window. Together we agree that wouldn’t be a great way to conclude an author visit — with a trip to the hospital. I ask to save their questions for the end. And then they ask me probing questions like, “I have a dog named Daisy, too.”

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2. SNEAK PREVIEW: Three Rough Sketches from the Upcoming Jigsaw Jones Book!

 

Fans of Jigsaw Jones know that it has been some time since there’s been a new book in the series. Even worse, the old books have been slowly going out of print. All of that is changing in a big way, come the summer of 2017. Four previous titles will be re-released by Macmillan, plus a new book — the 41st overall! — will be published. (Click here to read a short sample from that manuscript.)

The process has been a pure pleasure for me. I loved revisiting those characters and the classic “Jigsaw Jones” brand of humor and mystery. Writing this story, The Case from Outer Space, was a rare joy. And I hope that pleasure comes through in the story itself. It’s a happy book, intended to make readers smile.

Last week the book’s gifted illustrator, R.W. Alley, sent along 27 rough-sketch illustrations that will eventually appear in the book’s interior pages in refined form. I’ve received permission from my fabulous editor, Liz Szabla, to share with you a few of those rough, unfinished sketches. I think R.W. has done a masterful job, capturing the humor and essence of these characters. I’m feeling grateful all around — and excited, too. Jigsaw Jones is back on the case!

Jigsaw's brother Billy, reading on the couch, tells Jigsaw to answer the door. The door opens and the case begins.

Jigsaw’s brother Billy, reading on the couch, tells Jigsaw to answer the door. The door opens and the case begins.

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Joey eats, Jigsaw listens, and Danika explains the mysterious clue.

Joey eats, Jigsaw listens, and Danika explains the mysterious clue.

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The book centers around a note found in a book at a Little Free Library.  I love those libraries -- they are sprinkled all over my town -- and I'm glad to spotlight the idea in my book.

The book centers around a note found in a book at a Little Free Library. I love those libraries — they are sprinkled all over my town — and I’m glad to spotlight the idea in my book.

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3. Comment on NEW Jigsaw Jones Book: Inside Info & Sample Chapter! by SNEAK PREVIEW: Three Rough Sketches from the Upcoming Jigsaw Jones Book! | James Preller's Blog

[…] Fans of Jigsaw Jones know that it has been some time since there’s been a new book in the series. Even worse, the old books have been slowly going out of print. All of that is changing in a big way, come the summer of 2017. Four previous titles will be re-released by Macmillan, plus a new book — the 41st overall! — will be published. (Click here to read a short sample from that manuscript.) […]

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4. Author Event, Today, June 11th, 3:00 @ Barnes & Noble, Colonie Center

COME SEE US!

Local Author Roundup Flyer

Barnes & Noble, 131 Colonie Center, Suite 355, Albany, NY 12205 – (518)-438-1728

Joseph Bruchac – Saratoga Springs, NY: Joseph Bruchac is an Abenaki writer and traditional storyteller. Author of over 130 books, his experiences include running a college program in a maximum security prison and teaching in West Africa.

Code Talker: Throughout World War II Navajo code talkers sent messages in an unbreakable code that used their native language. This is the tale of Ned Begay, a sixteen-year-old code talker. His grueling journey is eye-opening and inspiring.

Nancy Castaldo – NY: Nancy Castaldo is the author of several nonfiction books for curious kids, the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society. See more at www.nancycastaldo.com.

The Story of Seeds: Something as small as a seed can have a worldwide impact. Castaldo chronicles where our food comes from, and more importantly, where it is going as she digs deeper into the importance of seeds in our world.

Eric Devine – Waterford, NY: Eric Devine’s Young Adult fiction has been listed by YALSA, Booklist, and the Junior Library Guild. He is also a veteran high school English teacher.
More at: ericdevine.org, facebook.com/ericdevineauthor, or Twitter: @eric_devine

Press Play: When Greg captures footage of brutal and bloody hazing by his town’s championship- winning lacrosse team, he knows he has evidence that could damage as much as it could save. Is revealing the truth worth the cost?

Laura Diamond – Albany, NY: Laura is a board certified psychiatrist and author of young adult fantasy, dystopian, & contemporary novels. When she’s not writing, she’s working at the hospital and catering to her feline furbaby overlords.

The Zodiac Collector: For Anne, the Renaissance Faire means another ruined birthday for her and her twin sister, Mary. This year, she conjures up a spell that will make their birthday party a whirlwind event. Little do they know that it’s a literal request.

James Preller – Delmar, NY: James Preller is an award-winning author. He has published a wide- variety of books for all ages, from picture books to young adult, including the popular “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series and BYSTANDER.

The Fall: In this heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship and bullying, told through journal entries, Sam explores and ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death. “With its timely, important message . . . Sam’s journal ought to find a large readership.” — Kirkus.

 

 

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5. Comment on Jigsaw by 13 Detective Book Series You Obsessed Over As A Kid – buy things safely

[…] of Books in Series: 32 in the original seriesFun Fact: Originally, Jigsaw’s name was Otis, not Theodore, as it appears in the […]

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6. Three Rapscallions All In a Row

Avast, me hearties! This photo below was sent to me in anticipation of a school visit. These rascals must have been inspired by A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade and/or the sequel, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess.

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The image below is by illustrator Greg Ruth, who is amazing, from A Pirate’s Guide to Recess.

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7. Looky Here: The Japanese Cover to SCARY TALES: GOOD NIGHT, ZOMBIE

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A writer’s life: One day you get a jpeg in an email for the Japanese version of your book, Good Night, Zombie, from the “Scary Tales” series.

You didn’t know anything about it. Not a clue.

And you just think, wow, that’s so cool. But my name should be bigger.

Is my name even on this thing?

For reference, here’s the English-market version, featuring art by Iacopo Bruno. A different approach, for sure.

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8. Comment on FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #230: On School Uniforms & Other Items by jimmy

Jen, please write to me at jamespreller@aol.com and you can give me a clearer idea of what you are asking. I don’t imagine a problem, as I always try to conceal the identity of the letter-writer.

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9. Comment on FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #230: On School Uniforms & Other Items by Jen Mullen

I would love to use copies of your fan mail and replies on my blog when I write about snail mail. I would provide links and attribution if you permit the use of these wonderful letters.

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10. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #230: On School Uniforms & Other Items

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Hey, look here, a bunch of letters from Alabama! Let me reach my hand into the big barrel and pull out a sample.

It’s from Patrick:

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I replied (because I usually do!):

 

Dear Patrick,

Thank you for your letter. Writing can be lonely work. For example, right this minute I am alone in a room in an empty house, plucking away at the computer keyboard. Just me, by my lonesome, trying to write.

Letters like yours make me smile, and make me feel connected to my readers. I write a book . . . and somebody out there . . . a boy named Patrick . . . reads it. The job wouldn’t be nearly as fun without you. So, again, truly and sincerely: thank you.

I suppose, yes, that Jigsaw is a little like me. We are both the youngest in large families (I am the youngest of seven), and we share the same sense of humor. I was never a detective, however; though I did love to spy on my brothers and sisters. I was sneaky.

You are lucky about the uniforms. I wore a uniform in Catholic school when I was a kid. Purple polka-dotted pants, striped shirt, red suspenders and a big yellow bow tie.

No, just kidding. Green pants, white shirt, green tie. Day after day, week after week, year after year. Sigh.

I just wrote a new “Jigsaw Jones” titled The Case from Outer Space. It will be out in the Spring of 2017. I hope you check it out –- there’s some really funny parts. And since you mentioned ghosts, you might enjoy my “Scary Tales” books. They aren’t hard to read, but they will make your heart go thump, thump, thump.

Stay cool and have a great summer!

Your friend,

James Preller

 

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11. Neil Gaiman Quote: True Fact!

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12. 23 Random Images from Recent School Visits — Just for Fun

I’ve been visiting schools lately as a guest author, speaking to grades K-8, traveling from Buffalo to Binghamton, Rochester to Wallkill, and places in between. Here’s a variety of images from those visits. Maybe this composite will offer an inkling of the “school visit” experience. I especially appreciate the posters and student artwork that’s created in anticipation of “the big day.” Feeling honored, grateful, and a little fried. (And, yes, still full from my first taste of “breakfast pizza” — it’s a Buffalo thing.) Thank you all for making these visits possible. I know that someday the phone won’t ring, there will be no invitations, no email queries. For now, during these good times, I feel privileged to be welcomed into so many schools, and to see those young faces, and to try to make each place I visit just a little bit better than it was the day before.

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13. RE-POST: The Hilarious Way One School Librarian Received 100% Book Returns (Almost)

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NOTE: I am reposting this because it’s that time of year for school librarians. Enjoy! 

Her name is Alanna Almstead. She’s a librarian at Ichabod Crane in Valatie, NY. And at the end of each school year, Alanna faces the same vexing problem: Unreturned library books.

Because kids tend to forget. And some others, let’s hope, just fall in love with that book and can’t stand the thought of letting it go.

Alanna realized that the problem might be solved if she could only provide the proper motivation. Some sort of incentive. A carrot, so to speak.

But what could it be?

Here, I’ll let my friend Alanna explain it in her own words:


“The idea actually came about last June as my amazing aide, Lori, and I were discussing the shameful number of missing books at the end of the year. Always eager to see me make a fool of myself, I think the words “duct tape” first came out of her mouth.

Fast forward to May of this year. There I sat rambling at the end of a particularly fun library class about how important it was to return their books (we also give funny trophies to the five classes that return all of their books the fastest) when I suddenly blurted out that if the whole school brings their books back I would get taped to the wall. Yikes! Once that sort of thing gets said there is no taking it back, but no worries… It will never happen, I thought to myself.

11403263_10203095973960421_4328485250474245790_nI approached my principal, Suzanne Guntlow, after the fact. Suzanne is a wonderful supporter of the library and gave me her blessing, just in case the kids came through.

And come through they did! Although we fell short of the goal of all books returned school wide I am very happy with the results. In the end we had only 12 books still checked out in a building serving over 560 students. When the last third grader brought her book back I knew that I would have to make good on my promise.

And so, on the eve of the last day of school, I found myself making the rounds to several local stores to buy armfuls of duct tape. Variety seemed important, for some reason. When you’re nearly 6 feet tall and are faced with getting stuck to a wall you want the tape to work (and look pretty, of course!).

All of the third grade classes gathered on the last day of school to witness their reward for being so responsible. Afterwards I did hear a few students saying that it was the “best way to end the year.” (What does that say about what they really think of me, I wonder?!?).”

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Final comment: I think it’s pretty obvious what they think of you, Alanna. Those kids think their school librarian is a hoot. Great job, great spirit. And a huge hat tip to that incredible aide, Lori, for hatching the idea. Note: Yes, there’s actually a brief video of the moment when they removed the foot stool from beneath Alanna’s feet and — what joy, what laughter — she stuck!

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14. A Face for Radio!

From a recent school visit. I've been all over recently, Wallkill, Rochester, Binghamton, and tomorrow . . . Buffalo! Eleven schools and one book festival in 18 days.

From a recent school visit. I’ve been all over recently, Wallkill, Rochester, Binghamton, and tomorrow . . . Buffalo! Eleven schools and one book festival in 18 days.

 

If you’ve never heard me on the radio, boy have I got a link for you. Listen to me, along with Mark Teague and Jennifer Clark, as we discuss the Hudson Children’s Book Festival on WAMC with Joe Donahue.

Jump on the link here and amaze your ears to the dulcet sounds of . . . nevermind!

 

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15. Comment on Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Sneaker Sneak by FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names | James Preller's Blog

[…]   My best,   James Preller P.S. For a lot more background on The Case of the Sneaker Sneak, click here — you won’t regret […]

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16. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names

 

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Here’s one from the Sunshine State!

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Dear Mr. Preller,
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My name is Nicolas.  I am 8 years old and I am in 3rd grade at ____  Elementary School in Miramar, FL.  I am writing to tell you that I really liked The Case of The Sneaker Sneak.  This is the third Jigsaw Jones book I have read because I really like Jigsaw Jones.
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51Xxdj8lrdL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Jigsaw is a lot like me.  He and I both like mysteries.  We like to solve puzzles.  I also like that Jigsaw plays sports.  I play sports too.  I play soccer, although I like to watch football like Jigsaw plays with his friends in the book. My family likes to watch and play football on Thanksgiving every year just like they do in the book.  I could really picture myself playing with those kids.  I think it is great how Mila and Jigsaw are always able to find clues to solve mysteries and help others.

One question I have for you is where do you come up with all the unique names of the characters in the book?  Do you know people named Solofsky, Pignattano, or Copabianco?  Do you have friends with nicknames like Bigs or Stringbean?

I really enjoy the Jigsaw Jones books and can’t wait to read the next one in my collection.

Sincerely,

Nicolas

I replied:

Dear Nicholas,

Thanks for your terrific letter. I am so glad that you are enjoying the series. I just wrote a new one, The Case from Outer Space, and it will be out in the Spring of 2017 — less than a year away! (You can click here to read a sample chapter. Or not! It’s a free world here at Jamespreller.com.)
 
I’ve never really thought about it before, but I guess you are right. I do put some unique names in the books. Joey Pignattano came directly from my love of the NY Mets. When I was your age, the Mets won a World Series in 1969, and one of their coaches was named Joe Pignatano. I changed his name slightly by adding an extra “t,” and that was that. Copabianco came from a girl I knew in college. It was just one of those long Italian names that musically rolls off the tongue. I did not know anyone named “Bigs” or “Stringbean,” but I did have a friend that we called “Wingnut” because of his large ears. 
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The books in the Jigsaw Jones series have been a little hard to find lately, because they are in the process of moving from one publisher (Scholastic) to another (Macmillan). Hopefully there will be more available next Spring, with all new covers. Look for them where fine books are sold.
 
Keep reading, Nicholas, and I’ll keep writing! And if you ever feel up to it, you might enjoy checking out my “Scary Tales” series. They are not much harder to read than Jigsaw, but you do have to be the sort of kid who likes creepy, suspenseful stories. 
 
My best,
 
James Preller
P.S. For a lot more background on The Case of the Sneaker Sneak, click here — you won’t regret it!

 

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17. Comment on NEW Jigsaw Jones Book: Inside Info & Sample Chapter! by FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names | James Preller's Blog

[…] from Outer Space, and it will be out in the Spring of 2017 — less than a year away! (You can click here to read a sample chapter. Or not! It’s a free world here at Jamespreller.com.)   I’ve never really thought […]

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18. Comment on The Charles Chips Man by Jim H

I still crave a tin of Feast O’ Fudge sandwich cookies. I saw a tin of potato chips in the local store but no cookies. Whaaaaa!

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19. 10 Things I Love (March 31st Edition)

 

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Blogs are dead, everybody knows it, the tweet spread the news long ago. Nobody reads blogs anymore. These days it’s all Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and short, short, short.

I get it, I do. We’re all feeling the time squeeze.

But because I’m childishly oppositional, I refuse to give up my blog. And I’m keeping my 8-Tracks, too. I started this blog back in 2008, so we’ve become attached. I like to have readers, but I’m not sure I really need them. It wouldn’t stop me from writing. There’s something about the open-ended blog format that offers room to spread out and say things, however long it takes. Whether anyone listens or not.

My pal, illustrator Matthew Cordell, used to blog with enthusiasm. One of his recurring features was his monthly-ish “Top Ten” lists, where Matt randomly listed some of his recent enthusiasms. It could be a song, a book, a movie, or a type of eraser (Matt was weird about erasers). It was always fun to read.

So I’m stealing it.

Here are ten things I’ve recently loved:

 

THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM

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I visited Cleveland with my son, Gavin, to check out Case Western Reserve University. The following day, we headed over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was spectacular in every way. (Except for: The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Really?) I’m a huge music fan, so it was perfect for me. I found the museum strangely moving in parts, my heart touched. I could see that rock music was big enough, and diverse enough, to offer a home to people from every walk of life.

CARRY ME HOME by Diane McWhorter

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Amazing, fascinating, and at times brutal Pulitzer Prize-winning book that’s stayed with me long after the last page. It provides a dense, detailed account of the civil rights struggle centered in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King, the Klu Klux Klan, Fred Shuttlesworth, George Wallace, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Kennedy, Bull Conner, and more. One of those books that helps you understand America.

FAN MAIL . . . WITH ILLUSTRATIONS!

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I’ve been ridiculously fortunate in my career, in that I’ve received a lot of fan mail across the past twenty years. But I have to admit, I especially like it when those letters include a drawing. There’s just something about children’s artwork that slays me, every time. This drawing is by Rida in Brooklyn.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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This book has been on my list almost since the day it came out — the buzz was instantaneous, and huge — but on a tip from a friend, I waited for the audiobook to become available through my library. Here, Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a powerful reading. It’s poignant to listen to an author reading his own words, particularly since this book is essentially a letter to his son.

“WINTER RABBIT,” a poem by Madeleine Comora

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We’re not here to bash Jack Prelutsky. Because, after all, Jack Prelutsky is hilarious. But, but, but. There are times when I worry that too many people think children’s poetry begins and ends with Mr. Prelutsky. That a poem for kids always has to be bouncy and fast and slight and funny, i.e., Prelutsky-ish. Well, here’s a poem I came across while reading Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disasters: Poems, unerringly edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. I admire the heartfelt, beautiful sorrow of Comora’s poem. “I thought of his last night alone/huddled in a wire home./I did not cry. I held him close,/smoothed his fur blown by the wind./For a winter’s moment, I stayed with him.” The illustration is  by Wolf Erlbruch. Click on the poem if your eyes, like mine, need larger type.

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT

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I’m so grateful that I live near a cool, little movie theater that makes room for small foreign films such as this, a mind-blowing look at life on the Amazon, spectacularly filmed in black-and-white. Click here for more details.

THE AMERICANS

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My wife Lisa and I don’t watch hours of TV together, but we do like to have a show we can share. We’ve been a loss for a few months, but recently discovered season one of “The Americans” on Amazon Prime. We’re hooked.

DAVID BROMBERG: “SAMMY’S SONG”

We have tickets to see Bromberg this coming weekend. He’s an old favorite of mine, first saw him in 1980 on Long Island. I’ve just rediscovered “Sammy’s Song,” which I haven’t heard in decades. What a chilling coming-of-age story, brilliantly performed. Oh, about that harmonica part? That’s Dave’s pal, Bob Dylan, with an uncredited guest turn.

JIGSAW JONES

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I just finished writing my first Jigsaw Jones book after a long time away. For many years, Scholastic had allowed the series to die on the vine, with book after book slowly going out of print. It’s been a crushing thing for me to stand by helplessly and watch. But with the help of my agent, I got back the rights, and now Macmillan has plans to relaunch the series. I am thrilled. There are more than 10 million copies of those books out there in world, and it seems like every second-grade classroom in America has a ragged copy or three. Writing the new book, The Case from Outer Space, was such a pleasure. It felt like being home again.

THE DAY THE ARCS ARRIVE

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For an author, it’s a special day, always, always. That book you’ve been toiling over for months, years, finally arrives in book form. Uncorrected, unfinished, but for the first time you can hold it in your hands — a book! — and think, “I did that!” Note: Arc = Advanced Reader’s Copy. The Courage Test, a middle grade novel, will be out for real in September.

BONUS SELECTION . . .

THE BARKLEY MARATHONS

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I love documentaries of almost any nature, but I can’t recommend this one highly enough. A pure joy, with twinkling mischievous wit and surprising heart, too. If you like running at all — or not! — see this movie. About the toughest, wildest, and weirdest race in the world. Catch it on Netflix Instant!

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20. Heh-heh

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21. NEW Jigsaw Jones Book: Inside Info & Sample Chapter!

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I am very excited about the revival of my “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series, thanks to my friends at Macmillan. I owe a particular debt to three people: my agent, Rosemary Stimola, and two fierce women in publishing, Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla. Not only are they resurrecting some long out-of-print titles, but they’ve asked me to write a new book. Which a just did, The Case from Outer Space. Writing it was daunting at first — it had been some years since I’d entered Jigsaw’s world — but very quickly it felt like home again. It was a happy book for me to write, and I hope that comes through in the story. I like to imagine people reading it with a smile.

Right now my publisher, along with artist R.W. Alley, are exploring new cover designs for the series re-launch. My job, at this point, is to sit back and hope for the best. Fingers, toes, everything’s crossed! It’s not as hard as it sounds. I’m confident that the fate of my favorite detective is in good hands. Which is such a relief. Probably the most painful part of my publishing life has been to watch that beloved series, with more then ten million books in homes and classrooms, slowly die on the vine due to neglect. Nobody could buy them anymore. Well, that’s going to change, and I feel nothing but grateful.

One other small detail that pleases me about the new book is that I used a “Little Free Library” as a central device in the mystery. I love Little Free Libraries — we have several in our sunny burb — and I’ll glad to give the idea a moment in the spotlight. Readers may enjoy this terrific piece about the libraries by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan, originally posted over at The Nerdy Book Club.

tammylittle-free-library

In the meantime, here’s a sample from the upcoming book, due in the Spring of 2017, along with four more titles. Jigsaw is back!

Sample chapter from The Case from Outer Space.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

One Small Problem

 

I poured three glasses of grape juice.

“Got any snacks?” Joey asked. “Cookies? Chips? Corn dogs? Crackers?”

“Corn dogs?” I repeated. “Seriously?”

“Oh, they are delicious,” Joey said. “I ate six yesterday. Or was that last week? I forget.”

Danika shook her head and giggled. Joey always made her laugh.

I set out a bowl of chips.

Joey pounced like a football player on a fumble. He was a skinny guy. But he ate like a rhinoceros.

“So what’s up?” I asked.

“We found a note,” Danika began.

“Aliens are coming,” Joey interrupted. He chomped on a fistful of potato chips.

I waited for Joey to stop chewing. It took a while. Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum. I finally asked, “What do you mean, aliens?”

“Aliens, Jigsaw!” he exclaimed. “Little green men from Mars –- from the stars –- from outer space!”

I looked at Danika. She shrugged, palms up. “Maybe,” she said. “You never know.”

I took a long swig of grape juice. “You mentioned a note,” I said to Danika.

She sat tall, eyes wide. “It’s very mysterious, Jigsaw. That’s why we came to you.”

“Narffle-snarffle,” Joey mumbled, his mouth still full of chips.

I leaned back in my chair. I shoved my hands into my pockets. They were empty. Business had been slow. I was a detective without a case. “Let me make a phone call,” I said.

I never work alone. My partner’s name is Mila Yeh. We split the money down the middle, 50-50. Mila has long black hair. She’s crazy about books. And she’s my best friend on the planet. Together, we make a good team.

I asked Mila to meet us in my tree house. She said she’d be over in five minutes.

It took her three and a half.

Mila lived next door. And she was as quick as a rabbit.

As usual, Mila was singing. I knew the tune, but the words were different:

 

    “Twinkle, twinkle, little mystery!

     How I wonder what you are?

     Could you really be up there?

     Do Martians wear . . . underwear?”

 

“You’re funny,” Danika said. She sent a warm smile in Mila’s direction.

“That last line needs work,” Mila replied. She sang again, “Do Martians wear . . . underwear?” Satisfied, Mila sat down, criss-cross applesauce. We gathered in a snug circle. There was no choice. My tree house wasn’t exactly a palace. I am not complaining. But I don’t go up there on windy days. Mila’s eyes were active and alert. They moved from Joey to Danika, before settling on me. “Aliens, huh?” Mila asked.

“From outer space,” Joey said.

“Uh-huh,” Mila replied. If she thought Joey was crazy, Mila was too nice to say it out loud.

I took out my detective notebook. I opened to a clean page. With a blue pen, I wrote:

 

THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE

CLIENTS: Joey and Danika

CLUES:

 

I left that part blank. I didn’t have any clues. I wasn’t even sure I had a case. But it was better than nothing.

“Maybe we could start from the beginning,” Mila suggested.

“Hold on.” I slid forward an empty coin jar. “We get a dollar a day.”

Joey and Danika exchanged glances. “We have one teensy-weensy problem,” Danika said.

Uh-oh.

“No money,” Joey confessed.

“We’re flat broke,” Danika said.

“That’s the worst kind of broke,” I sighed.

Here's an illustration Jigsaw, Geetha, and Mila, taken from THE CASE OF THE PERFECT PRANK, illustrated by Jamie Smith. The art for OUTER SPACE hasn't been completed.

Here’s an illustration Jigsaw, Geetha, and Mila, taken from THE CASE OF THE PERFECT PRANK, illustrated by Jamie Smith. The art for OUTER SPACE hasn’t been completed.

“Maybe we could trade?” Joey offered. He reached into his back pocket. His hand came out holding a hunk of smelly orange glop. “I’ve got some cheese!”

Mila leaned away. “You keep random cheese in your back pocket?”

“My front pockets were full,” Joey explained.

I was afraid to ask. We were all afraid. No one wanted to know what was in Joey’s front pockets. A frog? A hard-boiled egg? Last week’s bologna sandwich? Anything was possible.

There was still the problem of payment. I did not liking working for free. It was bad for business. But I needed a mystery the way a fish needs to swim . . . the way a bird needs to fly . . . the way a three-toed South American tree sloth needs to hang upside down.

“Okay,” I decided. “We’ll look into it. No promises.”

“Thanks, Jigsaw,” Danika said.

“You can still have my cheese,” Joey said. He held out the orange glop as if it were pirate’s treasure.

Mila coughed. “That’s nice of you, Joey. Just hold on to it for now. For safe keeping.” She turned to Danika. “Let’s see that note.”

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22. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #228: One Letter’s Circuitous Path

postalletter-150x150
I haven’t been sharing too many letters lately — sometimes there’s a samey-ness to them, I suppose — and I almost didn’t share this one. It felt a little self-serving. But, hey, this is my blog! That’s what we do here! It’s all about the glorification of me, me, me!
 
Over the years, I’ve received fan mail from familiar sources. I begin to recognize the names, the places. Here’s such a letter, but its arrival took an unusual path. I’ll begin below with my response, and follow that with Ms. Betances’ wonderful reply to me. It seems we actually go waaaaay back. You’ll get the drift. By the way, thank you Matt Ball — old neighbor, old friend — who went the extra yard to see to it that I received a wayward package. Matt is a teacher, so it’s no surprise that he went above and beyond to help a fellow teacher and her students.
 -
I wrote:
 -
Dear Ms. Betances,
It is something of a miracle that your wonderful package, filled with great stories, actually reached me. Long ago, I lived at 38 East Bayberry Road, in Glenmont. Your letter was addressed to 32 East Bayberry. However, I now live at 12 Brookside Drive, Delmar, NY 12054. Been here for more than a decade.
 
Somehow an ex-neighbor came into possession of the package and drove it over to my house. Lucky me, lucky you. 
Art by Briana -- a good writer who found exactly the right word -- from "The Case of the Missing Rubik's Cube."

Art by Briana — a good writer who found exactly the right word — from “The Case of the Missing Rubik’s Cube.”

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So please make note of my current address. 
That said, hi, it’s nice to hear from you again. I appreciate your kind words about Jigsaw Jones and Scary Tales. I actually just wrote a new Jigsaw Jones book — THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE — and it will be out in Spring of 2017. I’m so excited about it, since those books have been out of print for several years now. They’ve moved from Scholastic to Macmillan, and for the beginning the plan is to re-release 8 old titles and sprinkle in something new. 
I’m very impressed with the stories you sent. So first a shout out to Irene and Shirley, Rida, Briana, Ileyana, Taya, and Michelle. Great work, writers! (And that’s a wonderful collection of names, by the way.)
 
I loved how each story was unique. The illustrations were especially terrific, though I apologize in advance that I couldn’t represent every artist in this blog post. Don’t you guys love mysteries? There’s something to that genre that hooks a reader from the beginning. And in each case, there’s a happy — and often surprising, sometimes even funny — ending.
Art by Irene and Shirley, from "The Case of the Missing Cockatoo.

Art by Irene and Shirley, from “The Case of the Missing Cockatoo.”

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Each story offered new pleasures. Michelle’s story about the missing eyeglasses could have been taken from my own life. I am forever looking for my glasses, and sometimes find them on top of my own head! I was relieved when Sally found the missing chapter book, that would have made me crazy. I loved the last sentence in Irene and Shirley’s story, “We are here to help, always here!” Plus it was cool to learn a little bit about cockatoos. Rida’s story was creepy and suspenseful — two of my favorite things. I especially loved the big illustration on the back. Briana’s story was lively and entertaining; it’s always good to ask Mom, she usually knows. Lastly, I’m pleased that Ileyana’s hands will never be cold again — though perhaps that’s a bit optimistic. Never is a long, loooooong time. 
Art by Michelle from "The Case of the Missing Eyeglasses.

Art by Michelle from “The Case of the Missing Eyeglasses.”

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Keep up the great work. I’m always glad to read a good mystery. The day I opened your package, I got to read six!
My best,
JP
 -
Here is the fabulous reply I received:
 -

Dear Mr. Preller,

OH MY GOD! Yes this was a miracle. You are not going to believe this but every year my new students read the letters you’ve  sent to my former classes. We have a pile of them. It so happened that the kids who were writing the letter took the address from the letter written in 2001. That was 15 years ago. Of course I trusted them and didn’t verify to make sure they chose the correct one. LOL.
Thanks, Tink!

Thanks, Tink!

It must have been Tinker Bell, our class fairy, who put the package back on the right path. The kids would have been disappointed if they didn’t get a reply from you. You are truly an amazing, unique and genuine individual. I have been teaching for 32 years and have never met an author who actually takes the time to really care about his fans. Thank from the bottom of my heart. My students love the mystery genre because  they really enjoy reading your books. Every student who has been in my class still thinks you are the coolest and best writer ever. Congratulations in being such a fascinating author. My last year class was speechless when they saw that you wrote a blog about their mystery. This year class loved the fact that you made a connection to their stories to your own personal life. I shared your letter with my principal and the staff and they were like WOW! WOW! that was incredible. The teachers as well as the students enjoyed your letter.

I know that you are a very busy author but yet you always take the time to comment on their mysteries.
 
Thank you,
Your biggest fan
Anita Betances
TMK Leaders (The Magical Kids)
 

 

Art by Rida, who is fabulous, from "The Case of the Haunted Doll." (Yeah, I got a little scared.)

Art by Rida, who is fabulous, from “The Case of the Haunted Doll.” (Yeah, I got a little scared.)

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23. Comment on Fan Mail Wednesday #197: Emily, Age 11, Writes an Alternative Ending to BYSTANDER by patrick

i loved the ending

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24. Comment on 10 Things I Love (March 31st Edition) by Liz Fithian

Keep on bloggin’ Jimmy. Long live Jigsaw Jones! Welcome Courage Test! And now I need to watch The Americans. Thanks for the tips.

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25. Comment on 10 Things I Love (March 31st Edition) by Liz Szabla

Love this list!

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