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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Around the Web, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 49
1. On the Passing of Norman Bridwell, Creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog

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I was hired by Scholastic as a junior copywriter back in 1985 for the princely sum of $11,500. To get the initial interview, I mailed in my near-empty resume and a writing sample, which addressed the hot topic of the day, Bernie Goetz, New York’s “subway shooter.”

After the first set of interviews with Willie Ross and Carol Skolnick, I was given a bunch of children’s books and asked to write about them in two voices. First, for young children, and secondly, for teachers. Writing about Curious George to students, I wrote something like, “Yikes! That silly monkey is in trouble again!” For teachers, the idea was to take a different tone, such as, “In this classic tale, award-winning author H.A. Rey conveys the hilarious antics of Curious George, one of the most enduring and beloved characters in all of children’s literature.”

I got the job writing the SeeSaw Book Club.

One of the first assignments I was asked to perform was to write a brief promotional brochure on three authors: Ann McGovern, Johanna Hurwitz, and Norman Bridwell. I was given their phone numbers, told to call them, set up an interview.

“Call them?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“On the phone?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Um, me?”

“Yes, you.”

I stared at that phone for a few minutes, mustered up my courage, and pushed the numbers.

That’s the first time I spoke with Norman Bridwell. He was then, as he would forever remain, a humble, soft-spoken, generous man. The first Clifford book, published in 1963, came out in two-color, in an inexpensive, horizontal format. It looked cheap, because it was. But in the early 80s somebody at Scholastic had the bright idea of repackaging those books in a mass market, 8″ x 8″ format — and in virbrant full color. The books took off and the Big Red Dog became one of the great success stories in children’s literature. In fact, one can accurately imagine the Scholastic corporation as a great sled with Clifford the Big Red Dog hauling it through the snow. That benign character helped propel a company to greatness.

Through it all, Norman remained the same kind, gentle man. No one ever spoke badly of him. No one, not ever.

He was always courteous, generous, kind. Even grateful, I think. Norman always seemed to consider himself lucky. And the truth is, he was fortunate. I don’t think anyone makes it really big in this business without a little luck shining down on you. Norman understood that.

NETFLIX, INC. SCHOLASTIC INC. CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG

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He deserved his success, for he had created something pure and genuine that touched hearts, and through it all he remained faithful to the essential core of what those books were all about. The love between a child and her dog, with a bunch of jokes and gags thrown in to get you to that final hug.

One other quick story about Clifford. It was sometime later, let’s call it the early 1990s, and I was in Ed Monagle’s office, chatting away. At that time, I’d moved upstate, gone freelance, and was trying to survive as a writer. (True story: I’m still trying to survive as a writer.) Ed was a terrific guy, but also a numbers guy. A financial analyst, chief bean counter at Scholastic. Ed cared about the books, and believed in the central mission of the company, but he was also impressed by profit-and-loss statements. He admired Clifford’s sales numbers, and respected the size of Norman’s royalty checks.

So on this day, Ed gave me some friendly advice. He said, “Jimmy, this is what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to invent a character that everyone loves. Look at Clifford the Big Red Dog. Do you have any idea how many of those books we sell? You could do that!” he continued. “I mean, think about Clifford. He’s a dog. He’s big. He’s red. How hard could it be?!

That’s the thing with magic, I guess. It never looks difficult.

Ed was right, of course, the idea was laughably simple. He was also completely wrong. Clifford the Big Red Dog was an exceptional idea, marvelous in its simplicity, executed to perfection.

Not so easy after all.

Norman Bridwell passed away this week. And I’m here to say, very quietly, that he was a really good guy. I’m sorry to see him go.

 

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2. I Am Becoming This Guy . . .

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Ha, well, that’s a little bit of me, I guess. I’m 53 and I did, in fact, grow up in a different world, one that would be increasingly unrecognizable to young people today.

I loved my stick.

And sometimes when I look at my own kids, half-watching TV as they half-scan their cell phones, fully nowhere, I wonder about what might have been lost.

I spent last week observing in four different second-grade classrooms (I want to write about that another time, when I have time), talking to teachers, or I should say, listening to teachers, and they do generally have concerns about this age of technology and what it might mean for listening and conversational skills. But whenever I get on this topic, it’s hard not to feel like that cliche, “back in my day . . .”

Carry on!

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3. This Is Remarkably Accurate to My Writing Process

Thanks to Algonquin Books . . . and cartoonist Tom Gauld, who nails it.

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4. Cartoon for Teachers: My Dog Ate My Homework (or maybe not)

Hey, teachers, librarians, educators, and so on . . . you might enjoy this.

Carry on and have a great school year. You do such an important job, play such a vital role in the life and development of our children. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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5. How to Tip the Chambermaid

Over the past five years, I’ve traveled a lot to visit schools in far-flung places: Oklahoma, California, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, etc. Mostly I stay in the NY/NJ area. But regardless, the basic fact remains: I’m not at home. I’m often alone, away from my family, unwrapping a plastic cup from inside a plastic wrapper. Sigh.

51LvdCXV+dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of life’s little puzzles is how to properly tip the chambermaid. For the longest time, I was never quite sure. So I faked it, without much rhyme or reason. Last year I met author Kate Klise in a hotel in Rye, NY. We share the same tour administrator, the awesome Kerri Kunkel McPhail, who organizes and coordinates our school visits in the greater Westchester area and beyond. It’s a rare treat to meet real, live authors, especially since we spend most of our working lives alone, tapping out words on a keyboard. I quickly learned Kate is a hugely talented author, dedicated and wise to the ways of the world, and a kind person, too. I liked her a lot.

Sitting in the lobby, we hit upon the topic of hotel living. I must have said something about tipping the chambermaid, because Kate gave me a suggestion that I’ve used in every hotel stay since.

I leave $5 each morning. In the past, I’d often waited for the end of my stay, but I realized that it might cause an unfair distribution. A different hotel maid might be working that day. Better to leave a smaller amount daily. Five seems like the right number to me, though I didn’t arrive at that figure scientifically. Here’s where Kate told me her approach. She said, “I always leave a little thank you note.”

2698349-1“You do?”

“Yes. It’s such a tough job — think about it. I feel like the least I can do is just write a short note of appreciation.”

Nice, right?

It immediately made sense to me. After all, that’s all anybody ever wants in this life. Some basic recognition, a note of appreciation. The tip is one thing, certainly, but taking one minute for a quick note brings it to a higher level.

Now every morning in a hotel before I’m rushing out for a day’s work, I quickly grab a piece of paper, write “THANK YOU!” or some variation, and leave a tip.

And every time, I feel good about leaving behind a little extra kindness.

And last week, for the first time, I got a response . . . with three exclamation marks.

photo(3)

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6. “Library” — An Animated Poem by Scroobius Pip

 

What is a Scroobius Pip? Well, from what I can gather, Scroobius is no relation to any of the “pips” that — or who? — hung out with Gladys Knight. Born David Meads, Scroobius is a poet and hip hop recording artist out of England. Essex, specifically. A word guy. According to The Independent: “Mellifluous magician, street scribe, punk-poet with pop sensibilities, Pip conjures truly modern verse of genuine incision.”

Looks like a lot of fun to hang out with, too.

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For what it’s worth, I dug around the interwebs and unearthed this comment to Mr. Pip from a fan. Too cool:

“Hey Scroobius Pip, You saved a life.

I just wanted to let you know that one of the main reasons i am alive and am able to type this is because of you. After being on the verge of suicide multiple times in the past, i stumbled upon your song “Magicians Assistant”. Your words filled my mind and distorted my view on my situation.

I will keep this short, but you changed the way i thought, and in turn snapped me the hell out of my mindset. It was a long journey, but recently i can look in the mirror and say im happy with my life. I just wanted you to know that, and i thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

 

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7. A Quick Pass-Along for Teachers

Note: This cartoon was created by Aaron Bacall. You can enjoy more of his work by clicking on this link.

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8. OVERHEARD: “I guess science is my favorite class — I just wish it wasn’t so serious.”

Lisa had asked Maggie, grade 6, about her classes and received the above reply. Which at first struck me as a hilarious thing to say about science. It was like saying, I don’t know, math should funnier.

But then I realized she might be onto something. When we think of our science teachers, most of them are dry, dull, strict. This is science, this is important: this is serious business!

And in fairness, it often is, kids can get hurt, things might explode.

But then there are those rare science teachers — and scientists like Bill Nye, on television — who bring the joy of discovery into the process. Or should I say, keep the joy. The wonder.

They find the fun and the funny. Like a child with a new toy, figuring out what makes it go. Discovering the awesomeness of it all.

On Facebook I “liked” a site called, “I Love F***ing Science.” I’ve always regretted the F***ing in that title because it makes it harder for me to share with others, especially anyone who might read my books.

This post reflects a few things I’ve picked up from there, and other places.

Just trying to bring the fun, Maggie. I’m glad you like science.

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9. But Are They Free Range?

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10. Neil Gaiman: “Well-Meaning Adults Can Destroy a Child’s Love of Reading.”

“Well-meaning adults can easily destroy

a child’s love of reading.

Stop them reading what they enjoy

or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like

–- the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature –-

you’ll wind up with a generation

convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

– Neil Gaiman.

In a recent lecture, Neil Gaiman passionately warned of the danger of adults trying to dictate what children should or should not read. He believes children should decide for themselves, they should read what they love, and that the wrong kind of interference, no matter how well-intentioned, can snub out a child’s interest in reading forever.

From The Guardian:

[Gaiman] said: “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children.” Every now and again there was a fashion for saying that Enid Blyton or RL Stine was a bad author or that comics fostered illiteracy. “It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.”

This all reminded me of an interview I conducted with Thomas Newkirk, author of the important book, Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture, Newkirk spoke to these same issues — the imposition of adult tastes on students, particularly young boys.

Newkirk told me:

“I don’t think that means that we give up on asking students to read and write realistic genres — but we need to be open to other tastes as well. Fantasy allows us to escape, to be bigger and braver than we are, to suspend the limitations of time and space. I think we all need that freedom as well.”

He continued: “I think we all like some AKA crap. No one is high brow all the time. So it seems to me OK to ask kids to value what we value; but we also have to understand the appeal of what they like. It can’t be all one or the other. We have values and goals for their reading and writing; but we won’t win the cooperation of students if our attitude toward their culture is one of dismissal. One challenge is to look at books from the boy’s point of view. I don’t think gender is an absolute barrier here. What’s needed is an open mind, a sense of curiosity. What makes this boy tick? What are the themes, passions, competencies in his life that I can build on? To teach we all need to get outside ourselves, and into someone else’s skin. I know many female teachers who are wonderful at this. And it seems to me that when a boy senses a female teacher cares about what he cares about, that boy will be open to other things the teacher asks of him.”

Yes, some of this strikes a chord in me. I’m an ex-kid myself. But I’ve already encountered glimpses of this — and open hostility — for my new SCARY TALES series. I was at a book festival in Chappaqua when a daughter and her father (after he put down the phone) had a long argument at my table. She wanted one of my SCARY TALES books. She said, “I really, really want to read this book.” He did not think it was worth her while. She countered, he hunkered down. This went on for five minutes while I sat there like a rubber dummy, agog and aghast.

This doesn’t just happen with girls.

In another situation, I was asked not to mention my new series to anyone at an elementary school where I had been invited to speak. I could come, I was told, they loved my books — just don’t talk about, you know, the books that should not exist.

I declined to meet the contraints of the dis-invitation. I concluded a long letter to the librarian with this:

Oh well. In the end we both know that many elementary school children love scary stories — many librarians I’ve talked to can’t keep them on the shelves — but in this case that’s not what you, or nameless others, want them to read. Or to even be made aware the books exist. We also know about the power of a motivated reader. And how readers grow and develop over time. How one good book leads to another. But this is what boys have always been told, that what they like isn’t worthy, what they enjoy is somehow “wrong.” We deny their maleness. And the “we” is usually well-meaning women. Rather than building bridges to literacy, some people put up obstacles. And thus: there is a national crisis in boys reading scores. And until attitudes change, that crisis will continue.

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11. Quick Teacher Pass-Along

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12. Donalyn Miller’s “The Book Whisperer” Reaches Cultural Icon Status

I met Donalyn Miller at a Literacy Conference in Ohio. She was the keynote speaker and I came away impressed, inspired, and determined to read her book, THE BOOK WHISPERER: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.

I started reading it yesterday, frustrated over my own 9th-grade son’s brutal, book-hating experience in advanced, 9th-grade English.

I underlined this passage from Donalyn’s book, page 18:

Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters — the saints and sinners, real or imagined — reading shows you how to be a better human being.

The book is filled with passages that make you want to stand up and cheer.

Anyway, this morning Donalyn Miller shared her enthusiasm over this fun bit of pop culture stardom:

Good for Donalyn Miller, good for Jeopardy.

It’s funny, isn’t it? That’s a real touchstone in America today. An undeniable sign that you’ve arrived and made your mark. You become a clue on Jeopardy!

Donalyn is also a founding member of the Nerdy Book Club, which you should definitely follow. Seriously, I insist.

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13. EDUCATION IS . . .

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela.

Today I came across this remarkable 1994 photograph by Michael S. Williamson, and this powerful quote, and thought I’d bring them together here.

For my own self. And for you to stumble upon.

That is all.

Carry on.

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14. New Slide for School Visits

Came across this today and thought it would make a good slide for my Middle School presentations. It basically expresses where I come out on all the tips and strategies for so-called “Bully Proofing” a school. It’s why these students don’t need to be preached to. They already know. They just need to be encouraged to listen, and supported when they do.

When my presentation is over — which is decidedly not about bully-proofing a school, it’s about writing books — I like to keep up a final slide while the students filter out. Most of my slides are just images, not words. But at the end, I think that last slide can have words. This one just might make the cut.

Thank you, Shel Silverstein!

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15. Around the Web

Every so often I want to highlight what books are being talked about Around the Web. So, without further ado, the launch of a new series.

On Oprah’s blog, Life Lift, we have our weekly book recommendation.

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron

Coral Glynn
by Peter Cameron

In the standard domestic drama, a poor lonely girl comes to work for a rich lonely man, and the two fall in love, a la Jane Eyre. The thought-provoking Coral Glynn begins in just this way. It’s right after World War, and Coral comes to nurse the dying mother of Major Clement Hart—an Englishman whose leg and confidence have been badly damaged on the battlefield. The Major quickly falls in love with Coral, and the two decide to get married, until a gruesome murder in the neighboring woods sends Coral fleeing back to London. For a few pages, it seems as if this book may turn into a Gothic thriller: how will the two reunite and who exactly is the killer? But Peter Cameron is so much more of skilled and subtle writer than this. Underneath his page-turning plot is a careful, complex examination of loss—and the human ability to fully experience love after too much loss. Coral has suffered all kinds of quiet, devastating violence in her own life—the unspoken kind that’s either ignored or simply expected when it comes to working-class woman, post-war or not. It’s her emotional life that becomes the real mystery of the novel. Coral can’t engage with others, even as they become entranced, if not bewitched, by her. She tries to connect, of course, and at strange, unexpected times, longs for more, such as when she enters a florist shop and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the flowers, feeling “in some way that ll the life and warmth of the cold, drab town, of her life, had collected in this room—that she was in the hot golden center of the world.”  Here is the pleasure of the novel—albeit a painful one. In bringing Coral to life, Cameron knows what not to say, how to leave the kind of tiny, white space that lets us readers imagine the huge, colorful, overwhelming world of even the most broken human heart.

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USATODAY brings further attention to the underground, cult-like book, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY that is becoming one of the most talked about books of the season. Turns out, FIFTY SHADES started off as a Twilight Fan Fiction creation.

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by EL James:

When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating. Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind – until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time.

The unworldly, innocent Ana is shocked to realize

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16. 50 Words You Can’t Say On Standardized Tests

It sounds like a George Carlin riff, but no one with any sense is laughing. That is, so long as we all agree to disqualify the rueful laugh, the mournful chuckle, or the stomach’s sad-and-knowing rumble.

You know, the laugh that keeps you from screaming.

Click here for the article that caused my jaw to drop:

The New York City Department of Education is waging a war on words of sorts, and is seeking to have words they deem upsetting removed from standardized tests.

Fearing that certain words and topics can make students feel unpleasant, officials are requesting 50 or so words be removed from city-issued tests.

Ludicrous, misguided, dumb. I won’t keep you in suspense.

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The complete list of words that could be banned:

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)

Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs

Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)

Bodily functions

Cancer (and other diseases)

Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)

Celebrities

Children dealing with serious issues

Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)

Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)

Crime

Death and disease

Divorce

Evolution

Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes

Gambling involving money

Halloween

Homelessness

Homes with swimming pools

Hunting

Junk food

In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge

Loss of employment

Nuclear weapons

Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)

Parapsychology

Politics

Pornography

Poverty

Rap Music

Religion

Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)

Rock-and-Roll music

Running away

Sex

Slavery

Terrorism

Television and video games (excessive use)

Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)

Vermin (rats and roaches)

Violence

War and bloodshed

Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)

Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

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17. Rex Babin, Political Cartoonist (1962 - 2012): An Old Friend Remembered

Rex Babin lived a block away from me in the early 90’s, back when we both resided in Center Square, Albany. I was new to Albany, with a wife and (soon, in 1993) a young child. Rex was a single guy with a good apartment, and we hung out a lot, listening to the Pixies and Nirvana, and talking, talking, talking. Beer was sometimes involved.

This is Rex, holding my son, Nicholas, 1993. A  future father in training.

Rex was a California kid, tall, strong, ruggedly handsome — always a little out-of-sorts in the gray climate of upstate New York. He worked for the Albany New York Times Union newspaper as a political cartoonist, so there was always something rattling around in his head.

We lost touch after he moved to a new job at The Sacramento Bee in 1999 — keeping touch was something that neither of us were any good at that. We became Facebook friends, of course, following each other across a great distance, but that was a faint duplicate of the real, tangible connection that once was. I learned on Friday that Rex had passed, after a two-year battle with stomach cancer. He left behind a wife, Kathleen, and a son, Sebastian.
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When I think of our friendship, I’m reminded of so many others that have come and gone. The kid in second grade I used to hang out with all the time. The girlfriend in tenth. The college roommate, the work colleague, and so on. All these friendships that we mutually surrendered over the years.
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We simply let go.
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Glad to unearth this old shot of me, my dog, and Rex.
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What I now understand is that friendship has its own grip. We might loosen our connection, but the friendship — that thing, whatever it was —  never lets go. Anyone who was ever a friend, no matter how ephemeral, carves a permanent place in the heart. We might forget that in our headlong rush to the next and the next and the next, the busy itinerary of our days, but these recent years I find myself remembering those friends more and more.
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Regrets, yes. The could haves and should haves. But mostly this: appreciation for what once was. Gratefulness. Forgiveness. Love.
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Rex was one of those guys. A good guy who passed through and left a mark, like scrimshaw on whale bone. Rex was here. And despite the fact we haven’t spoken in years and years, and perhaps we both should have been better friends, I mourn his passing, raise a glass to his memory, send my best thoughts to Kathleen and Sebastian, and cry a few tears.
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Rex was a friend of mine, and no matter how much rain and sadness we endure, that stuff never, ever washes away. He will be missed.
18. Behind Every Harassed Child . . .

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote a sensitive, perceptive review (3/29) of the new film, “Bully,” a much buzzed-about documentary by Lee Hirsch.

It’s worth reading in full. But here’s a paragraph to wet your whistle:

The feeling of aloneness is one of the most painful consequences of bullying. It is also, in some ways, a cause of it, since it is almost always socially isolated children (the new kid, the fat kid, the gay kid, the strange kid) who are singled out for mistreatment. For some reason — for any number of reasons that hover unspoken around the edges of Mr. Hirsch’s inquiry — adults often fail to protect their vulnerable charges.

I look forward to seeing this important film, while at the same time dreading it.

Here’s the trailer:

There’s a scene in my book, BYSTANDER, when Eric speaks up to a group of peers. He asks, “The other day with Griffin and David. Why didn’t we do anything to stop it?”

And in that brief dialogue out on the playground, I wanted to quickly present, without editorial, some of the most common reasons cited for failing to stand up.

The mood of the group changed, grew quiet and uncomfortable. A few sets of eyes looked away, perhaps searching for Cody and Griffin.

“What about it, Hakeem?”

The thick-bodied, dark-skinned boy stared at Eric. He smiled, lifted up his hands. “My parents tell me to stay out of it,” he admitted. “I don’t want any trouble.”

“Hallenback is a loser,” Drew P. interjected. “You know how annoying he is, Eric. That kid deserves a little roughing up now and then. It’s like he asks for it.”

“Please, sir, may I have another?” Marshall Jenkins joked in a whiny voice.

Most of the boys laughed, nodding in agreement.

Eric noticed that Pat Daly wasn’t laughing.

“What about you, Pat?” Eric asked.

Pat swallowed, looked at the ground. “Even if, let’s say, maybe you saw something that seemed a little harsh,” he tentatively began. “What if you did say something? You’d get your butt kicked the next day.”

“It’s not worth it,” another commented.

“Besides, who are you going to tell?” Marshall asked. “The principal? Mrs. Morris can’t do anything.”

“What about Officer Goldsworthy?” Eric wondered.

“No way I’d ever rat someone out,” Sinjay stated. “Especially not to a rent-a-cop.”

“Eric, listen to me, okay? You’ve got to lighten up, dude,” Drew P. advised. “Why make a big deal out of it? Okay, a few little things have happened. There’s

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19. Happy Easter . . . I Think

For more Sketchy Bunnies, click away. All praise the interwebs!

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20. Women’s Travel Diaries: A Collection

Harriet Sanderson Stewart's Travel Diary

As someone who greatly admires the handwritten word, I am completely enamored by this collection of Women’s Travel Diaries at Duke. Check it out and let me know if anyone else is in love with handwriting?

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21. Grumpy Answers to Great Questions: Wastepaper Prose (and Other Literary Woes)

I was recently invited to participate in Round 7 of “The Author Insight Series,” hosted by the outstanding Wastepaper Prose blog.

It was exciting to get an invitation anywhere, frankly, so I went out, bought a lightweight seersucker suit, and dithered over which holiday present to re-gift.

(Little known fact: I am 51 years old and have never owned a suit. Or a watch. Carry on!)

The Insight Series is actually quite impressive. In this case, Susan sent along a list of 16 questions to 23 authors. We all answer the same questions in our own way. My way was, naturally, the grumpy way; I feel like that’s my turf.

It’s strange to experience the compare-and-contrast effect of 23 writers answering the same question. I didn’t want to lose! Didn’t want to be the one lame author limping along in last place every time, feet blistered, clutching my side, gasping for air. Everything in life is a competition, as I tell preschoolers at every opportunity, and I was determined to avoid that kind of embarrassment.

Here are the answers to Question #1: “If someone had a behind-the-scenes pass to observe your writing process what would they see?”

My writing process in a picture. Do we really need

a thousand words?

In all seriousness, across four-plus years of blogging, from time to time I’ve tried to write openly and honestly about my writing process . . . without sounding too precious about it. Click here if you care about that stuff.

I was glad for the opportunity to participate. Glad to be able to bring some sliver of attention to my upcoming YA novel, Before You Go. Authors come in all shapes, shades, and sizes — all with our own fingerprint — and it’s worthwhile, perhaps even inspiring, to celebrate that variety of voices. And guess what else? There was be PRIZES and GIVEAWAYS, signed books and such, at the end of the series. Go to Wastepaper Prose and knock yourself out. Hopefully you’ll discover some new writers in the process.

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22. “BYSTANDER” Made VOYA’s Suggested Summer Reading List

My editor said, “Here’s to many more lists recommending Bystander.”

My agent said, “Huzzah!”

And I chanted, “Show me the money, show me the money, show me . . .”

I mean, er, “Well, goodness, this is certainly an honor.”

Click here for the full, annotated list, featuring categories that range from “Core Curriculum” (Little Women, The Time Machine, The Phantom Tollbooth) to “Anti-Bullying/Tolerance” (Bystander) to Social Studies (Amelia Lost, Chains) to Sci-Fi (The Maze Runner) to ALL SORTS OF OTHER STUFF.

Seriously, why make me work so hard? Get off my back and jump, instead, on the above link.

One title that captured my interest . . . Scrawl, by Mark Shulman.

It came with this annotation: “Enter the mind of a bully by reading his journal.”

Cool cover, don’t you think? Color me curious. I’m going to buy it right now.

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23. My 804th Post!

Just noticed that my last post was #803.

Which means almost nothing, and I suppose that’s something.

Still: 803 posts, 49 months, 199,462 visits, 379,788 pageviews.

I have no idea if those numbers are good or bad or whatever.

I’ve enjoyed posting, and that’s why I still do it.

Thank you, sincerely, for stopping by.

My best, JP

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24. Author Insight Series: On the Value of Social Media

My legion of stalkers may remember that I recently participated in the (ongoing!) Author Insight Series over at the legendary Wastepaper Prose blog.

In brief, more than a dozen authors answer the same question — and somehow it’s not nearly as tedious as that sounds.

Here’s today’s question: “Social Media can be a distraction for writers, but what’s its biggest benefit?”

Confession: When I do these things, I try to be quick, honest, without a great deal of think. But for this question, I had to go back and revise my answer — because my first reply was too grumpy, even for me, and maybe a little pretentious there at the end, a trait I dislike in others and loathe in myself. I had to cut that last bit out.

Here’s my initial response, which I softened:

“I don’t see the great benefit. Write a great book and they will come. If not, all the marketing in the world won’t make a difference. But, okay, maybe I’m just being contrary. I think you have to be yourself, figure out what feels right for you, and act accordingly. If you are a networker, go for it. For me, writing is about sustained concentration, focused effort, and distraction is my siren and my enemy.”

I cleaned that up to:

“Social media does not help the actual writing, and I think that’s where our energy should go. That said, I think you have to be yourself, figure out what feels right for you, and act accordingly. If you are a networker, go for it.

Anyway, click here (and for more, click again here) to read all of the answers, from an interesting variety of authors, including: Lauren Morrill, Margo Lanagan, Dan Krokos, Martha Brockenbrough, Joy Peble, Greg Leitich Smith, Kirsten Hubbard, Cyn Balog, Dayna Lorentz, Katie McGarry, Sarah Tregay, Stacey Kramer & Valerie Thomas, Barry Lyga, Huntley Fitzpatrick, C.J. Redwine, Lissa Price, Janette Rallison, Sarah Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Kevin Emerson, Jessi Kirby, Jennifer Hubbard, Elizabeth Eulberg, Cara and Lynn Shultz.

It’s interesting how I can totally relate to some of these answers — Barry Lyga, I’m with you 100%; Dan Krokos, you too! — and how others seem like they come from a faraway (maybe better, certainly friendlier) planet. I wonder if it’s more of a gender divide than generational? We are all so different, and I think this series exposes and celebrates that (happy) fact.

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25. It’s Like Riding a Bike

I basically took the summer off from blogging, so feel a little wobbly about it, my palms sweating on the handlebars, not sure I remember how to do this. I don’t know what happened, exactly, just somehow tired of the “James Preller” corporate thing. Ha. Mostly, I wanted to concentrate on other writings, as I’ve been deep in a new series that I’m writing for Feiwel & Friends. It won’t launch until The Fabled Summer of ‘13, but I’ve nearly finished the third book in the series.

NOTE: I just reread this and had a chuckle about that “nearly finished” line. It only signifies that I’m an old pro when it comes to deadlines and editors: a manuscript that has not yet been handed in is always “nearly finished.” Any writer who says otherwise is a fool and a boob.

As for my new series, it feels like I’m that kid behind the snow fort, busily stacking up a supply of snowballs. Can’t wait to fire ‘em out there. More on that topic another time.

I’m usually a one-book-at-a-time guy, but I’m now reading three very different but equally remarkable books concurrently: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem, and Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor.

Normally I don’t do that to myself, the three-books-at-once bafflement, but the mixture of long novel, short nonfiction, and poetry seem to complement each other nicely.

I have a long and sordid relationship with poetry, and I’m especially happy to find this sweet collection by Keillor, based on poems featured on “The Writer’s Almanac.”

Writes Keillor in the introduction:

Oblivion is the writer’s greatest fear, and as with the fear of death, one finds evidence to support it. You fear that your work, that work of your lifetime, on which you labored so unspeakably hard and for which you stood on so many rocky shores and thought, My life has been wasted utterly — your work will have its brief shining moment, the band plays, some confetti is tossed, you are photographed with your family, drinks are served, people squeeze your hand and say that you seem to have lost weight, and then the work languishes in the bookstore and dies and is remaindered and finally entombed on a shelf — nobody ever looks at it again! Nobody! This happens often, actually. Life is intense and the printed page is so faint.

Keillor, as curator, has a point of view. He likes poems that tell a story, poems that are direct and clear, that don’t sound too “written.” Poems that communicate. He quotes Charles Bukowski, “There is nothing wrong with poetry that is entertaining and easy to understand. Genius could be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.”

And I put a big star in the margin when Keillor described his former English major self — a tender self I identified with, all those lessons that have taken me so long to unlearn, the bad habits of academic thought, “back when I was busy writing poems that were lacerating, opaque, complexly layered, unreadable.”

I have a file drawer jammed full with opaque and unreadable poems.

Now I see that as my writer’s quest, this effort to write clearly (and yet, even so, to write interestingly, to achieve moments of “lift off”), to overcome my own big stupid fumbling ego, those temptations to craft “look at me!” sentences that dazzle and bore readers. Perhaps that’s the great gift of writing for children of all ages. They don’t go for the bullshit. You can deliver any kind of content — really,  there’s nothing you can’t say in a children’s book — but please don’t overcook it.

One last phrase from Keillor, in praise of Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton and, for that matter, all Good Poems:

“They surprise us with clear pictures of the familiar.”

So that’s how I’ve vowed to begin my days, by reading a few poems each morning. To sit in the chair, coffee at hand, and try on the silence. My favorite from today was Charles Simic’s “Summer Morning.”

You might enjoy it, too.

As a final treat, here’s Tom Waits reading “The Laughing Heart,” a poem by Charles Bukowski. Full text below.

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

@Charles Bukowski

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