You Are So Welcome!


Yesterday I cleaned out one of the bags I use for school visits. It’s surprising what I find in there. Old electric bills, paper scraps with hastily jotted-down ideas, Donald Trump’s taxes, lint-covered cookies (still delicious!), plus random notes and drawings that are handed to me by students mid-flight. As I rush down the hall seeking a bathroom, usually. The shy kid — with a friend, for bravery! — comes up and silently hands a paper to me. I am grateful, I am thankful, but I gotta go, so I stuff it into the bag, shake hands, and hurry to the next thing.

Thank you, sorry, gotta go.

Here’s one I wanted to share, because it’s all any of us ever really want. To feel noticed. To feel appreciated, recognized for our worth and our work. I am fortunate to enjoy a career where I am given notes like this one. Everyone should have that experience.


FIVE QUESTIONS with HAZEL MITCHELL, author/illustrator of “TOBY”


Welcome to the second installment of my “5 Questions” series. On a weekly or bi-weekly or completely random basis, I will interview an author or illustrator and focus on a specific book. In the coming weeks, we’ll spend time with Matthew Cordell, Jessica Olien, Matthew McElligott, Lizzy Rockwell and more. Why? I like these people and I love their books. Sue me. Today we get to hang out with Hazel Mitchell, who is as glorious as a glass of champagne at a good wedding. Drink deeply, my friends . . .



JP: Greetings, Hazel. Thanks for stopping by my swanky blog. I hope you don’t find the vibe too intimidating. I put up the tapestry just for you. The lava lamps have been here for a while. Because nothing says “classy” quite like a lava lamp. Sit anywhere you like, but the milk crates are most comfortable.


Hazel: Thanks, JP. This is certainly an eclectic place you’ve got here. Wow, is that a glitter ball? Next you will be wearing a white suit. Excuse me while I remove this stuffed meerkat from the milk crate . . . 

1c971b5bc7c4a067d09cad45ee38361cCareful with that meerkat, it’s expensive. Hey, do I detect an accent? Wait, let me guess! You are from . . . Kentucky?

No getting anything past you! Kentucky, Yorkshire, England. OK, just Yorkshire, England. I’m a late pilgrim.

We recently sat side-by-side at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival, where I got the chance to read your wonderful new picture book, Toby, and eavesdrop on your lively interactions with young readers. At times, alarmingly, you spoke in the voice of a hand puppet. So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Toby is a real dog, but not a true story, exactly? How does that work?

toby-realistic-sketchesYes, we did sit next to each other and it was a lot of fun to see you in action! I didn’t know you were eavesdropping, I’d have dropped in some of those Shakespearean ‘asides’ just for you. And I must watch that hand puppet voice, I even do it without the hand puppet . . .

OK, to the question: Yes, Toby is a real dog. I rescued him from a puppy mill situation back in 2013. He was so endearing and his journey from frozen dog to bossy boots captured my heart. I began drawing him, because that’s what illustrators do, and before I knew it I was weaving a story round him. But I didn’t want to feature myself as the owner in Toby’s story, that was kind of boring and I figured Toby needed a younger owner, one who children could relate to. So I gave Toby a boy who adopts him and a Dad who is struggling with moving house, looking after his son AND now a new dog. The fictionalized setting gave me lots of ideas and emotions to play with, but the stuff Toby gets up to in the book is taken from things he did in real life.


I can see it’s a work that comes from your heart. And by “see” I mean: I could feel it. A heartwarming story for young children living in a cynical age. The book is beautifully designed. I especially admire the pacing of it, the way you vary the number and size of the many illustrations. Please tell me a little about that decision-making process.


Thank you. I love that you say ‘feel.’ I wanted this book to be about emotions and feelings and bring the reader into the internal dialogue of the boy and dog’s fears and frustrations. Just small things you know, but life is full of small things that make up the big things. And again, thank you for your kind words on the design, working with Candlewick, my editor (Liz Bicknell) and art director (Ann Stott), was a joy. We did a lot of drafts at rough sketch stage and as the layout of the book evolved a lot of graphic novel style panels crept in and then the wide double-spreads to open out the story. I like how it flows. The choice of colors really adds to the story I think, moody blues and beiges that reflect the emotions and then brighter colours when things are going well. The boy and dog are connected by the colour red –- Toby’s collar and the boy’s sneakers. 

Oh, thank you, Hazel, for sharing those behind-the-scenes details. I appreciate seeing the black-and-white sketches, too. I think even when readers don’t consciously notice those subtle details, they still manage to seep into our unconsciousness. It’s fascinating how much thought goes into the work that most readers probably don’t think they see.





I like that your book doesn’t gloss over the challenges of owning a dog. It’s not always cuddles and sunshine. Why did you feel it was important to include the downside of dog ownership?

Because that is the reality of life and children are very capable of dealing with realities and working through problems. Sometimes it’s adults who want everything to be cuddles and sunshine, and try to save youngsters from the real world. Well we can’t do that, because it comes at us fast. I never get tired of seeing or hearing about a child responding to a book and saying, “Yeah, that happened to me,” or “I know that feeling.” It’s like you’ve been given a gift. 


I see that you live in Maine. You must get this question a lot, but why isn’t Toby a moose? Do you see many moose up there? Can we please just talk about moose for a little while? And what goes on in Maine? Do you eat lobster all the time? While reading Stephen King? Or do I have some misconceptions? How did you end up there?

Toby channels his inner moose at times, which is scary in a poodle. There aren’t so many moose around our way, but drive a little North and there is moose-a-plenty (that could be a good name for a snack?). 

Sounds delicious.

I once drove home from a school visit in the FAR NORTH at twilight (that was my first mistake), it was misty and I was driving down a road where I swear there was a moose every 5 yards. I drove 30 miles at 5 MPH. I got home after six months. These moose were SO darn big and SO close to the car I could literally see up their nostrils. Man, moose need help with superfluous hair.


Wow, you really did see up their nostrils. You are scaring me a little bit, Hazel. Eyes on the road. Speaking of scary . . .

Stephen King lives in the next town over, but you know, he’s a recluse. I eat lobster with lobster on top. Delish. When I moved to the US of A from over the pond I landed in the South. Then moved to Maine. I like the cold much better! (And the lobster).

Do you have ideas for any more Toby stories? I think readers will want more.

I do have more ideas about stories for Toby. But we will have to wait and see. Readers! Write to my publisher! 

I’m so glad you visited, Hazel. It’s nice spending time with you. I hope Toby enjoys a long and mischievous life in children’s books.

It’s been fun. Best five questions anyone asked me all morning. Thanks for having me drop by … oops … there goes a lava lamp!

Six bucks down the drain. We’re done here.


imanismooncvr_300-819x1024In addition to Toby, Hazel Mitchell has illustrated several books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? Originally from England, where she attended art college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. You may learn more about Hazel at

TOBY Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts

BOY: A Poem


A couple of boys I know.

A couple of boys I know.


Funny, I just discovered this poem in an old file. Never printed a copy, never thought about it again, though I can faintly recall writing it a few years back. I don’t write many poems anymore, though I used to write them often. My first love as a writer, in fact, and certainly a good education for any aspiring wordsmith. As Donald Trump says, “Even bad poems can teach us bigly.” In this case, I surely figured, not good enough, and rolled on. Like usual. I’m not sure I’m even okay with the idea of attaching the word “poem” to this rambling meditation-slash-manifesto. But today, before I think better of it, I’m going to take this forgotten thing down off the shelf and place it before you. Kick it, pull it apart, ignore it, whatever. Because what are blogs for? My poem, “Boy.” 


BOY, by James Preller


I am a boy.

I can pee standing up.

Some days my dad knows

exactly how I feel.

Other days, it’s my mom

who understands.

I am more than farts and fire trucks.

Though I won’t deny — 

farts are funny

and fire trucks are cool,

especially if they let you

scamper up,

wear the hat,

and blast the horn.

I am more than

rocks and spitballs,

dirt and hammers –

though I am that, too.

I am boy

and I am friend,

tustled head

and wicked grin.

I am sweetness,

I am love,

I am trees in the wind,

kites crossing a pale blue sky

like the billowing sails

of pirate ships at sea.

I am pieces of bright glass

found by the curb,

jagged things,

bee stings and

dead birds and fascinating bugs,

cars and dinosaurs

and trampolines.

I love secret places to hide

and spy

and see unseen, invisible

to every eye.

I am boy,

so much more

than cupcakes

and rainbows, farts

and firetrucks,

but I’m those things, too.

I am laughter and I am love.

I am boy.


My cousin Billy and yours truly, 1968.

My cousin Billy and yours truly, 1968.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #233: In Which an 8th Grader Offers Some Writing Advice, i.e., “I don’t want to be rude or anything . . .”

Meet Rebecca. She’s everything I love about middle schoolers — the intellectual curiosity, the spirit, that sense of becoming — and more:
​Good afternoon Mr. Preller,
Hi. I don’t necessarily know about you and your books much; I wouldn’t really call myself a dedicated reader to you in particular because, to be 9780312547967perfectly honest with you, I picked up ‘Bystander’ a few days ago and am just now getting into it. So far, it is a really good book that I believe is addressing a great topic. Your books, like it explains on your blog, is written for grade schoolers to middle schoolers. I am currently in 8th grade [ed note: school and town deleted] in Missouri. I’m well aware that this may so far seem that I’m trying to get you to come to my school or something or other, but I’m really not. I just wanted to say, I love how you are writing these books for children of all ages with such serious topics. It’s really great that a man like you is spreading the word through a book that is going around so quickly to such a widespread audience. Blah, blah, blah, I know you must get this a lot.
Me, being an aspiring author, I just wanted to give more of what I might think have/will impact the book or future books you write. I understand you are an actual author who I am currently emailing my 8th grade opinions to, and I know that you probably may never read this, but it doesn’t hurt to try. If you’re planning on writing any more books, which I hope you are, you could put more in the first person. I, personally, think ‘Bystander’ would be better as a first person novel. With the whole bullying topic of the book, you would get more out of Eric, the main character, as if the book were in his perspective. Don’t get me wrong I’m not dishing the book, but showing grade schoolers that there’s more than just the third person writing they have always been seeing could increase their tastes in reading and help them develop a future of late nights finishing lovely books, like yours.
I’m well aware that you can’t change a book that you’ve written already, but maybe for the future?
Keep on Rocking,
P.S. I am so super sorry about how this may seem. I don’t want to be rude or anything; that is not the purpose of this email. You are a great author and I wish to become someone like you in my future. Don’t ever change without your own permission. Thanks.
I wrote back:
Thanks for this most awesome of emails. Believe me, I don’t get emails like yours all that often. You’re an original. And by the way, I’ve actually never — weirdly — been to Missouri. So I’m open to an invitation.
THE FALL explores similar themes as BYSTANDER, but shifts to a first-person POV. Readers might enjoy comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of those choices in perspective.

THE FALL explores similar themes as BYSTANDER, but shifts to a first-person POV. Readers might enjoy comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses of those choices in perspective.

You strike an almost apologetic tone at the end, so let me start there: Don’t be silly! Express away! As a reader, your opinion is always valid. And as an aspiring writer, you bring a writer’s perspective to that opinion. In this case, you could be right — and you certainly aren’t wrong. The question of first person compared to third person comes up for every book. There are strengths and limitations to each approach. I’ve written books from both perspectives, though I don’t think I often analyze it too deeply. It’s more of a feeling, I guess. Some books seem right from the first-person perspective — you hear it coming from a very specific voice — and you want that character front and center all the way through. In other books, well, not so much. For some books, I’ve even tried it both ways in early drafts, exploring the differences. There are certain freedoms in a third-person narrative that are not available in the first person. And also, I’ll confess, I come across so many YA novels that are written in the first person that I get very, very tired of it. The writing in a first-person book, depending upon that character, tends to be looser, more informal, the way people really talk. As an extension, that perspective limits the syntax available to language that character would believably use. With first person, there are places you can’t go.

For Bystander, though I wrote it in third person, I decided to hug very close to Eric’s point of view (a limited omnipresence, if you will); I didn’t go for a full omniscient POV, bouncing around inside a variety of skulls. On the other hand, I recently had an idea for a book that would be told from multiple perspectives. A lot of characters at the same event. So to me, the way we decide to tell the story is a revelation of the story itself. At the same time, you could tell that story from third- or first-person perspectives. Decisions, decisions. 
Illustration from SWAMP MONSTER by Iacopo Bruno.

Illustration from SWAMP MONSTER by Iacopo Bruno.

In a scary story I recently wrote for younger readers, I needed the third person to pull it off. I wanted to write about my human characters, but later I wanted to go deep into the swamp and reveal more of the swamp monster. Part of the suspense in the story is that, for a time, only the reader realizes there’s a monster in the woods. To the three children in the book, well, they are just walking deeper into the woods. They don’t know what they are getting into — but the reader does. You see the difference there?

I didn’t write a sequel to Bystander, but I did write a companion book that explores many of the same themes and ideas, titled The Fall. It is written in the first person, with the concept being that it is entirely told from the perspective of a boy writing in his journal. Booklist reviewed it, “A rare glimpse into the mind of a bully . . . . Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.
Keep reading like a writer.  Books are truly the best education for anyone who wishes to write. Read widely, read deeply, read often. And yes, thank you for reading my book.
James Preller
And so Rebecca replied:
Mr. Preller,
Hi again! I honestly did not expect you to reply so quickly, let alone at all. And I would love to thank you for answering my question, even reading this email is an extraordinary honour. I love the way you worded this to explain why you decided to write your book this way, I mean, you are a well known author.
A quick plug for my new book, THE COURAGE TEST. It's a literary road trip along the Lewis & Clark Trail and, yes, there's a bear, both metaphoric and literal.

A quick plug for my new book, THE COURAGE TEST. It’s a literary road trip along the Lewis & Clark Trail and, yes, there’s a bear, both metaphoric and literal.

Third person is an art which some people can’t wrap their stories around correctly to get such personality from the characters without blatantly spelling it out. You have that talent. Sticking close to Eric’s point of view, like you do, provides the third person flare while contributing glimpses of first person to the story. I am only human though and, personally, think, still, that first person may have been a better choice, but, as you said, there are reasons why you decided this for your story. It was a calling of sorts. For example, if you were to use a first person POV for this book (or any piece of writing really) you would have less ‘tag’ lines, as I call them, to describe who was talking. Especially the main character. Having less use of words ties you down as writer and limits, as you said, how you can write your story.

As for your other book, ‘ The Fall’, I would love to get my hands on it. The way you handle this topic is absolutely phenomenal.  You wrote ‘Bystander’ so well that I will surely enjoy reading way more of your delightful books. Thank you, once again, sir and I’ll have to work on that invitation.
Yours Truly,
(By the way: I could not believe it in class today when I powered up my laptop, accessed gmail, and saw your name pop up. I freaked out in class, turning into a mad woman, full of hysteria, tears rolling down my cheeks. I was so gosh darn excited to read whatever it was you took the time to write. You are truly inspirational!)





I’m kicking off a new, recurring series of posts where I interview one author or illustrator, limiting our conversation to 5 questions, with a focus on a specific book. I’ve got a terrific list of talent planned for upcoming visits — they just don’t know it yet.

Today we get to hang out with Hudson Talbott. And come back next week for a visit with Hazel Mitchell and her dog Toby.


Hudson (left) and I got to catch up at the Warwick Children's Book Festival.

Hudson (left) and I got to catch up at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival.


JP: Hudson, I love your new picture book, FROM WOLF TO WOOF: THE STORY OF DOGS. You manage to deliver a lot of information within the context of “story.”

Hudson: Thanks, James. I love research and the process of absorbing as much as I can and then distilling it down to its essence. I come from Kentucky. We’re known for distilling.



And God bless Kentucky for that! But let the record show: I haven’t asked a question yet. I feel like one of the poor fisherman bargaining with a magic fish. I still have three wishes left –- or in this case, five questions!

I don’t think that was a question either. But thanks for calling me a magic fish.

Now that you mention it, you do look a little green around the gills. Maybe it’s the light in here. Anyway! I remember long ago reading Desmond Morris’ classic book, The Naked Ape, and in it he speculated about the first dogs. How they might have come to be domesticated. Which is a poor term for it, as I type those words. Because we’re talking about these wild animals that, over time, became intensely, passionately interconnected with human beings. The beginning of a long relationship. I’ve always found that a fascinating subject, so I was immediately drawn to your book. How did that story begin for you?


The love of animals, the love of dogs, the love of history. Not facts-and-dates history, but the how-did-we-get-here? kind of history. So it was bound to happen. You and I have this privileged platform to address and explore things that we think matter, or at least, things we’re curious about. That look in a dog’s eyes of knowing, of asking and loving, of aligning him/herself with us had to come from someplace. Plenty of theories about where and when — I like to think that the two species found each other useful and could see the advantage of throwing their lots in together to survive. Like two kids finding each other in kindergarten and growing up together in a rough neighborhood. At some point we both stepped across that magic threshold of trust and realized that we have each other’s backs.

Well said. Do you self-identify more as a writer or an artist? Does one always come before the other? Responding to a similar question, Bernard Waber, who also wrote and illustrated his books (Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, and many more), replied that “The writer in me tries to please the illustrator.”

I think of myself primarily as a storyteller. Whatever serves the story best is my priority. That said, I am a visually-oriented person so usually if I come up w/ an idea for a book I first look at what points in the story would be good “photo-ops” or actually illustration ops. While I’m doing sketches for the plot points I’m also getting ideas for the text, the plot, the characters, etc. It’s not uncommon that something I’ll stumble onto while writing some text will lead to changing the picture, or even the whole story line. So it goes back and forth a lot between art and text. Art is much more expendable to me because there’s always more where that came from. But when I have to throw out a paragraph that I’m attached to but no longer serves the story — that’s painful! Picture books actually have more in common with making movies than they do with chapter books.


Yes, especially when we consider the storyboarding tradition. After all, movies are simply “moving pictures.” Back to your book, I have to say there’s just a beautiful moment that comes right in the middle. It floored me, because it was such a deep and yet profoundly simple moment to capture. Just masterful storytelling. Before that moment, I was intellectually engaged. But on that double spread, the book stole my heart. I was all in. We’ve been watching the boy slowly gain the trust of this wild creature. They draw closer and closer. Until one day . . . everything changes. Tell me about the thought process that went into that illustration, that pivotal turning point in the book?


Wow, I should’ve read ahead to this question because I think I already answered it a couple of questions ago. It makes me happy to know that you really got the book, and felt what you felt from it. I started this book with a whole other concept, even another title: The Wolf Who Cried Boy. But when my editor, the brilliant Nancy Paulsen, saw the sketches I had at the end of the book showing where dogs evolved to, she immediately said, “More of that! More of that!” So it got re-balanced to a shortened fictional story leading to an extended nonfiction portion. But that was good because it gave me a chance to get in a plug for saving the wolves today, as well as my own theory that dogs played a strategic part in the development of civilization (with their help we could stay in one place with domesticated herds rather than having to constantly roam in search of wild herds).

Wow, Nancy Paulsen: legend! I was wondering, Do you have a wolf at home?

I have two cats. One does his best to be a dog for me because he knows that’s what I would have if I didn’t travel so much. I had dogs growing up and usually spend more time with dogs at friends’ houses than I do with the friends.

You’ve been at this business for a while, and I guess that’s part of the reason why I connect with you. We’ve both been around the block a few times. Let’s just confess to the world that we still have our AOL email accounts. Can you point to any primary inspirations in your work? Do you have heroes in the business? And tagging on to that question (I’m cheating here, oh Magic Fish), how do you keep your work fresh?


Primary inspirations: my apparently insatiable curiosity keeps me alive. It also drives me crazy sometimes but at least it keeps me from being bored. My first book [We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story] was a hit and it would’ve been easy to build a career on it but I wouldn’t have lasted long — I’m too restless, there’s too much other good stuff to fall in love with. A quote from Leonardo da Vinci captures it for me: “For in truth, great love is born from great knowledge of the thing loved.” That’s how I remember it anyway.

Yours in AOL,
Hudson Talbott


Hudson Talbott is the author/illustrator of many outstanding children’s books, including River of Dreams, O’Sullivan Stew, United Tweets of America, and more. He lives in upstate New York, not far from the town Hudson, not from from the Hudson River. It’s pretty much Hudson, 24/7, when it comes to Mr. Talbott. For more info, please visit his website. Readers might also enjoy clicking on this thoughtful review at Librarian’s Quest.


COVER REVEAL — Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space!


I just opened a package that gave me shivers. Even, yes, a little warm pressure behind the eyes. For the brown padded envelope contained Advance Reader’s Copies of the Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, published by Macmillan. I have a few things to say, but let me start here:

Look at the new cover design, look at the terrific illustration by R.W. Alley, look at . . . Joey and Mila and Jigsaw.




I wrote the first Jigsaw Jones mystery back in 1997 for Scholastic. To date, there are 40 titles in all, and more than 10 million copies have been sold, mostly through Scholastic Book Clubs. I’ve visited many schools as a guest author, and I’ve met a lot of young readers and teachers who know and enjoy those books. However, there’s really been nothing new for about ten years; Scholastic made a business decision to allow the series to die on the vine, with book after book slowly, painfully going out of print.

I put my heart into those characters. It’s the work for which I’m best recognized. I can’t easily convey how it felt to see those books fade into oblivion. I still receive letters from parents asking where they could get them. The note would explain that it was the first chapter book their a child had read by himself. I’d have to reply, “Try Craig’s List or eBay,” and a small dagger would slice into my soul. It was more than the disappointment of watching 40 books go out of print. It felt like a huge part of my career was being erased. All that work, the time and love, the accomplishment: poof, vaporized.

Oh well, right? That’s the deal. Writers go through this all the time. Publishing is a tough racket. Write something new.

But guess what? Jigsaw refused to go gentle into that good night. The books hung around in classrooms. There’s even a touring musical that still comes around, created by ArtsPower. Thanks to the efforts of three fierce women in publishing — my agent, Rosemary Stimola, along with Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel at Macmillan — Jigsaw has found a new home, and new life. Jigsaw Jones is back. The immediate plan is to bring out this new title in the summer of 2017 (20 years after the first one), along with four newly updated classroom classics. In 2018, there will be at least four more, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to write another new one. These are books that have not been available in stores for a long, long while.


Illustration by R. W. Alley, pages 12-13 from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. Available this summer from Macmillan.

Illustration by R. W. Alley, pages 12-13 from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. Available this summer from Macmillan.


I hope that Jigsaw and his friends are discovered by a next generation of young readers. I hope that maybe a little cheer will go up in various classrooms around the country. But today I won’t worry about that. Today I’ll just hold this beautiful Advance Reader’s Copy in my hands, grateful for everything, and just smile, proudly.

Photographing My Good Side . . . at The Warwick Children’s Book Festival


Every time I meet a photographer, I give that person a detailed list of very specific instructions. In total, this:

1. Only photograph my good side.

So, of course, all the shots after my visit to the Warwick Children’s Book Festival were of the top of my head:

Signing my new book, THE COURAGE TEST.

Signing my new book, THE COURAGE TEST.


Reasons to be grateful: I still have hair, right? In truth, I had an inspiring day at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival this past Saturday, 10/8/16. It was a warm, cozy event in a great town filled with good people. I go every year. It’s a two-year-old tradition. Now we’re family.

One of the pleasures for an author at Warwick is getting to briefly chat with friends in the business, “companions of the flame” as H.D. wrote. For example: the effervescent Hazel G Mitchell was my neighbor and it was the first time we had any extended time together; I tracked down my pal Hudson Talbott, whom I respect so much. His new book, FROM WOLF TO WOOF! is flawless, intelligent, extraordinary. I got to linger in the parking lot with Eric Velasquez and London Ladd; drink coffee with Paul Acampora and Lizzy Rockwell; wish good health to the great Wendell Minor; marvel at the wit and new-voice-freshness of Jessica Olien’s fabulous Blobfish book; and on and on. It makes a guy want to buy a book, read a book, write a book.
Plus, best of all, gander this:
I love the chance to meet readers face to face. I’m always especially charmed to meet the sweet, lovely girls who love scary stories.
The readers are what make it. For thirty years, I’ve scrambled to keep this career alive. Here’s the payoff:

FREE BOOK CONTEST: Play the “Scary Tales” Matching Game!

Welcome, Fearless Readers! Here we are, nearing the ghostly season when things go bump, and squish, and hooowl in the night.

It’s when I remind educators and young readers about the books in my “Scary Tales” series. Scientists agree: These books will make your life up to 63% better.

No, no one gets murdered in these stories, everybody comes out okay (more or less), but the suspense might kill you. Ah, not to worry. In that unlikely event, I’m sure the kind folks at Macmillan will fork over a full refund. Small solace, but hey, caskets aren’t cheap.

This year the vaunted James Preller Marketing Department has developed a game to play, featuring free books to win.

Yes, free books.

Could anything be better?

I’ll show six illustrations by the great Iacopo Bruno, one from each of the “Scary Tales” titles in random order. Below that, I’ll list the titles. You or (hopefully) your students or children need to match the illustrations with the correct titles. Then send an email to me at under the subject heading SCARY TALES. Entries must be received by October 15th. On that date, I will send a signed book to six randomly-selected fearless readers who respond with the correct answers.

Please feel free to share this page with friends and foes and fish and fowl alike.

Illustration A:


Illustration B:


Illustration C:


Illustration D:


Illustration E:


Illustration F:


Now match the illustration to one of these six titles:

1. Home Sweet Horror

2. I Scream, You Scream

3. Good Night, Zombie

4. Nightmareland

5. One-Eyed Doll

6. Swamp Monster







School Library Connection Recommends “The Courage Test”

The Lemhi Pass, ID, no easy walk in the park.

The Lemhi Pass, ID, no easy walk in the park.


I am grateful to share another positive review for The Courage Test, this one from the School Library Connection, a link which my glamorous editor Liz kindly passed along yesterday. The review will be featured in their print magazine supplement, as well as on the reVIEWS+ site.

The money quote:

“This book will find many fans.” — School Library Connection.

Let’s hope!

Review excerpts are limited to 50 words or less. Let’s see what I can pull without cheating too much  . . .

“Many readers will identify with Will, who is forced to go on a road trip with his noncustodial dad, even though he really has other things that he would rather be doing. To make the trip worse, his Lewis and Clark obsessed history professor father has planned to follow most of Lewis and Clark’s route all the way across the country. The Corps of Discovery almost becomes another character in this coming-of-age story . . . . Recommended.”School Library Connection.

NOTE: Father and son pick up the L & C Trail at Fort Mandan, ND, and travel west to Seaside, OR. Along the way they meet strangers, paddle a canoe, ride in whitewater rapids, camp, hike the Lolo Trail, encounter bears (metaphoric & literal), and more.

Grateful for Another Positive Reading of “The Courage Test”


I’m extremely grateful to Jack Rightmyer for this generous review of my new book, The Courage Test, in a recent edition of the Albany Times Union newspaper.

An author sends a book out into the world. After that, there’s very little control over what happens next. Reviews, awards, invitations to speak at schools. Or sometimes, the cluttered, dusty world simply coughs and shrugs with indifference. Out of print, forgotten. Ultimately, I always hope for readers, it’s really all any author can ask. Articles like this one below do so much to help that hope become realized. 


Most American authors get around to it eventually, the road novel, where two different characters set out on a journey to discover the country and more importantly to figure out who they are.

“We’re a car culture,” said local young adult and children’s author James Preller. “Americans love to be on the road. It’s awesome. This was my first attempt at writing the quest/journey book, and I loved the structure of it. My two characters were attempting to get to the West Coast. It’s a plot with built-in drama and the myth of the eternal return home.” 

This is Preller’s fourth book for children ages 10 and up. Seven years ago he hit it big with “Bystander,” a book about bullying just when the topic was hitting a fever pitch around the country. Two years ago, he wrote “The Fall” about teenage suicide. His latest book, “The Courage Test” (Feiwel and Friends, 224 pages, $16.99), is a father-and-son journey along the Lewis and Clark Trail from Fort Mandan to the Pacific Ocean.

“I really wanted to write a father/son book,” said Preller, who lives in Delmar and is a parent to three teenagers. “I got the idea after reading Roald Dahl‘s book ‘Danny the Champion of the World.’ I loved the relationship of the father and son in that book, so I created two characters and set them out on the Lewis and Clark Trail.”

The story is told from 15-year-old Will’s point of view. He’s not too happy to stop playing on his summer baseball team to take a cross-country trip with his dad, who has recently left his mom and has a new girlfriend. Will’s dad is a professor and an expert on the legendary explorers Lewis and Clark. He thinks it would be good for his son to do something difficult like hike in the backcountry and go whitewater rafting.

“I want readers to like Will, even if he’s a bit of a jerk at times,” said Preller. “There’s a natural tension between a teenager and a parent, and I want the reader to sense that.”

Will and his dad don’t have much in common. “Will’s dad tends to lecture like he’s standing in front of a class, and he doesn’t care at all about baseball. My dad was like that. I learned my love of baseball and how to play the game from my mom. When my dad would throw a baseball to me, he was awkward and uncoordinated, and I’m sure I looked at him in a strange way. My kids look at me that way today when I sometimes butter my bread.”

Preller did an enormous amount of research on Lewis and Clark before writing the book. “I’d love to say I got in a car and traveled the route I wrote about, but no one was paying for me to take that trip,” said Preller. “What I did was read blogs, look at maps and photos of the Lewis and Clark Trail. There are so many resources on hand today. As I wrote the book, I felt like I was on the trip, and as a writer, I was able to use my imagination.”

Some of the plot takes place while the characters are whitewater rafting, and there is even an encounter with a bear. “I’ve gone rafting. I’ve seen bears. I’ve been to Montana, so I’ve experienced the essential feelings of what these characters were going through,” said Preller.

What readers begin to discover as they read this book is that Will’s father is bringing his son on this difficult trip to toughen him up for some hard times ahead. “Will’s dad is a bit of a geek, and he really does believe his son will be a stronger person by following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. That might be a bit idealistic,” said Preller, “but the essential experience is spending time alone with his son where they can face this hardship together.”

In researching this book Preller read numerous books about the Lewis and Clark adventure. “At first I thought they were only a metaphor for the plot of my book, but the more I read about them the more I was impressed about these explorers. They were amazing and flawed individuals, and I decided to include a lot of information about them throughout the book.”

He was impressed with how detailed their daily journals were as they explored the unknown territory of the West. “Lewis could hike 20 or 30 miles a day then journal and draw incredible pictures of the plants and animals he had encountered. He read the stars to figure out where they were on a map. There were many locations where they could have turned back, but they kept going right through dangerous Indian territory and up and down the Rocky Mountains.”

Preller has had a successful career as a writer for over 20 years. His Jigsaw Jones series for beginning readers has sold millions of copies, and new editions will soon be available. He has also recently completed a series of Scary Tales that are always popular around Halloween.

“One of the great joys of writing for young people is the opportunity to visit schools throughout the country and meet your readers,” said Preller. “I tell my young readers to write from your heart. Write something that means a lot to you, and read every day.”




A NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: My children are Nick (23), Gavin (17), and Maggie (15). In addition to picture books and series titles for younger readers, these are my other middle-grade titles: Along Came Spider, Six Innings, Bystander, Justin Fisher Declares War, Before You Go (YA), and The Fall (now in paperback).