On opening day, a bus pulls up in front of the door. Frank has come all the way from Albany bringing friends, bringing readers, to cheer us on. Even now as I write, I think of him. The first time we met, I was an aspiring writer. A friend suggested I introduce myself to a local kidlit luminary she described as a mix between Garrick Ollivander and Winnie the Pooh. I printed my manuscript and headed to Hodge Podge Books, his tiny shop huddled beneath a brownstone on Lark Street. Frank seemed delighted to meet me until he asked his first question: I knew this question carried weight.
After all, this man literally ensconced himself with books. Unfortunately, the only characters that popped to mind were Garrick Ollivander and Winnie the Pooh. Frank tossed my pages into the trash. The weeks that followed were the greatest writing lessons of my life, and the beginning of a great relationship with a brilliant mentor and friend. It is always a treat to visit independent bookstores when I visit new cities.
He not only knew books but he came to know people and make him part of his book community quickly. He was committed to everyone in the book world. His love of books brought people together and those of us who visited his bookstore that day felt lucky to be a small part of all that he created at Hodge-Podge Books.
If only I could find it. That single-spaced two sided letter from Frank; densely woven with appreciation and well-considered comments. Something I could wear like a warm winter scarf. I thought there would always be next week. And I made too few trips. But each one was a master class in the art of picture book making, plus some gossipy asides.
The book-lined walls brought the space in closer with just enough room to open a large volume or two. You could explore or, better yet, let Frank find a work, just for you; then Frank-splain the beauty of it. He gathered, curated and matched books to readers.
Bedtime Stories - Hodgepodge
He built bridges between writers and readers, and grew a community of devotees. I daresay we all made new friends because of Frank. It made me feel like I might be a real writer and exhorted, encouraged and expected me to carry on. Perhaps you too, earned his approbation. Making books can be a lonesome experience, locked away in a room somewhere, wrestling with projects for months on end, but Frank always knew how to let the sunshine in. A phone call or a letter from Frank was a moment when the pressure lifted off and the very reason why you were struggling with those projects immediately came into sharp focus.
His love for what you created always broke through your own moments of despondency or doubt. We both enjoyed a deprecating humour that led us to insult each other with as much good nature as humanly possible. Despite his gift for reaching out to others through books, Frank was a very private man. Perhaps there was a price to pay for his selfless enthusiasm and running the bookshop below his home. I stayed with him many times on my visits to schools around Albany. His personal living quarters above the shop were modest and unpretentious.
His bedroom back door led outside to a wooden stairway above the backyard. Frank kept a long piece of string tied to that door, it ran to a safety pin attached to his pillow. This was for Crisis, his beloved cat, to be able to go outside in the night. When sufficiently cold, Frank would wake up and pull the string to swing the door back to be almost shut, until Crisis wandered back in again.
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This went on all through the year whatever the weather. One Winter, I ended up with bronchitis. I could hardly speak. Naturally, I wanted to cancel some school visits, but Frank would hear nothing of it!
Frank was a superb presenter of books. He knew how to bring out the best from a text he loved. His warm, inquisitive voice and exquisite timing instantly held audiences spellbound. He held the book in one hand whilst gesturing with the other, like some high priest. He was a master at this, yet completely self-effacing at the same time.
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He made every book he read aloud urgent and desirable, one that you simply had to add to your collection. I am very glad I still have the many letters he wrote to me. When I read them they make me laugh, principally because of the way we mercilessly took the mickey out of each other. Nothing was too serious, except our friendship. I will miss him.
A page from Jigsaw Jones: It even includes his cat, Crisis. I dedicated the book to Frank — but then again, it seems like we all eventually got around to dedicating something to him. Just that kind of guy, I guess.
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He enjoyed a lively and jocular relationship with the UPS drivers that daily sprinted in and out the door, burdened with boxes of books. These were always insanely elaborate and over-the-top events. Frank believed authors and illustrators were royalty, and treated them lavishly. After a pause for double-bypass surgery, Frank briefly revived a downsized version of the old conference, but it became too much, even for indefatigable Frank Hodge.
The store logo was created by Mark Teague. I have long followed and respected the work of author Cynthia DeFelice, who over the past 25 years has put together an expansive and impressive body of work. No bells, no whistles, no fancy pyrotechnics. Pressed for time, we chatted easily about this and that, then parted ways. But I wanted more. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this conversation. I feel like we have so much to talk about. He made me feel validated as a fledgling writer.
He left me a voice mail telling me how much he loved the book Weasel. I played it over and over and over! It meant the world to me. Well, good for Frank! Sorry, dozed off for a minute! Not next to the Dumpster, but close. At one point I was with Susan Beth Pfeffer, who writes these incredible books, and nobody was paying attention to her. This great writer was sitting there virtually ignored. To your point about finding fabulous authors being ignored at conferences, I hear you. It can be a very humbling experience. Thankfully, there are exceptions!
You and I both still hear from kids and teachers for whom books are vital, important, and exhilarating. But, yes, I agree with you completely that literature is being shoved to the side. Teachers tell me they have to sneak in reading aloud when no one is watching or listening. You know, remind everybody that books matter. I think the best approach lies somewhere in the vast middle ground between the two, and teachers need to be trusted to use methods as varied as the kids they work with every day.
Well, that is sad and just plain ridiculous. I felt the most important part of my job was reading aloud to kids. Thanks, and back at you on that. I think we have to constantly remind ourselves that what we do is important. The common perception is that we write about fuzzy bunnies who learn to share and to be happy with who they are.
I loved your recent blog post about the importance of books that disturb us. Conflict is the essence of fiction! No conflict, no story or, worse, a boring, useless one. These things hurt, and yet we see our characters emerge from the dark forests we give them to walk through, coming out stronger and wiser.
We all need to hear about such experiences, over and over again, in order to have hope in the face of our own trials.
Hodge-podge: Books for Kids and Adults
I admire all aspects of your writing, but in particular your sense of pace; your stories click along briskly. How important is that to you? I love beautiful writing, I love imagery and metaphor, and evocative language. Even the best writers need an editor to keep that ego in check! I seek clarity — what good is writing that obscures and obfuscates?
The purpose is to communicate, to say what you mean. That goes for all kinds of writing, not just writing for kids. Kids want to get to the point. Or is that an impossible question to answer? You are what you eat. On and sometimes in during the floods of and Seneca Lake in beautiful upstate New York. Sometimes I am purposely writing for that reluctant reader, who is so often a boy.
I just read Signal , so that book is on my mind today. Zombie hordes coming over the rise? Readers love your books. And yet in this day of series and website-supported titles, where everything seems to be high-concept, it feels like the stand-alone middle grade novel is an endangered species. I have been lucky with reviews. I just want to write the best books I can and let them speak for themselves.
But when that stand-alone book somehow finds its niche audience, when kids and teachers somehow discover it and embrace it as theirs. Well, my husband is 9 years older than I am and recently retired, and there are a lot of things we still need to do! We have a farm property we are improving by digging a pond, and by planting trees and foliage to benefit wildlife.
We stocked it with fish, and enjoy watching it attract turtles, frogs, toads, dragonflies, birds and animals of all sorts. So we like to spend a lot of time there, camping out. We love to travel, and are headed next on a self-driving tour of Iceland. We also have four terrific grandchildren we like to spend time with. I could go on and on with the bucket list…. By the way, I agree about the blogs. Well, there is a similar phenomenon with self-published books.
Of course, the situation is not at all their fault. Tell me about Wild Life. I never got as much mail from kids, teachers, grandparents and other caregivers as I did after that book came out. So where does that leave a kid who spends his or her weekend hunting, who studies nature in order to be part of it, who hunts respectfully, with care, who is enmeshed in family history and tradition, who through hunting feels part of the full complexity of life? I get so much joy from watching her do what she was born and bred to do.
I cherish our days out on those wide open prairies, and have learned to see the subtle and varied beauty of the landscape. I was just hoping to write a rip-roaring good story that incorporated all that wonderful stuff. Yeah, I enjoy meeting those kids, often out in the western end of New York State.
One of my readers from the North Country sent me this photo. Possibly, just possibly, a sequel to Fort. We do not waterboard here at Jamespreller dot com, and I resent the implication! Those are merely bath toys that happen to be. Illustration by Jamie Smith from Jigsaw Jones The Case of the Ghostwriter. This is one of my favorite illustrations from the entire series for reasons explained below. Jamie gave me the original artwork — for free, here, take it — and now I hang it on my office wall, and it always makes me think of my brother. I dedicated this book to Frank Hodge, a near-celebrity local bookseller on Lark Street in Albany, who is known and beloved by many area teachers and librarians.
Of course, I stopped in and we became friends. I actually put Frank in this story: I even included his cat, Crisis. Hedgehog Books was a cozy little store. Our parents had been taking Mila and me since we were little. I bet you can guess. The students, including Jigsaw and Mila, are asked to write their own family stories. To research his family stories, Jigsaw interrupts his parents while they are playing chess. But often I just wondered, why these books? Libris would then go out and read the adult books.
It just could have been better.
Building a Bookmarked Life
It was fine as an audio book for the car, but nothing extraordinary. I could not wait for the book to be over. It also has a shocking ending at least it was shocking to us so be forewarned. It was a great audio book to listen to, but would be a good one to own as well.
This volume is no exception to the pattern: Piggle-Wiggle, who gives them some natural consequences or otherwise helps them to figure out how to change their habit. I like the emphasis on the child having to do the work to change, but the adult being there to help. Nature Anatomy — We used this book as a read-aloud for nature study, but I thought it could just as easily be something an adult would want to pick up to peruse.
The author did a lovely job of hand-drawing bits of nature from rocks to birds, animals to plants, and then hand-lettered in interesting facts and scientific names, with some typeset information and grouping by category. This is what a nature notebook could look like if you were an artist and naturalist for real.
We found it inspiring and quite informative. Not all of the ideas were really all that supported by research for example, the actual outcomes from learning via screens. The good ideas also tend to be geared toward classroom teachers, rather than towards parents or homeschoolers—involved parents and homeschoolers are almost certainly already doing the things the authors describe to ensure their kids develop well. In thinking about who should read this book, I decided that it would be good for policymakers in government who have no background in educational issues, but who find themselves needing to get up to speed fast.
Games for Writing — I have a child who is a reluctant writer.
Hodge-podge: Ancient Rome Read Alouds
I have tried Oh So Many Things. What is working for now is reminding myself to take a deep breath because this is only elementary school and there are plenty of years in which to tackle the sort of writing required in college. In general, I still think the copywork to written narration to analytical essay path is correct, but sometimes it does help to get there via a meandering path rather than a straight blaze. Have you cleared anything of note good or bad!
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