Jigsaw Jones is back! In The Case from Outer Space, an original mystery from James Preller, Jigsaw and his crewMila, Joey, and Danikafind a clue that implies an alien may be about to visit their school! Can it be true? And what does the Little Free Library have that aliens from outer space might want?
(Hint: The school librarian has invited a special guest to talk about space explorationan astronaut!)
Friendship, mystery, and school-day shenanigans are what make the Jigsaw Jones chapter book mysteries beloved and read over and over. Includes a word jumble (names of planets in solar system), writing prompts, and information on how to start a little free library (which are taking hold in many parts of the country)!
This title has Common Core connections.
About the Author
James Preller is the author of the acclaimed novels Six Innings, Bystander, The Fall, and The Courage Test and the Scary Tales series, all published by Feiwel and Friends. He has also written several picture books, but is perhaps best known for the Jigsaw Jones series. He travels to classrooms around the country and maintains a blog about writing and literacy. He lives in Delmar, New York, with his family.
Read an Excerpt
A Knock on the Door
Call me Jones.
Jigsaw Jones, private eye.
I solve mysteries. For a dollar a day, I make problems go away. I've found stolen bicycles, lost jewelry, and missing parakeets. I've even tangled with dancing ghosts and haunted scarecrows.
Mysteries can happen anywhere, at any time. One thing I've learned in this business is that anyone is a suspect. That includes friends, family, and a little green man from outer space.
It was a lazy Sunday morning. Outside my window, it looked like a nice spring day. The sky was blue with wispy clouds that looked like they had been painted by an artist. A swell day for a ball game. Or a mystery. Maybe both if I got lucky.
I was standing at my dining room table, staring at a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. It was supposed to be a picture of our solar system. The sun and eight planets. But right now it was a mess. Scattered pieces lay everywhere. I scratched my head and munched on a blueberry Pop-Tart. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right. As a cook, I'm pretty good with a toaster. I began working on the border, grouping all the pieces that had a flat edge. Sooner or later, I'd work my way through the planets. The rust red of Mars. The rings of Saturn. And the green tint of Neptune. I've never met a puzzle I couldn't solve. That's because I know the secret. The simple trick? Don't give up.
Don't ever give up.
My dog, Rags, leaped at the door. He barked and barked. A minute later, the doorbell rang. Ding-a-ling, ding-dong. That's the thing about Rags. He's faster than a doorbell. People have been coming to our house all his life. But for my dog, it's always the most exciting thing that ever happened.
Every single time.
"Get the door, Worm," my brother Billy said. He was sprawled on the couch, reading a book. Teenagers, yeesh.
"Why me?" I complained.
"Because I'm not doing it."
Billy kept reading.
Rags kept barking.
And the doorbell kept ringing.
Somebody was in a hurry.
I opened the door. Joey Pignattano and Danika Starling were standing on my stoop. We were in the same class together, room 201, with Ms. Gleason.
"Hey, Jigsaw!" Danika waved. She bounced on her toes. The bright beads in her hair clicked and clacked.
"Boy, am I glad to see you!" Joey exclaimed. He burst into the room. "Got any water?"
"I would invite you inside, Joey," I said, "but you beat me to it."
"I ate half a bag of Jolly Ranchers this morning," Joey announced. "Now my tongue feels super weird!" "That's not good for your teeth," I said.
Joey looked worried. "My tongue isn't good for my teeth? Are you sure? They both live inside my mouth."
"Never mind," I said.
"Pipe down, guys!" Billy complained. "I'm reading here."
"Come into the kitchen," I told Joey and Danika. "We'll get fewer complaints. Besides, I've got grape juice. It's on the house."
"On the house?" Joey asked. "Is it safe?" I blinked. "What?"
"You keep grape juice on your roof?" Joey asked.
Danika gave Joey a friendly shove. "Jigsaw said 'on the house.' He means it's free, Joey," she said, laughing.
Joey pushed back his glasses with an index finger. "Free? In that case, I'll take a big glass."
One Small Problem
I poured three glasses of grape juice.
"Got any snacks?" Joey asked. "Cookies? Chips? Corn dogs? Crackers?"
"Corn dogs?" I repeated. "Seriously?"
"Oh, they are delicious," Joey said. "I ate six yesterday. Or was that last week? I forget."
Danika shook her head and giggled. Joey always made her laugh.
I set out a bowl of chips.
Joey pounced like a football player on a fumble. He was a skinny guy, but he ate like a rhinoceros.
"So what's up?" I asked.
"We found a note," Danika began.
"Aliens are coming," Joey interrupted. He chomped on a fistful of potato chips.
I waited for Joey to stop chewing. It took a while. Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum. I finally asked, "What do you mean, aliens?"
"Aliens, Jigsaw!" he exclaimed. "Little green men from Mars — from the stars — from outer space!"
I looked at Danika. She shrugged, palms up. "Maybe," she said. "You never know."
I took a long swig of grape juice. "You mentioned a note," I said to Danika.
She sat tall, eyes wide. "It's very mysterious, Jigsaw. That's why we came to you."
"Narffle-snarffle," Joey mumbled, his mouth still full of chips.
I leaned back in my chair. I shoved my hands into my pockets. They were empty. Business had been slow. I was a detective without a case. "Let me make a phone call," I said.
I never work alone. My partner's name is Mila Yeh. We split the money down the middle, fifty-fifty. Mila has long black hair. She's crazy about books. And she's my best friend on the planet. Together, we make a good team.
I asked Mila to meet us in my tree house. She said she'd be over in five minutes.
It took her three and a half.
Mila lived next door. And she was as quick as a rabbit.
As usual, Mila was singing. I knew the tune, but the words were different:
"Twinkle, twinkle, little mystery! How I wonder what you are! Could you really be up there? Do Martians wear ... underwear?"
"You're funny," Danika said. She beamed a warm smile in Mila's direction.
Grinning, Mila sat down, crisscross applesauce. We gathered in a snug circle. There was no choice. My tree house wasn't exactly a palace. I am not complaining. But I don't go up there on windy days. Mila's eyes were active and alert. They moved from Joey to Danika, before settling on me. "Aliens, huh?" Mila asked.
"From outer space," Joey said.
"Uh-huh," Mila replied. If she thought Joey was crazy, Mila was too nice to say it out loud.
I took out my detective notebook. I opened to a clean page. With a blue pen, I wrote:
THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE CLIENTS: Joey and Danika CLUES:
I left the last part blank. I didn't have any clues. I wasn't even sure I had a case. But it was better than nothing.
"Maybe we could start from the beginning," Mila suggested.
"Hold on." I slid forward an empty coin jar. "We get a dollar a day."
Joey and Danika exchanged glances. "We have one teensy-weensy problem," Danika said.
"No money," Joey confessed.
"We're flat broke," Danika said.
"That's the worst kind of broke," I sighed.
"Maybe we could trade?" Joey offered. He reached into his back pocket. His hand came out holding a hunk of smelly orange glop. "I've got some cheese!"
Mila leaned away. "You keep random cheese in your back pocket?"
"My front pockets were full," Joey explained.
I was afraid to ask. We were all afraid. No one wanted to know what was in Joey's front pockets. A frog? A hard-boiled egg? Last week's bologna sandwich? Anything was possible.
There was still the problem of payment. I did not liking working for free. It was bad for business. But I needed a mystery the way a fish needs to swim ... the way a bird needs to fly ... the way a three-toed South American tree sloth needs to hang upside down.
"Okay," I decided. "We'll look into it. No promises."
"Thanks, Jigsaw," Danika said.
"You can still have my cheese," Joey said. He held out the orange glop as if it were a pirate's treasure.
Mila coughed. "That's nice of you, Joey. Just hold on to it for now. For safekeeping." She turned to Danika. "Let's see that note."
The First Clue
Danika pulled a white paper from her shirt pocket. With long thin fingers, she smoothed it out on the tree house floor.
The paper wasn't a full-size page. It was about the size of a cell phone. It had been folded once.
This is what it said:
STARMANN visit Life on Mars! Space Invaders! E.T.!
There was a doodle in the corner, penned in green marker. It was a drawing of an alien. The creature had a narrow chin, huge eyes, and antennae growing out of its head.
"Anybody you know?" I asked Joey.
Joey thought about it. "Nope."
Mila picked up the note. She carefully held it by the edges. "It's an index card." Mila handed the card to me.
I flipped it over. The reverse side had one red line and ten blue lines. For some reason, the person who wrote the note used the blank side. I noticed a faint smudge of orange dust. I pointed to a shoe box behind Joey. "Hand me that box, Joey. I keep my detective supplies in there."
I pushed aside my fake mustache and decoder ring. "Ah, here we are." I pulled out a magnifying glass and a plastic baggie. "You mind if we keep the note?" I asked. "It's an important clue."
"Yeah, that's fine." Danika had the habit of touching the beads in her hair. She squeezed the bottom beads, as if to make sure they were still there. The beads weren't going anywhere.
I zipped the baggie closed.
"Where did you find it?" I asked.
"Inside a book," Joey said. "We got it at the Little Free Library on Danika's street."
"The Little Free Who?" I said.
"Library," Joey repeated.
I took off my baseball cap. I scratched my head. "That's what I thought you said. But what in the world is a Little Free Library?"
"It's a library," Danika explained. "But not really." She paused, thinking. "Kind of."
"Sort of," Joey added helpfully. "A little one. Except you get to keep the books forever."
My mouth opened, but no words came out.
Unfortunately, a bug flew in. Ptooey! I hate when that happens. I don't mind catching flies — as long as I'm playing baseball. But I'm not a fan of eating bugs. Yuck. I don't know how frogs do it.
Mila placed a hand on my arm. "Maybe if they showed us," she suggested.
"Good idea," I said.
I scribbled a few words in my detective journal. At the bottom I wrote:
Something told me it was an important clue. We'd need to take a closer look at that dust later.
Joey was the first to climb down the ladder. A foot from the ground, he leaped and cried, "Look out below!" Danika followed.
"Hey," Mila called down. "We forgot to ask. What was the name of the book with the note?"
Joey swallowed. He glanced at Danika. "That's the thing," he said.
"What's the thing?" I asked.
"Messages from Mars," Danika said. "The book was titled Messages from Mars."
The Little Free Library
We walked a few blocks to Danika's street. After a long winter, it was nice to hear birds in the trees. A few yellow flowers poked their heads out of the ground. The grass looked greener than it did yesterday. I carried a small drawstring backpack filled with two books. Danika said I might need them, but they had to be books that I was willing to give away. I grabbed an old Nate the Great and a Ballpark Mystery from my shelves. Great books, but I wasn't going to read them again.
Danika explained the Little Free Library. "It just appeared last week, right there on the Pulvers' lawn."
She described it as a wooden box on a pole. It had a glass window and two shelves, and it was filled with books.
"How many books?" I asked.
Danika shrugged. "Ten, twenty, maybe. You'll see. There's a sign that says, 'Take a Book, Leave a Book.'"
"And that's it?" I asked. "Who's in charge?"
"Nobody," Joey said.
"My mom says that it's the honor system," Danika explained. "Take a book, leave a book. That's the only rule."
"I've heard about these Little Libraries," Mila said. "It's a thing now."
"It's a thing?" I said.
"Yeah, you know," she replied.
I didn't know, but I kept my trap shut. I had already swallowed enough flies for today.
There was an old man at the Little Library when we arrived. He wore baggy pants and a red-checked jacket. A brown turban was wrapped around his head.
"Hey, Mr. Kaleel. Find anything you like?" Danika asked.
The old man turned slowly, shuffling his big feet. His back was slightly hunched. He smiled at us. "I like to check what they've got. The books change every few days."
"What do you like to read?" Danika asked.
"This and that," the old man said dreamily. "Whatever catches my fancy."
He walked away, slow-footed and empty-handed.
"He lives across the street," Danika told us.
The library was painted orange and blue — the colors of my favorite baseball team, the New York Mets. I liked it already. The library had books for adults and children. Good ones, too.
"Hmmm," Mila said. She ran her fingers down her long black hair, lost in thought.
"Hmmm?" I repeated. "Was that a good 'Hmmm' or a bad 'Hmmm'?"
"Maybe it's nothing," she said. "But there are a lot of books about planets and space travel in here."
The house in the yard was painted blue with white trim. A redbrick walkway led up to the front door. I needed answers. I knew I'd be leaning on that doorbell in a minute. First, I wanted a closer look at these books.
"We should go through each one," I said.
I handed a short stack to Joey. His eyes widened. "You want me to read them all?"
"No, Joey. Just flip through the pages. See if you find anything unusual."
A few minutes later, Mila said, "Bingo!" She had found another piece of paper. It was the same size as the other clue.
Mila held it out for us to see.
Danika read the message aloud. "'LET TOM PICK ON MAY.' That's weird. What does it mean?"
I looked at Mila. "It might be a secret code."
"Perhaps," Mila said. "Maybe it means exactly what it says. Some guy named Tom is picking on May."
We didn't know anyone by either name.
"I'm hungry," Joey complained.
"Not now, Joey. We're hunting for clues." I compared this note to the first one. "Same handwriting," I noted. "The writer makes little circles to dot the letter i."
"It's neat," Mila observed. "Printed. Not cursive."
I looked at the cover of the book where Mila had found the note. It was an old copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins.
"I love that book," Danika said. "We read it in school."
"See what I mean, Jigsaw," Joey said. He pressed close to me. "Definitely aliens."
I wasn't so sure about that. But he was right about one thing. There was something fishy going on. Glub, glub, glub. While Mila, Joey, and Danika kept looking for clues, I did push-ups on the Pulvers' doorbell. A smiling woman with short hair answered the door.
I told her that I was a detective.
"How thrilling," she said.
"I am working on a case," I explained. "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
I showed her my card:
NEED A MYSTERY SOLVED?
Call Jigsaw Jones or Mila Yeh, Private Eyes!
Mrs. Pulver whistled. "Wowee zowee."
"It's a living," I said.
She told me about the library. She said that she read about Little Free Libraries on the Internet. "I thought it was a wonderful idea," she said. "So I asked Harold to build one."
I raised an eyebrow. "Harold?"
"My husband," she replied. "He's retired. I like to give him little jobs."
I asked, "Have you noticed anything ... strange?"
"Oh, Harold has been strange for years," she said, laughing.
"No, I mean about the library," I said.
She clasped her hands. "Lots of folks come and go. Friends, neighbors, even people I've never seen before. It's lovely, actually. The books connect us."
I thanked her and said good-bye.
"Toodle-oo!" she said. "Remember: Take a book, leave a book."
Which was exactly what I did.
I don't love Monday mornings. They come too soon. I yawned and waited for the school bus. Mila swiped a finger across her nose. It was our secret signal. She tucked a paper into my palm.
I glanced at the note:
4-15 25-15-21 18-5-1-12-12-25 2-5-12-9-5-22-5 9-14 19-16-1-3-5 1-12-9-5-14-19?
It was in code. Not a problem. This was an easy one. Mila must have been in a hurry. It's called a Substitution Code. Each number stands for a letter in the alphabet. Number 1 is letter A. Number 2 is letter B. Number 3 is letter C. All the way to 26 for letter Z.
On the bus, I wrote two columns with the numbers and letters in my notebook. Figuring out the message was easy after that. Anybody can do it.
"Well? What's your answer to my question?" Mila asked.
I pulled down my cap. "I'm a detective. It doesn't matter what I believe. My job is to follow the clues. I believe in facts."
Behind us, I heard Joey talking to Ralphie Jordan and Geetha Nair. He bragged, "I am helping Jigsaw. We're searching for aliens from outer space."
Mila looked at me. She raised an eyebrow.
"That sounds fun," Ralphie said.
"I'm Jigsaw's right-hand man," Joey said. "Even though I'm a lefty."
Kim Lewis joined the conversation. Kim had short hair and three freckles on the tip of her nose. "Bobby Solofsky once saw a flying saucer," she said.
I glanced back. Geetha gulped. She looked pale and worried.
"I doubt it," Ralphie said. "Bobby is always making up stories."
"I believe it," Joey said. "It's called a UFO. An ... Under ... Flying ... Something."
Mila turned around. She explained, "UFO means an Unidentified Flying Object."
"Whatever!" Ralphie laughed.
We hurried to room 201. We loved our teacher, Ms. Gleason. She was better than a cold glass of lemonade on a summer day.
Excerpted from "A Jigsaw Jones Mystery: The Case from Outer Space"
Copyright © 2017 James Preller.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 A Knock on the Door,
Chapter 2 One Small Problem,
Chapter 3 The First Clue,
Chapter 4 The Little Free Library,
Chapter 5 Room 201,
Chapter 6 Our Solar System,
Chapter 7 The Stakeout,
Chapter 8 A Little Help from My Friends,
Chapter 9 Working the Case,
Chapter 10 A Surprise Visit,
Chapter 11 The Stars Above,
Other Books By James Preller,
About the Author,