Thursday, May 26, 2016

The revelation of the dedication

My next book (due March 2017) is a comedy called The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra.
 
hand lettering (and art—wait'll you see it) 

I had the privilege of revealing my dedication to the dedicatee during an experience that had special meaning of its own.

I have two children. The younger is currently finishing second grade. At the elementary school he attends, kindergarten through second grade run a simple program called "Secret Reader" where every few weeks, a parent of one of the students in a class shows up unannounced to read to the kids. My wife and I participated for three years when our daughter went there, then began anew with our son.

Last week was our last time. Considering that made us emotional, imagine high school graduation (or even middle school graduation).

Usually I read picture books I love, but last week, I read a few I wrote. (Not that I don't love my own, but you know what I mean.) Only they aren't books yet—they're still manuscripts.

Except for one—the layout for the aforementioned chupacabra story. And after I read the story, I got to tell my son (with my wife and daughter present, not to mention his whole class) that the book is dedicated to him. That's a first. He smiled but (perhaps true to his age) didn't share his feeling about it with me. My wife claims he was proud.

This brings to mind a story from 2008, when my daughter was four and both my son and my book Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman were less than a year old. A friend came over and saw the Boys of Steel dedication to my Girls of Steel (wife and daughter, natch). He asked why my son wasn't included.

My daughter chimed in: "Because he wasn't born yet when we made that book."

We.

Though in the sense that our children inspire us to work hard, she was absolutely right.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Works well at the beginning" - "Kirkus" on "Brave Like My Brother"

Review of Brave Like My Brother from Kirkus Reviews (4/15/16):


Clarifications regarding the nonfiction:

  • "blow-by-blow account": Early in the story, I establish that soldiers could not reveal precisely where they were or what they were doing strategically, and Joe does not. (In fact, for most of the story, as he notes, he does not know what he's doing.)
  • "no evidence of censorship": I address military censorship throughout the story. This includes implying that there are gaps in the letter sequence because of it (as other reviewers have commented on). Also, as the war went on, censors sometimes relaxed their restrictions (or missed things).
  • "defies credibility that Joe would easily recognize said tank": I never said it was easy! More to the point, I did not elaborate on how Joe knows, but that does not mean there weren't clues. (As in any letter, especially one written by a young soldier at war, some details are left out.) Given how meticulous military protocol is, it seems well within reason to assume the uninflated tank was labeled or marked in some way.
  • "his minute recall is similarly unlikely": Joe is writing letters within days or even hours of the events occurring, so details would be fresh in mind.

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Keeps the suspense tight" - "Horn Book" on "Brave Like My Brother"

Review of Brave Like My Brother from Horn Book (May-June 2016):


Glimpses:

  • "fascinating" (though this is referring to a fact/key plot point, not the book overall)
  • "clear, breezy letters make this accessible to young independent readers"
  • "history lovers will find a lot of new information here"
  • "keeps the suspense tight"

Thank you!

Monday, May 23, 2016

"Entertainment Weekly" RIP covers

Since the 1989 launch of Entertainment Weekly, the magazine has run only 16 "in memoriam" covers. Stats: 

  • 14 men, 2 women
  • 7 singers, 6 actors, 3 comedians
  • 13 white people, 3 black
  • 9 black and white images, 7 color

The covers:

 1994

 1997















EW produced four covers for Michael Jackson's death; the other three:




I did not count covers about deceased notables that were not tributes published the week after their deaths:


I believe there has been only one standalone tribute magazine:


Am I missing any?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Jim Steranko tweets

Only four known people interviewed Bill Finger: Jerry Bails in 1965, Tom Fagan in 1965, Jim Steranko circa 1969 or 1970 (for his History of Comics), and Robert Porfirio in 1972. (Bill was also quoted in a 1965 New Yorker piece.)

Bails spread word of what he learned in his interview via a two-page piece he distributed via mail to his personal network. Fagan also wrote an article that was not formally published, but others did see it. Fewer (perhaps almost nobody) knew of Porfirio's interview till much later. Given that some of Steranko's interview was incorporated in a book, it reached the widest audience of the bunch.

During my research for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I was fortunate to communicate with three of the four men, all of whom were helpful. The other one is the only one still alive—Jim Steranko.

So you can imagine how honored I was to see this:



  • Bails died in 2006—mere months after I interviewed him (and, sadly, six years before the book would come out). Without Jerry Bails, we might not know about Bill Finger.
  • Fagan died in 2008. The article he wrote based on his interview with Bill ("Bill Finger—Man Behind a Legend") was "lost" but resurfaced in 2009.
  • Porfirio died in 2014. His 28-minute interview was recorded on audio and was also "lost," rediscovered in 2008. It is transcribed in Tom Andrae's Creators of the Superheroes.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pawcatuck Middle School, CT

On 5/11/16, I spoke and ran writing workshops at this lovely school, where a four-color, five-alarm welcome awaited me.



A highlight: a student came up to tell me she's begun an autobiography she plans to continue writing throughout her life. Clever and ambitious—plus will work wonders for accuracy, since she'll be documenting moments soon—instead of the usual many years—after they happened. It's like Boyhood on paper.

Thank you, Betty Pacelle, for hosting me with such kindness, and thank you to the Westerly Sun for covering my writing workshops.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I was born in a small town, and I spoke in a small town

On 5/5-6/16, I was in Indiana for the first time, speaking at five schools (one in Amo, one in Monrovia, and three in New Palestine) and a library (Monrovia) that invited me at the last minute and drew a nice crowd.

The welcomes were warm, the books were signed, and the wish to return was immediate.


As I drove around I wondered if I was passing the childhood homes of John Mellencamp (who was born in a small town) or David Letterman. (I checked later; I was not.)

But I did have a brush with celebrity. Unless, of course, this is a different Adam West…


I, too, was born in a small town, out Connecticut way.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dunning Elementary, Framingham, MA

On 4/26/16, I made my first trip in several years to the state where I colleged, Massachusetts. Huge props to teacher Michael Pearson for taking on the task of organizing an author visit, something he'd not done before.



The kids were a lot of fun in both the assemblies and the writing workshops. Thank you also to Mike's colleagues, who supported him in bringing in an author that some had not heard of. Under any circumstance it takes conviction to champion an author visit but especially a) when you have never heard the author present and b) when your school doesn't regularly host authors.

Hope for more funning at Dunning before long.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A day in Houston

On 4/12/16, I spoke at three lively schools in Houston:

  • Hogg Middle School
  • Alexander Hamilton Middle School
  • North Shore Senior High

All three put me in big auditoriums, my favorite kind of space to speak in. (You know what they say about Texas...)

At Hogg, the student who had written and planned to deliver the introduction for my talk was out, so another student bravely stepped up...and aced it. It's hard enough introducing someone considerably older than you...even harder when you have not met that person before. Kudos to Josiah. And to Mary Chance, who took a chance on me, with enthusiasm. And to Emily Guyre, a Hogg mom who has worked hard for the students of her community and who took notes during my talk...on her hand...in true middle school fashion.


At Hamilton, thanks to superfan and super educator Anthony White, Batman himself stood guard.


At North Shore (so big I drove around the entire building and still could not figure out where the entrance was), Jeff Derrickson impressed me. He'd never organized an author visit before, and complicating things, he chose to hold the event at night...meaning he'd have to attract an audience rather than force students to attend during the school day. And he got 125 people to show up. He said he was hoping for more; I told him he should be proud: he drew a bigger turnout than some more experienced, more urban venues.

They offered superhero cookies and kryptonite punch:



But you had to be dressed for it:


I especially loved these posters encircling the grand lobby of this sprawling school:




Parading passion in this place of pride (the school entrance) seems like a heckuva motivator. It turns students into stars.

I believe all three of these schools are home to a comic book club. I can't imagine having such an opportunity when I was in middle school.

Thank you yet again to Anthony, Jeff, and Mary for inviting me spend a bit of time with your engaged communities. Hope to be back again soon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Winner takes all: a chat with the Busy Librarian

A year ago today, I visited Ducketts Lane Elementary in MD. Matthew Winner, my host there, has interviewed a steady stream of luminaries in children's publishing, but one has eluded him: Matthew Winner. So I stepped in.

Please introduce yourself the way you would to someone in kidlit who hasn't yet heard of you.

Hi. My name is Matthew Winner. I'm an elementary school librarian at a K-5 school in central Maryland. I'm also the host of the Let's Get Busy podcast, a weekly chat with authors, illustrators, award winners, up-and-comers, and everyone in between. I maintained the Busy Librarian blog for about six years, but now I'm busy with All the Wonders, I multimedia kidlit website I co-founded with a friend that launched in late October 2015. Life's busy, but it's a good life that I wouldn't trade.



What made you decide to become a librarian?

I love school and I love being a student. I interned on a 4th grade team and was hired to the same team the following year. By the end of February of that first year I knew I wanted to be a school librarian, and it's all because of Mrs. Wall. Louise Wall was the library media teacher at the school at the time and we not only became fast friends, but immediately sought out opportunities to collaborate. Her blend of literature and art and technology into all of her lessons made it a hard profession to resist, and so I started on my Master's in Library Media Sciences as soon as I could. It was one of the best professional career decisions I have ever made.

What was your first job after college/graduate school?

As said, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job straight out of college on the same instructional team with which I interned. Perhaps even more serendipitous was the opportunity to take a position as a library media specialist at a nearby school prior to finishing my degree. Part of our school population was redistricted causing a drop in our enrollment numbers. As such, several teachers were surplused, myself included. Thankfully, this came as an opportunity to apply for other positions in my county system, leading ultimately to a full time job in an elementary school library.

What was your first paying job ever?

My first paying job was as a Sandwich Artist at Subway when I was 15. That title was embroidered on my shirt from the moment I walked in the door, though, so I don't want to be mistaken for trying to bolster my street cred with pre-cut lunch meats. Oddly, I'm still really into eating at Subway. I feel like the look behind the curtain should have scared me away, but apparently I'm a sucker for a toasted sandwich.


courtesy of here

When did you become the Busy Librarian?

The first post on my Busy Librarian blog was on October 10, 2010. The last post was on October 27, 2015 and it was an invitation for the readership to join me at All the Wonders, a children's literature website I co-founded with my friend Blake.

What was your inspiration for that, and your intention?

I started the blog as an advocacy and resource-sharing tool. I knew what a busy guy I was already at that point, but I didn't see anyone in the profession talking about how busy or challenging or, at times, isolating school librarianship could be. The blog was my attempt to connect with others and, in doing so, not feel so alone.

When did you launch the Let's Get Busy podcast and why?

The first episode of Let's Get Busy launched on July 2, 2013. The story I've shared with most people is that I'm an avid podcast listener and have been for many years. One podcast I particularly like for its candor and loose format is The Nerdist. The episodes include notables from film, comics, and culture, but what's captured is a conversation in lieu of an interview. The result is a more personal and intimate platform to get to know the guest and their work, which, in my opinion, is far more memorable. I set out to do something similar with Let's Get Busy. I wanted to capture real conversations and reveal the good, hard-working people behind our favorite books for children.

What gap did it fill—what does your approach do that others don't?

At the time that I started Let's Get Busy, I couldn't find anything else on the market like it. If I had, there's a better chance that I'd be listening to that podcast rather than hosting my own. Instead, I sought to create a platform for librarians to get to know authors and illustrators through a medium that feels personal and allows listeners to, in part, judge character in the guests week to week. Loving a book is wonderful, but when you feel you connect with the person behind the book because you shared a similar experience or a story s/he tells makes you laugh or you just find that person to be a kind, loving soul, well…that's something that matters to me. Sharing the podcast is a chance to help all of us feel a bit more connected and helps give each of these books (and the people behind them) a better chance of connecting with more readers.

How does your work within the larger kidlit community enhance your work as a school librarian?

It's difficult to say because I've always felt they go hand-in-hand. We're all working together, librarians and teachers and authors and illustrators, to connect kids with good books. If you go to enough conferences or participate in enough Twitter chats, it's only a matter of time until the world outside of your library becomes part of your daily library practice. I do my best to prepare my students for the world outside of our library, working to help make them more effective users of information in myriad formats. Much of the work I do within the larger kidlit community is mirrored in the work I do with my students each day and vice versa.

Who was the first guest you scored that you didn't think you would?

Truthfully, it always surprises me a little when people say yes to a chat with me. But Bob Shea was probably the first guest where I was full-on freaking out when he replied yes. And I think it took me a couple minutes to really settle in and think straight once we were actually recording. Early on in the podcast's history, I would follow up with previous guests by asking who they recommend I talk to next. It was a practice that allowed me to keep the feeling of closeness and family as one person recommended another. That helped to not make me so nervous.

Who did you have to lobby the hardest to get on the podcast?

All of the people I've spoken with so far have all agreed to come on in a manner that was more or less organic. Sometimes it's because we're already friends on Facebook or Twitter and I reach out because I want to celebrate my friends. Other times I'm contacted by a publicist and I agree after finding a connection with their book. There are times when it's taken a few months to coordinate a good time to talk, but the wait's always worth it. Peter Brown and I have been planning an episode for a while, but we waited nearly a year to talk so that we could use the conversation to focus on The Wild Robot, his middle grade debut. In general I feel like it's better not to push to get certain people on, but rather to trust that our paths will cross and things will happen if it's meant to be.

Who are three wish-list guests (who are still alive)?

Tommie DePaola, Eric Carle, and Kate DiCamillo. Because…yeah.

What is an initiative/idea another kidlit librarian is currently doing that particularly interests you?

I am constantly interested in whatever Andy Plemmons is up to in his school library in Athens, Georgia. Andy works tirelessly to promote and support student voice and he shares regularly through his Expect the Miraculous blog. I admire Andy on so many levels and he's definitely the face that comes to mind whenever I think of what we as teacher librarians should be doing in order to continue innovating in and expanding our profession.

What was the first moment you felt you were having a bigger influence than you realized?

I take for granted that I have influence on anyone at all, really. It's weird. I tend to make friends, be passionate, and treat others with kindness. That leads to connections and collaborations and, ultimately, big wins for the students. But I suppose I realized that I was having a positive impact on the lives of others when I started being sought out to Skype with my classes for events like International Dot Day. It still surprises me that anyone knows me from Adam, but it's always flattering to hear my work is being valued beyond our school walls.

I had the opportunity to be on the first panel you moderated (AASL in Columbus in 11/16). How did you feel leading up to it, during it, and after?

I've never felt a greater pressure to be a good host than to stand in front of a roomful of library colleagues and to have beside me a table of authors and illustrators for whom my respect could have easily filled that room twice over. I think the panel went really well, and I think the audience was open to the collective ideas and inspiration represented on the panel. After the panel was over I wanted nothing more than to just have you all to myself to hangout and be a fanboy. Thank goodness there was a bar so close by. Getting to just be noisy, ask questions, and be inspired around one another was awesome.

What is All the Wonders, and what inspired it?

All the Wonders is a multimedia website designed to engage parents and readers in children's literature through videos, crafts, activities, podcasts, and encounters with authors and illustrators. Blake Hamilton and I founded the site and we now have a team of about 10 individuals working alongside us to make awesome content for kids and parents to explore. All the Wonders launched in October 2015 and things have been nonstop busy ever since, buzzing with energy and excitement about what we'll do on the site next. I'm really, really proud (and I know Blake is, too) of the work we've shared with the world so far. As for inspiration, we wanted to fill a need we perceived in the children's literature community for parents to have the opportunity alongside their children to be excited about books, to live in the worlds contained in their pages, and to return to those stories through play and song and creating things. Hopefully visitors to our site will feel that what they discover does exactly that and more. Hopefully lots and lots more people can really love these books and want to share their love with others.

What's next for you?

I recently signed with Danielle Smith, a literary agent at Red Fox, and I hope to have stories of my own being read by children, parents, teachers, and librarians (and maybe even a president or two) in the future.

Why are you so much taller than me?



My mom used to say that she was going to tie a brick to my head so that I wouldn't grow taller than her. Unfortunately she missed her chance and now I stand about a foot over her. I suspect your mother was more prepared than mine, although the top of your head is quite round despite the years it's spent supporting a brick. Maybe video games made me taller? Now there is a wild theory!


Anything you'd like to add?

My middle name is Christopher.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

PA to MD to TX (schools to conference to festival)

4/4-5/16: Pennyslvania. Two elementaries, Sol Feinstone and Wrightstown.


 Following Peter Brown is tough.



4/7/16: Maryland. Breakfast speaker (note subhead of my presentation) at SoMIRAC, the State of Maryland International Reading Association Council's annual conference.



4/8-9/16: Texas. The first annual Lone Star Book Festival, near Houston. One of the organizers recruited a student to create a gift (a sketch of Darwin) to thank the first author who agreed to participate. I didn't get his or her name but I thought this was so thoughtful. I also loved the replica of Thoreau's Walden cabin, constructed by students.



I wonder if this badge would work anywhere else...

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