Saturday, March 27, 2010

Author visit donation makes the local news

WAFF-TV in Huntsville covered my affecting (for me) school visit experience in Alabama. I learned a new way in which the South is more leisurely. They just let me ramble on, not urging me to keep it to 15-second sound bites. (Listening back to what I said, I wish they had! But the segment is still only two minutes total.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Great ideas for schools #1: One school donated me to another







At first glance, this image above may look like an error message or a botched Red Cross symbol, but it is the Alabama flag.

On 3/24/10, I made my first trip to that state and spoke at two schools. But I'd booked only one. That school booked the other.


That school is Randolph School, in Huntsville. A college friend, Jon, is an administrator there. Randolph paid for three presentations but (as we planned in advance) generously "donated" one of them to Madison Cross Roads Elementary, a nearby Title 1 school; that means it has a large number of students from low-income families. Jon even drove me to and from Madison Cross Roads and took photos for me while I was presenting there.

Back at Randolph, I signed copies of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman before and between presentations:

Huntsville is nicknamed Rocket City. What guy doesn't like rockets? (Well, I could similarly ask, "What guy doesn't like watching baseball?" and the answer to that would be me.) Anyway, en route to the airport, I stopped at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. That's where Space Camp is, as well as this actual-size replica rocket:

I'm sure there is precedent for a school donating an author presentation to a less privileged school. But this was the first time it had happened with me in my six years of school visits. I was deeply honored to have a role in Randolph's selfless gesture. I'm hoping other schools will follow their lead.

One small step for one author, one giant leap for author visits?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

City Club of Cleveland





I'd argue that Superman is the most influential idea to come out of Cleveland and spread around the world.

Yet another force for freedom from Cleveland not only never leaves town but also draws the world to it.

The City Club of Cleveland, a "citadel of free speech," is "generally considered one of the top three speaking forums in America. It has played host to many sitting Presidents and Vice-Presidents as well as some of the most notable citizens of the United States."

Plus, obviously due to a clerical error, me.

On 3/22/10, the City Club of Cleveland kindly gave me the floor to talk about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

Biggest room on the premises? No. Standing room only? No. But we did manage to fill most seats.

Will they add my portrait to the wall alongside ones of Rosa Parks, Madeline Albright, Jane Fonda, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu? No. But I don't think any audience member nodded off.

Adding to the honor, at least four members of Cleveland's own Siegel and Shuster Society attended. Here I am with three:

Jamie Reigle, only one wearing jeans, Matthew Rizzuto, Brad Ricca

I could see the City Club from my hotel window. That night, a storm blew through.

10:11 p.m.

One second after previous photo. So yes, this is lightning, not fog or dawn.

Heading out, the airport had a dramatic reminder that in Cleveland, you need to be faster than more than a speeding bullet:


Sunday, March 21, 2010

More Jerry Siegel from World War II

Recently I posted a previously unpublished photo of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel; it shows him in uniform during World War II, at work with a partner on a comic strip called Super GI. Tony, the man who owns that photo, is the son of a Stars and Stripes photographer.

He wrote, “My father's only remark about Siegel was that he was not very generous with his son.” This is something we, sadly, already know to be true on some level.

That man has since sent me three other never-published, WWII-era Siegel images, and apparently has at least one or two more.

One was labeled “officer and cartoonist,” though Jerry was actually the former and not the latter (he was a writer).

Another is a sketch of Jerry by a Bill Davis. I don’t know if he is an artist I should already know about.

A third is a sketch of Superman by, possibly, Jerry himself (which would make the label of the first more accurate). It’s inscribed to Tony, who was five years old at the time.

Here is what Tony speculated about this:
Who did the drawing? I don't know. It could have been Siegel; it looks like a rather simple set piece, a visual autograph. The paper is a design based on Hawai'an reed mat— it works almost as graph paper, making the drawing easy to do. How did Joe and Jerry collaborate in WWII when they were at least 2,000 miles apart—by mail? It [now] occurs to me that Joe [could’ve done] a couple of dozen drawings that Jerry just signed when his co-[officers] hit him up for a drawing?
Permission to reprint these images is not mine to give. If you're interested, please ask me and I'll be happy to forward your request to the owner.

Friday, March 19, 2010

5,000 kids go to school over spring break






From March 13-16, I was one of the lucky authors participating in the 42nd annual
Children's Literature Festival at the University of Central Missouri. I knew little about this festival when I agreed to go. I figured anything that's been around 42 years must be doing something right.

And 5,000 kids later, I can now confirm that my hunch was sound. The university was on spring break, freeing up the sidewalks and hallways for busloads of younger students coming in from around the state.


Each author to spoke eight groups
—four hourlong sessions on Monday and four more on Tuesday. Some (including me) were in classrooms and the biggest names got auditoriums. The orchestration of this event was grand-scale and, from where I stood, smooth. No kids got lost, though some authors (including me) did. (Hey, it was an unfamiliar campus.)

I did not take a photo of my little plot on the book tables until the the third and final day:

Any such photo has no frame of reference (unless you know how many books total were there to begin with, which I don't), but we (meaning me and the other authors I talked with) sure felt like a lot of books sold. I think the title I signed the most copies of was Vanished: True Stories of the Missing.

I
nside a glass cabinet, each author's work was represented by a little shoebox-less diorama:

But even cooler were the clever cubic centerpieces used to indicate where each of the 43-or-so authors in attendance were to sit at the kickoff luncheon.

At the end of the luncheon, where Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine gave a heartfelt keynote (in part about her grandfather, who founded this festival), each cube was raffled off to a person sitting at its table. I did not win my own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vanishing acts for the classroom

Vanished: True Stories of the Missing is most appropriate for grades 4 and up. It can have a place in curriculum!

(Currently, the title is available exclusively through Scholastic: simply call 800-724-6527, push prompt 3, then prompt 1, and order item #514472 with a credit card.)


Teachers and librarians, here are some easy classroom/library activities related to the book. Your students can...


  • ...write a possible "next chapter" for any of the people in the book who weren't heard from again. Solve the mystery!
  • ...research another missing person (besides Amelia Earhart). You may want to research this yourself first and offer students a pre-screened choice of individuals; otherwise they may stumble across a case that involves aspects of human behavior you don't want to expose them to (and which I didn't include in Vanished).
  • ...create a handbook on how to search for missing people. They can each write one or the class can create one together with each student writing or illustrating a separate section. Students can interview a police officer or detective!
  • ...build a missing persons web site (real or on paper) to disseminate information and receive tips. The established site missingkids.com already does this and does it well, but perhaps your students will have new ideas!
  • ...create a "Have you seen...?" poster for any of the people in the book, including vital info taken from the story.

Chime in with more ideas!

12/15/11 update: Scholastic produced a Reading Group Guide with some great ideas and questions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Up, up, and a word

On 2/2/10, I had the pleasure of speaking to the enthusiastic third through fifth grade students at Mark Twain Elementary in Centennial, CO (they of the carpeted gymnasium, which I regretfully did not photograph).

I was a few weeks too early for their spring fundraiser for literacy, for which they transformed their cafeteria into a number of book-themed areas. But while I couldn't participate in person, I was honored that Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was one of the books chosen, even more so given the esteemed company (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; American Girl).

My kind host said the following photo of the Boys of Steel section could have been clearer, but it seems plenty clear that this was a great event for a perpetually important cause:

photo courtesy of Jennifer Arzberger

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Superman through my ages

We're far from Halloween but Purim just passed, so it is an apt time to post all the photos I have of me dressed as Superman. Yes, the author photo on the back flap of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was not an isolated embarrassment.

In truth, I'm actually not embarrassed. We all can't be held accountable for haircuts before the age of 18. (The 1970s and 1980s are on trial here, too.)

1979
This was not an "official" costume but rather me in Superman pajamas
(and my sister in civilian pajamas).

1979
This was my first time dressing as Superman for Halloween though, of course, being forced to wear a winter coat over a costume makes it null and void, so...

1984
...I needed a do-over. This was a homemade costume. And yes, I was 12 here, not 8. In fact, I wore this to a 7th grade party (speaking of bravery). Another photo from this photo shoot is the one in Boys of Steel.

1989
Senior year in high school is no time to wear your underwear over your pants, so I went as Clark Kent instead. I thought this was staggeringly original, unaware that thousands of other people did it first.

However, these were not all of my superhero getups. See also: a Robin Retrospective.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Nevada Reading Week Conference, revisited






On 2/26-27/10, I was one of the authors lucky to attend the Nevada Reading Week Conference. It was my second time; the first, two years ago, was also the first time I flew anywhere for an author appearance. (It was also the first time I learned the proper pronunciation of the state: ne-VAA-duh, not ne-VAH-duh. I have not, however, learned the proper way to spell out pronunciations.)


I gave three presentations. This is one of those conferences that schedules well. All of my talks, and the other two I attended, were well attended. The conference books enough presenters to offer a good choice, but not so many (with overlapping time slots) that presenters present to small audiences. The energy was high all around.

I am good with faces and good with names. But I am not always good at matching them. I remembered the faces of all the people in this photo...

...but only one of the names. I've got to work on synchronizing these two processes.

Predictably, I greatly enjoyed meeting other authors who came in for the conference, all of whom had shorter flights than I did. (The next-farthest I met was from Illinois.) They were all warm, generous people.

I had the pleasure of having a meal with Jenni and Matt Holm (sister and brother; lunch) and Roland and Marie Smith (husband and wife; dinner). In 2002, I'd read and liked Roland's novel
Sasquatch, so it was especially fun to connect the person to the prose. (This is not the same as connecting a face with a name.) Roland's kindness manifested in multiple ways, including mentioning me on his blog.

I also spent time (including breakfast on the go) with an author/editor I knew beforehand, the talented Michael Dahl. I found his presentation on the value of graphic novels polished, witty, and enlightening, and the crowded room felt the same.

The only downside to the trip was a preventable mishap in trying to get home
preventable on the part of the airline. I don't usually vent about personal issues here, but given the nature of what happened, I consider this a public service announcement.

To quote the longest Facebook status update I've ever posted: "
US Airways: If you delay my flight (not due to weather), AND the kiosks don't work, AND the line is inert because you're understaffed, AND no agent prioritizes people on the soonest flight (despite polite requests), AND I don't reach the counter till 23 minutes after departure time, AND you tell me the plane is still there but the door is closed, then what you're telling me is that you owe me one free flight."
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