Thursday, January 22, 2009

Caldecott speculation

The two most prestigious awards in children's publishing are the Newbery (given to an author for excellence in writing, almost always a novel) and the Caldecott (given to an artist for excellence in illustration, almost always a traditional picture book).

For several months, librarians, bloggers, and assorted others have been posting speculative lists about who could win these awards. The American Library Association gives the awards and will announce the actual recipients on Monday, January 26.

One of the speculators, Scripps Howard News Service, broke its lists into "top contenders" and "other contenders." With regard to the Caldecott, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (smashingly illustrated by Ross MacDonald) made the second list.

While I am far from a defeatist, the competition is exceptional and, based on the top contenders on the majority of the lists, I know we won't cinch it. However, it is an honor to be speculatively nominated!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bill Finger remembered

Thirty-five years ago today, Bill Finger, the uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman, died in New York City.

No mainstream obituary ran.

No funeral took place.

It was as if no one then understood the cultural force we lost.

If Finger died today, he'd be all over the news, and rightfully so.

It is never too late for a memorial.

This year, Batman turns 70.

This year, Bill Finger is going public.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A third kindness

First, Elizabeth Bird, the grande dame of librarian bloggers, gave Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman a luminescent review.

Then, months later, she called it ultra-cool.

Now she wrote that she wouldn't mind if it got a Sibert Award (given by the American Library Association for the most distinguished informational book of the year).

Just the fact that she wrote that is award enough. High praise from someone in the know. Thank you, Elizabeth.

"Sure to become a classic"

Families Online reviewed Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, and it included that hugely humbling linebut I will settle for the book simply staying in print!

"Energetic illustrations...peppy text"

The Cuyahoga (Ohio) County Public Library said nice things about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

"Perfectly paced"

Read That Again graded Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman a B+: "...a fine biographical work, with a fun, positive tone...the...postscript includes an even-handed explanation of the lengthy legal struggle that Jerry Siegel waged against DC Comics..."

Another best book of 2008 list

The Belmont Public Library in Massachusetts included Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman on their list of their best books of 2008.

First negative review!

The first line of the review of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman at The Comics Reporter suggests a positive take is forthcoming.

So much for the power of suggestion.

It is the 53rd review of the book I have archived (though not all have been posted here), and the first negative one: "...the story feels fairly bland and extremely limited in scope as presented here. There's nothing that distinguishes the writing from an almost completely unadorned presentation of the narrative..."

As you would expect, I subjectively disagree! (And, of course, almost by definition picture books are "limited in scope.")

But then there's this: "I can't imagine what kid would enjoy reading this."

Now that one I can disagree with objectively, since I have had the honor of hearing from many kids who have loved the book and read it again and again.

"A spirited look into the creative process"

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, named Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman his Read-Aloud of the Week.

Here's the link, though it appears that it remains the same with each new RAOTW. Here's another link to the review, though that, too, is not a Permalink.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More from Kansas

The Tonganoxie Mirror, a Kansas newspaper, covered my January 8 visit to Tonganoxie High School as part of the Superman's First Home on Earth author visit tour.

Also, Mission Valley Middle School in Prairie Village, Kansas, posted photos from my January 9 visit. Note the photo of me eating lunch with students. These were smart kids, all interested in reading and writing. I'm quite sure at least one of them will be one of my competitors one day!

I did not know this was happening

On January 13, I had the honor of giving an hour-and-a-half presentation on Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. To my surprise, the event sold out (due entirely to Superman, of course, not me). After, my host told me that we sold more books than most speakers.

Another surprise: at the back of the room, unknown to me at the time, the respected comics industry site Newsarama was live-blogging with gusto about my presentation. A sampling (and click here for the full play-by-play and presentation photo):
7:54PM: Already starting off interesting, even though Nobleman isn’t here yet. Sightings of Eliot Spitzer and Paul Krugman — and I thought this was going to be a low-key event.

8:19PM: Ooh, he calls Superman “the” icon. Good start.

8:34PM: The first half of the book is over — now time for Easter Eggs!

8:40PM: Nobleman...talks about looking out of Jerry’s actual window — apparently the image in the book is faithful to the truth. The Siegels apparently have huge hearts, and let Nobleman in unannounced. [NOTE: It was not the Siegels. They haven't lived there for decades! It was the Gray family.]

9:09PM: Doubt is cast on whether or not Hitler banned Superman. Apparently Hitler banned every import, except for Mickey Mouse, apparently. Nobleman thinks the whole story is bunk.

9:21PM: Nobleman said he ended his illustrated story with Superman’s high point in 1939, not with them selling the rights. “They deserve it.” Well said.

9:32PM: Nobleman has opened it up to questions.

9:41PM: Jesus is finally brought up as a Biblical forebearer for Superman. Also Jewish assimilation is discussed by another audience member. Some of these audience members are pretty adamant in this belief. Nobleman is being a pretty good sport about this, even though Zorro had a secret identity 20 years before.

5/15/13 addendum: I spoke at the Y again, this time about Bill Finger.

Jews of Steel

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was one of ten books for older readers named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book of Jewish Content for 2009.

In the story proper (the illustrated portion), I did not feel there was an organic way to textually mention that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were Jewish; I did, however, request that we show Shabbat candles in one scene. And I do address their Judaism in the Author's Note, including the possible Hebrew interpretation of Superman's Kryptonian name and my take on the persistent claim that Hitler personally banned Superman.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Superman's First Home on Earth" author visit tour

In the real world, Superman was molded in Ohio.

In the comics, Superman
—to be precise, Clark Kent—was molded in Kansas. He grew up on a farm in fictional Smallville.

Therefore, last week, I made my first trip to the Jayhawk State (that nickname sounds cooler than the Sunflower State). I called it the "Superman's First Home on Earth" author visit tour.

Just as I spoke at various institutions in Cleveland in November, encouraging the locals to take pride in the icon that was created in their backyard, I spoke at schools and a library in the Kansas City area figuratively winking at the audience when I told them an infant Superman's rocket landed in a cornfield in their home state.

One school really got into the spirit. Aside from plastering the halls with signs about the book, and ensuring that it was read in every class before I came, they even blasted the theme from Superman: The Movie as the students filed onto the bleachers. That music is so inspirational that it is a hard act to follow!

The Superman/Kansas hook worked so well and the people were so welcoming that I am already happily scheduled to return to Kansas in October (and possibly earlier), for part two of the tour.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

92 for 27 on 13

On the evening of January 13, I will be speaking at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. This is not your ordinary Y.

Past speakers at this prestigious institution have included Dustin Hoffman, Elie Wiesel, and Bill Clinton; cripes, PBS's Bill Moyers is interviewing a Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist elsewhere in the building at the same time as my talk.

What you are thinking right now surely mirrors my first thought when this was arranged back in the summer: why are they letting me present there? And will anyone pay $27 to hear it?

If you see no post here on January 14, you will know the answers to those questions are momentary insanity and no.

But either way, it is a serious privilege and I look forward to making the most of it, which, of course, increases the chance of the audience getting the most of it.