Friday, November 6, 2009

A core title for New York City middle schools

On 11/3/09, I was one of the authors appearing at the New York City School Library System’s annual fall conference. The night before, a librarian who’d been before said it’s a “madhouse.” My take? Well-attended, yes. Chicken feathers in the air, no.

I gave a workshop on drawing readers into a story from the first line. With a crushing amount of titles competing for readers’ attention, sometimes the first sentence is the only chance a reader will give a book. The stakes are too high for it not to be compelling in some way.

While I was signing, one librarian pitched me a curious question. In the author’s note of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, I mention that in the 1970s, Joe Shuster lived in Queens, New York. The librarian asked me for his former address. I didn’t know offhand but could think of at least one source from my research that might narrow it down; if not, she could always go through the phone book microfiche at the New York Public Library.

However, I ended up sparing her that and being astounded at the same time. The newspaper article I had in mind did give Joe’s address—his exact address, down to the apartment number.

It was jarring to see that printed in a paper, though I think that may have been a more common practice at the timeand again, it was probably in the phone book anyway. Though Joe was in a bad place then, he was still a celebrity of sorts, and though he was an unrecognizable celebrity to most of the population, people even further from the public eye are entitled to privacy. Yet I doubt that article prompted even one person to show up at Joe’s place. On one level, that’s relieving. On another, it’s sad.

The same librarian also told me wonderful news that I had not yet heard: the New York City school library system had selected Boys of Steel as an English Language Arts (ELA) core title. As she explained, that means that every city school that includes grades 6, 7, or 8 had to order the book!

Each title selected falls into one of four themes that the Department of ELA believes “will motivate middle school students to read more”: Empowerment and Resilience, Love, Taking Action and Changing the World, and Creativity and How Things Work.

I feel what Jerry and Joe did fits all four categories, but guess which one they placed it in? Answer on page 45.

I didn’t take photos at the conference (it was the standard landscape—books on tables, people behind tables), but I did take one en route. It is an ad that just so happens to be part of my life philosophy. It's also a sentiment that most modern authors—well, most modern anybodies—might do well to keep in mind:

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