Monday, October 31, 2011

Robin three times...twice for Halloween

The character I dressed up as the most for Halloween was Superman (three times); Robin comes in second, at two; I do have a third image of me as Robin, but from summer. (I was Robin this often in part because I delusionally thought I resembled him; hence Batman didn't even place.)

circa 1980; note the inventive color choices


last night; just kidding—today; just kidding—1995

4/17/12 addendum


7/14/19 addendum:

Not a full costume but I feel I should still include this rediscovered shot taken while “prepping” to audition for Robin for Batman Forever:


Friday, October 28, 2011

Second two weeks of October

Like many authors, my travel schedule is erratic. I can go weeks or sometimes a month or more without having to get on a plane or even a car for school and conference speaking engagements, but there are also times when they run back-to-back.

Three times in the past four years, I've been away for work for two weeks straight.

And strangely, all three times have
, for no discernible reason, been the second two weeks of October (which so happens to be my favorite two weeks of the year to be in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic).

In 2008, I was in San Francisco and Ohio (mostly Cleveland).

In 2010, I was in Houston.

In 2011, I was in Guam.

In 2014, I was in Nebraska

The second two trips were similar in a way beyond the heat. Both were completely organized for me by my kind hosts, from scheduling each school to arranging volunteers to pick me up for and drop me off after each commitment. All I had to remember to do was set my alarm and bring my flash drive.

For obvious reasons, being away on speaking tours for fourteen days is both a rush and a challenge, but in each case, my hosts have made the experience as rewarding as possible.

12/26/12 addendum: Friend and tireless fellow author Doreen Rappaport told me that in the 1990s, she was invited to Indiana for nine weeks. (I did not ask if that included October.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Going, going, Guam, part 3 of 4

Part 2.

I just completed my second week, 26th and final school, and 30th hour of talking on Guam. Below are glimpses. I ship out obscenely early tomorrow. But first, I want to share glimpses of a Guam I do not know—Guam after a typhoon.

The weather during my time was mostly fine—always humid and regularly sunny with brief, often intense jags of rain each day. Often, when coming out of an hourlong school presentation, I found that the precipitation situation was the opposite of what it had been when I'd gone in.

Nicole, one of the kind souls who volunteered to drive me from school to school, told me of Super Typhoon Pamela (1976), when she was seven years old. Its high winds knocked out power...and it was not restored for
six months.

After the storm passed, people islandwide barbecued so as not to let meat go to waste. With charcoal sold out, Nicole's mother asked Nicole's brother if she could burn his Lincoln Logs; he said yes. Nicole's father would bring back buckets of water from the ocean to flush their toilets.

I'm told the people of Guam experience a super-sized storm roughly every 10-12 years, but the infrastructure has improved since Pamela, so the situations Nicole's family encountered may not be as prevalent going forward.

I did experience one weather-related incident. At one of the three schools on my last day, an unusual circumstance caused one presentation to start slightly late. It had begun to lightning shortly before I arrived. Because some of the classroom doors at this school were metal and because they opened to the outside, the administration waited till the storm passed to let the students out of the classrooms.

Somewhat randomly: There is no AC on Guam. There is only "air con." (To clarify, they don't use the abbreviation "AC" for "air conditioning.")

I love this note so much. Especially the cryptic "octopus."

Many of the kids wore headbands with this custom logo
they designed for me. They also sang for me!

Just your above-average tie weaved out of leaves.

Each member of this class displayed her/his favorite activity from
365 Things to Do Before You Grow Up on a small placard.

The above two images show cartoons kids made in response to
my two books called Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day.

"Hafa Adai" is "hello" in the language of the native Chamorros.
This banner incorporates three of my books and a portrait of me.
The kids (and educators) of Guam go above and beyond
in welcoming guests. Here are more:

Illustration based on an image from Boys of Steel:
The Creators of Superman

Goals inspired by 365 Things to Do Before You Grow Up.

At one school, the principal gets on a mic and hosts
something like a pep rally every morning; the kids line the
outdoor halls surrounding the courtyard where she stands.
Due to this formation and their enthusiasm, it reminded me of
a gladiatorial spectacle, but without all the mauling.

What an inventive way to reinforce math.

For a relatively small island, Guam is hugely generous.
The schools showered me with gifts including dozens of necklaces,
numerous boxes of traditional chocolates, sixteen T-shirts,
four wooden latte stone carvings, and many other
honors, trinkets, and treats.
The above shot captures only part of the booty!

Part 4.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pre-dawn interview on ABC

In Eastern Maryland for several speaking engagements on 10/3/11, I gave a short interview on ABC affiliate WMDT. It was all over by 6:20 a.m., so you will get a full serving of my morning voice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How schools enrich authors

On the first day of my two-week author visit to Guam, one of my hosts and I got to talking about Guam in literature. Apparently few authors hail from Guam, and no publishing companies are based there. That doesn’t mean Guam isn’t in stories. It means those stories are rarely originating from the people who know Guam best.

However, an author need not hail from a place about which he writes. Most writers are outsiders to at least some of their topics. One of the best ways to gain perspective on a place is to ask someone who is a stranger there.

It turns out Canadian-born YA novelist Gordon Korman was an author guest on Guam in the 1990s. He later used Guam as a setting in his Island trilogy (Shipwreck, Survival, Escape). This demonstrates a lovely point that did not occur to me until I was on Guam.

Schools bring in authors to enrich students. In doing so, the schools enrich the authors, too.

This is because schools are often exposing authors to settings they might otherwise never know firsthand, and some of these settings may inspire some aspect of a book. This in turn may enrich students again, but in a different way.

If not for school visits (and also conferences related to children’s books), I might never have made it to Kansas, Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington State, or, yes, Guam.

Guam invites at least one author every year, and this not only provides a tremendous opportunity for both students and author but also increases the chances that an author will write about Guam. I don’t know if I will be one of them, but either way I will be interested to see the results if someone else is.

And, of course, it may be an author visit that inspires a young person from Guam to become an author him/herself.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Going, going, Guam, part 2 of 4

Part 1.

I’m halfway around the world and halfway through two weeks of author visits. The people of Guam are among the kindest and heartiest I’ve ever met in my professional travels.

Here is a photo-recap of my first full working week on island; 14 schools down, 12 to go!


"Hafa Adai" is "hello" in Chamorro, the language of the natives of Guam. The Hafa Adais I was treated to on Guam have been nothing short of spectacular.

Here are a few:

In seven years of author visits, this the first school whose sign backdrop
is the ocean. (It's that patch of dark blue beyond the palm trees—also a first.)

Another superlative: This vivid welcome sign is, I think,
the tallest that kids have made for me.

Here's one of the longest!

And one of the coolest. This was their play on my superhero work.

The two bottom rows of letters are on reproductions of the cover of
Vanished: True Stories of the Missing

Speaking of Vanished, at first glance, this promotional flyer
looks like another type of flyer...

No good way around getting the fence in this photo.

At one Catholic school, students had been asked to draw their heroes
using a superhero motif. Some chose religious figures.

Island views

This staircase leads down to a peaceful jungle site that was once anything but;
it's a WWII memorial to a squadron of Japanese who fought valiantly till the end.

I am probably the first visitor ever to go there in
a long-sleeved, button-down shirt.

Tranquil but haunting.

One of several caves Japanese soldiers hid in.

TV appearances

Above two photos: being interviewed by the
ABC affiliate that came to my first presentation.
Next few photos: filming a literacy Public Service Announcement
at the PBS affiliate
. I even got to write it myself.

With two of my kind hosts from IRA (International Reading Association),
Jonathan and Nel (far right), and PBS producer Leigh.

I had to stand in front of a green screen. I'm assuming they will use that
to somehow make me look less dorky.

They sold a lot of my books. The island-wide speed limit is 35
and, for added safety, this signed stack is being driven to
my next appearance in a car seat.

The two photos above are from my first-ever workshop held in a coffee shop;
it was marketed to teens but everyone from tweens to adults attended.
It was a really great group.

Local color

Most schools honored me by gifting me bountifully, including a necklace
(variously made of shells, flowers, leaves, beads, or other island jewels).

Guam is in an earthquake (and typhoon, and tsunami) zone.
While I was there, the only one we had a drill for was
the first; luckily, we had no real emergencies.

The coconut crab (shown here) is the world's largest land arthropod,
if I'm remembering correctly without googling to doublecheck.
If one pinches you, it will not let go even if you pound on it.
I've heard two ways you can make it release:
tickling its soft undercarriage or
touching a burning match/object to its rear.
Neither sounds fun, but both sound more fun than
a huge crab permanently clamped onto your finger.

At one school, the color scheme of the room I spoke in was
so serene, I almost felt like I was underwater.
I believe this was the first time I'd seen a gym with a blue floor.

One of the two Friday nights I was on island, I attended the lone
Jewish service available. It was on the naval base; the two photos above
show the sanctuary. In attendance: an active duty Coast Guard member
(the layperson who ran the service), the state archeologist,
a clown (no, not in costume), her two teenaged sons, and me.
Almost halfway to a cast of Survivor, and the right locale for it, too.


Another something I had not seen before: a sink with only a cold water knob.
I'm told this is because Guam's climate is tropical. Some sinks did have
a hot water knob—but most of the ones I tried didn't work.

This sink had not only a hot water option but also a
built-in water fountain; however, I saw no others like this.

Another bathroom feature I saw only once:
an ice-filled trough for—well, read the sign.

Highlights not covered by the pictures above:

  • Chickens were wandering everywhere. They belong to people but are allowed to roam free. Apparently they do come home to be fed.
  • Cars last longer on Guam. Small island = low mileage (in proportion to the age of the car).
  • Washers and dryers were often outside (though covered by an overhang).
  • Not specific to Guam, but a reading teacher at one of the middle schools I spoke at told me she loved jazz artist Henry Grimes's story in Vanished...and she and her husband are now listening to his music.

Lastly, in the bay behind my hotel rises a small island; you can see it at the end of part 1 and again in part 4. Though it seemed fairly far to me, I learned that during low tide, one can walk there.

So one day at 3:45 p.m., I put on my reef booties and did.

Outgoing took about 15 minutes; the way back felt longer, maybe because I was already wistful at the thought of abandoning "my" island. On the way there, the only living thing I saw in the clear water was a sea snake. When I arrived on the island, several kayakers were there, but they soon left, leaving me alone with the wee hermit crabs. I'd been told that this baby island was one of the best places on Guam to find nice shells, in part because it's one of the least trafficked. However, I searched an hour (including in the water) and did not find even one keeper.

En route back, as I was nearing the shore where my hotel was, a pregnant Korean woman at the water's edge was shouting to someone snorkeling a ways out. Turns out she spoke English and the person in the water was her husband; he could not, of course, hear her.

I volunteered to walk back out to him to let him know she wanted him. Normally, due to my aversion to both sand and midday sun, I am eager to get off a beach as soon as possible; in this case, with the tropical sunset and my little island still in view, I was happy to stay. (Pretending I was on a miniature "rescue" mission was also appealing. And delusional.)

Part 3.