Thursday, December 29, 2011

Author Edward Ormondroyd in 1969

Edward wrote one of the most beloved novels of my childhood, David and the Phoenix (published 1957, though my childhood came later).

This year, I interviewed Edward.
To my disappointment, he had almost no photos of himself.

Then I met him in person, and surprised him.

Now a friend, Connie Rockman, has unearthed some material on Edward that even Edward did not seem to remember existed, and luckily it includes a photo:
It's from the Third Book of Junior Authors (1972), but because Edward said he was still getting letters about David and the Phoenix "twelve years later," it's apparent that he wrote this in 1969.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

This looks like a job for Superman…fans

In August 2011, a crime was committed in Illinois, home state of Metropolis. (Metropolis? True story.)

Not only did Superman not stop it, he was the cause of it.

Mike Meyer, a 48-year-old part-time McDonald’s employee described as having a mental disability, let a new acquaintance into his home. While the acquaintance’s girlfriend distracted Mike, the acquaintance switched to his secret identity: a thief.

He stole from a collection of at-times rare Superman memorabilia that Mike had been amassing for decades.

Though I read a few articles about this (it was all over the news), I don’t recall learning how word of this reached the fan community. In any case, people connected to Superman around the world took a page from his playbook and lent a hand in the form of sending all sorts of Superman merchandise to Mike to help him rebuild his collection.

But even before I read of this, I was honored to be asked to send a copy of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, and promptly did. Then I was tickled to read the following in one of the articles:

A California fan group has contacted actress Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane opposite George Reeves in the original TV series, for an autograph. Neill in fact met Meyer once, Howard said. When Meyer attended the Metropolis Festival several years ago, he got to meet her and stand in Superman’s place beside her for a few minutes.

Other celebrities, including Tracy Lewis of the Superboy series and Mark Tyler Nobleman, author of Boys of Steel, are sending autographed items.

Obviously, and not just because of the “k,” they’re not talking about me.

And, of course, they caught the jerk
as all classic superhero stories end.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Vanished" Reading Group Guide

When I was first asked (in 2008) to write the book that became Vanished: True Stories of the Missing, I said no, feeling it would be too tough to find age-appropriate stories.

Today I discovered that Scholastic has produced a Reading Group Guide for it.

How far we've come.

The guide is strong. Someone spent time getting to know the material and teased out substantial questions and suggestions.

When parents or teachers nervously ask about the content, I say that none of the seven stories contain any gruesome actions, three of the stories are about people who did not remain missing, and two of those stories are about young people who weren't just found
—they saved themselves. And I do mean young—second grade and kindergarten.

I did not write the book with a lesson in mind but there's a fine takeaway in that.

See also: Vanished curriculum ideas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jerry Siegel as a young man

Rather a young man as Jerry Siegel.

This is AW, who read Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman for a school biography project:

This project required students to pretend to be the people they read about, and the photo here shows AW as Jerry.

I'm still beaming about a series of Siegel and Shuster board games some Texas students created, and now I have the privilege of seeing this—an occurrence unthinkable only a few years ago.

I only wish Jerry (who died in 1996) could have seen it, too.

6/29/13 addendum: Another young man portrays another comics legend, Bill Finger.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Favorite school slogans #3

F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School, Guam:

Love the humility and conviction of this one.

Note: This is not a ranking but rather a list in order of discovery.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jerry Robinson, pioneering Batman artist, 1922-2011

It was my great honor to know Jerry Robinson (early Batman artist; co-creator of Robin and the Joker; brave advocate for Superman creators Siegel and Shuster), who passed away on 12/7/11. New Year’s Day would’ve been his 90th birthday.

Many others have already paid tribute to him knowledgeably and beautifully, including Ty Templeton (artist for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman), so all I can add is my brief personal experience with Jerry.

From 2006 (over the phone) to this summer (on camera, for a documentary), he selflessly spent hours telling me about his old friend Bill Finger. One of the most poignant surprises (and fluky twists) in my upcoming Finger book is thanks to Jerry.

At times Jerry would call me—to ask for my address to invite me to an exhibit opening, to ask if Bill’s second wife should be invited to the Bill Finger Awards. I was always surprised he remembered who I was. I suspect dozens of new people thrust themselves into his life each week, and somehow he managed to keep them straight and make time for all of them. I’ve speculated more than once that Jerry probably gave at least one interview a day.

He was a class act in every direction, to all of us whose paths were lucky to cross his. His contributions were not only artistic but altruistic. He didn't need a cape to be a crusader.

You'll still be expected at my book's launch party, Jerry, and now I'm counting on you to bring Bill, too.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Boys of Steel" interview for B'nai B'rith

In high school, I was an eager member of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO).

Recently, B'nai B'rith Magazine
interviewed me about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, and about superheroes and Jews in general. This was a supplement to the cover story of the winter 2011 issue of the print magazine, which showed Boys of Steel:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Edward is the Phoenix: surprise for an author

Finding out that Edward Ormondroyd, author of the 1957 YA novel David and the Phoenix, was still with us (at age 86) was a highlight of my summer.

Contacting him and convincing him to let me interview him for my blog was as well.

Yet in terms of moving experiences, both turned out to be mere prologue to the Edward-related event that unfolded in Trumansburg, NY, on 12/2/11. I believe it is unprecedented in the known history of author visits at schools.

Like the fabled Phoenix of his book, Edward (as author) has risen again, and it didn’t require a pyre or fire of any kind.

In the interview, Edward said that, but for two “unofficial” (my term) exceptions, he never spoke in schools, as many children’s authors do today.

A humble and happy man, he didn’t say this with any discernible hint of regret or longing, but I saw an opportunity just the same.

By pure, freakish chance, at the same time I had been tracking down Edward, I was also booking an author visit at Trumansburg Elementary in Trumansburg, NY…which, I would soon learn, happens to be the town in which Edward lives.

Yet apparently, the fact that he is a published author is largely unknown among the townsfolk.

More broadly, David and the Phoenix remains beloved by certain adult readers yet largely unknown among the current generation.

I believed kids and Trumansburgians alike would be most interested in Edward’s books and in Edward himself.

So I asked Purple House Press, the exclusive publisher of David and the Phoenix, if they would discreetly donate copies of it to the school so the kids could take turns reading it in the month leading up to my appearance. The publisher kindly obliged and sent 30 paperbacks at no charge. The kids were not told that their assignment to read Edward’s novel had any connection to my upcoming author visit.

Edward had already planned to attend my talk—anonymously, he thought. But about halfway through, I ambushed the whole room.

I flashed a picture of David and the Phoenix, citing it as a childhood favorite. I innocently asked the kids if they knew the book. As I suspected, their reaction was excitement—and disbelief: what are the chances this guest author would mention the very book by an unrelated author that they all just so happened to read?

Then I announced that Edward just so happened to be in the room. I gestured to him to “introduce” him to the crowd—a surprised author greeting surprised fans...for the first time. He stood and endearingly bowed.

For the Q&A segment with which I close my program, I encouraged students to ask questions of either of us (not having cleared this in advance with Edward). To my great pleasure, upon hearing this, quite a few kids turned to Edward and shot up their hands.

Here are both segments on filmthe intro (unfortunately, Edward is cut off, except for his bow) and the Q&A:

Edwards wife and friend had accompanied him; later, his wife said Edward was touched and his friend said seeing Edward get such long-deserved attention brought tears to his eyes. Edward told me he had not thought I would involve him in my presentation, let alone even mention him.

After the presentation, Edward and I posed in front of an important word:

Edward requested this pose.
His wife shrugged and said authors of books for children
never fully grow up.

As if this weren’t memorable enough, the Ormondroyds kindly invited me to their house for dinner (featuring vegetables they grew themselves) that evening. Adding to the honor, fellow author Bruce Coville (whom I’d run into online but never in person) joined us.

Taken in Edward’s library, this photo shows (as Bruce commented) “three generations of
David and the Phoenix”—the author (holding the lone first edition hardcover he owns), a fan from circa the first edition (Bruce), and a fan from circa the 1981 Scholastic edition (me):

Let’s recap the surprises bundled into this story:

  • surprise on me: that Edward lives in same town as a school I was booked to speak at
  • surprise on Edward: that I was going to shine the spotlight on him during my presentation and that the kids read David and the Phoenix in prep
  • surprise on the kids: that Edward was there and that they'd read David and the Phoenix because Edward was going to be there
  • surprise on the people of Trumansburg: that Edward lives in town

The press release I'd sent began with this plea: “Due to the surprise nature of this event, please do not run story (or even discuss locally) until after!” The Ithaca Journal (the region’s daily paper) covered it; the Fox TV affiliate WICZ told me they would be there, but they were a no-show.
The day prior, I had seen the film Hugo, in which a younger person shows an older person (silent era filmmaker Georges Méliès) who had a creative influence that he (the older person) is still fondly remembered. I felt like this Edward Experiment was a Hugo moment of my own.

Special thanks to Trumansburg Elementary librarian Gail Brisson who eagerly agreed to take on this additional effort and who managed to keep the whole thing a secret for a month, even from Edward’s wife…who, it just so happens, volunteers in the school.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A warm hometown school vi

On 11/30/11, I had the pleasure of speaking in my hometown at Garrett Park Elementary in Bethesda, MD.

Their welcome sign made my surname gender-neutral. (I know it was simply a space issue so it didn’t bother me—in fact, I smiled at it—but a kind school staffer apologized for it as soon as I walked in.)

They had booked my presentation for a mere two weeks before the entire school will move to its new facility, so obviously they like a challenge!

A good number of parents volunteered to supervise the kids during the presentation. Though I do encourage it in my contract, parents other than the PTA liaison rarely attend my school presentations, so this was a treat for me.

Bonus: the school sold a good number of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman beforehand and are now going to feature some of my books at their upcoming book fair.