Saturday, September 1, 2012

Batman in the classroom

Embedded within these humbling reactions (most from educators) to Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman are some great suggestions for classroom discussion and lesson plans.

Speaking of which, here is the diverse and creative curriculum guide from my publisher, Charlesbridge.

“Eye-opening and quietly tragic … if you asked me what’s one of my favorite [nonfiction picture books] of the past decade, I’d instantly endorse Boys of Steel, Marc Tyler Nobleman’s insightful and engaging account of Superman’s creation. Well, now the multi-talented author/journalist/cartoonist is back with Bill the Boy Wonder, a more-than-worthy follow-up … this new book boasts even more astounding feats of research and also features gorgeous art by Ty Templeton. Quite simply, Bill the Boy Wonder makes perfect summer reading for kids who are into pop culture. Actually, it’s a great read for anyone who’s ever seen the phrase ‘created by Bob Kane’ even if they’re not huge Batman fans; that’s because it’s not just a compelling biography of comics creator Bill Finger but a highly accessible and informative text about comics and comics history generally.”
Connect the Pop on School Library Journal

Selected comments from The Picnic Basket:

“I love nonfiction biographies and this book is one of the best! Nobleman is a skilled writer … It will be the rare reader who closes the book without being wowed. Nobleman's Author's Note allows the reader to glimpse his research process and it reads like a darn good mystery. What a tribute! What a story! What a book! 5 out of 5 stars”

“The story was so interesting that I couldn’t stop without reading the whole book and I would think students would feel the same way. … This book would be great for classroom discussions. Themes would include writing, struggling, comics, superheroes, design, plots, teamwork, standing up for yourself, friendships, and investigation. There were opportunities to learn new vocabulary throughout the story. 5 out of 5 stars”

“I was delighted when I read this book and immediately gave it to one of my 4th grade students to read. The book is a great opening to talking about civil rights and prejudice and even self-esteem. I would recommend the book to guidance counselors, teachers, and that student who sits doodling at his desk while working. … Excellent use of vocabulary—hightailed, scrawled, potential, intimidating… 5 out of 5 stars”

“I really enjoyed this book and look forward to sharing it with my 6th graders. I will use this book to open my biography unit. It will lead to many discussions about giving credit where credit is due … I really liked how the story was illustrated. It is a book worth sharing. This is a 5 in my basket.”

“Absolutely outstanding in all respects! Definitely can be used in the classroom to introduce biographies. Sure bet to get the attention of the most reluctant reader. Definitely a 5++++++!”

“What a beautiful book! I read it in one sitting. The prose is beautifully written, the pictures are lovely, and the underlying themes of justice and redemption are compelling. I am donating this book to our middle school library and plan to recommend it to the New Mexico Battle of the Books committee as a terrific nonfiction choice. This is a must-have book for every elementary and middle school library that will be gobbled up by avid and reluctant readers alike. 5 out of 5 stars”

“This book is simply amazing. To think I'd actually be glued to a book about the creator—sorry, co-creator—of Batman! I found the story to be completely captivating. I think this book would grab the attention of children and really teach them something along the way. It offers endless opportunities for lessons. Nobleman is a very skilled writer and certainly knows how to find obscure stories and make them completely fascinating. This book deserves nothing less than a 5.”

“This falls nothing short of an exemplar model of juvenile literature. The potential for critical discourse around this book are endless. By the end of the author's note a tear of sadness at the unfairness of it all fell from my eye… And then I started at the beginning again, admiring the cover and reading it from top to bottom. The story has so many cool parallels in the illustrations to support comprehension and add appeal … Nobleman demonstrates that writers need to be curious, determined, and willing to chase what they don't know … That you shouldn't just write about what you know, rather it is most important to have a really good question and go after the unknown … uncover a legacy that was so close to slipping away forever. I can only imagine how much Milton would have loved this book. The next day I asked one of my 5th grade students who loves superheroes … to read it. Almost 40 minutes later he came to me and replied, Milton Finger deserves credit. His four words were powerful and insightful. Reading this book changed him a little bit, gave him something he didn't have before, the same way I felt. 5 out of 5 stars

“Great book with many uses for YA readers. Thanks for a great read. (I had this book and had to share. Too good not to pass along.)”

“I felt privileged to share this book with my students and uncover this special secret with them. I read this biography to my second graders in two sessions. They were mesmerized. How could this happen, they wondered. How can I find out more, etc. The activity guide and discussion questions were a great resource, but I easily fit some of the themes of this book into my current curriculum/lessons that very day! … My students were highly motivated when I connected these lessons to Bill the Boy Wonder. 5 out of 5 stars”

“Fascinating … It is also a lesson on character. Using this book, you can investigate with your students the big idea of fairness … If your students do group projects, this would be a great introduction to how you should collaborate and make sure proper credit is given. This book is also an excellent example of why we need to study history. New information is constantly being unearthed … Bill the Boy Wonder would be a terrific source for a biography project for a reluctant reader. You will want to preserve the cover of this book as many hands will be reaching for it.”

(And a comment under this: “Not just for kids!”)

NC (North Carolina) Teacher Stuff (and Nonfiction Monday)

“Compelling writing, fantastic art. … In a household where we celebrate the creativity of Jim Henson and Walt Disney and others remembered for their contributions to childhood (and adulthood), this book and Bill Finger will have a special place.”
epinions user

“Very interesting, even to a pretty reluctant comic reader!”
Good Reads user

“Perfect for the reluctant reader, Bill the Boy Wonder is a classic story of the underdog. … The book has the potential to empower readers of all ages to take pride in—and ownership of—their work.”
—Young People’s Pavilion on Yahoo! (by Michael Strickland, who writes for The Reading Teacher, the journal of the International Reading Association)

“Whether you're a fan of comics in general or Batman in particular, you owe it to yourself to get this book … fascinating.”
Books YA Love

Discussion questions for grades 2-6:

  • What do you think would have happened if Bob Kane had showed his Batman design, not Bill’s, to the comic book company in 1939?  
  • Bill graduated from high school before the first scene in the book, so why do you think the title is Bill the BOY Wonder?
  • Describe a project or activity you’ve done with a partner. How did you decide who would do what?
  • Do you think what happened between Bill and Bob was fair—why or why not?

Discussion questions for grades 4 and up, after reading Author's Note:

  • How do think Bill felt at the end of his life? What about Bob?
  • If you were trying to find someone you didn’t know the way the author looked for Bill’s family and friends, how would you start?
  • Why it is significant that the author discovered Bill’s granddaughter?
  • Why do you think it was important to the author to write this book?


  • Ask half the students to create the name for a character (it doesn’t have to be a superhero). Pair each of them with a student from the other half, who must then design the look of the character based only on the first student’s name.
  • Write a story involving an oversized prop.
  • Keep a “gimmick book” like Bill did and refer to it throughout the year to inspire story ideas. 
  • Write a short play dramatizing a scene from Bill the Boy Wonder and perform it for other students. If you upload it to YouTube, e-mail me immediately!
  • Research what non-Batman-related characters Bill also co-created, but without using Wikipedia. 
  • Research the history of another fictional character to see if there were any disputes over creation and/or ownership.

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