Thursday, April 14, 2016

A day in Houston

On 4/12/16, I spoke at three lively schools in Houston:

  • Hogg Middle School
  • Alexander Hamilton Middle School
  • North Shore Senior High

All three put me in big auditoriums, my favorite kind of space to speak in. (You know what they say about Texas...)

At Hogg, the student who had written and planned to deliver the introduction for my talk was out, so another student bravely stepped up...and aced it. It's hard enough introducing someone considerably older than you...even harder when you have not met that person before. Kudos to Josiah. And to Mary Chance, who took a chance on me, with enthusiasm. And to Emily Guyre, a Hogg mom who has worked hard for the students of her community and who took notes during my talk...on her true middle school fashion.

At Hamilton, thanks to superfan and super educator Anthony White, Batman himself stood guard.

At North Shore (so big I drove around the entire building and still could not figure out where the entrance was), Jeff Derrickson impressed me. He'd never organized an author visit before, and complicating things, he chose to hold the event at night...meaning he'd have to attract an audience rather than force students to attend during the school day. And he got 125 people to show up. He said he was hoping for more; I told him he should be proud: he drew a bigger turnout than some more experienced, more urban venues.

They offered superhero cookies and kryptonite punch:

But you had to be dressed for it:

I especially loved these posters encircling the grand lobby of this sprawling school:

Parading passion in this place of pride (the school entrance) seems like a heckuva motivator. It turns students into stars.

I believe all three of these schools are home to a comic book club. I can't imagine having such an opportunity when I was in middle school.

Thank you yet again to Anthony, Jeff, and Mary for inviting me spend a bit of time with your engaged communities. Hope to be back again soon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Winner takes all: a chat with the Busy Librarian

A year ago today, I visited Ducketts Lane Elementary in MD. Matthew Winner, my host there, has interviewed a steady stream of luminaries in children's publishing, but one has eluded him: Matthew Winner. So I stepped in.

Please introduce yourself the way you would to someone in kidlit who hasn't yet heard of you.

Hi. My name is Matthew Winner. I'm an elementary school librarian at a K-5 school in central Maryland. I'm also the host of the Let's Get Busy podcast, a weekly chat with authors, illustrators, award winners, up-and-comers, and everyone in between. I maintained the Busy Librarian blog for about six years, but now I'm busy with All the Wonders, I multimedia kidlit website I co-founded with a friend that launched in late October 2015. Life's busy, but it's a good life that I wouldn't trade.

What made you decide to become a librarian?

I love school and I love being a student. I interned on a 4th grade team and was hired to the same team the following year. By the end of February of that first year I knew I wanted to be a school librarian, and it's all because of Mrs. Wall. Louise Wall was the library media teacher at the school at the time and we not only became fast friends, but immediately sought out opportunities to collaborate. Her blend of literature and art and technology into all of her lessons made it a hard profession to resist, and so I started on my Master's in Library Media Sciences as soon as I could. It was one of the best professional career decisions I have ever made.

What was your first job after college/graduate school?

As said, I was fortunate enough to be offered a job straight out of college on the same instructional team with which I interned. Perhaps even more serendipitous was the opportunity to take a position as a library media specialist at a nearby school prior to finishing my degree. Part of our school population was redistricted causing a drop in our enrollment numbers. As such, several teachers were surplused, myself included. Thankfully, this came as an opportunity to apply for other positions in my county system, leading ultimately to a full time job in an elementary school library.

What was your first paying job ever?

My first paying job was as a Sandwich Artist at Subway when I was 15. That title was embroidered on my shirt from the moment I walked in the door, though, so I don't want to be mistaken for trying to bolster my street cred with pre-cut lunch meats. Oddly, I'm still really into eating at Subway. I feel like the look behind the curtain should have scared me away, but apparently I'm a sucker for a toasted sandwich.

courtesy of here

When did you become the Busy Librarian?

The first post on my Busy Librarian blog was on October 10, 2010. The last post was on October 27, 2015 and it was an invitation for the readership to join me at All the Wonders, a children's literature website I co-founded with my friend Blake.

What was your inspiration for that, and your intention?

I started the blog as an advocacy and resource-sharing tool. I knew what a busy guy I was already at that point, but I didn't see anyone in the profession talking about how busy or challenging or, at times, isolating school librarianship could be. The blog was my attempt to connect with others and, in doing so, not feel so alone.

When did you launch the Let's Get Busy podcast and why?

The first episode of Let's Get Busy launched on July 2, 2013. The story I've shared with most people is that I'm an avid podcast listener and have been for many years. One podcast I particularly like for its candor and loose format is The Nerdist. The episodes include notables from film, comics, and culture, but what's captured is a conversation in lieu of an interview. The result is a more personal and intimate platform to get to know the guest and their work, which, in my opinion, is far more memorable. I set out to do something similar with Let's Get Busy. I wanted to capture real conversations and reveal the good, hard-working people behind our favorite books for children.

What gap did it fill—what does your approach do that others don't?

At the time that I started Let's Get Busy, I couldn't find anything else on the market like it. If I had, there's a better chance that I'd be listening to that podcast rather than hosting my own. Instead, I sought to create a platform for librarians to get to know authors and illustrators through a medium that feels personal and allows listeners to, in part, judge character in the guests week to week. Loving a book is wonderful, but when you feel you connect with the person behind the book because you shared a similar experience or a story s/he tells makes you laugh or you just find that person to be a kind, loving soul, well…that's something that matters to me. Sharing the podcast is a chance to help all of us feel a bit more connected and helps give each of these books (and the people behind them) a better chance of connecting with more readers.

How does your work within the larger kidlit community enhance your work as a school librarian?

It's difficult to say because I've always felt they go hand-in-hand. We're all working together, librarians and teachers and authors and illustrators, to connect kids with good books. If you go to enough conferences or participate in enough Twitter chats, it's only a matter of time until the world outside of your library becomes part of your daily library practice. I do my best to prepare my students for the world outside of our library, working to help make them more effective users of information in myriad formats. Much of the work I do within the larger kidlit community is mirrored in the work I do with my students each day and vice versa.

Who was the first guest you scored that you didn't think you would?

Truthfully, it always surprises me a little when people say yes to a chat with me. But Bob Shea was probably the first guest where I was full-on freaking out when he replied yes. And I think it took me a couple minutes to really settle in and think straight once we were actually recording. Early on in the podcast's history, I would follow up with previous guests by asking who they recommend I talk to next. It was a practice that allowed me to keep the feeling of closeness and family as one person recommended another. That helped to not make me so nervous.

Who did you have to lobby the hardest to get on the podcast?

All of the people I've spoken with so far have all agreed to come on in a manner that was more or less organic. Sometimes it's because we're already friends on Facebook or Twitter and I reach out because I want to celebrate my friends. Other times I'm contacted by a publicist and I agree after finding a connection with their book. There are times when it's taken a few months to coordinate a good time to talk, but the wait's always worth it. Peter Brown and I have been planning an episode for a while, but we waited nearly a year to talk so that we could use the conversation to focus on The Wild Robot, his middle grade debut. In general I feel like it's better not to push to get certain people on, but rather to trust that our paths will cross and things will happen if it's meant to be.

Who are three wish-list guests (who are still alive)?

Tommie DePaola, Eric Carle, and Kate DiCamillo. Because…yeah.

What is an initiative/idea another kidlit librarian is currently doing that particularly interests you?

I am constantly interested in whatever Andy Plemmons is up to in his school library in Athens, Georgia. Andy works tirelessly to promote and support student voice and he shares regularly through his Expect the Miraculous blog. I admire Andy on so many levels and he's definitely the face that comes to mind whenever I think of what we as teacher librarians should be doing in order to continue innovating in and expanding our profession.

What was the first moment you felt you were having a bigger influence than you realized?

I take for granted that I have influence on anyone at all, really. It's weird. I tend to make friends, be passionate, and treat others with kindness. That leads to connections and collaborations and, ultimately, big wins for the students. But I suppose I realized that I was having a positive impact on the lives of others when I started being sought out to Skype with my classes for events like International Dot Day. It still surprises me that anyone knows me from Adam, but it's always flattering to hear my work is being valued beyond our school walls.

I had the opportunity to be on the first panel you moderated (AASL in Columbus in 11/16). How did you feel leading up to it, during it, and after?

I've never felt a greater pressure to be a good host than to stand in front of a roomful of library colleagues and to have beside me a table of authors and illustrators for whom my respect could have easily filled that room twice over. I think the panel went really well, and I think the audience was open to the collective ideas and inspiration represented on the panel. After the panel was over I wanted nothing more than to just have you all to myself to hangout and be a fanboy. Thank goodness there was a bar so close by. Getting to just be noisy, ask questions, and be inspired around one another was awesome.

What is All the Wonders, and what inspired it?

All the Wonders is a multimedia website designed to engage parents and readers in children's literature through videos, crafts, activities, podcasts, and encounters with authors and illustrators. Blake Hamilton and I founded the site and we now have a team of about 10 individuals working alongside us to make awesome content for kids and parents to explore. All the Wonders launched in October 2015 and things have been nonstop busy ever since, buzzing with energy and excitement about what we'll do on the site next. I'm really, really proud (and I know Blake is, too) of the work we've shared with the world so far. As for inspiration, we wanted to fill a need we perceived in the children's literature community for parents to have the opportunity alongside their children to be excited about books, to live in the worlds contained in their pages, and to return to those stories through play and song and creating things. Hopefully visitors to our site will feel that what they discover does exactly that and more. Hopefully lots and lots more people can really love these books and want to share their love with others.

What's next for you?

I recently signed with Danielle Smith, a literary agent at Red Fox, and I hope to have stories of my own being read by children, parents, teachers, and librarians (and maybe even a president or two) in the future.

Why are you so much taller than me?

My mom used to say that she was going to tie a brick to my head so that I wouldn't grow taller than her. Unfortunately she missed her chance and now I stand about a foot over her. I suspect your mother was more prepared than mine, although the top of your head is quite round despite the years it's spent supporting a brick. Maybe video games made me taller? Now there is a wild theory!

Anything you'd like to add?

My middle name is Christopher.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Sunday, April 10, 2016

PA to MD to TX (schools to conference to festival)

4/4-5/16: Pennyslvania. Two elementaries, Sol Feinstone and Wrightstown.

 Following Peter Brown is tough.

4/7/16: Maryland. Breakfast speaker (note subhead of my presentation) at SoMIRAC, the State of Maryland International Reading Association Council's annual conference.

4/8-9/16: Texas. The first annual Lone Star Book Festival, near Houston. One of the organizers recruited a student to create a gift (a sketch of Darwin) to thank the first author who agreed to participate. I didn't get his or her name but I thought this was so thoughtful. I also loved the replica of Thoreau's Walden cabin, constructed by students.

I wonder if this badge would work anywhere else...

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Bill Finger and Nikola Tesla, Bill Gates and Blackbeard

Though the grammar is cringe-inducing, this article proposes four true stories that would make great movies and I agree on all counts—particularly #4 (they are not ranked): Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

(Some have pointed out the similarity between Finger and Tesla. Others have pointed out that Finger and Gates have the same first name.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"A Finger in Every Plot" in "Alter Ego"

If not for Jerry Bails, there might not be Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

Jerry was the Batman fan who, in 1965, figured that despite what the credit line read, it could not be just Bob Kane writing and drawing every Batman story every month for a quarter-century. Jerry did some digging and discovered that many of the classic Batman stories—including the first, and the origin—came from the mind and typewriter of another man, Bill Finger.

The enterprising Jerry tracked down Bill and interviewed him. He took what he learned and produced a two-page exposé called "If the Truth Be Known or 'A Finger in Every Plot!'" In comics history, this was the Sheet Heard 'Round the World (or, at least, in certain circles around the country). This changed everything. It was revisionist history, but in the right direction.

I've written about Jerry in both my book and here.

But oddly, his influence had not been the focus of an article in the definitive comics history magazine, Alter Ego…until now. Issue #139 (5/16) covers it and reproduces the mimeograph that began to set the record straight.

And Bill was credited in DC publications prior to 2005.

Thank you to Roy Thomas and Bill Schelly for giving real estate to Jerry (and Bill, of course). And thanks again for giving some to me as well.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Teachers, try this: a hands-down jar

At Peak School in Hong Kong, a teacher introduced me to a concept I find brilliant.

It's called a "hands-down jar." It contains a Popsicle stick for every student in the class. (My photo somehow managed to avoid showing that a name is written on each stick.) 

The purpose of the jar is both to equalize classroom participation and to encourage all students to pay attention. When the teacher asks a question, s/he may opt to get an answer by blindly picking a name from the jar rather than by calling on kids raising their hands.

Though I am sure you immediately get the benefits of this, I'll spell out that the jar has a positive effect on both kinds of students: the kind who regularly participate and the kind who don't.

Sometimes the ones who participate do so with a level of enthusiasm that can be distracting—waving their raised hands, saying "oo, oo," half-standing up, etc. When the teacher is using a hands-down jar, students are simply not allowed to raise their hands. This not only prevents disruption by certain students (as well-meaning as they are) but also forces all students to reflect on the question because none know who will have to answer. It is a clever way for teachers to coax out participation from the quieter students without deliberately singling them out. It almost feels like a game.

The more vocal students are not always fans of this "game" because it will often mean one less question they get to answer (or at least show they can answer). And of course the more reserved students are typically not fans because it may put them on the spot.

But I see it as all-pro, no con. It forces the eager kids to accept that there is a time to reign it in. It forces the shy kids to take baby steps outside their comfort zone. With the hands-down jar, no matter who gets called on, everyone grows.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Superman and Batman at the Kennedy Center

In the summer of 2015, I learned that the Kennedy Center in Washington DC would host a show called Superman 2050. It would run for one weekend only, the first in April 2016—a week after the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

I asked the Kennedy Center gift shop if it would carry Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (and, what the hey, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman) during the run of the show (or, what the hey, during the run of any show). From my pitch: "Any Superman fan devoted enough to come see a show about his future would also be interested in his past!"

The KC contact not only said yes but also asked if I would like to do a book signing after the show. Because I am not involved with the show, it'd be an even bigger gamble than the usual signing—I'd just be an unfamiliar guy at a table outside a theater. But because the KC is only 25 minutes from me, and because it'd be something new, I thought it was worth a try.

Besides, it's the Kennedy Center. They do things classy.

They produced a flyer about me and included it in the program, made signage, and set up a handsome display for my 4/2/16 appearance.

After the first round of signing, they moved my table to be closer to the exit of the theater where the show took place.

That evening, they held an event featuring another superhero.

Yes, Lynda Carter. Wonder Woman.

Ask not what the Kennedy Center can do for you, ask what you can do for the Kennedy Center.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"Batman v Superman": Dawn of More Articles about Bill Finger's Credit

In the days leading up to the first live-action film to feature both Superman and Batman, the fact that this would be the first Batman film to include Bill Finger's name made news around the world. Some of the most notable coverage:

  • Globe and Mail (largest-circulation national newspaper in Canada)
  • Times of London (one of the two largest-circulation British "quality"—i.e. non-tabloid—newspapers; subscription required but screen grabs of article are below)
  • O Estado de S. Paulo (one of the largest-circulation newspapers in Brazil; how's your Portuguese?)
  • Uproxx


The Times of London piece (in choppy PDFs):


I will say only two things about the film itself.

1. Producer Michael Uslan handed out buttons at the premiere.

2. My favorite part was this: