Sunday, November 19, 2017

Six states in ten days: AZ, MA, CT, RI, MO, TN

In mid-November, I ping-ponged between six states to speak at seven venues over ten days. It was supposed to be seven states, but the day before I was scheduled to set out, what was to be the first stop, a young author's festival in Pennsylvania, was canceled.

The rundown:

11/9/17 screening of Batman & Bill at the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference, Phoenix, AZ
11/10/17 travel day
11/11/17 morning: speak at a B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) convention, Marlborough, MA
11/11/17 evening: speak to adults at a synagogue (in fact the synagogue where I became a bar mitzvah in 1985, Temple Beth David), Cheshire, CT
11/12/17 morning: speak to kids at the same synagogue
11/13/17 school visit, Providence, RI
11/14/17 school visit, North Dartmouth, MA
11/15/17 travel day
11/16/17 desk day
11/17/17 panel/signing at the National Council of Teachers of English convention, St. Louis, MO
11/18/17 screening of Batman & Bill at the Memphis Fantasy and Comic Convention, Memphis, TN

In sum: librarian conference to Jewish youth group to synagogue to schools to teacher conference to comicon.

The breakdown:


Getting there was less exhausting than the last time I went.

Before the conference, I was interviewed on air by Dan Spindle, an ABC affiliate news anchor who earlier in the year had tweeted love for Batman & Bill.

My only commitment at the conference was to introduce the first kidlit conference screening of Batman & Bill, the first documentary based on kidlit, and do a Q&A after. This was a huge honor. Thank you to all who attended, especially for not leaving when you learned there was no popcorn. Here is the room while people were still trickling in:

After the 7:30 pm screening, I met up with fellow kidlitters Jenni Holm and Dan Santat simply to pose for this almost-midnight photo.


This organization was the defining experience of my high school years. This was the third time I've had the privilege of speaking at a BBYO event. I love telling the teens that my best friends in BBYO are still my best friends today—and they loved it, too.


I was the two-day writer-in-residence for Temple Beth David, the synagogue my family belonged to when I was growing up. Another honor. The one night I was in town happened to coincide with an annual Cheshire fundraiser called Lights of Hope.

It was one of the most peaceful and beautiful public displays I've seen—all the more special because it takes place in my hometown. 

school visit #1: Wheeler School, Providence, RI

This was my third visit to this handsome school; the first two were in 2010, when arose a most curious situation involving the most valuable comic book of all time

I'm on way to becoming a regular! Thank you again, Dana Hahn and Liz MacMillan, for making it happen.

school visit #2: Friends Academy, North Dartmouth, MA

Something happened at this school that caught me (and everyone else there) by surprise and will keep the community buzzing for a while.

After an assembly during which I told the Bill Finger story (culminating in the surprise discovery of Bill's granddaughter Athena Finger and the subsequent fight for credit), a teacher said she can add another twist: Athena was her this school! 

with teacher Gayle Balestracci 

Then a second teacher told me she taught Athena (and her sister Alethia). Yet another teacher showed me Athena's photos in archived yearbooks. Hundreds of student-made tiles bedeck the walls of the school (an annual tradition), and we found the one Athena designed many moons ago. My new young friend Beckett escorted me to it.

They sold a lot of books:

And drew a lot of chupacabras:

I'm particularly excited about instances where a nonfiction story I wrote leads to a nonfiction story I'm a firsthand witness to or, similarly, when I'm part of any author-related happening that becomes a story in and of itself.

Thank you again, Janice Griffin, for your efforts to bring me to your wonderful school.


At my book signing, at least ten teachers ate crickets.

Yes, I brought crickets (three flavors: salt and vinegar, sour cream and onion, bacon and cheese) to NCTE. 

During my book signing on 11/17/17, I displayed them tastefully in three Starbucks oatmeal cups and offered any teacher who ate one a second free book. (Though turns out we didn't have enough, so we instead offered bragging rights.) My editor Nancy Paulsen was my right-hand woman. 

The inspiration for this promotional dare was the title character in The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, whose unconventional appetite includes an insect that is even more repellent to the average human: the cucaracha (cockroach).

The hashtag #bugforbook took over Twitter.

A four-part sequence:

This woman agreed to do it...only if I did it with her:

It was wonderful that one teacher tweeted that he would do anything to get kids reading, and this teacher expressed a similarly wonderful sentiment:


But Nancy and I were pleasantly surprised at how many people were willing. Huge props to these good sports and others we may not have captured.

But the inciting incident that got me to NCTE was not the prospect of forcing unsuspecting educators to swallow bugs but rather a panel I proposed called "Funny, You Don't Seem Educational!" Its purpose: discuss the educational value of humorous picture books. My partners, my posse, my people: Erica Perl, Audrey Vernick, Tammi Sauer, Liz Garton Scanlon, and Josh Funk. Our moderator: Susannah Richards, who is so tireless I think she was moderating another panel in another room at the same time.

We laughed and we learned from each other.

The only time I've been the tallest except 
when posing (as an adult) with third graders

The evening festivities: back-to-back events hosted by Penguin Young Readers. 

First was a cocktail party with authors and teachers in which teachers had to play "Two Truths and a Lie." Not many guessed my lie:

Answer hint: Dr. Seuss did not have children.

Then a lovely dinner.

The arch, from farthest to closest:

On 11/16/17, I enjoyed dinner with Chris Barton, Jenny Ziegler, Dan Santat, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Lisa Yee (first time meeting in person after being connected online for years), and Christina Soontornvat (first time meeting in person). The restaurant:

When making plans and coming from different hotels, Chris texted "Together or separate, we can all make our way toward Polite Society." I think he may have been talking about more than a restaurant…


We screened the film, I signed movie posters, and I gave a talk to a receptive audience.

Thank you again to Joe Thordarson and the folks at 901 Comics for your interest and hospitality!

Six states + seven venues + ten days would normally equal 23 hours of sleep needed to recover, but not me. Not this time.

I powered through, in large part thanks to the protein I got from eating two crickets.

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