Monday, April 29, 2019

Take Your Child to Work Day at the U.S. State Department

I don’t work at the State Department in Washington DC, but I took one of my kids—and my wife—there on Take Your Child to Work Day 2019. Technically, I did work there that day; they kindly asked me to give a presentation at the Ralph Bunche Library

The audience: State Department employees and their children. 

They requested that I speak about Thirty Minutes Over Oregon; an employee had seen the New York Times review and suggested reaching out to me. The State Department invites authors and others to speak, but this was the first time they’ve done it for TYCTWD.

An unexpected opportunity. A lovely turnout. An honor indeed. Thank you again!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Is the Flash REALLY the fastest superhero?

Strange how often he is not in the lead when shown running with a group. 

Flash Fact: the alleged Fastest Man Alive shouldn’t even be visible in such scenes…

Friday, April 26, 2019

Meet me at the Scholastic reception desk

Several months ago, my longtime author friend Bill Doyle told me that Scholastic had redone their lobby. It’s been almost twenty years since I lived in New York City and I’ve been to Scholastic only once or twice since then. I don’t remember what it used to look like. On 4/23/19, after a school visit in Mahopac, NY, and the day before a school visit in Manhattan, I got the chance to see how it looks now.

The focal point of its new, minimalist design is a long reception desk “composed” of rows of books by Scholastic authors; the books wrap around both sides of the desk. But the books are not actual books by Scholastic authors. Rather they are other books (of equal height) papered over with a solid-colored jacket (either orange or gray) marked only with an author’s name (no title).

And though none of my Scholastic books are mainstream bestsellers, I’m included.

Bill spotted my name front and center, second row down. Though the placement is surely arbitrary, it is an honor to be part of the desk at all; Scholastic has published many hundreds of authors over the years and all are not represented.

Weirdly, however, I saw my name on at least three spines. This is definitely an oversight, a glitch in the system; I noticed only one or two others who also appear more than once. Also weirdly: all three of my books are in the same row.

Look closely and you can see them shelved between these names:

book 1—Melinda Salisbury and Jennifer Serravallo
book 2—M.T. Anderson and Sally Christie
book 3—Daniel José Older and Richard Egielski

 books 1 and 2

book 3

As I said, an honor. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Back where Batman was born

On 4/23/19, sandwiched between school visits, I had half a day to tool around New York City. My primary destinations were Bill Finger-related.

Second, I went to Bill Finger Way alongside Poe Park in the Bronx. It was the first time I’d been there since the sign unveiling ceremony in December 2017.

The only difference: now a pair of sneakers hangs from the adjoining streetlight. (This is not, as sometimes said, automatically a sign that drugs are sold nearby. Search it.)

And first, I went to one of the twelve addresses I found (oh those many years ago) for Bill, and perhaps the most storied (for reasons beyond Bill). He lived at 45 Grove Street in Greenwich Village from late 1943 or 1944 to 1950. While living in that building, he co-created the Riddler.

A previous time I was there with Don Argott and Sheena Joyce, directors of Batman & Bill, when, mere moments after (or before?) the camera was rolling, a mother and child walked by. What makes that memorable: the child was wearing a Batman shirt. Would have made a wonderful little moment on film.

This time, another fortuitous occurrence happened during the few minutes I was in the vicinity. A tour group stopped in front of the building.

I lingered and eavesdropped. The tour guide didn’t mention Bill/Batman, so when she asked if anyone had questions, I raised my hand...with a comment. 

(She didn’t seem to appreciate it, but some members of the tour did.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Superheroes with swords

Most DC Comics superheroes in present-day settings did not originate with swords, but a good number went on to use them at one point. Some (Wonder Woman, Robin) even adopted a sword as a regular weapon. 

Not including medieval characters (Silent Knight, Shining Knight) and characters who debuted with swords (Katana, Azrael), below is a gallery of mainstream DC heroes who took up the blade. To maximize the drama, I focused only on comic book covers. The list is incomplete and the image shown is not necessarily the first time that character used a sword. Please identify any oversights in the comments.


 Wonder Woman

 Robin (Damian Wayne)

 Aquaman (Arthur Joseph Curry)


(most famously versus Ra’s al Ghul, 
but not shown on the cover of that issue so
I used this one instead)

 Green Lantern

Green Lantern again



Green Arrow

Black Canary



Saturday, April 20, 2019

Texas Library Association Conference 2019

From 4/15-18/19, I was an honored guest and Featured Speaker at the legendary Texas Library Association Conference, this year held in Austin.

I was invited by the conference itself and not sent by one of my publishers, which means I was scheduled to speak but not scheduled to sign—and I didn’t realize this till a day after I got there. Therefore, it was too late to slot me in to sign books, which disappointed a number of attendees (not to mention myself). No matter—they can still get the books!

The night before the festivities began, I explored the neighborhood around my hotel, where I found three things that made me feel at home: a bar named for the chupacabra (a southern U.S./Central America thing), a bar named for bats (an Austin thing), and a donut shop—in particular, a grape-flavored donut. You rarely see grape desserts and never have I ever seen a grape donut.

Special points for naming the donut after a semi-forgotten Hanna-Barbera character.

On 4/15, strong winds stranded a number of guests in their respective airports/hometowns, one of whom was my pal Tom Angleberger. At 8:45 pm, I was recruited to pinch hit for Tom in an author vs. author game show starting at 9 p.m. hosted by a puppet. (You read that right. Again, this conference is legendary.) 

My team consisted of Chris Barton, Jo Whittemore, Andrew Smith, Stacy McAnulty, and myself. We competed against Jennifer Ziegler, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Carmen Oliver, Shelley Johannes, and Jeff Anderson. 

The three-part challenge started with Pictionary, for which I had to draw as many idioms as my team could guess in two minutes, followed by story-in-round, concluding with (hard!) literary trivia. Trivia is usually one of my things but almost all of these questions stumped me. (Who knew Neil Gaiman’s first book was about Duran Duran? Well, someone on the other team…)

We did win, but it was so close.

On 4/17 at 8:30 am (which seemed early to me but doesn’t faze librarians), I gave the first of my two featured talks, this one on Bill Finger. My second was scheduled for the next day, at 10:30 am, which was close to the end of the conference (and after the exhibit hall would be closed), so I feared few would show up. However, I had at least double the audience for a talk on Thirty Minutes Over Oregon; my angle to discuss the book was empathy, and that also described the crowd. They were very kind to me and my story.

At that talk, a woman who had attended my talk the day before gifted me a bat-themed thank you for an enjoyable presentation.

One night, with Tom Angleberger (who was able to fly in earlier that day), I visited one of the city’s bridges from which thousands of bats famously emerge nightly to the thrill of hundreds of onlookers.

Except that night, they didn’t. (Well, four did.)

I was under the impression that this happened without fail soon after sunset every evening, and the large crowd gathered there gave me no reason to think otherwise. 

Alas, now I have to try again, and I don’t know when I will be back. 

The other disappointment of TLA also had to do with something that flies. As I’ve been doing since Nerd Camp last summerI hid several fairies on site. (Rather they hid themselves.) Whoever found one and tweeted me a photo of it would win a copy of Fairy Spell

But no one did.

I may be disappointed but I am not surprised. 

Fairies are notoriously hide to find. And as Frances says in the book (i.e. in life), maybe it's too hot for them here...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Four firsts in Austin, TX

On 4/15/19, Bridge Point Elementary in Austin hosted its first author visit, courtesy of its librarian, Katy Larson. It is her first year as a librarian. And it was my first author visit (in fact first time) in Austin. 

The inaugural photo in what will hopefully eventually be a wall of author visit photos:

I can’t wait to see how her author visit program develops!

Thank you again, Katy, for taking a chance on me. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

An eighth grader’s exceptional project on Bill Finger

In February 2019, I received an email from Leon (“Leo”) Filipczak, a Wisconsin teacher, on behalf of Zabian, one of his students, who was working on a project that they rightfully suspected would be of interest to me. Leo was blown away by the research skills Zabian acquired and said he’d not seen Zabian work this hard before on a school project.

They’ll take it from here:


He wanted to do a project on the Golden Age of Comics. I wanted him to make it academic enough to compete in National History Day.  

Little did we know that several months later, he’d be down the Bill Finger rabbit hole, in contact with Athena Finger and Marc Nobleman, and have advanced to the statewide competition. Plenty of academic and life skills would be acquired along the way.

Zabian, an 8th-grade student from northern Wisconsin, returned from Madison on 4/13/19 having entered a website on Bill Finger’s life into the National History Day event. National History Day is a science fair-like competition for middle and high school students that emphasizes primary historical research. Every year, NHD has a theme, and for 2019, it was Triumph and Tragedy. 


I was doing a project on Batman and I found a little article about the Bill Finger story. I don’t even remember which article—maybe it was one by Marc—but I found out there was a controversy about Bill Finger and the creation of Batman. So then I watched Batman & Bill and it really got me interested in finding out about the lies and everything that led up to the movie. I thought it would fit very well with the History Day theme because his entire life was triumph and tragedy. I have been a Batman fan my whole life, but I didn’t know anything about Bob Kane, or especially not Bill Finger, so this was all new.  


From the movie, Zabian branched out to Marc’s TED Talk, Bill the Boy Wonder, and other sources. I tried to push him toward placing Bill’s life into the larger context of 20th-century American history. As a history teacher who has Elfquest, Persepolis, and Watchmen on his shelf but who has never had more than a superficial interest in the DC and Marvel superheroes, I was still somewhat skeptical of the academic merits of the topic.  

Another student in the class was doing a Stan Lee project and one thing that struck us was that Stan Lieber [Stan Lee], Bob Kahn [Bob Kane], and Milton Finger [Bill Finger] had similar backgrounds. They were sons of Jewish immigrants, grew up on the mean streets of New York during the Depression, went to the same high school (along with Will Eisner), adopted pen names, and got into pulp publishing very young in what was seen as a low-brow, entry-level sort of industry. It felt like a very American story.  

I convinced Zabian that it would be worth looking into Bill’s genealogy and we managed to track down the 1940 census record that showed Bill was still living at home and working in the shoe store even as Batman was starting to take off. We also found Louis Finger’s naturalization record from 1919, which contained some interesting details and led to some good discussions of the history of American immigration. I was able to talk about my great-grandfather, who immigrated from Austrian-ruled Galicia (now southeastern Poland/western Ukraine) five years before Louis, so this was one of my favorite parts of the project. 

With most of the published sources located, there was only one thing left to do…


From the documentary, I knew I would have to contact Marc and Athena at some point. I didn’t know for sure if they would respond, because I had never tried to randomly contact a famous person before. Maybe they would be busy and wouldn’t care about some kid’s project. Both of them responded, though. Athena gave me a lot of quotes, and let me put them on my site. Marc gave me some websites. They both seem like very nice people.


Zabian won the middle-school website category at the northern Wisconsin regional in March and advanced to the statewide contest. This is not typical for a first-year competitor. And although he did not advance to national competition, he demonstrated skill and perseverance that surprised his teachers, his peers, and himself.


It definitely gave me a lot of new skills that I never used before. This was, by far, the biggest school project I’ve ever done. Bill Finger is one cool dude.

Here is Zabian’s website

Oh, he even found something I had not seen before—the petition for naturalization. Congrats, Zabian, and thanks to you both for sharing your story. I’d bet Bill would be honored.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

“The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra”: The Play

In October 2018, the Kershaw County Library in Camden, SC put on a play based on The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra

The characters were portrayed by puppets, but I learned of this too late to request photos—the kids took the puppets home!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Two schools and the Kutztown Children’s Literature Conference in PA

I spent three days with students, educators, and ghosts in Pennsylvania, though I saw only two of the three groups. 

On 4/11/19, I had the pleasure of being the 90th author (!) to visit Newtown Elementary in Newtown. Librarian Liz Dobuski has been at it for a quarter-century and has a stunning wall to prove it.

Among the dizzying array of sanctioned graffiti were a bunch of friends who’d blazed a trail there before me.

And I was especially excited to see one of my childhood favorites, José Aruego, illustrator of the immortal 1971 picture book Leo the Late Bloomer. I had never heard of him doing school visits. He died in 2012 (on his 80th birthday).

Liz’s students prepared for my visit in part by building a precious fairy garden.

Ive come across my share of Boys of Steel postcards, but Liz had one I dont recall seeing before.

A day later and 40 minutes down the road, I had a blast at J. M. Grasse Elementary in Sellersville. Librarian Kim Mulloy recruited a chatty group of students of all grades to join me for lunch, and they were so much fun to play around with. On her desk was a photo of her family in this frame:

Turns out the superintendent of her school district had gifted that frame to every employee. What a meaningful gesture in support of life-work balance.

On 4/13, I was honored to be one of four author keynotes at the 21st annual Kutztown Children’s Literature Conference on the campus of Kutztown University. The other three: Duncan Tonatiuh, Andrea Warren, and Brendan Wenzel, none of whom I had met before. The audience was engaged and humbling.

The other authors and I stayed in the charming Main Street Inn, which was probably also haunted. The only surface in my room suitable for a laptop was the vanity…in the bathroom.

And those ghosts? I believe I was the only guest at the Temperance House in Newtown and was hoping one would join me, but if s/he did, I didn’t notice. I did, however, take this photo…look closely behind me. Maybe you notice…?