Friday, December 27, 2019

"Rise from a noisy nuisance"

On 12/26/19, a 30-year-old Hungarian sent me a heartfelt message about my Bill Finger efforts. He said English is not his mother tongue and apologized for expressing himself in what he called a "sterile" way.

This passage made me smile for more than one reason:

"To face injustice for so many years and RISE. Rise from a noisy nuisance and achieve something that is everlasting."

As you can see, and as I told him: anything but sterile.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

"Batman & Bill" on list of "best films of the 2010s"

Granted, not Time or Rolling Stone, but I'm grateful to anyone who includes the documentary on a list of the 20 best films of the past 10 years.

Friday, December 6, 2019

NCTE 2019

Though the panel (on empathy) I pitched for the 2019 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention was not accepted, I got to go anyway.

Because Thirty Minutes Over Oregon was named a 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Book at NCTE 2018, its publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, kindly invited me to partake in the celebratory festivities of 11/23/19. 

This included, in rapid succession:

  • 11 am-12 pm book signing 
  • 12-2:30 pm luncheon for the Orbis Pictus (nonfiction) and Charlotte Huck (fiction) winners and honorees
  • 2:45-5 pm panel of Orbis Pictus Honor Book authors/illustrators
  • 7-10 pm dinner for all honorees, representatives from their publishers, and Orbis Pictus committee members

At 9:10 am, Melissa Iwai, the book's illustrator, emailed to ask me if I was already at the convention. NCTE was held in Baltimore, 45 minutes from where I live. I said I'd arrive in time for the luncheon (meaning I'd leave around 10:45 am), and she said "What about the signing at 11?"

On my schedule, my signing was at 4 pm. As you see above, my panel would also be in medias res at 4 pm...so HMH moved my signing to 11 am. 

But I did not get that update.

And so it was that I fast-forwarded my morning, arriving at the convention center around the time I originally planned to leave. HMH was covering my travel expenses, so I reasoned that would include any possible moving violation. Kidding. Children's authors never exceed the speed limit.

The award luncheon was lovely. Honorees simply walked across the stage and received our certificate, like a graduation. It was a privilege to listen to the speeches of the three winners, Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier for Between the Lines (Orbis Pictus) and Jonathan Auxier for Sweep (Charlotte Huck). 



I like panels under almost any circumstance, so though ours was sparsely attended, I had fun. 

Dinner was aptly held at a restaurant called Pen & Quill. Despite that name and the occupation of most of our party, no writing occurred during the meal. 


I had to duck out earlier than most to drive back in heavy rain to pick up my teenager from a post-musical-performance party.

Congrats again to the winners and other nominees and thanks again to the Orbis Pictus committee (Mary Ann Cappiello, Denise Davila, Seemi Aziz, Amina Chaudhri, Daryl Grabarek, Jennifer Graff, Julie Waugh, Suzanne Costner, and Sanjuana Rodriguez. Special thanks to my TMOO editor Jennifer Greene, who was at the luncheon and dinner. It was only the second time I'd spent time with her in person (first time was February 2016!). If you'd told us then the circumstance of our next meeting...

me, Jennifer Greene, Melissa Iwai;
first photo of Team TMOO!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pointing the Finger at "Batman: The Definitive History"

Batman: The Definitive History of the Dark Knight in Comics, Film, and Beyond is a beautiful beast of a book written by Andrew Farago and Gina McIntyre and released this year to align with Batman’s 80th anniversary.


Clearly a staggering amount of work went into it, a publishing equivalent of the regimen Bruce Wayne imposed on himself to become the character the book celebrates. 

Andrew is a longtime respected colleague. When researching the book, he interviewed me on my little corner of Batman-related knowledge, namely Bill Finger. When the book came out, he kindly had a copy sent to me.

I shared one disappointment with Andrew, friend to friend, writer to writer, comics advocate to comics advocate: the book is the first DC-authorized Batman history since Bill Finger received official credit...yet the book does not indicate that Bill got credit. 

It’s hard to say for sure (because I haven’t yet had chance to read it in full and because it doesn’t have an index), and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t believe Bill is mentioned after the first few pages. On page 16, it’s explained that Bill began as an uncredited writer, but the book doesn’t take it full circle and later indicate that he finally got official credit in 2015. 

I consider it a significant oversight for a book with “definitive” in the subtitle to omit this correction, which is not only a victory for creators rights but also an unprecedented turn of events in comics history. The hard-earned credit change has made timelines like this and other upcoming books I’ve been consulted on.

It’s unfortunate that a book that some will consider the authoritative work on Batman’s cultural impact does not include a fact so fundamental to the character in the real world...and to what he represents in fiction: the pursuit of justice and the preservation of legacy.

If the book had not addressed the talent at all, I might not have volunteered my unsolicited opinion. But the beginning of the book does introduce Bill and Bob Kane and covers Batman’s genesis (and other creators are mentioned throughout), which is why I feel including the credit change would be consistent and fair, not to mention of special interest to the righteous multitude that are Batfans. (On that subject, listen to Kevin Smith’s eloquent comments in Batman & Bill and skim this sizable number of tweets from the public.)

Andrew thanked me for the input and said that he has the utmost respect for Bill Finger, which I did not and do not doubt. I am thrilled and not surprised that Andrew is looking into the possibility of an update for future editions. He allowed me to quote him: “bit by bit, Bill by Bill, we’ll get this perfect.”

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Students design characters, teacher surprises students with plushes

In September 2019, I had the pleasure of appearing at the York Children’s Literature Festival in Indiana, where I further had the pleasure of meeting author/teacher Shannon Anderson

Something she shared in her talk so grabbed me that I asked if she’d write a guest post about it for my blog. Busy as she is, she agreed:

As an elementary teacher, the holidays are a wonderful time of year for making memories with your students. But in my classroom, something magical also happens once we return from winter break.

You see, I’m not just a teacher, I also write books. I’m fortunate to be able to share my passion for writing with my students. I have them write their own stories and go through the entire publication process.

We start with brainstorming, write our first draft, edit, revise, and even have critiques from students in upper grades. Then they illustrate all of the pages and send them off (to Studentreasures Publishing) to be made into hardcover picture books.

The students also draw their main characters to send to Budsies, a company that turns each picture into a plush character!



If you want your heart to melt, watch the stuffed animal reveal video (featured on The Today Show). 


You will see the excitement of each student as they see their character in plush form for the first time. They are in awe seeing that something they imagined has been turned into something tangible.


From there, we create book commercials using iMovie trailers. Lastly, the students illustrate a white dress for me to wear to our publication celebration.


We invite the parents to come see all of the books and characters and then relax and enjoy watching the book trailers each student created. We end with some cookies and punch.

As a teacher and author, I love the time I get to spend writing with my students. That’s why I wrote the book Be an Amazing Writing Teacher. I wanted to share my passion for inspiring young writers with other teachers. This publication project along with many others are described in the book.

I’m always striving to find ways to get kids excited to be at school, so I also wrote Go the Extra Smile. If you want ideas for the non-academic side of teaching, this book is full of motivational activities and lessons.

Both of these books are available at Pieces of Learning and my website.
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