Sunday, March 22, 2020

A bad time in general, but a good time for a new game

My friend Jason Schneider is the VP of Product Development for a highly imaginative company called Gamewright.

Last summer, he asked me to help write a fast-paced trivia game called Hit List. I love trivia, games, writing, and Jason, so I said yes.

Today, I received my author copies (or whatever they're called in the game industry); with families everywhere currently staying home due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), one might say perfect timing. 

I posted to my neighborhood list serv that I put outshrink-wrappedgames for the taking.


All were gone in less than 45 minutes. 

Your move, cabin fever!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Fun, easy, home-based activities for kids

Schools worldwide are closed in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

It is heartening to see author/illustrator friends and children's book publishers sharing free content online to help kids keep brains/bodies active during these newly homebound days:




Here is my small contribution.

Twenty years ago, I wrote a now out-of-print book called 365 Adventures (later repackaged as 365 Things to Do Before You Grow Up).



Starting with the first day my own kids were out of school, I began adding one entry a day to this post (newest at top; not in book order). You are, of course, free to copy/share.

Disclaimers:


  • Some minor references may now be outdated. But that gives you a secondary activity: look up those references.
  • Some activities require friends. When social distancing is in effect, substitute "friends" with "people who are currently in my house/apartment." (Or perhaps you can do some activities with friends by FaceTime or a similar program.)
  • As the title suggests, there are 365 entries. World, don't make me post them all.


Any questions? Want activities more than once a day? Post in the comments or email me (see "contact" link at top right of blog).

Another suggestion: to start a discussion with kids ages 9 and up about social justice, primary source research, intellectual property/copyright/creators' rights, 20th century history, persistence, and/or speaking up for others, show them the feature documentary Batman & Bill on Hulu. It's the first film based on a nonfiction picture book (Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman). Warning: it's a tearjerker!


The activities:

day 13 - make a house of mirrors - posted 3/28/20

day 12 - take an animal census - posted 3/27/20
(NOTE: though we're mostly staying at home at the moment,
you can do this by looking out the window!)

day 11 - know your blood type - posted 3/26/20
(NOTE: forget the self-test; just ask your parents!)

day 10 - compare news stories - posted 3/25/20

day 9 - celebrate another country's holiday - posted 3/24/20

day 8 - draw your great-grandparents - posted 3/23/20

day 7 - recite a famous speech - posted 3/22/20

day 6 - toss a rainbow salad - posted 3/21/20
(NOTE: you can also use fruit/nuts/other healthy food)

day 5 - put inventions in chronological order - posted 3/20/20
(NOTE: you don't have to use sticky notes; just make a list)


day 4 - go sled bowling - posted 3/19/20

day 3 - list the Seven Wonders of Your City/Town - posted 3/18/20

day 2 - make a string path - posted 3/17/20
(NOTE: you don't have to start at the front door)

day 1 - hold a no-laughing contest - posted 3/16/20

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The historic route Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel ran in 1933 (time-lapse)

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman came out in 2008. The year before, I had made my first trip to Cleveland (where Superman was born) for a four-day research binge. That publication year and the next, I made several trips to Cleveland to speak at schools, museums, community gatherings, and other venues. The last was in 2010—until last week, when I returned for a school visit in Warren, OH, about an hour’s drive from Cleveland.

If you told me then that nine years would pass between visits, I would have found that hard to believe, given how often I was in Cleveland from 2007-2010.


The biggest change since then was not unique to Cleveland: this trip will end up being my last by plane for at least a month, if not more, as communities nationwide accept the severity of COVID-19, the coronavirus, and begin self-quarantining. The mood at the school and the few other places I went (namely restaurants) seemed status quo, at times even upbeat, but I was sensing an underlying societal anxiety everywhere I went (even though I was keeping my distance!). Even in rural Warren, store shelves that once displayed disinfectants were barren.

Special thanks to the school, Champion Middle, and especially Andrea Baer and Sandy Amoline, for being such gracious hosts under these uneasy, ever-changing circumstances. Years ago I switched from high-fives to fist bumps, and now it’s elbow bumps, or sometimes no bumps. Everyone understands. Same camaraderie with none of the contact. 

Sandy and her crew went all out decorating to welcome a Superman and Batman junior ambassador. A glimpse:



The other highlight of this short, strange trip was returning to the historic neighborhood of Superman’s genesis, specifically the former house of writer Jerry Siegel and the site where artist Joe Shuster’s apartment stood when these two teens dreamed up the world’s first superhero in 1933. 

Both locations have had a new sheen put on since I was last there, thanks to money raised largely by fans in 2009. Jerry’s house got a major renovation (restoring it to how it may have looked when Jerry lived there) plus a couple of spiffy signs on a front fence. The site of Joe’s apartment is now commemorated by a blown-up version of the first Superman story placed along a corner fence. Both addresses are in the Glenville neighborhood, which used to be predominantly Jewish and is now predominantly black.

 10622 Kimberley Avenue,
where Jerry lived in 1933

 10905 Amor Avenue (AKA 998 Parkwood Avenue),
where Joe lived in 1933

 less angled view of the beginning of the first Superman story,
from Action Comics #1 (1938),
as exhibited at the site of Joes former apartment

 street signs on one side of Jerry’s street

  street signs on other side of Jerry’s street

  street signs on one side of Joe’s street

 street signs on other side of Joe’s street

 950 Parkwood Avenue, which is a few doors down
from Joes former building (immediately below); both were
clearly built by the same developer (note the white squares)


 former synagogue that is now a church

 note the Hebrew on right

 In January, I had a layover in Cleveland, where I saw for 
the first time this Superman mini-museum in baggage claim.
(It was installed in 2012.)

Jerry and Joe...thanks for the hospitality.
And, you know, for Superman.

Now for the best part.

The legend goes that Jerry was up most of a summer night documenting visions of the character who would become Superman; the morning after, hyped up, he ran from his house to Joes apartment to ask his artist friend to draw what Jerry saw.


He would have taken one of two routes: Parkwood Avenue (9.5 blocks, which is about a sixth or a mile) or East 105th Street (eighth of a mile).



Because the Parkwood route is slightly shorter, I suspect he went that way.

And so did I, taking what is probably the first-ever time-lapse of the Jerry Siegel Run.


At the Cleveland airport, I asked the gate agent for my inbound flight if I could get a seat with no one next to it. She said “You already have one”—without asking for my seat number or looking at a screen.

The new abnormal.

Truth, justice, and the worldwide way…

Stay safe, all.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The daughter of Nobuo Fujita from "Thirty Minutes Over Oregon"

The children of the girls whose story I tell in Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real kindly posed with their copy of the book.

Similarly, the daughter of Nobuo Fujita, Yoriko Asakura, and her husband have graciously done so with their copy of Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story.


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar for "Joker" is also a distinction for Bill Finger

Joaquin Phoenix just won an Academy Award for Actor in a Leading Role for playing the Joker in Joker, as Heath Ledger posthumously did (Actor in a Supporting Role) for The Dark Knight in 2009.


This is only the second time in history that two actors have received an Oscar for playing the same character. The first: Mafia boss Vito Corleone. Marlon Brando won Best Actor for portraying him in The Godfather in 1973; Robert De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather: Part II in 1975. (Interestingly, De Niro is also in Joker.)

Bill Finger helped conceive the Joker’s appearance and in 1940 wrote the first Joker story, which means he is one of only two people to write the debut of a character who has earned this rare honor. 



This coincides with the first time Bill’s name has been said/appeared on screen at the Oscars:


Of the many social media responses I saw, this was my favorite:


Alas, he removed his tweet later that night.

Seth Meyers in a Bill Finger movie

On 2/8/20, which would have been Bill Finger's 106th birthday, a tweeter named Aaron shared his pick for who should play me (yes, me?!) in a film about Bill Finger: Seth Meyers. 


I'm a fan of Seth Meyers so this is flattering...and weirdly, not the first time someone has compared me to him. While I don't think of him as an actor per se, let's face it: playing me would not require the most demanding dedication to the craft.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

From dispiriting to uplifting: a tale of two school assemblies that mention a gay man

I’ve been on a good streak. 

It’s been many months since a school administrator has come up to me after my presentation for grades 3-5 to gently chide me for indicating that someone in my story is gay. (This has happened about five times in my many hundreds of assemblies over the past 10 years—a tiny percentage, yet still too high.) 

The concern is almost always the same: it’s not about the well-being of the kids, it’s about the risk of offending certain parents.

My school presentation is an emotional, twist-filled true story that I’m so fortunate to be able to share. It generates gasps, tears, and cheers from audiences as young as third grade. Three glimpses of feedback:

“In 30 years of hosting best-selling authors, Marc’s presentation was the best I have ever witnessed. Judging from the student response, he transformed what it means to be a writer.”
—Karen Palko, teacher, International School of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

“Consummate professional. Very animated, humorous, and respectful. The kids were riveted throughout. As our head of school said, ‘He speaks kid.’ One teacher said it’s one of the very best author assemblies she’s seen in her 25 years here.”
—Cynthia Millman, library co-director, Town School, New York, NY

“My principal and almost every teacher said this was the best assembly they have ever attended. Educational value? 5 out of 5 stars. Entertainment value? 5 out of 5 stars. Marc’s amazing story kept an entire room of 3-5 grade students and teachers enthralled for an hour with no special effects or tricks.”
—Jamie Harris, librarian, Smalley Elementary, Las Vegas, NV

Yet in those rare instances, the benefit of the other 59 minutes, 55 seconds of my hourlong talk is overshadowed by the one sentence when I restate a fact that is in a book that is typically already in the school’s library, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

Alas, what follows is the story that broke my streak. But like the last such story recounted here (which involved intolerance but not an administrator’s attempt at censorship), this ends on a high note…

The set-up

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at 10 schools in Michigan, two a day for five days in a row. As I always do, even during assemblies in highly conservative communities, I said that Batman co-creator Bill Finger’s son Fred was gay. 

It is not a random fact. (His favorite baseball team? That’s a random fact. So random I don’t know what it was.) Rather it was a critical turning point in the research. Those who have read Bill the Boy Wonder, heard my talk, or seen the documentary Batman & Bill know just how significant that detail is. 

School #1

At the Wednesday morning school (fifth school of the week), during the Q&A, a student asked how Fred died. As I always do, I answered that question honestly: I said that he had a disease called AIDS, which used to be fatal but is now treatable. In the few seconds that took, the principal and another staffer in the back of the room were frantically giving me the throat slash gesture. 

After, the principal complimented me on the presentation, then when the kids that were thronging around me left, she said she didn’t feel it was necessary for me to mention Fred’s sexual orientation (which, of course, is different than mentioning sex). I respectfully disagreed. She said she agreed with me on tolerance, but was worried about getting angry calls from parents.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you’re tolerant but at the same time ask a presenter who was clearly sensitive and age-appropriate not to say “gay” or “AIDS.” 

She also said that their library has books with gay characters, which should have prevented our conversation. I asked if they check with the parents before their child checks out of any of those books. I was so furious that I don’t remember her answer.

Further, she suggested that in the future I advise schools in advance about the content of my talk. I said it’s all there in my books. But more to the point, I said if I did announce in advance that I will say the word “gay,” some schools would ask me not to—and I will not agree to that.

When she reiterated that it’s not her belief but rather an objection of certain parents, I said this is precisely why we must destigmatize this topic. If kids are not exposed to diversity at home, it is our moral imperative to do our part at school when opportunity presents itself. This gives certain kids a fighting chance to reject prejudices they unwittingly absorbed from their parents. Introducing kids to the many facets of the world is the very purpose of education.

She said it is up to parents to decide what their kids are taught, but, of course, parents do not go through every line of curriculum to sign off on it; if they did, no unit would get unanimous consent and therefore nothing would be approved anywhere. We send our kids to a school that we trust to make educational and behavioral decisions in their best interest.

I said mentioning a gay relationship is no different than mentioning a straight relationship—neither is about sex. Both are about love. I don’t recall a response to that.

(It should go without saying that same-sex marriage is legal in this country. Hardly a secret.)

School #2

Still steaming, I headed to the afternoon school. Moments before starting my first talk there, the principal (principal #2) told me that the principal at the previous school (principal #1) had emailed her about my “content.” I was not surprised. 

Principal #2 said she is new this year and is committed to building tolerance, but feels that with her population, the process has to be gradual. I told her that my assembly has ignited a conversation that has worked wonders in that regard. 

The way to normalize a lifestyle or belief different than the majority is to mention it without judgment in everyday conservation. Obviously sexual orientation is not the focus of my presentation and is mentioned only once five minutes before the end, by which point I’ve long won over the kids, at which point they are more likely to listen in an open-minded way. And sure enough, they do (see “thronging” above). 

Respect kids’ intelligence and capacity for empathy, and they rise to the occasion.

Principal #2 seemed heartened. She also revealed that her daughter is dating a woman, which I felt flipped this situation on its head. I said I didn’t want to overstep, but I felt for her daughter and all others who may be struggling for acceptance in their community, it is our obligation to carry on as planned. She said she agreed and trusted me to exercise my best judgment. I said I always do (at least with respect to assemblies; not so much with fashion or choice of dessert).

In the presentation, I said “gay” without incident. 

But sure enough, as if scripted, the first student question was “What is gay?” A few kids tittered, which I firmly said is not okay, and I could feel some staff members stiffen.

I said “Gay describes a person who falls in love with someone of the same gender, so a woman loves a woman and a man loves a man.” Then I asked them to look around the room and tell me if everyone looked the same. They said no. I asked if everyone in the room acted the same. They said no. I asked if everyone in the room has the same favorite flavor of ice cream. They screamed no. I said that’s a good thing. Our differences make our world complexly beautiful.

Then the magic happened.

Of the dozens of kids raising hands in a room of 200, I happened to call upon a boy who said “First, my moms are lesbians.” 

No laughing that time.

There was also a subsequent question, but I don’t remember it because it was so inconsequential compared to the comment.

The courage that took. Possibly the first time he felt comfortable enough to discuss this in front of classmates. In front of three grades, no less.

But even if not, even if he has mentioned it many times before, I was so proud of him. His four words said with pride validated my point in a way nothing I could say could do. 

After the assembly, principal #2 thanked me for being so professional and said it was amazing, citing the boy who mentioned his moms with the same overflowing heart I felt for him. I thanked her for her leadership and for taking a leap of faith on a stranger. I left feeling the school is in good hands.

Coda

Though it turned out that principal #1 notified all of the other schools I would visit the rest of week (again, not surprised), none tried to censor me. (Just as none of the four principals from the Monday and Tuesday schools—nor any of the librarians all weekhad said a cautionary peep to me about this.)

It’s this simple: amid all the different kinds of negativity, violence, and disrespect kids are exposed to from the news and entertainment (oh, how many Deadpool shirts I see at elementary assemblies), shouldn’t we revel in the opportunity to tell them about different kinds of love? 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Bill Finger to be inducted into New York State Writers Hall of Fame

Though he'll never win the Super Bowl, an Oscar, or the Democratic nomination, Batman co-creator Bill Finger is nonetheless catching up after 76 years of anonymity. 

After earning a book, a documentary, and a street renaming, all within a span of five years, he's now being inducted in the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, class of 2020 (along with Andrea Davis Pinkney, Garry Trudeau, and five more). 


This year, he beat out Edgar Allan Poe! (Ironically, another New York honor for Bill is Bill Finger Way, a street that runs along the south border of Poe Park...)

I learned the good news in December but had to keep mum till the Empire State Center for the Book announced the inductees on 2/4/20.


All inductees:


Save the date, New Yorkers: ceremony is June 2.

And thank you to those who tweeted your support for Bill. I believe it made a difference!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Bat signals out west

From January 21-24, 2020, I spoke at five schools in California, two in Los Angeles and three in Bakersfield (my first time).

The schools got into the bat-spirit. I didn't document every banner but here are two (which have similar color schemes):

 Curtis School, Los Angeles

Veterans Elementary, Bakersfield

Thank you to all the Cali schools who kindly hosted me. I had a wonderful time despite the unavoidable traffic.

Fun fact: Bakersfield is where Sherrie Swafford, she of the Steve Perry song "Oh Sherrie," lives. We had plans to meet; it didn't work out this go-round but I think I'll be back in Bakersfield before long and we're both determined to make it happen then.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"Back to the Future" houses

From mid-1997 to late-1999, I lived in Los Angeles, but did not visit (or even think to visit) any of the sites that appear in my favorite movie, Back to the Future.

On 1/21/20, I finally did seek out two particularly iconic locales from the film: the houses of Marty McFly and "Doc" Emmett Brown.

Marty's house is at 9303 Roslyndale Avenue in Arleta/Pacoima (I don't know why the name of the city alternates depending on the site). It does not look that different from 1985.


Doc's house is at 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena; this house is an architectural landmark that was famous before the film.


From this angle, you can see the garage where Doc built the 
not-to-scale/not-painted model of Hill Valley to demonstrate 
how they were going to send Marty back to the future. 
You can also see a historical plaque that 
does not mention Back to the Future.

Other sites I considered swinging by ended up being too far (Marty's high school, in Whittier, CA) or not real (the stone structures marking the entrance to Lyons Estates).

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads...well, yeah, I did. And though I didn't get there in a DeLorean, it was indeed a wild trip back in time.
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