Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Bill Finger’s birth hospital and first address (in Denver!)

Bill Finger co-created Batman (and lived most of his life) in New York. But Bill was created in this address. 

(That house, at 1526 Lowell Boulevard, was built in 1980. Fingers crossed I can find a photo of what stood there in 1914...) 

It is around the corner from this synagogue-turned-church (a situation I also saw in the Cleveland neighborhood where Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman).

How did I find out the address where Bill’s family was living when he was born?

From Bill’s birth certificate (what Colorado calls a testimonial letter), which I first requested in 2013—but did not receive till 2022. (There were several requests and setbacks during that period.)

It also indicates that Bill was born in Mercy Hospital, which opened in 1901 and was seemingly demolished in 1966. Photos courtesy of Denver Public Library Special Collections:

sometime between 1901 and 1910


According to Dr. Jeanne Abrams, Professor and Director, RMJHS and Beck Archives at the Center for Judaic Studies and University Libraries at the University of Denver: 

1526 Lowell was then in the heart of the West Side Eastern European Jewish community. The area was filled with small Orthodox synagogues, Jewish-run businesses including grocery stores and bakeries, etc. Around that time, [future Israeli prime minister] Golda Meir lived in the neighborhood in a typical West Side duplex for about a year and a half. She had run away from her parents so she could continue her schooling. She was staying with her married sister, who had moved to Denver because she had tuberculosis. Denver featured two Jewish TB sanatoriums that were national in nature of support and patients.

This is not the first time that chasing Bill has led me to other notables.

2/11/22 addendum: History Colorado, Denver Public Library, the University of Denver, and the Beck Archives of Rocky Mountain Jewish History at the University of Denver could find a photo of the house site circa 1914 nor any other info related to the site or Bill Finger. This is no surprise, since Bill Finger was not an infant when he co-created Batman, and in fact would not be publicly notable till years after his death.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Great school parking lot sign on first author trip to NC

I've been to close to 30 states to visit schools or present at conferences, and the latest to join the list is North Carolina. On February 2-3, 2022, I spoke to students at three NC schools (two elementaries and one university).

One of the elementaries, Marshville, has not one but two signs/displays that must be amplified.

One is bedecking a stall door in a bathroom, and it echoes a message I share at the end of my presentations.

The other is at the exit of the parking lot. No, not the one about left turns.

Thank you again to Melanie Keel at Wingate University for organizing this trip!

Thursday, February 3, 2022

German news asking me about Tennessee school board ban of “Maus”

The German news outlet Die Welt (“The World”) interviewed (and overdubbed) me for this short piece about the Tennessee school board banning of Maus.

I do not remember exactly what I said, nor do I know which portion they excerpted. If your German, like mine, is rusty, the best I can do as far as a translation: I probably repeated something I already wrote here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Changing a cartoon depicting an Indigenous ceremony

In 2005, the first of my two books called Vocabulary Cartoon of the Day came out, featuring 180 single panel cartoons for grades 4-6. To get the joke, kids must learn the bolded word in each caption.

In 2020, my publisher, Scholastic, told me that a reader in Canada had contacted them to report a cartoon that he/she/they felt was a “stereotypical representation of Indigenous people.” My editor asked me to replace it with a new cartoon for future printings.

* Please do not repost without a link to this post, for context. *

I have no doubt I referred to photos and images of rain dances to create this cartoon, for two reasons. One, I go to significant lengths to ensure my work is accurate, including art (even when I am not the one illustrating, as with all of my picture books). Two, then and now, I couldn’t even begin to pull from my brain what such a scene should look like. 

But in this case, I neglected to save my sources—which is both regrettable and uncharacteristic, since I keep meticulous notes on sources for my writing. 

Admitting that glaring lapse, I sought perspective from tribal chairpeople and organizational directors of multiple Indigenous nations whose customs have included rain dances. 

The feedback I got included differing opinions, some with historical frameworks—all tremendously helpful and equally appreciated. I suspect you’ll also find them illuminating. Quoted verbatim:


The cartoon is not acceptable and is disrespectful. Do not incorporate it into your work.
Osage Nation Wahzhazhe Cultural Center


Perhaps the complaining person thought the immediate rain might was disrespectful. The rain dance is done as a spiritual ceremony. I suppose some Indians would say that the head dress does not depict their traditions. It is so with the Potawatomi Nations containing 10 Indian Tribes. All tribes that I know of were long pants, not short pants.  Even so, I can’t imagine anyone complaining about a picture cartoon. Also, all Tribes that I know wear long pants, not short pants. 

I don’t think it is in good taste to complain about a picture cartoon in a children’s book. I would not do so, but there are “different strokes for different folks” all around the world. 
Citizen Potawatomi Nation


Since Rain Dances are really prayer dances, some may have taken exception to a humorous portrayal of a religious ceremony. Personally, I do not find the cartoon offensive, given your intent to demonstrate or illustrate a vocabulary word for educational purposes. People need to lighten up a bit on ethnic outrage. Your cartoon was not intended to offend, and did not.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation [different person than previous]


Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office


I would state that “rainmaking” is an old trope that marginalizes the realities of complex Native science and religion. This perpetuates harmful stereotypes that infantilizes Native ceremony by removing all context of Native ceremonial life and imposes Western concepts of dance as entertainment.

Also, your cartoon depiction of Native dress is not accurate. “Rain Dance” ceremonies were not practiced by the Osage. From your cartoon it seems you are using an amalgam of Plains tribe stereotypes, but the majority of ceremonies of that nature were practiced by indigenous people of the southwest.

Overall, given the criminal lack of basic cultural sensitivity and knowledge of Native history, using any tribal ceremony as a vehicle for children to learn English vocabulary is offensive. The majority of children are not even taught whose land they live on. At most, they would see your work and continue to think of Native peoples as cartoons and their ceremonial life as silly.
Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office [different person than previous]


With greater public awareness of cultural appropriation, and its effects on Indigenous people, we do not endorse the depiction of Cherokee ceremony by non-tribal citizens.  Furthermore, upon reviewing your piece, it does not appear to depict Cherokee people, but rather a pan-Indian notion of all “Indians” with feathers and headdress. We cannot verify if you correctly depicted any sort of North American Indigenous “Rain Dance.” 

It may have been considered palatable by the general public in the past. However, Indigenous people have been advocating heavily for accurate cultural representation, and ending harmful stereotypes for many years. Today, many long held stereotypes are being dismantled and it appears that is the case with this piece. Going forward, we encourage non-Indigenous people to fully research a culture before attempting to characterize it, and consider the notion that the people of that culture prefer to represent themselves, rather than have a person from a different culture do it for them.
Cherokee Heritage Center

I don’t imagine I’ll be making any more cartoon books, but regardless of the project, now I do my due diligence better than I did with this cartoon. I continue to learn...

The replacement:

Her juggling skills are inimitable. Obviously I’m just a beginner.

I’ve always (and sometimes explicitly) welcomed readers notifying me about any mistakes or insensitivities in my work. Keep it up, citizen editors!