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Posts Tagged ‘history’

Green Army Men and the March of History

Written on Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 [permanent link]


Of course I had green Army men when I was a kid!

And I had them right up until last week 😉

When I am asked by teachers or parents or kids about how I came to love history, my short answer is that I was 10 during the Bicentennial party and was excited by that. But there are many, many other things that fed the History fire. On many of those points it’s hard for me now to say which came first, the History or the influence. Did I play with green Army men because I loved true American stories? Or did I come to love American History after I enjoyed playing with green Army men?

With my oldest son off to his freshman year in college, my youngest son and I are remaking their big bedroom and finding stuff that hasn’t been played with in years. From underneath the bunk bed we disassembled there came a drawer full of plastic Army men. Most of them saved from when I was 10. I saved a lot of my toys because I didn’t have many toys growing up. I valued what I had. I was really proud that I had requisitioned not just a full company of green Army men but also a plastic green Army truck, two plastic howitzers, and two TANKS! I was EQUIPPED! I had some GI Joe figures, too (yes, the full-sized ones; that’s how old I am), but to do a whole battlefield action the green Army men worked better. I even once used them as my actors in a short film that I did in a summer camp.

In the 1970s, my friends and I didn’t think much about the Vietnam War — we play-acted World War II. It fascinates me that World War II still has a firm hold on the imagination of my sons’ generation. My World War 2 Tales book sells very well. Why? Why not more play-acting about current global conflict? Why not more throw-backs to earlier fights (does anyone play Cowboys and Indians anymore?). I think the answer is traceable to another event that hit me like an explosion when I was 10: the first Star Wars movie. A lot has been written about how the Star Wars storyline is just a space retelling of World War II, so I won’t repeat that. But I’m not sure people see how the continued popularity of Star Wars (and even the way the prequel trilogy echoed the political dynamics of Europe in the 1930s) reinforces the 10-year-old’s attraction to the WW2 storyline. Our culture has handed down WW2 as one of the simplest examples of good vs. evil that a young man will ever find in the history books. You look at the sales of videogames over the past 15 years, and you’ll see Star Wars takes a lot of the top spots in the fantasy genre and WW2-based games take a lot of the spots for nonfiction-based games. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

But with all the videogames out there, would any boy actually still play with the real plastic green Army men??? For me, there doesn’t seem to be much point in keeping green Army men now that the Toy Story movies put them firmly back into pop culture. (Heck, you can find a slew of photos on the Internet of people dressed as their favorite Army man pose for Halloween!). I kept a few for nostalgia, but I thought it was worth a shot to transfer them to Alpha Base — my niece and nephew’s home in Alabama. Their parents were both military, and the transfer included a C-130 plane that I picked up when my boys were young (my brother was a navigator on C-130s!).

The day the package arrived, my sister-in-law sent me this:

“The kids (Matthew) are thrilled with the tanks and soldiers (how many does one boy need?!?!).  Zadie is a little disappointed that there are no “girl” things in the box! I tried to convince her that Mommy was once a “soldier” but I don’t think she believes me. I showed her a book from our shelf about women in the military, and she looked at it for a minute and then she decided: OK! Seriously, it’s pretty cute watching Zadie make blasting sounds and fly the C-130. Matthew is pretty cute, too!

Regardless, my vacuum cleaner thanks you!  :-)”

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Posted in Author's Purpose, History Teacher | No Comments »

George Washington Leads the Way!

Written on Thursday, January 27th, 2011 [permanent link]

GWcoverdraft1 GWcoverdraft2

GWcoverdraft3 GWcoverdraft5

My George Washington biography for Mount Vernon is being printed RIGHT NOW! As we wait for its release during his birthday celebration in February, I thought you’d like to see some of my rough sketches for the cover.

You see that my sketches don’t get too detailed. They are mainly a guide to location and layout. I’m using a simple, over-the-counter black felt pen to make the lines on a regular piece of typing paper. Look at how I scratched just a few lines for the background troops. I don’t need to draw the details of their uniforms — I’ve got that in my head and will make sure the details get drawn with a nicer pen on nicer paper when I do the final draft.

You can see the main idea that spreads across the different proposals: to show Washington as a MAN OF ACTION. Having the action come right at the reader is a tried-and-true practice to pump up the sense of motion and drama. Of course you see the difference between my head-on view of Washington crossing the Delaware with the famous oil painting showing him in a boat from the side. And the cannon shot of the third sketch seemed the most daring! And hard to pull off, because who has ever really seen a cannon shot from that point-of-view THAT CLOSE? How would I really draw and color that?!?! (And then I started to really miss Martha — and most Americans don’t know that she spent time with George during the harsh Valley Forge winter. So I thought I’d try a cover that combined the drama of Valley Forge with the close relationship the two of them had.)

Which cover do you think the Mount Vernon folks picked?? You can go to Chester’s Facebook page to see; I’ll also post it here in a week. 😉

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Posted in Author's Purpose, Comix Creation | 2 Comments »

Chester is an App!

Written on Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 [permanent link]

Harriet Tubman iPhone

Different formats mean different stories. The Chester history adventures that I’ve published in book form for the past seven years were all designed to work as one-week-long episodes in a newspaper. (Look “newspaper” up on Wiki, kids.) I’m proud of how much action and information I packed into those episodes, but it’s time to update those stories and see how they sing in another format. Kids are reading lots of things outside the covers of a book.

Students, teachers, and parents can now put Chester in their pocket. The first three Chester story apps are available in the iTunes store for your iPhone, iTouch, or iPad! (Click the black app logo on the homepage to get to my links to the iTunes store.) It’s just 99 cents to get an expanded biography of Harriet Tubman or a more detailed story of the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War or the Battle of Britain in World War II.

When I cut up the panels of the old newspaper stories I got about 40 panels per story. I’ve drawn new material to double that length for my first three smartphone stories. Without the space restrictions that print puts on me, I could add the kind of details that make the history of human beings so interesting. Now there’s a scene to Tubman’s story in which she helps free a man in the middle of a riot in New York! The Battle of Antietam story now does a better job of showing in pictures how the Sunken Lane went from a Confederate stronghold to a Confederate deathtrap. And The Battle of Britain has more of Winston Churchill’s inspiring speeches — and links to webpages where you can HEAR Churchill give the speeches during the heat of battle! So it’s good to have the Tubman biography in the Wonder Women book because there a young reader can get a quick overview of her life and compare her to other bold women of 19th Century America. But it’s good to have the app, too, because it’s got more action!

I hope to keep printing comic books about history — I’m finishing up the World War I book now and am in the thick of drawing a bio about George Washington for Mount Vernon — but I’m also excited to pick my most action-packed stories from the past 11 years and morph them into mobile apps. Next up: The TRUE Story of Pocahontas!

I’d love to get your feedback on these apps!

PS — There are discounts for educational institutions that buy multiple copies of the iTunes apps. Check out for more information!

PPS — Yes, I know the Droid is selling well. I hope to take the apps I make for iTunes and move them over to the Droid in the next few months.

PPPS — After I get 5 or 6 apps published, I’m going to circle back to add important educational bells and whistles to these — the first being sound. I hope to add an audio track in English and an audio track in Spanish so that struggling readers can get some help as they scan through the story visually. Look for that in 2011!

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