Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fuse #8 on The Hinky-Pink

The “Posts With The Number 8 In The Title” series continues with this link to a review of The Hinky-Pink, by Megan McDonald, illustrated by yours truly, over at the venerable A Fuse #8 Production blog. It’s the sort of review one links to immediately, if one isn’t running around like mad in Texas at the end of a Christmas trip, which, coincidentally, I am. So a few days late, here we go. Thanks, Fuse! And to all, felice anno nuovo!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Countdown: Apollo 8, Part 2

More on Apollo 8: There was an excellent piece on the mission this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. Listen here. And it was also just pointed out to me that there was an interview with the crew of Apollo 8 conducted at the Newseum in Washingon, D.C., on November 13, to commemorate the anniversary of the flight. Listen to and see video from that event here. Happy listening and merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Countdown: Apollo 8

Today, December 21, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8.

Apollo 8
, the second manned Apollo flight, was originally planned as a test in Earth orbit of the Command and Service Module (CSM) and the Lunar Module (LM). By the summer of 1968, though, with production of the LM hitting one snag after another, it was clear that the machine would not be ready for space by the end of the year.

Pushing back the mission would threaten John Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the decade. And, NASA worried that a delay might allow the United States to be beaten into manned lunar orbit by a rumored Soviet Soyuz flight (which in the actual event never came). And so to keep the program on track, NASA made one of the boldest decisions in its history. Assuming that the upcoming Apollo 7 went well, NASA engineers proposed altering the mission of Apollo 8; they would send the CSM into space alone, without the LM, but not on a series of tests above Earth. They would send it all the way to orbit the Moon.

NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Paine was the one who presented the idea to Administrator James Webb. In his book A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikin relates Webb’s response: “Are you out of your mind?” In the summer of 1968, there had been no manned flights of either a Saturn V rocket or the Apollo spacecraft. The memory of the Apollo 1 fire, which killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, still loomed large. And no one had ever left Earth orbit, or entered (and then left again) the orbit of another body. Indeed, the highest anyone had been above the Earth was 850 miles. It was 240,000 miles to the Moon.

But it was decided that the mission, while bold, could be done, and so to the Moon it was for Frank Borman, Jim Lovell (who would later command Apollo 13), and William Anders. They became the first men truly to leave the Earth, to look out their window and see the planet whole, an experience they broadcast back to an eager audience on Earth.

On Christmas Eve they reached the Moon and settled into an orbit 69 miles above the surface. (Chaikin relates that Lovell asked his crewmates, “Did you guys ever think that on Christmas Eve you’d be orbiting the Moon?” Anders replied, “Just hope we’re not doing it on New Year’s.”) Here's a (very) British response to a broadcast to Earth describing the lunar surface:

That night, while the blue Earth rose over the harsh and pitted surface of the Moon, the crew ended a broadcast to Earth with a reading of the creation story from Genesis. (Video here. And, yes, church/state questions aplenty here. Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s response was swift.) Borman, with not a little awe in his voice, signed off with, “Good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”

Apollo 8 splashed down safely on December 27 — just in time for Borman, Lovell, and Anders to be chosen as Time Magazine’s “Men of the Year” for 1968. Time’s essay on the choice is worth reading; it captures something of the time and places the triumph of the mission within the tumult and grief of that incredible year. You can find the essay here. A longer set of videos about the mission begins here.

Previously: Apollo 7

EDIT: "Robert Chaffee" corrected to "Roger Chaffee." (There are no copy editors here at the blog. Apologies and thanks to SDN for pointing out the error, gently.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pictures of Lillie

Just discovered:

That's going to give me weird, weird dreams, I just know it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Time and space

A small but thoughtful piece on a 1966 photograph of the Earth from the Moon is here at the New York Times. Don’t miss the high resolution scan of the image itself, on NASA’s site, here.

It’s five months to Moonshot’s publication and eight months (and one day) to the 40th anniversary of the landing, but who’s counting?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lost ARC

The final drawings for Avi's final Poppy book are now underway. Meanwhile, reviewers may already have copies of the book in their hands. This phenomenon is made possible by Advance Reader Copies, or ARCs, early versions of a book sent out with finished text but often with sketches in place of the final art. This is the usual way of things with the Poppy books and is a convenience to everyone involved, with the exception of the illustrator; Poppy ARCs have left a trail of reviews, stretching back over the years, with only this to say about the drawings in the series: “Final art not seen.” After all that work — ouch. Still, that's better than the time a student reviewer, working from an ARC, posted a review of Poppy’s Return on Amazon that reads, “I didn't like the pictures very much because they looked like a small kid drew them.” Double ouch.

Above: Poppy, airborne over Dimwood Forest, in sketch and final form. Click to enlarge. Explanation to come in the spring of 2009.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More than you need to know

I recently did an interview with Jeanette Larson for ALA Book Links, up now on the Book Links web site, here.

Thanks, Norfolk Academy

I had the pleasure last week of a school visit with Avi to Norfolk Academy, in Norfolk, VA. I had a good feeling about the place as soon as I walked in and saw a larger-than-life Poppy, complete with porcupine quill, and that was just the start; Norfolk did a great and generous job of organizing and hosting. Thanks for the visit go to the students, teachers, and administrators, and to lower school librarian Barbara Burns and Eric Wilson in particular!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Drive on

If you subscribe to Click Magazine (see here and here for more on Click) or read it at your library, I hope you’ll look for Rachel Young’s story in the November/December issue, which is all about cars. I drew some pit stop scenes for the piece, and it was fun to revisit — if briefly — my Racecar Alphabet days. And on the back of that issue, in my regular Click gig illustrating the Beatrice Black Bear comic (John Grandits writes the text—more on John here and here), I was able to cut loose with a lot of vehicle drawings. Behind Beatrice I drew the gas-guzzling International Harvester Scout that I drove in high school and the Vespa that I would drive now if I weren’t so afeared of getting into a wreck on one of those things.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A book signing

If you’re in New York — or possess motivation and means to arrive by the weekend — I hope you’ll come by Books of Wonder bookstore — at 18 W. 18th Street — on Saturday, November 1, from 12 to 2 PM. I’ll be there at the signing table, in the good company of authors and illustrators Edward Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, Paul Zelinsky, and Etienne Delessert.

I hope I’ll see you there!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reading and Sharing

Some good Hinky-Pink news: Reliable sources report that The Hinky-Pink has been chosen for this year’s New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading & Sharing list. I can’t find the full list online just yet, but I’ll post the link here when/if it appears. Meanwhile, thank you, NYPL!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Space Mouse (Inner Space)

I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that some action in Avi’s forthcoming Poppy and Ereth will occur in a cave. A trip to Texas has given me a chance to research those scenes, and to revisit the site of a childhood trip, at Laubach Cave near Georgetown, Texas.

The caves were discovered in 1963 during drilling by the Texas Highway Department. The drill got about 40 feet deep into the ground — and then the bit fell off. A department geologist, the skinniest available, was lowered down the narrow hole into a vast cavern loaded with limestone formations and even some prehistoric remains. The caves were opened to the public as a commercial venture and, in an attempt to connect with the then consuming space race — another segue! — were given the name by which they are now best known, “Inner Space Caverns.”

The sign out front of the caverns, just off Exit 259 on I-35 today, still has that space-age feel. The set of lights inside that big black ball pulse on and off, and when you see the thing as you’re driving by, it lends your trip a strange malevolent Sputnik/Great of Eye of Sauron mood. But if the sign seems dated, the caves (truly dated) hold up. There are spectacular formations in them, and if you’re in the area it’s worth the visit.

More about the caverns at the Inner Space website, here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Countdown: Apollo 7

Moonshot’s spring publication date will have the book out in time for the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing, and I thought it might be interesting as we approach that date to mark the Apollo flights that preceded 11. Today, October 11, marks forty years since the launch of Apollo 7.

Apollo 7 was the first manned flight of both a Saturn launch vehicle and one of the two Apollo spacecraft designed to travel to the Moon, the joined Command and Service Modules, or CSM. The second spacecraft — the Lunar Module, or LM — was not part of the flight, for two good reasons. One, the LM still being built and, two, the crew of Apollo 7 had enough to do testing out the CSM. This was especially true given the fact that just a year and a half earlier, in January, 1967, in a ground test later designated Apollo 1, astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffe had been killed when a fire broke out in the Command Module in which they were conducting a launch simulation.

For the ten days that Apollo 7 was in orbit (Apollo flights 2 through 6 had been unmanned tests), Walter Schirra, Jr., Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham worked over the CSM, testings its systems and maneuverability. The mission was a success, in some part at least due to changes in the CSM design that were made in the wake of the tragedy of Apollo 1. It was a success, too, despite the fact that shortly into the mission the crew developed bad colds, which didn’t help anyone’s mood, which in turn strained relations between the crew and Mission Control — a rare occurrence in the history of the program. (Having just gotten over a long cold myself, I’m freshly positioned to sympathize with Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham. Reports suggest that as bad as nasal congestion is on Earth, it’s worse in zero gravity.)

With the accomplishments of Apollo 7, the stage was set for testing the CSM and the LM together, again in Earth orbit. Delays in the production of the LM threatened that mission, though, and with it NASA’s chances of putting a man on the Moon before the end of the '60s. Kennedy’s “before this decade is out” deadline may have had a touch of the arbitrary to it, but the 400,000 people who worked on the Apollo program set out to meet it with an incredible dedication.

So, stay tuned to see how NASA responded to the threat to Apollo 8, a decision which transformed 8 into one of the most daring and moving of all the Apollo missions and which kept the program on its timeline.

Coming next: The Christmas flight of Apollo 8. Watch this space. (No pun intended.)

Friday, October 3, 2008


Just arrived: A few advance copies (very advance — the book comes out in April) of Moonshot.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Henni and Her Eggs

Here are two sketches for a piece running with the story “Henni and Her Eggs,” by Peggy Nolan, in the October issue of Cricket. The story takes place during World War II in occupied Holland; this scene shows the father angry over scarcities imposed by the German army.

In the first sketch, at left, I suppose my inner casting director had in mind the idea of a sturdy, stocky Dutch farm family. It was the art director who pointed out (thanks, Karen) that the story was set in “the hunger winter” — the winter of 1944-45, which in Holland was a time of catastrophic shortages and indeed starvation. Then, while still working on the piece, I happened actually to meet a woman who had grown up in Holland during the war. As soon as I mentioned the work she told me, cheerfully, “Oh, yes. We didn’t look like this then, either.” You wouldn’t have considered her overweight, but she did look as though she ate regularly, and I suppose that was the point. S0 the family in the sketch was put on the Photoshop diet. I generally stay away from the stuff myself, but when it comes to tweaking sketches I have to admit that it can be handy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

New York is Book Country

I’ll be appearing at New York is Book Country in Central Park, New York, New York, on Sunday, September 21. I’ll be at a tent near the Naumburg Bandshell at 2:20, reading from Lightship, The Racecar Alphabet, and a bit from The Hinky-Pink. Then I’ll sign books from 2:40 until demand ceases (2:45?).

I’d tell you more about exactly where I’ll be and who else will be there and so on, but this festival seems to be running on a need-to-know basis. (Has anyone seen any publicity for it? Anywhere?) Hie thee to the bandshell, though, and hopefully all will be obvious from there. I hope I’ll see you there!

Above: Militant rats at Bethesda Terrace, near the site of this year’s book festival. From The Mayor of Central Park, by Avi.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Benvenuto a Hinky-Pink

Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 9, is the publication date proper for The Hinky-Pink. Publication dates may be anticlimactic — curtains do not rise, bells do not chime, and Amazon’s been shipping the book for a week already anyway — but it’s good nevertheless to think of the book as officially out there in the world. I hope you’ll look for it at your local library or (if the spirit moves) bookstore.


Left: Bed-making 101. Click to enlarge. More images here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Reality Distortion Field

A quick follow-up here to the last post, just to show that I do read the articles that I recommend, and heed their lessons, too.

Lightship out of water

Earlier this summer I was riding in a car in New England when in my peripheral vision, lo, there appeared a big red truck that had on its door a familiar silhouette and this word:


Also a R.I. phone number and something about marine services and repairs and so on. The main point, though, was: Red Truck + Lightship. Out came the camera I had closest to hand. The truck was moving, the car was moving, so I never got the shot framed as I would have liked. (As you can see, I barely got it framed at all.) But I did learn two things. First, that truck drivers look at you suspiciously when you point an iPhone at them. (Maybe he was thinking I should upgrade to the 3G?) Second, that the camera on the iPhone, under certain circumstances, produces distortions which, in this case, at least, reminded me of the distortion in that great Henri Lartigue photograph of a racecar. Turns out that illustrator Brian Biggs has written an article that provides very cool information on the how and why of this, and incentive to go out and take a lot of pictures, too.

Also if you’ve never watched Biggs’ movie Stop Metric Madness, with music by One Ring Zero, then, ah, I’d say watch it now. It will make you like the Internet again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Seconda stella!

I’m playing catch-up here today with good news from last week of a second starred review for The Hinky-Pink, this one in Publishers Weekly. Says the review: “Like the text, the art hits just the right tone of tongue-in-cheek earnestness....” (You can find the whole review here. It’s the second review from the top.) Thanks, PW!

I also wanted to put up a little bit about process in this post. Part of the fun of The Hinky-Pink is how full of incident and action the story is. It’s an illustration challenge, though, when a scene contains more drawing-worthy moments than can fit easily on a page. For one especially busy passage, we (editor, designer, and I) played with the idea of using comic panels to squeeze in as much action as possible, as shown in this sketch. That didn’t feel exactly right, though. It did, however, put us on the path to a happier solution, which was to keep the idea of the panels, but to frame them with an Italian Renaissance altarpiece. (You can see how that drawing turned out here.) That device not only allowed for showing multiple moments from the book, it also reinforced the story’s themes and setting. Also, it gave us all a chance to dust off the part of our brains where we keep our art history lessons and to relearn the word predella, and that was gratifying.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

See also

Every now and then the online procrastination yields up something of actual interest. This week, it was the recently revamped website of the great Quentin Blake. (Pause here to bend the knee.) It’s too good not to mention. Especially if you’re in the drawing business yourself, you’ll enjoy the postings about process filed under Illustrators, including two videos that show Blake at work. Terrific stuff. And those sideburns!

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Hinky-Pink is Independent

Some recent good news for The Hinky-Pink: the book will appear on the forthcoming Fall 2008 Kid’s Indie Next List, “Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers.” This list is voted on by (God bless’em) independent booksellers across the country, and it’s great to be on it. Thanks, booksellers! The full list should go up (I think) mid-August, and you will be able (I think) to find it here.

(EDIT: No, not there. Here. Then click on “For Ages 4 to 8.” Ecco!)

And anyone wanting a look at drawings from The Hinky-Pink can now see a few images up in the Portfolio section of the web site, here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

New London Wrap Up

What happens when you forget to bring a large, audience-friendly sketchpad to your reading in New London? First you stalk around downtown looking for the stationery store that someone told you about (J. Solomon, closed weekends) or anyplace else that might sell oversized paper. Ten minutes from the reading, you give up and make the best of the situation by drawing not on a big pad on an easel, but in a small sketchbook on your lap. As it turns out, this gets a young audience to crowd in close, and in a parlor trick sort of way works pretty well. As a blog bonus, it makes the drawing easy to scan, too. Note that as far as I know there never actually was a New London lightship, but I’m not above playing to a crowd.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ahoy, New London

If you’re in or near the nutmeg state this weekend, consider a Saturday (July 26) trip to New London. I’ll be appearing there from 11:00 to 11:30 at the Fish Tales, Tugs, and Sails Festival, reading and doing a drawing or two from Lightship.

Lightship will get the spotlight but from the program notes it seems that the festival will also have on hand the second book that I ever illustrated, from long, long time ago: Robert Kraske’s The Voyager's Stone: The Adventures of a Message-Carrying Bottle Adrift on the Ocean Sea. The Voyager’s Stone was a fine book, if I may say so myself—but over the years we have sold a total of I think six copies. Maybe seven. It’s a miracle it’s still in print. Well, come check it out for yourself. You could walk home with number eight!

Fish Tales, Tugs, and Sails Festival
The Voyager’s Stone

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008


Early reviews are coming in for The Hinky-Pink and the news is good!

First, Kirkus Reviews says: “McDonald's storytelling excels through flavorful language, controlled pacing and a delightful conclusion. Floca displays the charm of Old World Florence through soft watercolor-and-ink illustrations that fill the pages, capturing the city's world-renowned landmarks. His delicate lines, full of vitality, enhance the retelling of this tale.... Fairy-tale enthusiasts will delight in this fanciful story.” (For completists, the entire Kirkus review is up on the Barnes & Noble site, here.)

Then there's more to come — in a starred review — in the upcoming August issue of School Library Journal. An excerpt: “McDonald’s flawless storytelling melds with Floca’s joyous art.... Girls who love princess stories will adore this lively tale.”


Thursday, July 17, 2008


I’m just back from a visit to the Mazza Museum of International Art from Children’s Picture Books at the University of Findlay, in Findlay, Ohio. I had only one problem there, which was a recurrent desire to pronounce Mazza with my best Italian accent (such as it is): MAHT sa. The pronunciation is instead pure Ohio: ma za. We all worked around that, though, and I had a great time meeting and milling around with esteemed fellow authors and illustrators, and a great time speaking to the most supportive and interested crowd an illustrator could desire. They take their picture books and picture book creators seriously at Mazza! Probably I should have known this before now, but I know it now. Thanks to Jerry Mallett and Ben Sapp and everyone at Findlay for their work and enthusiasm and for a great trip.

Above: The Ohio state quarter. The Wright Brothers and Neil Armstrong. That’s my kind of place.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Candid camera

If you’ve found your way to this blog then you likely already read Betsy Bird’s A Fuse #8 Production blog at School Library Journal. But just in case: here is her footage of the S&S Original Art Lunch at ALA. I only make a cameo (not a problem, Betsy!) but there I am, mumbling and fumbling with the microphone, and then there’s the rest of the gang, including some of Atheneum’s incredible editorial and art directing talent, and David Smalls, speaking for a lot of us (I presume) as he describes the dark and torturous path that one struggles to cut as one works on — picture book covers.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

ALA and back again

A redeye flight, the crossing of multiple time zones, and a congenital tendency to stay up late — these things are making the return from Anaheim a slog, but back I am and it was an inspiring trip, jet lag and all. I saw friends and editors, gave and received glimpses of/at forthcoming books, met librarians and admired fellow bookmakers, misplaced and mispronounced various names, saw Caldecott and Newbery speeches which went into ALA lore even as they were being delivered, and had the pleasure and honor of picking up Lightship’s Sibert Honor award.
I also attended the Simon & Schuster Original Art Lunch mentioned in the previous post. There, the bulk of my carefully considered remarks left my head the minute I stood to deliver them. There, too, I realized that a small book full of sketches and reference images is hard to show in the context of a big and busy group. (All the more reason to throw images from it up on the blog as we get closer to The Hinky-Pink’s publication date.) So, that was that.
A second lunch made up for it, though, one with the Sibert Committee following the ALSC awards ceremony. It was a small and relaxed group and we had time to go beyond presentation and into actual conversation. I was impressed and charmed by the librarians on the committee and the whole thing made me feel great all over again about Lightship’s selection by the committee. Thanks again to them, and thanks to S&S for the trip west!

Above: an unused vignette from Lightship. A piece that I liked, but the sunrise version of this scene won out.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I’m off to Anaheim later this week for the American Library Association Annual Conference. I’ll be signing at the Simon & Schuster booth on Sunday morning, June 29, from 9:00 to 10:00. Later that day, for the Simon & Schuster Original Art Lunch (or whatever it’s now called), I’ve printed up a book which lays bare the relationship between sketches, research, and final art for the funny and forthcoming The Hinky-Pink, by Megan McDonald. (It also lays bare an ability to make typos in both English and Italian. There is no in-house copy editor here at the studio, for any language.) Finally, on Monday morning, I’ll happily attend the presentations of the Sibert Committee on behalf of the crew (and cat) of Lightship. Librarians of America, I’ll hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Up in the Air

Good news if you live in New York and have been wanting an easy-to-take account of how the airplane was invented: I’ve just gotten word that beginning July 1 the New York Post will run, in serial form, Up in the Air: The Story of the Wright Brothers, an 18-chapter story by yours truly.

Up in the Air was originally written in 2003 for the one hundredth anniversary of the first Kitty Hawk flight. In truth, before starting the research for the story, I knew little about Wilbur and Orville Wright, only the familiar nutshell summary that says that two bicycle mechanics, of all things, invented the airplane. A nice story, but possibly too nice, I thought, and I began reading about the brothers braced for a measure of disillusionment. But when you go through the books and the papers and the letters and the photographs? The old story holds up, and more. If Up in the Air isn’t amazing, it’s not Wilbur and Orville’s fault.

Up in the Air is published by Breakfast Serials, which makes stories available to newspapers all over the country for serialization. The story has run elsewhere, including in my hometown paper, the Temple Daily Telegram (possibly the first time the Telegram has scooped the Post), but if I had to guess the Post has got to have the largest circulation of any paper in which the story has appeared, and if you’re in New York I hope you’ll check it out.

An interview about Up in the Air
Breakfast Serials
New York Post
Temple Daily Telegram

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Shake it, Ereth

Avi’s forthcoming Poppy and Ereth will be the fifth book that I’ve illustrated featuring Ereth the porcupine, so you might think that I know my way around the walking pincushions by now. The true professional, though, always aspires to a more perfect porcupine, and so this morning, thanks to the generosity of the staff at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, I tagged along with camera in hand for their porcupine Brody’s morning stroll. Brody was a big change from last week’s stuffed animals; he is happily and emphatically far from the taxidermist. Anyway, I had a great visit and thank the Zoo for the chance to get up close and personal with a genuine moving and grooving Erethizon dorsatum. The day contributed much to my sense of how these fellows are put together and move and sit and stand—and one more thing, too. How to put this? Before meeting Brody, I knew from reading the Poppy stories that Ereth doesn’t smell great. I knew it, but I didn’t know it. I smelled through a glass, darkly. On this hot and muggy morning, I smelled face to face. Whooo!

Thanks again to the Prospect Park Zoo. And of course if you’re in the neighborhood, you can swing by and see Brody (and his mother) for yourself. They’re worth the trip! More on the zoo here.

A late edit to this post: If you enjoyed that look at Brody, another short video that gives a better look at Brody’s morning walk is posted by the zoo on YouTube here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rodent research redux

Here’s introducing one of a couple of big projects that I’m happy to be working on in the coming months, the drawings for the sixth (and final) book in Avi’s Poppy Stories series, Poppy and Ereth. Research got underway last week with a trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The visit provided useful material and also a full circle moment: years ago, before the idea of sequel or series was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, I visited the museum for help with the drawings for the book Poppy (no longer first in the series, but the first of the books published). On last week’s trip, I made a point of finding the great horned owl who gave aid to that book’s drawings of Mr. Ocax. It was a good visit, and a reminder that while Google image search will do for you some of the time, there’s no substitute for looking at the real thing, even when stuffed.

Back in the day, by the way, the sign over the door did not say Harvard Museum of Natural History. It bore the more cryptic and (therefore?) more satisfying name Museum of Comparative Zoology. Technically that name name still applies; the Harvard Museum of Natural History was invented in 1998 to serve as “the public face of three research museums,” one of them being the MCZ, but good luck to you if you try to find the words Museum of Comparative Zoology anywhere in the place. No big deal, I suppose, yet there’s something in the older, less expected name that I miss.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

High Impact

Sure, the endless fields of craters are a clue, but it’s impressive nevertheless to read what a regular pounding the Moon is taking up there. It’s more impressive still to read that if you’ve got the right telescope, the pounding can actually be seen from Earth: in the past two and a half years, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office (I hope that office has the cool letterhead that it deserves) has visually observed over one hundred meteoroid impact explosions on the lunar surface. Article, map, and a cool little sci-fi-ish video loop are here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A big part of the dream

The Web 2.0 book promotion blues, distilled:

EDIT: Lest there be any confusion, I am not this clever, at least not often enough to put this thing together. This video is by author Dennis Cass. I haven’t read his book yet but the new cover does look great.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Proof, Part 2

Recently arrived here are the second proofs of Moonshot. Looking them over, I’m like a reformed drinker who just got a whiff of strong whiskey; I want back in. The feeling reminds me of lines which must resonate with anyone who has struggled with a labor of love, specifically with the mixed blessing of finishing it: “God keep me from ever completing anything,” Melville wrote in Moby-Dick. “This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”

This is why both bars and publishers have such a thing as last call.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Over the years I’ve done much schooling and living in (as Paul Simon sings it) New England, sweet New England. Not until last summer, though, did I make it to Martha’s Vineyard. Once there, one conversation led to another, and I’ve just now finished a small drawing for the Aquinnah Public Library’s summer reading program t-shirts. A cleaner, inked version of this pencil sketch will be used on the shirts, but I still like the pencil and so here it is. The library will be selling the shirts soon, so the only question now is how big of a bite they’ll take out of the island’s omnipresent Black Dog merchandising empire. If the shirts are a hit and the library branches out into tote bags, footwear, housewares, biscotti, and hot sauce, don’t blame me.

Monday, April 28, 2008


The slow shift from one project to the next is getting underway here. Shelves and mental space must be cleared and restocked. As for what’s to come, for the moment I’ll just say that on Friday I was in Queens walking toward the Noguchi Museum to begin researching drawings for a great picture book text by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, and that as I walked the words of Chapman, Cleese, et al., rang in my ears: “And now for something completely different.”

Still, you can always find a point of connection if you know where to look, and on the museum’s gift shop wall I found mine: A George Nelson ball clock, just the sort that you see in the family scenes in Moonshot. I don’t imagine that the Moonshot family paid $315.00 for theirs, but I was still somehow glad for the segue.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

None Dare Call It Done. And Yet...

I reliably disappointment friends who ask if I’m happy to be done with a book. The thing is, it’s hard to be happy about being done when you don’t know if you are or not, and I almost never do. There’s no strip of tape to break as you cross the finish line, and usually there’s not even a finish line. For weeks after the final (“final”) art is turned over to the publisher, you, the editor, the art director, the designer, and the copyeditor are still looking for and catching things that might need work. (Whether you catch something or not, just the knowledge that you and others are looking manages to strip a lot of the sheen from the idea of the big finish.) Even weeks later, after the first proofs have come back from the printer, straggling problems may reveal themselves. So it’s good news here that Moonshot has now been through all, or at least most, of that. The proofs are reviewed, tweaked, corrected, patched, and amended, and shortly on their way back to the printer. There are worlds of work left for the publisher, Atheneum, but as far as mine own part is concerned, well, not until I have the bound book in my hands will I call it done, but as they say at NASA: the vehicle is through the region of maximum dynamic pressure!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Less than a month after the interior artwork was turned in, and the first proofs of Moonshot are here on my desk! Note the First Proof band in which the pages come wrapped. Not so dissimilar from the familiar Sanitized For Your Protection band, but we don’t dwell on that. Anyway, if you don’t know, proofs are what the printer sends to the publisher after the printer has received the original art, but before the book itself is printed. When the publisher receives first proofs, the art directors and designers put them under a good light, give them the eye, and then ask that the printer use less blue here, more contrast there, clean up that spot and that speck, and so on, all through the book. The printer takes these comments and produces—second proofs. This process repeats until everyone’s done all that they can to make the pages look their best. There's a nice old-fashioned sense of craftsmanship to the process, and also a meaningfulness to seeing a publisher working to make your book look the best that it can.

Only after everyone's satisfied (or, sometimes, reasonably satisfied; this is the real world, after all) do the printing presses roll in earnest.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cheshire Moons and da Vinci Glows

That’s two great Moon terms, in one great (?) blog posting. You can find both terms explained in this brief NASA Science News article, and at the same time get ready for the barely there crescent Moons to come on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. As a special bonus, the Moon on Tuesday will be served with Pleiades.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Gray Lady, Gray Melon

This (unretouched) image from today’s paper is the sort of thing I’d like to see more of in The New York Times.

(Copyeditors: The New York Times? The New York Times? The New York Times? Eh?)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Return of the Hinky-Pink

While Moonshot has been burning along here with a fire - up - another - carafe - of - the - strong - stuff - and - give - me - every - waking - moment urgency, off out of sight The Hinky-Pink has gone and turned into a bona fide book. It’s good to have this reminder that the contained chaos and labor that goes on here does indeed eventually resolve itself into book form, and it’s good to see The Hinky-Pink on its own terms, too. I’m pleased with the look of the book, and the nice small size of it, and it perhaps goes without saying that Megan McDonald’s text still feels as funny and spry as it did the first time I laid eyes on it, almost five years (!) ago.

Therefore, even though the book doesn’t come out until September, I say now: Avanti, Hinky-Pink!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Easter Moon

Easter, as you may know, or not know, or, like me, vaguely recollect, is celebrated not on a fixed date but on the Sunday on or following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. (Got it?) Never one to miss a moon connection these days, here is a quick and not very good snapshot of said full satellite rising over Jamaica Plain, MA, in the early evening of Friday the 21st. I say not very good because the detail and tones of the moon’s face are lost. Still, the overall impression is not so far off; the sky was that deep electric blue, and the moon came up bright as a spotlight, with a warm tint to its color, beaming like a second sun. It was something to see.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sorry, Bob

One of the joys of teaching a children’s book writing and illustrating class is the chance to share the dark but wise writing advice, “Murder your darlings.” (Until I Googled it just now to check it, I had always thought that the line came from Orwell, but apparently I’ve been wrong. That’s another story, though.) Anyway, my translation of that phrase has always been: Don’t let pet moments get in the way of the story you really want to tell. It’s a line that’s always more fun to deploy than accept, but at the last minute here I took the bitter pill myself and decided that an LP of Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline (his Spring 1969 release) didn’t really belong in this drawing of a family watching the first moon landing, and I took it out. (I had already taken out the lava lamp. The George Nelson ball clock stayed.) And now? I kind of miss Bob.

Others’ stories of darlings murdered, happily or with regret, are welcome here, if you’ve got the material and the itch to procrastinate.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you?

Here’s a quick note wishing No Country For Old Men good luck at the Oscars tonight, if only because it is, to my knowledge, the only Best Picture nominee ever to mention my hometown. I don’t remember seeing the fellow behind the counter around while I was growing up but he seems a man of his word so I’ll assume we just missed each other.

A longer post would extrapolate on the funhouse mirror parallels between the character of Anton Chigurh and Leonard Smalls, a.k.a. the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, from an earlier Coen Brothers favorite, Raising Arizona. But that’s for later. I’m on deadline now.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More Moon

How about that eclipse last night, eh? When the Moon was fully in Earth’s shadow and had that pale red glow, it looked to me somehow lit from within, and eggshell thin—a strange and wonderful effect.

More breaking news on the Moon in this short NASA article about exploration being conducted now (right now) by both Japanese and Chinese satellites. While interesting in its own right, the piece also has the benefit of using the words "China" and "Moon" in the same sentence, which always brings to mind one of the my favorite exchanges from the Apollo 11 transcripts. The following is from a few days into the mission, between Mission Control in Houston and Buzz Aldrin on his way to the Moon:

Mission Control:
“Roger. Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.”

Buzz Aldrin:
“Okay. We'll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”

The bunny girl! If they ever met up with her, they never mentioned it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Red moon rising

An increased awareness of all things lunar being one of the byproducts of the Moonshot, here, then, for your reading pleasure, is information about tonight (Wednesday) night’s lunar eclipse. Last one till December, 2010! Crack out the binoculars, especially if you've never looked at the Moon magnified. Even a modest pair of binoculars will reveal plains, mountains, and shadows dipping into craters. That's a real place, that Moon up there.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's never too early

If you haven’t already read it, and if you enjoy slow, sinking feelings about the state of the culture, click your way on over to this story in the Gray Lady about product placement in books for eight-year olds. This at HarperCollins, home of the Poppy Stories, among, of course, many others. There’s one (1) book yet to go in that series, by the by—but no word yet on whether the mouse prefers Nike or Converse. (I’m pushing for Dr. Martens.)

For those who want deep background or are just morbidly curious about this sort of thing, this blog submits Alyssa Quart’s Branded as well worth reading. (This even if the sexed-up cover makes you feel like you're reading just the sort of thing the book is critiquing. Those of you interested in jacket design will notice that some editions of Branded flash navel, and some don't. I guess you order from Amazon or Powell's depending on how sexy you feel at the moment. Eh—I digress. Read the book.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Blogger’s Valentine

It’s a pleasure to note here that Lightship was today announced as the winner of a Cybil for Best Nonfiction Picture Book of 2007! (A Cybil, or a Cybils? I have trouble with my singulars and plurals where the Cybils are concerned.) Regardless, it’s the Children’s & YA Bloggers’ Literary Awards. It was an honor to find Lightship among a great pack of nominees a few weeks back, and an honor to receive today's news. Thank you to the Cybils Team, the panelists and judges, and a high tip of the hat to Susan Thomsen for the original nomination!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Rand McNally it ain't

Here I am on the last (maybe next to last) leg of my Moonshot journey and I'm still for the first time coming across things like the online Consolidated Lunar Atlas. Just start clicking around. You will say "Whoa," even if you're not normally that type of person.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

When it rains it pours

And, Lightship is now an ALA Notable Book, and a finalist for a Cybils (Children’s & YA Bloggers’ Literary Awards), in the category Nonfiction Picture Book. Thank you librarians, and thank you bloggers!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Good news at sea

Last night, while burning the midnight oil on Moonshot (the 7:30 oil, actually), I had the good fortune to receive one of those mythic calls from an American Library Association meeting: the kind where a committee chairperson gives you good news while the rest of the committee cheers in the background. I’d heard tell of such calls, but this was my first, and the news was that Lightship was chosen as a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book. The Sibert Medal “is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year.” Peter Sís took home the Sibert this year (the gold one), for The Wall, and then Lightship and Nic Bishop's Spiders were the two Sibert Honor Books. Mitt Romney might point out that just because you win the silver in one event doesn’t mean you won’t win the gold in the next, but that’s beside the point. Though I was too frazzled by the inner workings of the Apollo 11 command module to convey fully my excitement when I got the call, this is great news for Lightship and I am indeed grateful to the committee for their recognition of the book. And, this comes on the heels of other good news, including the book’s inclusion in the New York Public Library’s annual 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list, and its selection by Booklist as their Top of the List choice for picture book for 2007, a real honor. So, my sincere thanks to the committee at the Association for Library Service to Children, the New York Public Library, and Booklist. One would be a fool indeed to get into this business for the awards, but recognition of the work by people who take books as seriously as these librarians do is a gratifying, validating, and appreciated thing, and deserves the public thank you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

At the intersection of Lang and Lucas

Science-fiction films tend to fall into one of two camps: there are films which work in earnest to predict and portray things to come, and there are films which simply wrap sci-fi garb around good old pulp adventure and fantasy stories. It’s that former category that’s been most on the mind and DVD player as I’ve worked on Moonshot, well represented by Fritz Lang’s Frau im Mond, from 1929 (terrific, and the movie that gave us the countdown), Destination Moon, from 1950 (lousy, but with a few good visual moments), and Stanley Kubrik and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, from 1968 (whoa, still). Some beautiful and prescient work in each of those movies.

And yet—it’s a sassy, take-charge gal with a distinctive hairdo from that second camp that keeps coming to mind as I paint the Lunar Module. It’s Princess Leia, and I keep hearing her say, “You came in that? You’re braver than I thought.”