Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End is Near

The end of the year has come, bringing with it, among other things, Best Books of the Year lists. I’m very happy that Moonshot appears on several: Kirkus ReviewsBest Children’s Books of 2009 (Requiescat in pace, Kirkus), Book LinksLasting Connections of 2009, School Library Journal’s Best Books 2009, Horn Book Magazine’s Fanfare Best Books of 2009, Booklist’s Editors’ Choice 2009, and the Washington Post’s Best Kids Books of 2009.

My sincere thanks to all, and best wishes to all for 2010!

Above: an alternate sketch for Moonshot’s Mission Control page. Looking at this again I’m reminded how hard it was to choose an angle for the drawing. For some of us, Mission Control looks good from any point of view.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I’ve posted this video, “Christmas Cheer for the Lightshipmen,” on my web site in the past, but I still like it, so here it is again. Happy holidays to all, on land and sea (and space), and best wishes for 2010!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Racecar Alphabet book dummy

Recently I was tweaking my school visit slide show, or what we used to call slide shows. These days I give my presentation using Apple’s Keynote program; no slides are harmed. A benefit to having the show on a computer instead of in a carousel is that video can be incorporated into the talk, and after years of fumbling to show a roomful of students what a book dummy looks like — my old dummies tend to fall apart as they’re being held up — it occurred to me that I could instead or also simply show some video of a dummy in action.

Here, then, is the dummy I submitted when I pitched The Racecar Alphabet. (You can see the video in higher resolution on YouTube here.) When laying out a book now I sometimes fiddle with InDesign but the media here is strictly old school: pen, ink, pencil, paper, photocopies, tracing paper, tape, glue, staples.

More about The Racecar Alphabet is on my web site here, and images from the final book are here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Moonshot on The Early (Too Early) Show

Here’s a great way to start the day: Jon Scieszka sharing holiday book ideas — including Moonshot — on CBS’s The Early Show. (A great way to be told that the day started, actually. I don’t get up early enough for this sort of thing, and let’s not talk about my television reception.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brooklyn signing

I’ll be reading and signing Moonshot and signing The True Gift at Brooklyn’s BookCourt bookstore on Sunday, December 6, from 11 AM to Noon. The address is 163 Court Street, between Dean and Pacific. The store’s web site is here. Come on by!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The True Gift

The way I was raised, the Christmas decorations don’t come out until after Thanksgiving — I’m talking to you, CVS — so I haven’t mentioned until now a book I was glad to have the chance to illustrate that came out in October, The True Gift: A Christmas Story, by Patricia MacLachlan. I did a cover painting for the book and eight pencil and graphite drawings for the interior. Here’s the School Library Journal review:

“Lily and her younger brother go to their grandparents’ farm for Christmas, as always. This year something is different; White Cow is the only animal in the field. Liam, certain that she is lonely, sacrifices his beloved books to buy her a calf companion, and Lily overcomes her fear of the large animal. The simple, elegant prose tells a warm family story with a classic holiday theme. Floca’s graphite and ebony pencil drawings are lush with evocative detail and perfectly complement this lovely offering.”

The drawings were done with a feeling similar to those in Avi’s Poppy books. It was nice to make drawings in that vein featuring people, something I haven’t had the chance to do before now for a book. On my web site there’s more about the book here and images from it here. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Almost heaven, West Virginia

Tomorrow, schools in West Virginia will celebrate Read to Me Day, part of West Virginia Children’s Book Week. Each year for the past nine years Appalachian Power has chosen a book to read and donate to West Virginia schools as part of the day. This year, I learned from an out-of-the-blue e-mail several weeks ago, the selection is Moonshot. The book has had a lot of nice things happen to it this year, I’m grateful to say, but this is one of the nicest. 13,000 students will hear the book tomorrow. Incredible! I'm cranking up the John Denver. Thank you to Appalachian Power and to all the volunteer readers!

An article about the event is here.

11/20 EDIT: And a couple of photos from the day are here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Countdown: Apollo 12

In the months leading to the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, I put up posts on the anniversaries of the missions that led to Apollo 11. The posting is a hard habit to break, and there’s no real reason to, anyway; the Apollo missions only became more ambitious and interesting as they went on. Which brings us to today, November 14th, the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 12, flown by astronauts Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Alan Bean.

When John Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon, he said nothing about what, if anything, would be done there. The idea was to demonstrate American ambition and ability, to wrest the mantle of leadership back from the Soviets, who at the time of Kennedy’s announcement were logging victory after victory in the nascent space race. And so for some, the Apollo 11 mission was enough, thank you. The point was made. But for NASA landing was just the beginning; real goals of science and exploration had been woven into the Apollo program by the engineers and scientists who planned it. As their experience and abilities grew, so did the ambitions and potential of Apollo.

Consider that Apollo 11 touched down a full four miles from its intended landing site. In the months that followed, systems for navigating the moon were so improved that Conrad and Bean were assigned an incredibly precise target for their landing. They were to set down their LM, Intrepid, within walking distance of an unmanned probe that had been sent to the moon a year and a half earlier, Surveyor 3. True to their task, the astronauts landed within 600 feet of the probe. During two space walks that added up to seven hours walking on the lunar surface (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had spent two and a half hours on the surface in one walk), Conrad and Bean, in addition to other experiments, collected material from the Surveyor probe to see how it had been effected by exposure to space.

Beyond the science and accomplishments, there’s plenty else that makes the mission fascinating. Not least is that Apollo 12 was hit by lighting — twice — during liftoff. “What they had done, they realized later,” Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox write in Apollo: Race to the Moon, “was to launch a 363-foot lightning rod, with the equivalent of a copper wire in the form of a trail of ionized gases running all the way to the ground.” While the Saturn launch vehicle was undamaged, the astronauts spent a harrowing few moments (or it would have been harrowing for me, anyway) watching the electrical systems in the command module go haywire. As the mission teetered on the edge of an abort one of the flight controllers, John Aaron, realized which switch to throw to reset the system. An obscure switch, but Bean knew where to find it. The fix worked, and the mission continued. The lingering question from the strikes was whether the parachute deployment systems had been damaged, but that concern wasn’t allowed to interfere with continuing the mission. Andrew Chaikin writes in A Man on the Moon: “The rationale was simple: Conrad and his crew would be just as dead if the parachutes didn’t work now as they would be after coming back from the moon….”

EDIT: A nice bit about the lightning strike and how it was handled is on YouTube here.

And then there were the dynamics of the crew. Pete Conrad was an effusive, joyful astronaut. You can hear the excitement in his voice at the 1:20 mark (and elsewhere) in this video of the landing, when he first sees that mission planners have delivered Intrepid to the exact intended landing site. “Son of a gun!” “Amazing! Fanstastic!” Not being a particularly tall astronaut, as he climbed down from the LM to the moon he uttered: “Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.” In doing so he won a bet with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who had insisted to Conrad that NASA dictated to the astronauts what to say on landing. And Alan Bean, after Apollo 12 and service on Skylab, became a painter. You can visit his web site and see his work here. He recently collaborated with author Andrew Chaikin and editor Sharyn November on a beautiful book for young readers about the entire Apollo program, Mission Control: This is Apollo.

After the success of Apollo 12 — the parachutes were fine — NASA was primed to keep on with its goals of exploring and understanding the moon. The next mission was scheduled for April of the next year: Apollo 13.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Happy Birthday

to Robert Louis Stevenson, born today, 1850, or so says Garrison Keillor. I picked up Treasure Island a couple of years ago figuring to do some Duty, check a box, etc., but, oh, it’s fun. If you haven’t ever tried it, put it on your list. It’s the best heist movie you’ll ever read.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A good week

I haven’t had too many good news weeks like the one I had this past week. First, while I was in Austin, the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List was announced, and it includes The Hinky-Pink, by Megan McDonald. This means good air time for the book in Texas libraries, which is great news. Second, Moonshot was selected for the 2009 New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list, an honor I’m very glad for the book to have. Third, Moonshot was chosen for The New York Times 2009 Ten Best Illustrated Children’s Book list. (It looks like I picked the wrong weekend to put a vacation stop on my subscription.) Just yesterday I was listening to Adam Gopnik describe the selection process here and though I knew how it all turned out, it still made me anxious to hear it discussed, as though the panel members might yet change their minds. I think that means that this great news hasn’t quite sunk in. Thank you to the Texas and New York librarians (librarians from my native and adopted lands!) and to the committee at the Times!


Here’s where I got to see Buzz Aldrin interviewed at the Texas Book Festival. (He was at the Festival with his new book, Magnificent Desolation.) I arrived late, the line literally stretched around the block, and I was sure I wouldn’t get in. But not only did I make it in the door, the reserved rows were being opened up by the time I was finally on scene and looking for a place to sit, and I ended up on the second row. Sometimes it pays to be late.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I have left the diaspora. On Sunday, November 1st at 11:00 I’ll be reading and signing Moonshot at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. It’s a great festival — with much better barbeque than the Brooklyn Book Festival, it has to be said — and it’s great to be part of it this year. The Festival web site is here, and the specifics on my reading are here. Come on by!


In another bit of Moonshot news, I’m pleased to report that the book is now a finalist for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Prizes for Excellence in Science Books for children and young adults. (Say that ten times fast.) I’m happy to see the book in the company of some great science books for kids that came out this year. You can read more about the prize and the other finalists here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Society of Illustrators Original Art show

It was a pleasure and an honor to receive a silver medal last night from the Society of Illustrators. The medal was for Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, and was presented at the opening of the Society’s annual Original Art show. Thank you to the Society and judges, and to everyone there for the generous congratulations!

You can read more about the show here. I’m very happy to be a part of it, and to know so many other talented people who are, too. If you’re in range of New York and interested in children’s book illustration, it’s well worth the visit!

Above: A detail from the image from Moonshot that’s on display at the show.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

At the Library

At the New York Public Library, Elizabeth “Fuse” Bird hosts the Children’s Literary Café, “a monthly gathering of adults who are fans of children’s literature. Professionals, librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, teachers, and anyone else interested in the field are welcome to attend our meetings. The Literary Café provides free Advanced Readers galleys, a rotating series of talks with professionals in the field, and great conversation. This program is for adults only.” A literary salon! Think Paris in the ‘20s, New York in the ‘50s, Brooklyn in the ‘00s. (Yes? No?)

Anyway, I’m happy to say that I’ll be on a panel at the next Café, this Saturday, September 12th, at 2:00 p.m., in the good company of Marc Tyler Nobleman, Michael Rex, and none other than the mighty Jon Scieszka. The event will be at the New York Public Library, Children’s Center at 42nd Street, Room 84. If you’re in the area and have no taste for heckling then I hope you’ll come by.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Aaron Space

A sort of coda to my astronauting runs this month in the September issue of Ladybug Magazine, a small work of light verse, with drawings, titled “Aaron Space.” A.S. appears with apologies to my friend S.L., who grew up near D.C. not sure of the exact name of the museum with all the rockets.

The poem begins, “Aaron Space the astronaut/goes where you and I do not./Atop a rocket he is shot/into space where you have got/the sky, the stars, the moon, whatnot.”

Maybe the best part of this little job was the chance to revisit and draw again some of that great space hardware — but this time without the effort of aiming for accuracy. Aaron’s spaceship is a little Mercury here, a chunk of Apollo there, and a dash of Sputnik, for extra flavor.

I hope you’ll look for Ladybug and check it out!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dance Fever

No blog posts through August, not one. Because I took the month off? No. I’ve been working on drawings for a new picture book, Ballet For Martha, written by the team of Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, to be published next year by Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook. Ballet For Martha will tell the story of how Martha Graham created the dance Appalachian Spring. She did it in collaboration with composer Aaron Copland, who wrote the score, and sculptor Isamu Noghuchi, who designed the set. If that sounds like heady stuff for the picture book set, those who know Jan and Sandra’s work won’t be surprised to read that the story is told in interesting, honest, accessible fashion. There’s a real narrative arc to the piece, a fine sense of process, and a rewarding payoff at book’s end when the dance is premiered. It’s a great text, and I hope that with the illustrations I’ve added a piece to the puzzle. The interior art is now complete — that’s a rehearsal scene from the book, above — and all that’s left now is the cover.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Forty years ago today, the Apollo 11 astronauts completed their return from the Moon, landing safely in the Pacific Ocean. Helicopters carried them from their bobbing Command Module to the USS Hornet, where they entered the Mobile Quarantine Trailer in which they would spend the next three weeks — long enough to be sure they weren’t carrying Moon germs. Above, the trip home as presented in Al Reinert’s “For All Mankind,” with music by Brian Eno.

And that's it. We’ve reached the end of what President Richard Nixon called “the greatest week in the history of the world since Creation.” If Nixon got a little carried away, let’s not blame him. It was a remarkable trip!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Are we there yet?

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth,” John Kennedy said in 1961.

Forty years ago today, the landing had been accomplished, but not yet the return; the astronauts, having earlier fired their CSM engine to push themselves out of lunar orbit, were riding the long transearth coast back to home. The big event still to come: the insane (says me) plummet into the Pacific that was the reentry procedure — what that other Buzz (Lightyear) might call “falling with style.” That’s tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fit to Print

About a month before Moonshot came out this spring, I received a rather wonderful gift from one of my enablers at Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, a July 21, 1969 edition of The New York Times. (Thank you, E.D.D.) The coverage is as thorough and as interesting as you’d expect from the Times during the glory days of newsprint. The entire first section and a special supplement of the paper are devoted to Apollo; there is a wealth of informative articles about the landing itself and about how it was planned and carried out, and indeed about the whole evolution of space flight. It’s the pre-Internet Times, when the paper, in its newspaper of record role, would run pages and pages of transcripts of important events — in this case all the back and forth between Mission Control and Columbia and Eagle. There is also a description by the administrator of NASA of the moon bases, nuclear rocket shuttles, and space stations to come (by the mid ‘80s), and there are poems and commentaries on the occasion of the landing, both for and against. (Buckminster Fuller: FOR. Jesse Jackson: AGAINST.) It is, in short, a totally fascinating time capsule view of the mission and of America at the moment of it. But since there are so many sources out there, especially this week, for understanding what Apollo was and how it worked, and for ideas about what it did or didn’t mean, I thought that I’d share from the paper something a little lighter: some advertisements, which provide their own odd, narrow window into the period. I hope you’ll enjoy them, and perhaps even join me in raising a horn of mead and saying, “Thank you, Norway!”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite (1916—2009)

From the New York Times obituary, here:

“As anchorman and reporter, Mr. Cronkite described wars, natural disasters, nuclear explosions, social upheavals and space flights, from Alan Shepard’s historic 15-minute ride to lunar landings. On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, Mr. Cronkite exclaimed, “Oh, boy!””

At the risk of seeming as if I am (revealing that I am) seeing everything this week through the lens of Apollo, here was a man who would have enjoyed the 40th anniversary of the mission. Cronkite’s interest in the space program was not a ginned-up show-business enthusiasm, but the real thing. He had the bug. It would have felt fitting if he had made it through the week, and I’m sorry he didn’t. A bit of his CBS coverage of the landing is here:


1. Actually, Cronkite said “Oh, boy!” when the Eagle landed. The Brian Floca News Blog regrets the error. So does the New York Times.

2. Looks as though CBS has had this YouTube footage pulled. You can still get a little bit of Cronkite and the landing here, but CBS has packaged it to within an inch of its life and made it into something like an informercial, with guest appearances by current anchors, etc. Short of a visit to a place like the Paley Center for Media in New York or Los Angeles, I don’t know if there’s a way to get the flavor of the original footage, which seems to me a shame.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Does anyone remember where we parked?

Apparently, yes. Remarkable new photos from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, here, show the Apollo landing sites. Incredible!

Radio Days

Of the links listed in yesterday’s post, the one I’ve been enjoying the most is the link to Apollo 11 Radio — the “audio time capsule” of the Apollo 11 mission that NASA is webcasting in real time this week. Listen here. I’m keeping it on in the background while working on my current looming deadline. I had no idea how much I’d enjoy it, but you can’t beat primary sources. Yes, there are long stretches of nothing but a low, humming static, but that’s all right; you could do worse than a little white noise in the background. Then, unexpectedly, the jargon comes on, most of which I can’t understand, but somehow that’s all right, too. You still get the gist. It was fascinating yesterday listening to Mike Collins and Charlie Duke try to figure out why a set of information on the ground wasn’t matching up with a set in Columbia. Sometimes the whole operation seems to have gone so smoothly that its success seems preordained, but then you listen to those guys try to get their numbers to square, while flying through space, pointed away from Earth, traveling at thousands of feet per second, and you’re reminded of what was really going on. A high tip of the hat to author, illustrator, Brooklyn neighbor, and fellow moon book maker John Rocco, who first sent me the link. Thanks, John!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Countdown: Apollo 11

9:32 AM EDT today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11.

A few of the very many ways out there to enjoy the week's commemorations of Apollo 11: You can follow along a virtual reenactment of the Apollo 11 journey — from liftoff to splashdown — at We Choose The Moon, here, from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Or listen along with Apollo 11 Radio, here, a webcast from NASA that will relay in real time the audio from Apollo 11. How much of the audio? All of it! NASA describes it as an “audio “time capsule”.... Audio from the entire Apollo 11 mission will be replayed and streamed on the Internet at exactly the same time and date it was broadcast in 1969.” Bring it, NASA! That is going to be the soundtrack to my week.

For more from NASA, see their 40th anniversary Apollo site, here. A good list of other online anniversary sites has been compiled by science writer Alan Boyle, here.

Offline, if you happen to be in Washington, D.C., today remarkable astronaut/artist Alan Bean will be celebrating the opening of an exhibit of his paintings at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Also there will be author Andrew Chaikin; together they will sign copies of their fantastic book for young readers, Mission Control, This is Apollo. (If you buy only two Apollo books this summer, buy Mission Control, This is Apollo.) I am proud to say that you can even catch readings (not by me) of Moonshot today at the museum, at 11:00 and 1:30. Details for all those events are here.

And, keep your eyes open for a NASA press conference this morning — more on that here — and for a better look at the Apollo 11 moonwalk than anyone has ever seen.

Now, if you follow this blog — well, first, if you follow this blog, then you’re part of a small, select group. But what I really wanted to say is, if you follow this blog, then you might know that I’ve been posting summaries of each of the manned Apollo missions on their 40th anniversary launch date. (Summaries to date are here, and they will keep coming. Watch for Apollo 12 — but not till November.) So what to say now that we’ve finally reached Apollo 11, the first manned landing on the Moon, the subject of Moonshot?

I hope it’s no slight to the other books I’ve been lucky enough to work on to say that I’ve never felt the pull of a book as deeply as I did on Moonshot. What fascinates me most and what moves me most about these voyages to the Moon, I tried to express in that book. Anything I didn’t get into Moonshot, I’m not going to find words for here. (No offense, Blogger.)

So, serve yourself up some steak and eggs (the astronauts’ breakfast before launch), crank up the audio time capsule, and Godspeed Apollo 11!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today’s Moon News

Highly recommended: Today’s Science Times section of The New York Times. John Noble Wilford, A.O. Scott, and others reflect on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11.

(A few years ago I got to see Wilford interview director (and fellow Texan) Al Reinert at a screening of Reinert’s beautiful, captivating film “For All Mankind.” If you want to spend a little time this anniversary week with images of Apollo, you won’t do better.)

Highly appreciated: Yesterday’s Fuse #8 review of Moonshot, here. For all the kindnesses within the review, I especially appreciated that Fuse tipped her hat to our taking the time to design the book’s endpapers around the fact that some libraries glue down the jacket flaps on their books. (I don’t know why they do it, but I know that they do it.) For Moonshot this meant coming up with a jacket flap-sized panel that would show readers something they might enjoy if they could see it, but that they wouldn’t miss if they couldn’t.

A final small note about the endpapers: In the last panel on the bottom right, you can see a figure, slightly hunched, speaking to the astronauts while they’re still in their trailer-like Mobile Quarantine Facility. It’s not the best likeness, but that figure’s identity can now be revealed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hey, People

From the current (July 13) issue of People. Buy it for the Michael Jackson photos. Cherish it for the book reviews!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Moonshot: The Annotated Edition

I’ve just added a new page to the web site, titled Moonshot Notes. It begins like this:

I had two goals while researching and writing Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.

First, I wanted to find the information that I needed to make an accurate book.

Second, I wanted to keep from beating the reader over the head with all that information. I wanted to be accurate but to evoke the mission, not exhaustively detail it.

But maybe you want some of those details. Possibly you enjoy annotated editions, director’s commentary tracks, and footnotes. Or maybe you've read Moonshot and you've asked, what’s with the yellow shoes? What are those long pointy things sticking off the legs of the Lunar Module? And who’s MOM?

If yes to any of that, then pull up a copy of Moonshot and read on.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What would Buck Rogers Drive?

The New York Times points out that this weekend Mercedes-Benz is marking the 75th anniversary of die Silberpfeile — the racecars known as the Silver Arrows. From the Times story, here:

“As the story goes, technicians from Mercedes-Benz stripped the white paint off its grand prix cars at the 1934 International Eifel race at the Nürburgring track in Germany to bring the cars below the maximum weight permitted by the new racing formula of the time, 750 kilograms, or 1,650 pounds.

True or not, the Silver Arrows were born. Manfred von Brauchitsch delivered a win in the debut of the W 25 race car at the Nürburgring. And until 1939, when World War II put a halt to racing in Europe, the Silver Arrows were dominant on the track, matched only (and only occasionally) by race cars from its arch competitor, Auto Union.”

It was the Silver Arrows, as it happens, that brought about The Racecar Alphabet. When I came across an image of one of those cars a few years ago, a switch went off in my head. I had never been much of a racing fan, but suddenly I appreciated how extraordinarily beautiful these cars could be. Here was sculpture, nothing less. It just happened to be sculpture you could drive through scenic European settings at extraordinary speeds. The desire to spend time with those shapes and forms was the genesis of the book.

A few good pictures of Silver Arrows can be found by clicking here and scrolling down to the wallpaper images near the bottom of the page, and of course more are on the Web if you feel up to the image search.

Above: An early and unused cover painting for The Racecar Alphabet, with a Mercedes-Benz W154 in the lead and a couple of Alfa Romeos and a Bugatti playing catch up.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Back to the bath

Bathtub V from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

I've been remiss. There's a new Keith Loutit video that's been up for nigh on three weeks now, and I just noticed it. It may not reach the all time high that he scored with Bathtub IV, in my humble opinion, but Bathtub IV was so amazing that that's no insult. This is still pretty great.

As always with K. Loutit, remember to go for the full screen option.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Minimalists, shop early

The Apollo 11 anniversary month is here, and I’m happy to write that with it comes news that it’s back to the printer for more copies of Moonshot, now with a revised jacket, above. My vague sense of things is that it was the chance to include blurbs from Michael Collins and other Apollo astronauts that made reworking the design worth doing, but as long as we’re at it we’re loading the formerly restrained jacket with review quotes, too — including a review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books that’s just in, which I’m happy to write has given Moonshot its fifth starred review. Writing about both Moonshot and Robert Burleigh’s and Mike Wimmer’s One Giant Leap, BCCB says, “This pair of picture books, each featuring a poetic text that fairly begs to be read aloud, will be even better savored by independent readers who will delight in the authors’ carefully crafted storytelling while lingering over the visual renderings of the first manned moon landing.”

For those interested in additional lunar reading, BCCB has also published two lists of moon-themed books, one factual, here, and one fanciful, here.

Thanks to everyone who’s picked up a copy and sent us back for more, and to BCCB!

Friday, June 12, 2009


As you can see, fresh Moonshot agitprop is now up and running on YouTube.

And I’m happy to say I’ll be speaking about Moonshot this weekend, as part of the World Science Festival in Washington Square Park here in New York. You can read more about the festival at their web site, here, and in a review in today’s Times, here. I’ll speak on the early side on Sunday morning, from 10:00 to 10:30, and if the AV system is willing I’ll show slides about the process of making the drawings in Moonshot. I’ll be signing books at 11:00. Schedule and venue details are here. I hope you can come by!

EDIT: “As you can see” may have been a poor choice of words; the video seems to be loading irregularly. If it’s not showing up here, you can watch it on YouTube here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Go like heck

Many of the scenes in The Racecar Alphabet are either of actual raceways, or stand in for moments in the history of racing. The night scene on the V page, for instance, is meant to represent the 24-hour road race at Le Mans. Now there’s a new book about Ford’s efforts during the 1960s to wrest dominance of Le Mans from Ferrari, Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, by A. J. Baime, reviewed here in the Times, that sounds like a lot of fun, if your interests go in that direction.

This also serves as an excuse to mention that I recently received a copy of The Racecar Alphabet from its latest reprinting — its tenth time back to the presses, I’m happy to say. (Tenth big printing? No. But tenth printing!) Thanks to everyone who’s picked up a copy!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Here’s a short discussion with Avi about the Poppy books — about the characters and how some of them came about, about the intersections between the stories and life, and about concluding the series. I may be biased, but I say it’s a good watch!

And a reminder: my earlier, shorter, and substantially less thoughtful video about the Poppy books is still available here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sketch break

The deadline said: Work all weekend. The central nervous system (trembling, tired, and vibrating) said: Take a break. I broke. And how do illustrators take a break from drawing? Different drawing. Busman’s holiday’s are the only kind I know. So, I joined author/illustrator Tim Bush and others for some looking and sketching at the Met on Monday. My sketch of Germain Pilon’s bronze bust 0f the long-faced Jean de Morvillier is above. Now it’s back to drawing another long-faced certain someone.

More about her soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Majáková lod’

The other day I was looking through my copy of Richard Scarry’s European Word Book. (I bought the book while spending a few months in Prague years ago, so here “European words” means English, German, French, and Czech.) While flipping through the pages, this little drawing of a mouse manning (mousing?) a lightship jumped out at me. A lightship! And not just any lightship, but the Ambrose lightship! My God! Mon Dieu! Mein Gott! Ach můj bože! Scarry’s boat is a later generation lightship than the one I drew in Lightship, the one now docked at South Street Seaport Museum, but, still — how funny and strange to find that this illustrator whose work I enjoyed so much as a boy had touched this subject I would later discover (rediscover?) for myself. The more you read and write and draw, the more these things seem to loop back on you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Countdown: Apollo 10

Today, May 18, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 10. Apollo 7 made the first manned flight of a Saturn launch vehicle and the first test in space of Command and Service Modules (the CSM). Apollo 8 flew to the Moon and entered its orbit. Apollo 9, in Earth orbit, tested the Lunar Module (LM) and docked it with the CSM, as astronauts returning from a lunar landing would have to do. On this day Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan set out to put all the pieces together.

First, the astronauts would first fly to the Moon and enter its orbit. From there Stafford and Cernan would fly their LM—designated Snoopy—to within 50,000 of the lunar surface, scout out the landing site for Apollo 11, then fly back up to dock with their CSM—designated Charlie Brown. (In his book The Last Man on the Moon, Cernan writes, “The image-conscious NASA public relations people who felt that Gumdrop and Spider weren’t really serious enough names for the historic value of Apollo 9 were even more underwhelmed when we obtained permission from Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz to christen the Apollo 10 command module Charlie Brown and call the lunar module Snoopy.” If California is in your range, you can see more about Peanuts and Apollo at the exhibit “To the Moon: Snoopy Soars with NASA,” currently running at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.) The plan for Apollo 10 was close enough to an actual landing that there were arguments within NASA for taking it that final step. And yet, there were so many complicated things being done, many still for the first time, all in extraordinary circumstances. The cumulative weight of the never-before-done aspects of the mission, plus the possibility of unknowns, kept Apollo 10 just above the face of the Moon.

Any flight to the Moon was by definition a nonstop string of extraordinary moments. Most were planned; two on Apollo 10 were not. The first occurred after Apollo 10 had left Earth orbit. As the last stage of the Saturn V rocket fired and pushed the astronauts toward the Moon—a maneuver known as Translunar Injection—a vibration began to run through the ship, “so strong that it threw us around in our straps,” Cernan writes. Andrew Chaikin writes in his book A Man on the Moon, “The vibrations worsened until Stafford could barely read the instruments.... Stafford held the abort button in his left hand; with a twist he could shut down the booster and end the mission. But he told himself, “No way. We’ve come this far—if she blows, then she blows.”” The vibrations continued for a full three minutes. When the engines stopped, so did the shaking, and the mission continued on course.

The second moment occurred as Stafford and Cernan were finishing their swift flight over the Moon. (They soared over the craters and plains at speeds close to 3,700 per hour.) As Stafford and Cernan were preparing to fly Snoopy back up to the orbiting CSM, the LM abruptly jerked out of control. Suddenly Stafford and Cernan were speeding, pitching, and spinning along, unable to rein in their ship. “Snoopy went nuts,” Cernan writes. “Things went topsy-turvy and I saw the surface corkscrew through my window, then the knife edge of a horizon, then blackness, then the Moon again, only this time coming from a different direction.” The mission was being broadcast live—which allowed Cernan’s choice words of reaction to be sent unfiltered to the listening audience on Earth. Stafford wrestled back control only seconds before the spinning would have led to a crash. He and Cernan ascended to the rendezvous with the CSM and, after a successful docking, the three astronauts headed home in Charlie Brown. Apollo 10 splashed down safely on May 26.

Those tense and dangerous moments notwithstanding, Apollo 10 was a success. All the necessary machines and maneuvers were now assembled and tested. Stafford, Young, Cernan and the teams at Mission Control had prepared the way for that last remarkable step, for landing on the Moon. Next stop: Mare Tranquillitatis — the Sea of Tranquillity.

Previous mission summaries are here. Coming next: Apollo 11.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reading and Signing at Book Culture

I’ll be traveling north this weekend — all the way to 112th Street — for a reading and signing of Moonshot at Book Culture bookstore. The signing is at 11:00 this Saturday, May 16. Book Culture is at 536 West 112th Street in New York. If that’s your neck of the woods I hope you’ll come by! Event details are here.

Friday, May 8, 2009


In January I wrote about how glad I was to have words of support for Moonshot from Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot on the Apollo 11 mission. Since then I’ve been happy and honored to receive additional blurbs from these Apollo veterans:

Moonshot is a treat to look at and enjoy. The art is very accurate, in fact more accurate than I can remember seeing anywhere else. There is little that is not complex and confusing about space hardware, yet Moonshot gets it right. Very wonderful art in every way.”
— Alan Bean, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 12

Moonshot is well done and should receive a warm welcome from many space age boys and girls.”
— James Lovell, Command Module Pilot, Apollo 8; Commander, Apollo 13

Moonshot is wonderful for keeping the dream alive for young people.”
— Edgar Mitchell, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 14

“The most significant legacy of Apollo is the inspiration it instills in the hearts and minds of those young dreamers who follow in our footsteps. Moonshot furthers the romance of once again going where no man has gone before.”
— Gene Cernan, Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 10; Commander, Apollo 17

Those blurbs have been up on my web site, but I wanted quickly to say here how much I appreciate getting them and having the chance to communicate, even briefly, with such incredible individuals — individuals who have been to the Moon. Seeing those names in my e-mail inbox, or hearing them on my phone after wondering who might be calling from an area code I didn’t recognize (Houston, of course), has been a huge thrill. Just incredibly exciting.

I was particularly happy to receive Alan Bean’s note. This is indeed complicated stuff, and no matter how much of it you think you’ve figured out, it’s hard to know what you might still be missing or misunderstanding. So that note was a vindication and a relief. The other added thrill with hearing from Bean was that it was from artist to artist; since retiring from NASA in 1981, Bean has been painting full-time. You can see his art online at You can also see it in the forthcoming Mission Control, This is Apollo, a big, beautiful, information-packed book for young readers, with text by Andrew Chaikin, author of the fantastic adult book (“adult book”) A Man on the Moon. Mission Control, This is Apollo is for ages 9 to 12, they say, but I’ve had a look at it and love it and I haven't been 12 in a long time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Impressions of Ereth

Joe Sutphin left a comment after the last post: “I got a good look at [Poppy and Ereth] and it appears that you have developed a new technique not used in the other Poppy books for hairs and whiskers. it looks as if you did some scraping to the paper surface before the rendering to create white ruts, is that correct?” Good eye, Joe, and you’re exactly right. After my last foray into porcupine research I gained a new appreciation for just how bristly the guys are. They’ve got not just the famous quills, but also lots of unruly hairs of various shades sticking out this way and that. I was trying to get a little more of that into my drawings of Ereth, and on a whim I impressed a few lines into a drawing-in-progress with the pointy end of a clay carving tool. (I chose a clay carving tool because one was nearby.) The impressed line stayed white when I shaded over it, and I ended up with the effect you see above. I was wary of changing the look of Ereth and the drawings too much in this the last book, but this seemed subtle enough not to be disruptive, and I liked the effect, and the new technique also gave me something a little new and interesting to think about, and I liked that, too. Thanks for noticing and for the question, Joe!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Washington, D.C.

I’ll be in Washington on Saturday, May 2, for signings at two of that city’s great institutions.

First, from 12:00 to 2:00 I’ll be at the National Air and Space Museum, signing Moonshot. That’s right, Air and Space! Sanctum sanctorum! I’m thrilled to be signing there. Details of the signing are here. Also, it’s Space Day at the museum. I would think that every day there is space day, but apparently Saturday is Space Day. Details of the day’s other events are here.

Then, from 3:00 to 3:30, I’ll be at renowned D.C. bookstore Politics & Prose. Details of that visit are here.

If you’re in D.C. and so inclined, I hope I’ll see you!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Poppy and Ereth

Books finished months and months apart from each other can sometimes be brought together by their publishing schedules and so now, hot on the heels of Moonshot, comes Poppy and Ereth, by Avi, released today.

The Poppy Stories series concludes with this book, which is a bittersweet thing for me. The series has kept me working with Avi, which has been a pleasure and privilege. It has meant the chance to return to characters and settings I enjoy, and to illustrate stories that I always find engaging and rewarding. And, it has kept some variety alive and kicking in my portfolio; I love pen and ink and watercolor, but it’s pleasing, also, sometimes to settle in with a pencil and follow the details. (In a folder somewhere I have the drawings I did for editor Richard Jackson when we were talking about whether the illustrations for the first Poppy should be done in pen-and-ink or pencil. I tried both, and the pencil just felt a better fit for the tone and setting of the story. I couldn’t have imagined that that decision would stay with me the way it has.)

Now a small caveat: the drawings here hit some bumps on the way to the printer. The map in the beginning of the book does not look as it should. The cover art was altered, so that Ereth’s teeth, which should be orange — strange as it might seem, porcupines have lurid, unattractive, and very orange teeth — are now pearly white. None of this made me feel very good. E-mails were exchanged. Future printings and editions will fix these and other small problems, which I do appreciate. Meanwhile, I don't steer you away from this edition. You might even consider first edition Poppy and Ereths to be collector’s items. They might make a pretty good investment. Eh? Maybe? Check with your financial advisor before making bulk purchases.

So, Poppy and Ereth, out today. It has tooth enamel issues but is a good story and a fitting conclusion to a series that means a lot to me. I hope you’ll pick it up and that you enjoy the book!

ADDENDUM: To see the original cover art — and Ereth in all his orange-toothed glory — click here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Today is the official publication date for Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11. The reviews, in order of appearance, are excerpted below:

Booklist (starred review):
“Forty years after NASA’s Apollo 11 mission first landed astronauts on the moon, this striking nonfiction picture book takes young readers along for the ride.... Written with quiet dignity and a minimum of fuss, the main text is beautifully illustrated with line-and-wash artwork that provides human interest, technological details, and some visually stunning scenes. The book’s large format offers plenty of scope for double-page illustrations, and Floca makes the most of it, using the sequential nature of picture books to set up the more dramatic scenes and give them human context.... A handsome, intelligent book with a jacket that’s well-nigh irresistible.”

School Library Journal (starred review):
“Large in trim size as well as topic, this stirring account retraces Apollo 11's historic mission in brief but precise detail, and also brilliantly captures the mighty scope and drama of the achievement.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review):
“A dizzying, masterful command of visual pacing combines with an acute sense of verbal rhythms to provide a glorious account of the Apollo 11 mission, one that stands as the must-buy in this crowded lunar season.... Floca’s language, in one of his longer texts, is equally gorgeous.... Humor lightly applied provides the necessary grounding touch to this larger-than-human endeavor without ever taking away its sense of moment. The front endpapers give detail-loving readers diagrams and a pictorial chronology; the back endpapers contain a brief history of NASA’s lunar program. Breathtaking, thrilling and perfect.”

And hot off the Internet is word that there will be a starred review in the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

All books are labors of love, but making Moonshot meant more to me — and asked more of me — than any work I’ve done so far. I am grateful for the support the book has received every step of the way from everyone at Atheneum, and I am proud, relieved, appreciative, and happy at the reception the book is receiving.

I hope you’ll find a copy somewhere and that you’ll enjoy it!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Color Me Lunar

Dear blog, where does the time go? Has it really been a month? Apparently yes, so here’s a quick post to announce that I’ve recently put a few Moonshot-themed coloring pages up on my website, here. I’m not sure how much use these coloring pages get, if any; if you or someone you love has ever put crayon to them, fire me an e-mail or, better, a scan, and let me know. In any case, it’s fun to think that someone somewhere might enjoy them sometime, and so there they are!

More about Moonshot tomorrow — the official publication date.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Countdown: Apollo 9

Today, March 3, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 9. Apollo 7 was impressive for being the first manned test of a Saturn rocket and of an Apollo command module, and Apollo 8 was stunning for taking a crew all the way to the Moon and back. Comparatively, Apollo 9 might have seemed mundane; the crew of Apollo 9, James McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart, would perform their ten-day mission in Earth orbit. But Apollo 9 was loaded with tests and first achievements, and was as crucial and challenging as any mission of the Apollo program. It included a nearly forty-minute spacewalk by Schweickart to test the spacesuits that astronauts would wear on the Moon; the first flight of a lunar module, the spindly spaceship designed to land astronauts on the surface of the Moon; and the first rendezvous between a lunar module and a command module, a maneuver essential to the success of the coming landing attempt.

Apollo 9 splashed down safely in the Atlantic on March 13. The stage was set for Apollo 10 — the mission which would do everything but land, the final preparation for Apollo 11.

And, I may as well note that Apollo 9 is also the name of an Adam Ant song. I was never that into Adam Ant, so take this as thoroughness, not an endorsement.

Above: Dave Scott sticks his head out of Command Module Gumdrop.

Take 190 West

I was glad to be invited to the inaugural Take 190 West arts festival in Killeen, Texas, which took place this past weekend. I enjoyed meeting and talking with the organizers and other participants, including bookseller (and chef de cuisine) Pat Anderson and illustrator (and soon to be author) Don Tate, whose latest book, Ron’s Big Mission, is its own kind of astronaut story: it tells how future space shuttle astronaut Ron McNair, as a boy, by demanding the right to check out books, integrated his hometown library. It was also great to meet and rub shoulders with Keith Graves, Clare Dunkle, David Davis, Jan Peck, Jackie Mills, Xavier Garza, Nathan Jensen, Christina Strain, Rod Espinoza, and the other people whose names I’m forgetting right now. Thanks, Killeen, for the invitation!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Buy this cat

An original pen-and-ink and watercolor drawing of the cat from Lightship, in best surprised-by-the-foghorn style, is up for bidding now on eBay, here, as part of an auction in support of Anjellicle Cats Rescue. Anjellicle describes themselves as “a no-kill, all-volunteer, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. We are a member of the Mayor's Alliance and a New Hope Partner with the New York Animal Care & Control (ACC). For over ten years, this Hell's Kitchen shelter has been a lifeline for abandoned, stray, and neglected cats and kittens. In addition, we work closely with the ACC to pull out those who are in danger of being euthanized due to overcrowding.”

Anyone who ponies up for this watercolor will receive it signed, personalized, whatever you like. And check out the rest of the auction for art by other illustrators and a long list of New Yorker cartoonists, too.

Thanks for bidding!

IN CONCLUSION: The auction is over, and I’m happy to announce that the cat here raised a respectable chunk of change for Anjellicle Cats Rescue. Thanks to everyone who bid!

Monday, February 23, 2009


It’s not all fun and games and retrorockets when you’re researching the space race. An obituary in the Times today, here, covers the life of Konrad Dannenberg, a father of Apollo, and takes a reader into one of the more morally murky aspects of the beginnings of the American space program, Operation Paperclip, the recruitment of German rocket scientists at the end of World War II.

In the popular culture of the space race era, one can see an America both impressed by these former adversaries, and made uneasy by them. On the impressed side of the ledger, consider Werner von Braun’s stature as a major public figure and his influential series about the potential of manned space flight in Collier’s Magazine. See some of those articles here. For unease, listen to a biting song by Tom Lehrer about von Braun here, or watch Peter Seller’s darkly hilarious Dr. Strangelove here.

And, no, there are no Dr. Strangelove references in Moonshot. This is the sort of background material that does not make it into the book when you’re writing for the four-and-up crowd.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rescue Me

THE MOST AMAZING KEITH LOUTIT VIDEO YET. (See earlier post about Loutit here.) Music! Thrills! Poetry! Flying Machines! (Note that by clicking on the four arrows in the lower right hand corner of the Vimeo window you'll get the full screen experience, which this video in particular wants. Maybe that's obvious to you but it too me a while to spot it.)

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

First Contact

Shelf Awareness, a daily e-mail newsletter for the book trade, reviews Moonshot today. As far as I know it’s the first published review of the book, and it’s a great way to start: “Floca masterfully balances poetry and science in this picture-book homage to the voyage of Apollo 11.” The review continues, “[T]he visual imagery and the pacing of the text hold the key to Floca's success,” and closes with, “Endpapers feature cutaway views of the rocket and all its stages, and offer a timeline of events; meticulous source notes make this a fine reference for youngest researchers, scientists and space fans. In these 48 pages, Floca makes an indelible impression of how those brief eight days in July, 40 years ago, changed history.” The complete review is online here. It’s a thoughtful and thorough review and I deeply appreciate it. Thanks, Shelf Awareness!

Monday, February 2, 2009


Here is the sprint to the finish line. If I had a good exhausted-collapse-at-the-finish-line drawing, I would show you that instead, but one makes do and in either case the news is the same: the 62 (sixty-two!) pencil drawings and 1 (one) map overlay that will appear in Avi’s Poppy and Ereth are finished and delivered unto HarperCollins Children’s Books. More about finishing this book — and this series — later. Right now, I’m beat!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Hinky-Pink is notable!

The American Library Association’s 2009 Notable Children’s Books list is now online, here, and it’s a happy honor that The Hinky-Pink is on it. Thanks to the 2009 Notable Children’s Books Committee, and congratulations to all the week’s award winners!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I dream of Ray Harryhausen

A quick break from the mouse drawings here for some amazing films that I recently found online (via this blog). They’re the work of Mr. Keith Loutit of Sydney, Australia. Loutit uses tilt/shift photography — which plays with depth of field to create the illusion that you’re looking at a miniature or scale model — in combination with time/lapse photography; the result gives the impression that you’re watching the most insanely detailed stop/motion animation ever created. There are six films up on his Vimeo site, where you'll get a better view of these films than you can here. I can't resist posting a few of them here anyway, though. I chose the more vehicle-centric ones so that this would seem a little less wildly off-topic. More on-topic posts to come. Meanwhile, enjoy!

Bathtub II from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

The North Wind Blew South from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Metal Heart from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Poppy’s Progress

Recent posts have been all about Moonshot and The Hinky-Pink, but the real action on the drawing board these days (and nights) continues to be Poppy and Ereth. Among the former cast members returning for this the final act is Bounder the fox, shown here both as sketch and as he’ll appear in the book. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I haven’t gone after many blurbs over the years, but I’m happy and very genuinely honored to post word of a blurb that came in recently for Moonshot:

“Reading Moonshot gave me the feeling I was back up in space.”

Those words came in a short note from Michael Collins, BGen USAF (Ret.), Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11.

There are many people I grew to respect and find fascinating as I did the research for Moonshot, but none more than Collins, not least because of his book Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey, a fascinating account of life as an astronaut, written with honesty, intelligence, humor, and clarity. It was a key book for me as I was trying to figure out how and if I could make a book of my own out of Apollo.

So for all those reasons the Collins blurb is meaningful. And then there’s this, too: Back in September 2006, I mailed my editor, Dick Jackson, the proposal for Moonshot just before heading down to Texas to visit family. I traveled in a state of suspense. While I was in Texas, Dick called with the good news: he liked the proposal. Just a few days later, I was still high on the news as I rode the tram at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, going from Gate A to Gate C or wherever, on my way back to New York. Then the tram door opened, and maybe it’s just that I still had Carrying the Fire on the brain — I’d been looking at it a lot while putting together the proposal — but in walked this guy who looked like Michael Collins. Who really looked like Michael Collins. And so finally I asked, and he didn’t hear me. On a tram full of people, that felt pretty awkward. So I hesitated, but then asked again, and he looked like Michael Collins because he was Michael Collins. Signs and wonders! He was on his way to Tucson. He was very gracious, and I tried not to act like a fanatic. True story.

Friday, January 2, 2009

In space no one can hear your shutter click

For your viewing pleasure, a new image archive from NASA is up online at NASA Images. I have a soft spot for the Apollo pictures, but it's hard to go wrong, even (especially?) with this picture of the crew of Apollo 11 in sombreros. That moment didn't make it into Moonshot, but you never can fit in everything.

EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me that this site has been up since the summer. What can I say? I stopped scouring for Apollo imagery in the spring, after the drawings for Moonshot were complete, so it seemed new to me when I first saw it last week. Good browsing, regardless!