Friday, April 30, 2010

Coloring in Queens

Here’s something that was nice to see during my visit to the Queens Central Library last week, and not just because I like crayons, the Duomo of Florence, or astronauts (though I do). What’s nice is that these particular coloring pages are from my web site, here. The event was a success in other ways, too: well and energetically attended and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Thanks to Legal Aid/Books for Kids for the chance to be there!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Come to Queens

I’ll be reading and sketching this Saturday as part of a Literacy Carnival sponsored by the Legal Aid Society and Books For Kids.

Books for Kids is “the only literacy program specifically targeting children involved in the New York City Family Court system. Many of the Juvenile Rights Practice clients come from impoverished backgrounds, are in the foster care system, lack access to the world of reading and have few, if any books of their own.”

And here’s the event description: “The Legal Aid Society’s Books for Kids Project will hold a Literacy Carnival on April 24 at Queens Central Library, 89-11 Merrick Blvd., Jamaica, which promises to be a spectacular event. It is a special day for court-involved children and their caregivers and families in the community — to enjoy literacy-related activities, meet two children's book authors and illustrators, learn about local literacy and library resources and hear from successful role models in the community. There will be a magician, a bubble wrap fashion show and a balloon sculptor plus teaching artists from the Children's Museum for the Arts and volunteers from Legal Aid and Goldman Sachs doing face painting, seed planting, and book give aways. The Carnival will be held from noon to 4pm.”

I’m on from 1:15 to 2:00. All are welcome at the Literacy Carnival. F train to 169th St. Come on by! More information here.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Librarians of Texas! I’m happy to say I’ll be at the Texas Library Association Conference this week. I’ll be there courtesy of Pat Anderson of Overlooked Books, at booth no. 1341. I’ll be signing there on Thursday from 10:15 to 12:30 and from 2:00 to 4:00, on Friday morning from 10:00 to 12:00, and on Saturday morning, 9:00 to 12:00. We’ll have Moonshot and The Hinky-Pink, by Megan McDonald, fresh from the 2010-2011 Texas Bluebonnet Award Master, and other titles, too. Additionally I’ll have with me an advance reader’s copy of my next book, Ballet For Martha, by Sandra Jordan and Jan Greenberg, so come by for a look at that. I hope to see you in San Antonio!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Countdown: Apollo 13

Today, April 11, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 13. Apollo missions 11 and 12 had landed on the moon’s open plains. Apollo 13 was designed to touch down among the Fra Mauro range — more interesting for the geologists studying the moon, and more challenging for the pilot landing on it.

The crew of was James Lovell, Commander; Jack Swigert, Command Module Pilot; and Fred Haise, Lunar Module Pilot. Lovell had written his thesis at the Naval Academy on liquid-fuel rocketry, flown jets off carriers for the Navy, and tested experimental jets at the Navy’s Aircraft Test Center in Patuxent, Maryland. He’d applied early for the astronaut program, but wasn’t selected for NASA’s first class of astronaut trainees, the group known as the Mercury Seven; during physical fitness tests performed on astronaut candidates at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Lovell’s bilirubin was found to be a little high. An arcane reason not to be chosen, perhaps, but then again many of the tests at the clinic were arcane, bordering on simply odd (including fertility tests and up to six diagnostic enemas per day). By the time NASA was ready to recruit a second class of astronauts, the Lovelace tests were considered unnecessary, and Lovell was admitted to the program as part of the group dubbed the New Nine. By the time he was assigned to Apollo 13, Lovell had already flown three flights into space — Gemini 7, Gemini 12, and Apollo 8. No one had spent more time in space or logged more miles there, but none of those trips would turn out to be anything like Apollo 13.

The mission began routinely enough — not without glitches, but with no major problems. Then, at fifty-six hours into the mission, on April 13, a routine maintenance procedure set off an explosion in one of the ship’s oxygen tanks. “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” Lovell told Mission Control. (It was the movie that put the phrase into the present tense.) The explosion transformed Apollo 13 into a harrowing and sustained test of men and equipment. It sent a crippling blow through the systems of the command module, created shortages of electricity, water, heat, and oxygen, scrubbed any chance of landing on the moon, and threatened the astronauts’ chances of returning to Earth.

For the next half week, the astronauts, mission control, and the engineers who had designed and built the components of Apollo 13 worked together to perform a sort of sustained miracle of educated improvisation, putting ships, equipment, flight plans, and engines to uses for which they were never designed. Since the explosion had cost the command module all but a bare reserve of power, the lunar module became a “life raft” in which the crew spent most of the flight. They used the LM’s engine — designed for landing on the moon — to adjust and speed their flight back to Earth. (During the crisis a wag at Grumman, which had built the LM, circulated a billing form to be sent to North American Rockwell, which had built the command module. Fees included: “Towing, $4.00 first mile, $1.00 each additional mile. Total charge, $400,001.00.”) Finally, on April 17, after four cold, dangerous, and nearly sleepless days, Lovell, Swigert, and Haise, returned safely to Earth. The last fears of the teams on the ground were that the command module heat shield or parachutes had been damaged in the explosion, but both worked flawlessly.

The mission was, by some obvious standards, a failure. Commanding a landing on the moon was to have been the capstone of Jim Lovell’s career; now that was not to be. The mission’s scientific objectives had all been lost. And yet Apollo 13 became known as a “successful failure” for the way in which the agency, contractors, and astronauts worked together. In a situation that could easily have turned tragic, they found a way to bring the crew safely home to Earth. And though at one point in the mission Lovell let loose the impolitic observation, “I think this is going to be the last moon flight for a long time,” in fact NASA diagnosed and corrected the failures of the mission with what now seems like remarkable speed. By January of the next year, Apollo 14 was on its way, its destination the Fra Mauro range.

Above: A view of Apollo 13’s damaged service module, its innards revealed by the explosion onboard. Sources: Lost Moon: The Perilous Flight of Apollo 13, by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger; A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, by Andrew Chaikin; and

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Books for NYC Schools event

Books for NYC Kids is an event being held this Saturday, April 10, sponsored by ReadThis and the Center for Fiction. On the table will be a slew of readings, panels, and workshops by authors of books for both adults and kids: Elizabeth Gilbert, Rick Moody, Kurt Andersen, Sam Lipsyte, Jamaica Kincaid, Elise Broach, Miriam Cohen, Tad Hills, Veronica Chambers, Fran Manushkin, and Bob Morris. And! At 3:30, I’ll be reading Moonshot and answering all your questions to the best of my ability. The price of admission is two or more new or gently used books, pre-K through grade 12 level, which will go to kids and schools in New York in need of them. The event will be held at 17 East 47th Street in Manhattan, from 11:30 through the afternoon. The event website is here. It’s a great cause and should be a great event. I hope you can come by for some or all of the day!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blue Moon of Kentucky

This just in: Moonshot has been named to the 2011 Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master list for grades K-2. Thank you, Kentucky! I’m cranking up the Bill Monroe.

Sundress, by Joey Fortuna

My talented friend Joey Fortuna has a concert tonight, Tuesday, April 6, on the occasion of the release of his new CD, Sundress, at the Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen Street, New York, N.Y., from 7:00 to 7:45. What makes this on topic for blogging purposes is the album art (by me). You can listen to some of Joey’s music at his website, here, or his Facebook page, here. Further venue information is here. You should go give him a listen. But don’t look for me there. I’m home with a nasty sore throat. ^%$#@!