Thursday, December 8, 2011

Turkish Delight

Yesterday this arrived in the mail: a paper bag, stapled shut, stamped, postmarked Turkey. The bag arrived in great shape, and got more roughed up by my walking around with it for an hour in the rain than it did in getting here from the shores of Eurasia. Inside were brand new Turkish editions of Ragweed and Poppy, by Avi. The publisher, Hayykitap, took their design cues from the American editions, and so these books are strikingly similar to their domestic kin. Inside, the paper is nice and the printing is good; the drawings have a nice pop to them. Thanks for the great job, Hayykitap!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hell on Wheels (and Hurdy-Gurdy Dancing)

AMC premieres a new television series tonight, “Hell on Wheels.” Before I began work on my current project, Locomotive, I knew the phrase “hell on wheels,” but I didn’t know its origin. I think I associated it with motorcycle gangs. Incorrect! It comes, instead, from the 1860s, from the rowdy, ramshackle, dangerous towns — hell — that would spring up alongside construction of the eastern half of the transcontinental railroad and then, as construction moved on, pack up, pick up, and move down the tracks wheels — to keep up with the workers who kept the town’s bars and brothels running at a profit. 

(This was a phenomenon only of the eastern half of the line, where the workers were largely Irish immigrants and Civil War veterans. The western half of the line, built largely by Chinese immigrant laborers, progressed without benefit of the same quantities of liquor, murder, and prostitution.) 
Here are two good bits on hell on wheels towns, both of which I first read in Dee Brown’s Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: Railroads in the West. The first is a contemporary description of Benton, Wyoming, by publisher Samuel Bowles. The town was, he wrote, “a congregation of scum and wickedness…almost everybody dirty, many filthy, and with the marks of the lowest vice; averaging a murder a day; gambling and drinking, hurdy-gurdy dancing and the vilest of sexual commerce, the chief business and pastimes of the hours,—this was Benton. Like its predecessors, if fairly festered in corruption, disorder and death, and would have rotted, even in this dry air, had it outlasted a brief sixty-day life. But in a few weeks its tents were struck, its shanties razed, and with their dwellers moved on fifty or a hundred miles farther to repeat their life for another brief day. Where these people came from originally; where they went to when the road was finished, and their occupation over, were both puzzles too intricate for me. Hell would appear to have been raked to furnish them….”

(An aside: It’s hard, for me, at least, to think of George Lucas ever writing the lines “wretched hive of scum and villainy” without Benton and Bowles having paved the way.)
The second story is set in the new city of Cheyenne when the line has just reached it, one hundred forty miles after leaving the town of Julesburg behind. Dee Brown writes, “The next day, the first passenger train arrived, and from it poured a considerable portion of the gamblers and dance-hall girls of Julesburg. A few hours later, a long train of flatcars rumbled into the station. Every car was loaded high with knocked-down buildings, storefronts, dance-hall floors, tents, wooden sidings, and entire roofs. According to legend, as a brakeman dropped down onto the station platform, he shouted to the waiting crowd: “Gentleman, here’s Julesburg!””
Sadly, none of this material will quite make it into Locomotive, which will be (someday, I promise) a picture book for the 6+ crowd. “Heck on wheels” just doesn’t have the same ring. It makes a fellow want to get into YA.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

West Virginia Book Festival

I’m heading to Charleston, West Virginia this weekend to give a presentation Saturday at the West Virginia Book Festival. I look forward to flying into Yeager Airport, and am remembering the bit from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff in which he theorizes that airline pilots across the country speak in a sort of emulation of West Virginia’s own Chuck Yeager:
“Anyone who travels very much on airlines in the United States soon gets to know the voice of the airline pilot . . . coming over the intercom . . . with a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness that is so exaggerated it begins to parody itself (nevertheless!—it's reassuring) . . . the voice that tells you, as the airliner is caught in thunderheads and goes bolting up and down a thousand feet at a single gulp, to check your seat belts because 'it might get a little choppy' . . . .

Well!—who doesn't know that voice! And who can forget it,—even after he is proved right and the emergency is over.

That particular voice may sound vaguely Southern or Southwestern, but it is specifically Appalachian in origin. It originated in the mountains of West Virginia, in the coal country, in Lincoln County, so far up in the hollows that, as the saying went, ‘they had to pipe in daylight.’ In the late 1940s and early 1950s this up-hollow voice drifted down from on high, from over the high desert of California, down, down, down, from the upper reaches of the Brotherhood into all phases of American aviation. It was amazing. It was Pygmalion in reverse. Military pilots and then, soon, airline pilots, pilots from Maine and Massachusetts and the Dakotas and Oregon and everywhere else, began to talk in that poker-hollow West Virginia drawl, or as close to it as they could bend their native accents. It was the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager.”
I’ll be listening for it. Meanwhile you can, should you choose, listen to me, sounding as if I’m calling from the far side of the moon, in conversation with Mona Seghatoleslami of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. We discuss Ballet for Martha and the themes of the presentation I’ll be giving. The interview is online here
And if you’re in range of Charleston, I hope I’ll see you this weekend. I’m looking forward to the trip! Festival details are here and details for my presentation are here.

Above: Aaron Copland at work on Appalachian Spring. Not that Copland knew that was going to be the title; Martha Graham surprised him with that.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Return to the Library of Congress!

Exciting news here is that Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring will be featured on Tuesday, October 4 at an event at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where the dance was first performed. Here are the details, via the Librarys press release:
“The ballet classic Appalachian Spring, created by Martha Graham with music by Aaron Copland, is the subject of a new book for young people, called Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring (Roaring Brook Press: 2010). The Coolidge Foundation of the Library of Congress commissioned the work, which premiered in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium on Oct. 30, 1944.
A program featuring the creators of Ballet for Martha, as well as a performance by members of the Martha Graham Dance Company of excerpts of Appalachian Spring, will be part of an event on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 11 a.m. in the Coolidge Auditorium in the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets are required. A small display of important items from the Library’s Martha Graham Collection will also be on view. Students from local schools will attend this event but all are welcome.
The book Ballet for Martha was written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, with illustrations by Brian Floca. These three will present an illustrated discussion of their book, which will be available for sale and signing. The dancers from the Graham Company are Miki Orihara and Tadej Brdnik. Speaking on behalf of the Library are John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book, which oversees the Library’s Young Readers Center, and Susan Vita, chief of the Music Division.”
The full press release is here. It will be an honor to present the book in this setting and in this company. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll be able to make it to the event.
Above, an alternate sketch of the audience arriving at the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building on the eve of the ballet’s debut.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Dinosaur Draw-Off

As a boy I loved to draw dinosaurs. 

I knew that Tyrannosaurus rex was the king of the dinosaurs, and so I always gave him a crown. Later the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat stole this idea from me and used it for an image that you can now see on a collection of Maya Angelou poems, a box of chocolates, and who knows where else. 

But the point is: dinosaurs and drawing, and that I’m pleased to announce that I will be moderating the DINOSAUR DRAW-OFF at the Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend. Bob Shea, Matt Myers and Roxie Munro are the artists who will draw for your entertainment, edification, and astonishment. 

(And my qualifications as moderator? Ive been around the block myself. I would say that book was a long time ago, but whats a long time ago when were talking dinosaurs?)

I’m looking forward to the drawing and drawings that we can expect from this very talented group. I hope you’ll join us. We’ll be at the Target Childrens Area, Joralemon and Adams Streets, Sunday September 18, from 10:30 to 11:00 AM. All Brooklyn Book Festival events are free. More details here. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No swimming

I moved my studio last month. I’m excited now to be sharing a space with four great authors and illustrators. The crew here includes — or will include, once everyone (else) gets back from summer vacations and time away and so on — Sophie Blackall, John Bemelmans Marciano, John Rocco, and Sergio Ruzzier. We’re in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, near the Gowanus Canal, a fabled strip of water, infamous for the sludge and worse that industry has poured into it over the years. Thomas Wolfe wrote:
“And what is that you smell?
Oh, that!...It is the old Gowanus Canal, and that aroma you speak of is nothing but the huge symphonic stink of it, cunningly compacted of unnumbered separate putrefactions. It is interesting sometimes to try to count them. There is in it not only the noisome stenches of a stagnant sewer, but also the smells of melted glue, burned rubber, and smoldering rags, the odors of a boneyard horse, long dead, the incense of putrefying offal, the fragrance of deceased, decaying cats, old tomatoes, rotten cabbage, and prehistoric eggs.”

Oh, that!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel..., well, you know what. The good news, for me, at least, is that I do now finally see light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel that is my next book as author/illustrator. (Like Moonshot, the new book centers on long-distance travel in the year of ’69.) There’s a lot of tunnel left still, no doubt — someday I’ll blog about what an unexpectedly complicated book this has been to make — but the steam is up!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Countdown: Apollo 15

Today, July 26, 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 15, flown by Commander David Ross, Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden, and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin.
Earlier this year I had the chance to hear Dave Scott speak about his trip, the fourth manned landing on the moon. Scott was modest and accessible, but listening to him was nevertheless a reminder of the intelligence, education, nerve, and skill that went into these missions. Scott led the first of the J missions — missions that gave the astronauts improved lunar modules, improved backpacks, Boeing-built lunar rovers, more challenging landing sites, more time for exploration, and more ambitious science to perform. (It’s an irony of Apollo is that even as funding cuts had the end of the program in sight, the missions and their ambitions were expanding.)

Once they landed their Lunar Module Falcon, Scott and Irwin settled in for almost three full days on the moon. They would spend over eighteen and a half hours of that time outside their LM, walking (and driving) the lunar surface. (Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon for less than a day, and able to spend only two and half hours on the surface.) Scott and Irwin worked in a dramatic landscape: along the edges of both the Apennine Mountains and Hadley Rille, a deep channel in the moon's surface. The men deployed and performed scientific experiments, took photographs, and collected lunar samples. The most famous of the samples came to be known as the “Genesis Rock” because of its incredible age — 4.5 billion years.

Here is one of the more modest but also more accessible experiments that Dave Ross performed on the moon:

Meanwhile, in lunar orbit the Command Module, Al Worden had his own work to do. His duties included the first “deep space” spacewalk — a trip out the hatch to retrieve film and check equipment on the command and service module. Imagine being alone in lunar orbit while your crew mates are down on the moon, and now imagine being alone in lunar orbit, outside. You can see video of Worden’s EVA on his website, here.
You can also find on that same page of Worden’s website this account of how the Apollo 15 mission patch was designed:
“The mission patch for Apollo 15 was basically designed by the Italian dress designer, Emilio Pucci. We had as a crew evaluated some 540 different designs for our crew patch. They appeared either too mechanical or to have nothing to do with the flight, so finally, through a mutual friend, we asked Pucci if he would help us with the design. Now, Pucci, as I best recall, was an aeronautical engineer and had a good feeling for flight. With his artistic nature, we felt that he would be very helpful in the patch design. He did send us a design which was basically the same as the patch we eventually used, however the colors were in the normal Pucci blues, purples, and greens. We took his design, changed it from a square to a circular patch, made it red, white and blue, and put a lunar background behind the three stylized birds that were the major Pucci contribution.”
First, this makes me wonder who was the go-between between the NASA astronauts and the Italian dress designer. Second, this makes me, and I type this respectfully, just a little glad that Worden became a test pilot and then an astronaut, and not an art director.
Next: Apollo 16
Sources: A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, by Andrew Chaikin;;;

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Marty McGuire at Fuse #8

Marty McGuire, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by myself, gets a great review over at Fuse #8 today, here. Thank you, Betsy!
Above: the perils of making a wishing well from a trash can.


Sandra Jordan and I had the pleasure of speaking about making Ballet for Martha at the Nantucket Atheneum this weekend — a beautiful building and institution, with a wonderful staff. Thank you to Maggie Sullivan, Molly Anderson, Bess Clarke and everyone at the Atheneum for the invitation and for making the visit possible.

While in Nantucket Sandra and I also heard of a humpback whale, deceased at sea, washed up on the south side of the island. A bookseller from Mitchell’s Book Corner drove us out to have a look. Thank you, Anne. We had a look, and more. When we were downwind from the late whale, we knew it.

More about the Atheneum here, Mitchell’s here, and whale here.


Friday, July 1, 2011

New Orleans review

Despite it taking an honest thirteen hours to get there (Delta! LaGuardia! Fog!) I had a great time in New Orleans this past weekend at the American Library Association Annual Conference. Thank you to those who gave reason to make the trip, to Caroline Ward for hosting a panel that I enjoyed being a part of (a little bit more on that via Shelf Awareness, here), and to this year’s Robert F. Sibert Committee for a Sibert Honor for Ballet for Martha. Thanks to Neal Porter and everyone at Roaring Brook and Macmillan for bringing me down and for lodging and feed, and to Simon & Schuster for signing time and a ticket to this year’s Newbery/Caldecott banquet. Between seeing old and new friends, and getting a glimpse of the remarkable books people are making, and trying to get just a little bit of a feel for the city, the days were overfull, in the best way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New Orleans!

I’m looking forward to attending the American Library Association Annual Conference this weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana. I grew up next door, relatively speaking, but I’ve never been.
I’ll be on a panel 10:30 Saturday morning with Neal Porter, Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan, and distinguished others whom I’m looking forward to seeing and meeting. The moderator is Caroline Ward, and our theme is “Strange Bedfellows: Unusual Pairings of Artists and Writers.” See event details and the full list of participating authors, illustrators, and editors here. Then Jan, Sandra, and I will be signing Ballet for Martha at the Macmillan booth (no. 1115) from 2:00 to 3:00.
Later on Saturday I’ll be signing Moonshot and other of my Simon & Schuster titles at the S&S booth (no. 1139) from 4:00 to 5:00. (And sometime after ALA I’ll start blogging about what I’m working on now for S&S. It’s overdue. The blogging, and the book.)
On Sunday I’ll stray from the convention center to engage in some extracurricular eating, then look forward to attending the Newbery/Caldecott banquet.
Monday morning, I’ll have the pleasure of attending the ALSC Awards Presentation and joining Jan and Sandra in accepting a Sibert Honor for Ballet for Martha.
I feel as if I know an more-than-usual number of librarians, editors, publishing friends, and fellow authors and illustrators who are heading to ALA this year, and I’m looking forward to the weekend!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dear Japan

Some artists I’m happy to know have organized “Dear Japan,” an exhibit and sale of small, affordable artwork to benefit victims of the recent disasters in Japan. This small image was created for the show. It’s a pen and ink and watercolor painting of a Texas Ebony bonsai tree in the bonsai collection at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden — a seamless synthesis of Texas, Brooklyn, and Japanese themes into one 4” x 6” image (9” x 12”, framed). That may be a first. (As always, click the image to enlarge it.)

The work will be exhibited and for sale along with many others on Saturday, June 4, from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Art Connect New York Gallery, 491 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York, NY. (From 7:00 to 8:00 the work that has sold will be packed up, and at 8:00 you walk out the door with your purchase.) The maximum price for any piece of work will be $200. Contributing artists include, well, there’s a bunch of us — 170! Read more on Facebook, here, or follow the Dear Japan blog, here. All the event details are on the Dear Japan blog here. I hope I’ll see you at the show!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Salad days

I’m off to Providence, Rhode Island this weekend for a college reunion. Above, work done for the Brown Daily Herald in the distant and bygone era of my undergraduate education. (Mac Plus: 8 MHz of pure processing power.) My deadline handling has gotten only moderately better over the years. Or is it moderately worse? Regardless, I’m looking forward to the weekend. And as it happens David Scott of Gemini 8, Apollo 9, and Apollo 15 will be there to receive an honorary Doctor of Sciences degree. He’s already got two graduate degrees (of the non-honorary type) from M.I.T., his bio says, but I don’t guess you can have too many. Probably I’ll cart a copy of Moonshot up to campus in case I’m able to corner him in the refectory.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Destination Moon

It was fifty years ago today that John Kennedy declared to a joint session of Congress: “I believe 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.” It’s amazing how something that happened half a century ago can still sound like science fiction, but there you are.

It’s also interesting to consider how Kennedy chose the Moon as a goal, out of all of the options for the United States in space. Most advocates of space exploration, Wernher von Braun among them, envisioned that our exploration of space would begin with the construction of space stations around Earth, then move to missions to the Moon, and thence on to Mars — a step by step progression out from Earth. But in 1961, when the United States seemed to lag intractably behind Soviet progress in space, space stations looked like just one more thing that the Russians would be able to do first. Landing on the Moon, though — there was the first big, impressive thing that the United States seemed to have even a chance at doing before the Soviets, and so landing on the Moon it was.

John Noble Wilford had an interesting piece about the speech — and the decision behind it, and the program that followed — in the Times yesterday, here. You can view documents associated with the decision and speech at NASA’s web site, here. None are more interesting than the frank evaluation of the U.S. space program prepared for Kennedy in April of 1961, here. Finally, here’s a little something for all you alternate timeline fans out there: clips from a mock documentary about how things might have gone had we followed the Wernher Braun route, here. The clips follow a plan outlined in an influential series of articles that ran in Colliers magazine in the early ‘50s, with illustrations by Chesley Bonestell. More on him, here.

Above: an early sketch from Moonshot. The MESA panel on the side of the LM should be open here, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Meet Marty McGuire!

I’m happy to announce the publication of Marty McGuire, a new book written by Kate Messner, which I had the pleasure of illustrating. The book is out now from Scholastic. Marty McGuire is a warm and funny novel of the third-grade, involving frogs, school plays, and princesses. Kate has created a wonderful story and set of characters. I painted the cover art and drew about fifty black-and-white interior pieces for the book.

Kirkus Reviews says:

“When the promised land of third grade does not pan as promised, Marty McGuire finds herself playing a completely new role.

Mrs. Aloi, her maracas-shaking teacher, is putting together the parts for the class play of The Frog Prince, and she decides that Marty is perfect for the part of the princess. Marty, who prefers learning about frog anatomy to kissing or, worse, throwing a frog, is horrified. She gets little support from her scientist mother or her teacher father—a princess she shall be! On top of this bad news, Marty’s best friend has joined the girly-girl group and does not seem interested in playing outside and pretending to be Jane Goodall anymore. Messner gets all the details of third grade right: the social chasm between the girls who want to be like the older kids and the ones who are still little girls, the Mad Minutes for memorizing arithmetic facts, the silly classroom-control devices teachers use and the energy students of this age put into projects like class plays. Floca’s black-and-white sketches are filled with movement and emotion and are frequent enough to help new chapter-book readers keep up with this longer text.

Believable and endearing characters in a realistic elementary-school setting will be just the thing for fans of Clementine and Ramona.”

Thank you, Kirkus! Also please note the Jane Goodall subplot. What is in the water this spring?

Marty McGuire is available now, in both hardcover and softcover. Hopefully you’ll find it at your thriving local independent bookstore. I’ve also put links to all the usual online suspects on my web site, here. You can also read more about Kate Messner, and Marty McGuire, on Kate’s web site, here. I hope you’ll give Marty McGuire a look and that you enjoy the story and drawings!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Happy birthday, Martha Graham

Today on Anita Silvey’s Childrens Book-A-Day Almanac there’s a review of Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. From that review — as well as from today’s Google Doodle — one learns that today, May 11, is Martha Graham’s birthday. Happy birthday to her! Thanks to Anita for the thoughtful, generous, and well-timed review. You can read it here, and if you scroll down to the comments you’ll find a link posted by Sandra Jordan (co-author with Jan Greenberg of Ballet) that will lead you to the story behind today’s Google animation — a collaboration (again with the collaboration!) between Google and the Martha Graham dance company.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy belated birthday

So yesterday, it turns out, was Queen Elizabeth’s birthday. Happy birthday to her. Here’s a drawing of HRH, done recently, for an upcoming project which actually has very, very little to do with the queen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

End days

Saturday, April 9 is the last day for my show at the Brooklyn Public Library. (All about it, here.) Thanks to the BPL for the show, and to everyone who’s been by to take a look!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Clever bird

After two great school visits in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., last week (thank you, Caroline Street and St. Clement’s!) I was in Vermont for the weekend with friends, and their dogs. At the end of a long day on Friday, at about 1:00 in the A.M., one of the dogs was escorted out back to take care of things and while doing that he got involved with a skunk who was in the meantime doing some work in the compost pile. Man. I’ve smelled skunk in the distance, but never up close. It’s an entirely different experience.

As it happens, the April issue of Click magazine will be all about animal defense mechanisms. Timely! Beatrice Black Bear investigates how killdeers will fake an injury to lead a predator away from a nest. I was happy with how these two characters came out, each pretty sure he has the drop on the other. Only one of them is right. For the text by John Grandits and the rest of the story, you can look for Click at your local library.

There’s more about Click here and more about John here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Events I am missing (NY, NJ) and attending (TX!)

I’m sorry to be missing a couple of events with the Book Maker's Dozen this weekend that I nevertheless would like to let you know about: an opening and show (and sale) of original art at powerHouse Books in Brooklyn tonight, Friday, March 4 (details here), and a field trip to Sparkhouse Studios in South Orange, N.J. on Sunday, March 6 (details here).

On the bright side, I’ll be at an arts festival in Killeen, Texas tomorrow, Saturday the 5th. The festival runs from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. at the Killeen Civic & Conference Center. Details are here. I’ll be signing books and spending the day with a great group of authors and illustrators, including (but not limited to!) Kathi Appelt, Chris Barton, David Davis, Shirley Duke Smith, Clare Dunkle, P.J. Hoover, Keith Graves, Mark Mitchell, Jan Peck, Don Tate, Jessica Lee Anderson, Terry Widener, C.G. Young, Jennifer Ziegler, and others. Read all about all of us, here. I'm looking forward to the day. If you’re in striking range of Central Texas, I hope you’ll come by and see us!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Portrait of the Artist

The March issue of Click magazine (where I have a regular gig illustrating the comic Beatrice Black Bear, written by John Grandits) is about art — looking at it, and making it. I have a piece in the issue on the process of making picture books. The image here accompanies the text, “Sometimes the pictures don’t work out well, and then I try again.” You see in this drawing that I do not duck hard truths just because I am writing for a young audience.
There’s more about Click here and more about John here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Belated blogging: an exhibit at the Brooklyn Public Library

A few weeks ago I alluded here to installing an exhibit, and I haven’t written anything about it since. Am I really that bad at using blogs and social media for self-promotion? Or does my lackadaisical, half-witted approach make the posts seem all that more “genuine”? Don’t answer that. Here’s all about the show:

I’m grateful to the Brooklyn Public Library for hosting an exhibit of my work in the Youth Wing at the Central Library on Grand Army Plaza. The exhibit opened on February 8 and runs to April 9. In the show are about forty original drawings and watercolor paintings from The Racecar Alphabet; Lightship; Moonshot; The Hinky-Pink, by Megan McDonald; Ballet for Martha, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan; The True Gift, by Patricia MacLachlan; and Avi’s Poppy Stories novels. The exhibit operates under the title “Drivers, Dancers, Mice & Moon: Children’s Book Art by Brian Floca.” I think I had the old rhyme “tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,” in my head while trying to come up with a name for the show. Or was I thinking of John le Carré?

Regardless, I am, again, grateful to the BPL, and especially to Manager of Exhibitions Barbara Wing, for the show. It was an honor to have work in the “Drawn in Brooklyn” exhibit with many talented friends a few months earlier, and it’s an honor to be back in the Youth Wing now. And, it was a surprisingly pleasant thing for me to blow the dust off the files at home and pull out the original art for this show. I’m always impressed by how closely production departments and printers get to the originals — but there’s nothing quite like the actual ink and pencil and paper. Pulling the work out of the files was like excavating old friends. I hope you’ll have a chance to see them!

More on the exhibit is at the BPL web site, here.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

These boots are made for...

The word “boots” is context-specific. I was reminded of this last week when I left the howling winds and snowdrifts of Brooklyn for a quick trip to the Cowtown Book Festival in Fort Worth. I had a great time meeting the librarians and teachers of north Texas and visiting with fellow authors and illustrators, friends old and new, including Avi, Jan Peck, Chris Barton, Don Tate, Jeanette Larson, Mark Mitchell, Claire Dunkle, Jennifer Zeigler, P.J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, and K.A. Holt — a great group. Avi brought some Denver representation to the scene, and Clare some San Antonio, but clearly it was Austin that was in the house. Thank you to Pat Anderson of Texas Overlooked Books, organizer and author wrangler!

Extra credit: What is the New York/Fort Worth connection?
A: The mortal remains of Major General William Jenkins Worth himself lie in repose beneath an obelisk at the intersection of Broadway, 5th Avenue, and 23rd Street in Manhattan, just west of Madison Square Park. Click here to gaze upon the fierce visage that the Major General wore in life.

Countdown: Apollo 14

Today, January 31, 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 14, flown by astronauts Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa.

There’s no Apollo astronaut without an extraordinary story behind how he got to the Moon, but Shepard’s may be the one to beat. Shepard was a Naval Academy graduate, World War II veteran, graduate of the United States Navy Test Pilot School, and test pilot. When NASA invited 110 of the country’s best pilots to apply for astronaut training in 1959, Shepard was one of seven chosen.

On May 5, 1961, Shepard was strapped into the Mercury capsule Freedom 7, atop a Redstone rocket, prepared to become the first American in space. Space then felt central to the nation’s future; a country’s exploration of this new frontier served as a sort of shorthand for its ambition, its technical capability, its willingness and its ability to lead in the world. On this new field, the Soviet Union seemingly could do no wrong; in 1957 the Soviets had vaulted the first artificial satellite into space. They had followed up with other successes, including putting the first man into orbit. For over three years the United States had stumbled in second place.

On the day of Shepard’s flight, it seemed the stumbling might continue. Shepard was to be sent only on a fifteen-minute suborbital arc, but problems with the weather and the rocket led to delay after delay in the launch. The hours ticked by. Eventually there came one of my favorite bits of dialogue from the entire space program — Shepard, growing impatient, radioed down to the launch crew, “I’m cooler than you are. Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?” I admire that, even if I cannot guarantee that I would use the same words if I myself was perched atop a flying bomb that might or might not have technical problems. (But I guess you never know until it happens to you.)

Shepard’s flight was a triumph, but before he had a chance to fly again, Shepard was stricken with Ménière's syndrome, a condition of the inner ear that results in nausea, vertigo, and disorientation. He remained actively involved in the Apollo program, serving as Chief of the Astronaut Office, but Shepard, as ambitious and competitive as anyone in the program (and that’s saying something), could not fly.

This was Shepard’s frustration for the next five years. Early in 1969, he took his last chance at regaining flight status, checking into a Los Angeles hospital under an assumed name for an experimental surgical treatment — which was a success. On May 7, 1969, his flight status was restored, and that’s how Alan Shepard came to be eligible for, and received, command of Apollo 14.

The mission of Apollo 14 was inherited from the near disaster of Apollo 13 — an exploration of the Moon’s Fra Mauro range, a landscape more interesting and more challenging than the level plains on which Apollo 11 and 12 had landed.

Some of the smaller distinguishing aspects of Apollo 14: The mission saw the addition of a red stripe to the commander’s uniform, to help differentiate the commander and lunar module pilot once they were on the surface. Ed Mitchell attempted ESP contact with Earth on the way to the Moon, and Shepard famously sliced and then hit a golf ball while on the surface. (How far did he hit it? “Miles and miles and miles!”)

The mission contained just enough hiccups to remind one of how incredible and potentially dangerous it was to fly to the Moon, and yet the astronauts did enough on the surface to remind one of how much could be accomplished there, too. The amount of time astronauts spent on the Moon was growing mission by mission, as was the amount and quality of the science they were performing. Ironically, even as individual missions were expanding and becoming more ambitious, the program as a whole was contracting. Two of the projected Apollo missions had been cut the previous summer. The end of Apollo was coming into sight — but it wasn't there yet. Coming in July: a drive on the Moon.

Sources: A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, by Andrew Chaikin;;

And a reminder! This story—and the stories of all the Apollo missions—are told for younger readers in the excellent Mission Control, This is Apollo, by Andrew Chaikin, with paintings by Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where the West Begins

I’m looking forward to attending the ESC Region 11 Children’s and Young Adult Book Roundup next week, on January 28th, in Fort Worth, Texas. The event has a great line up of authors and illustrators, including Avi, David Davis, Jan Peck, Chris Barton, Don Tate, Jeanette Larson, Mark Mitchell, Claire Dunkle, Jennifer Zeigler, P.J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, and zombie haiku scribe K.A. Holt. If you’re a librarian in the area (and/or whoever else attends this sort of thing) I hope I’ll see you there! Details are here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A great week for Ballet for Martha

It was an honor on Monday to learn that Ballet for Martha has been designated a Sibert Honor Book. Then yesterday came news that Ballet for Martha has been chosen by the National Council of Teachers of English to receive the 2011 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. (The name — and I like this a lot — comes from the title of the first book published for children. See it on Google Books, here.)

Thank you to this year’s Sibert and NCTE Orbis Pictus Award committees. I’m grateful to them and grateful that I had the chance to be part of the team that put together this book, so thanks also to Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan for their wonderful manuscript, to Neal Porter for thinking of me for the work, to Jennifer Brown for her terrific design skills, and to everyone at Roaring Brook for their support. (That includes an ad in yesterday’s New York Times which featured the book along with Neal’s and Roaring Brook’s Caldecott winner, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Mainstream media!)

And thank you to everyone who has offered congratulations. They are all appreciated.

Finally, if I’m blogging about this a few days after the fact, it’s not for lack of enthusiasm, it’s because I’ve got a cold, which has made everything here a little foggy, even good news.

The ALA Sibert page is here, and the Orbis Pictus page is here.