Thursday, December 8, 2011
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
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.”
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
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
...is, 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
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
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.
Friday, July 1, 2011
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
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
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
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.
“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
Friday, April 22, 2011
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Friday, March 4, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
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
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; http://history.nasa.gov/40thmerc7/shepard.htm; http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo14.html.
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
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
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.