Friday, December 7, 2012

Countdown: Apollo (16 and) 17

Back in October, 2008, I began noting on this blog the 40th anniversary of each of the manned Apollo missions that led up to the first lunar landing, Apollo 11. After the Apollo 11 anniversary in July, 2009, I kept going, posting a summary of the goals, challenges, and accomplishments of each subsequent Apollo mission on the anniversary of its launch. I didn’t miss a one — not until April of this year. 


Apollo 16 (John Young, Ken Mattingly, Charlie Duke), I apologize. What happened? Nothing more than that I was busy, I was too busy, and the moment got by me. Thus I unwittingly and to my shame provide a sort of sad metaphor for the relationship of the country as a whole to the Apollo program, for as the missions got longer, and the goals became more ambitious, and the science got better, the country’s attention and resources drifted from Apollo. And now here we are, at December 7, the anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last manned landing on the moon.

This was NASA’s first night launch; the Saturn V carrying Commander Gene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ron Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison “Jack” Schmitt — a bona fide geologist made astronaut — lifted off from Florida at just past 12:30 A.M., forty years ago this morning. In his book A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikin recounts that in the dark, the spectacular glow of the rocket was visible as far away as North Carolina. (What would Orville and Wilbur have thought?) At the moon, Cernan and Schmitt spent over three days on the surface. They undertook three seven-hour moonwalks, covered nineteen miles of ground, collected samples, and set up experiments. Twelve days after they left the Earth, the men returned safely, and Apollo was over. 


It is hard not to take a chunk of time here to try to write more about this mission, and Apollo in general, to try to conjure up something grand about what it all meant, or even just to put into words more personal feelings about the missions to the moon. It is a dereliction of blogging duty not to do so, but there are deadlines in my calendar demanding I not attempt such a thing just right now — really, really demanding — and in the end maybe that’s for the best, for the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that Moonshot is the best distillation of whatever I have to say and whatever I have to feel about Apollo.

So although you can be sure this won’t be the last post on this blog about Apollo, for now I defer to that book, and for good measure to Gene Cernan’s final words on the moon’s surface: 

“And as we leave the moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed Apollo 17.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sunday: Or The Whale

Don’t ask me my qualifications. Suffice to say that I was in communication with the right people at the right time. That’s how I’ve ended up with a slot in the Moby-Dick Marathon NYC, in which the great book is read aloud from spout to tail. The event gets underway tonight and goes to Sunday afternoon. (Paul Dano will have kicked off the marathon by the time I get this posted.) The event website/blog and event details are here; a write-up in the New York Times is here. I’m one of about 150 readers. (We all are all listed here. Note Sophie Blackall at 10:50 on Saturday!) Each of us will take a ten-minute go at the book. My slot is on Sunday at 2:50, at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe at 126 Crosby Street, 10012. It’s only an estimate but by that time on Sunday we should be up to chapter 134 or so. Chapter 134! This means no disquisitions on the subtleties of right whales, et cetera, et cetera, for this reader. We are talking “The Chase—The Second Day,” or something in that neighborhood. Dont let the damp, drizzly November in your soul (or out your window) keep you away. A dead whale or a stove boat!  I hope to see you there!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Saturday: Brooklyn Museum + powerHouse events

From 12:00 to 4:00 on Saturday, November 17, I’ll join forty or so (!) other Brooklyn authors and illustrators at the Brooklyn Museum’s annual Children’s Book Fair. Says the museum: “Meet your favorite Brooklyn authors and illustrators at this year’s fair, featuring storybooks, picture books, and graphic novels. Enjoy readings, games, and activities for all ages.” Details are here.

Following that event a group of us will lock arms and head over to a fundraising event at powerHouse Books in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dumbo. I know powerHouse because my studio used to be around the corner from the store, because it’s a great bookstore and event space, and because back when the Book Maker’s Dozen was more of a going concern we had a great time showing some of our prints there. Two weeks ago, powerHouse took a pounding from Sandy — read more about that at Publishers Weekly, here — and Saturday’s event is to help the store recoup. The event runs from noon to 9:00. A formidable collection of authors will be on hand to read and sign (Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, Paul Auster, Sarah Vowell, more) and then by around 5:00 our group from the Brooklyn Museum should have staggered in to round out the lineup and sign books. At 6:00, happily, powerHouse will start serving drinks. Come for the sake of the store, come for the children’s literature, or come for the Côtes du Rhône, but come!

PowerHouse will be requesting a $10 donation. Available for purchase will be a variety of donated books and prints, including prints from The Racecar Alphabet and Moonshot. (See above, click to enlarge.)

More information is here and here.

Whether you can make it to the museum or the bookstore or both, I hope I’ll see you on Saturday!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sketch the vote

This morning I walked to my neighborhood elementary school and exercised my franchise. The lines were long, the lines were slow—not a good situation in many ways but good for sketching or for staring at a phone and especially good for sketching someone staring at a phone. Click the image for a larger version.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Buy this drawing

826NYC is a nonprofit organization here in Brooklyn, “dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.” More here. This month 826NYC is holding a fundraising auction, “The Tell Tale Art Auction.” The request was for spooky or Halloween-themed art. I went the owl route, digging into the archives (archives = piles) for a drawing of Mr. Ocax from Avi’s Poppy. Why not buy it? Or just check out the offerings from Dav Pilkey, Mo Willems, Lane Smith, Adam Rex, Fiona Robinson, Scott C., Sara Varon, Paul O. Zelinsky, Steven Weinberg, Peter Brown, Frank Viva, Brett Helquist, Tony DiTerlizzi, Daniel Salmieri, Dave Shannon, and everyone’s favorite, Many More. All on the auction site, here. (And a direct link to the piece above is here.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Oh, say, can you see?

Apparently, yes, you can: that star-spangled banner yet waves. Five out of six them, anyway, when it comes to the flags raised on the moon by the Apollo astronauts. That’s the news from the some of the most recent images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera. (The flags themselves are not so easy to see, but their visible shadows tell the story.) The exception: Apollo 11. On his blog, LROC principal investigator Mark Robinson writes: “From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!” 

You can read more and find related images and video at Robinson’s blog, here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Love me tender (a Lightship reading)

I’m looking forward to doing a reading of Lightship here in New York this Saturday, July 28, as part of Books Ahoy!, a celebration of children’s books sponsored by Pen Parentis. The event description: 
Presented by Pen Parentis, best known for our upscale evening Literary Salons at Gild Hall, a Thompson Hotel, and co-sponsored by HRP Mamas, Books Ahoy! will celebrate the works of various children's book authors, presenting them reading in an open-air, open house style festival on the deck of the 1933 lighthouse tender, The Lilac, moored on the Hudson River at Pier 25, accessible from N. Moore Street. Books will be vended by our favorite indie bookstore, Bluestockings Books, and all children dressed in nautical themes can have their faces painted - free - by a celebrated NYC artist. The Lilac will offer free tours that include visits to the engine room. There is even a wooden captain's wheel that kids are encouraged to spin. 
And don't worry if your kids age 3-10 can't sit still for more than a few minutes. Authors will be reading between 2pm and 5pm in constant rotation and if even that is too much for the little ones, the Lilac is moored off Pier 25 at North Moore Street in Tribeca and will not leave the shore. Kids accompanied by an adult guardian can board and disembark at will, sit and listen to an author read a story, work at the art table, get a (temporary) tattoo, then wander off to the adjacent playground or buy a round of mini-golf.
What’s going to be really great about this reading (for me, anyway) is that the Lilac actually used to service the Ambrose lightship. She even shows up in the book to drop off mail for the crew. Back in January, I was amazed to receive a note from a woman who recognized the Lilac in the book, thanks to the fact that her grandfather once captained her. (Completists can read that blog post here.)
Also reading will be Melanie Hope-Greenberg, Adam Rubin, Yona McDonough, and Julia Sarcone-Roach. Our rough schedule is:

2:15-2:30  Melanie Hope-Greenberg
2:45-3:00  Adam Rubin
3:15-3:30 Yona McDonough
3:45-4:00 Brian Floca
4:15- 4:30 Julia Sarcone-Roach

The Lilac is berthed at Hudson River Park's Pier 25, located in Tribeca, at North Moore Street and West Street. The closest subway stations are the Franklin Street stop on the 1 or Canal Street on the A/C/E (exit at Walker Street). North Moore Street is one block north of Franklin Street, or a block south of Walker Street. Walk west on North Moore to the pier. Additional event details are here

I hope you’ll be able to make it!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride

I’m surprised and saddened to read of the passing of astronaut Sally Ride. I dont guess I think of Sally Ride that often on a day-to-day basis, but two years ago (to the week) I was on a cross-country drive for the current project when an interview with Dr. Ride came on the radio, and I remember how impressed I was, learning a little more about her, and hearing what she has been up to, as I wound my way across Nevada. Over the course of the interview she talked about how inspired she was as a girl by the space race and the moon landings and Neil Armstrong. I loved how gender-neutral the appeal of those flights was for her and her young classmates, something I’ve been glad to see for myself in kids when talking about Moonshot during school visits. But Dr. Ride also talked in the interview about the trouble that begins in middle school when it comes to science and math education, for both boys and girls, but especially for girls, and her efforts on that front were impressive and inspiring, too. It would have been one part appreciation and one part self-promotion, but my intention was to send her a copy of Moonshot as soon as I got back home, something I never got around to doing. A rough idea of the date of that interview, plus the internet, makes it uncannily easy to find that conversation, though. It was on the Diane Rehm show (but with a guest host; I would have remembered Diane Rehm’s voice) and you can hear it online, here. It’s a worthwhile listen.  The Apollo bits come early, scattered through the first fifteen minutes. And children’s book types might be amused and heartened to hear Mrs. Frizzle get a nod. Sally Ride’s obituary at the Times, here, is well worth the read, too. At one point Billie Jean King urged her to drop out of college to pursue tennis professionally. Who knew? Rest in peace, Sally Ride.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 20 is almost here again

I was happy to spot this poster recently at an outstanding establishment in Michigan. 
Happy Moon Day to all, and to all a good night.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A mouse for your summer reading

When I think of government agencies and rodents, I think first of NIMH. Now, happily, I can also think of the NEH: Poppy, by Avi (with my pencil illustrations), is on a Children’s Booklist for Summertime Reading compiled and just published by the National Endowment for the Humanities (with an assist from the American Library Association). 

From the NEH press release: “Organized by grade level, the NEH Summer Booklist offers suggestions of 238 books recommended for young readers.  The titles range from such classics as Madeline and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to Fahrenheit 451 and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but also include newer works such as Coraline, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and The Book Thief.
It’s a great list and I’m proud to see Poppy on it. Thank you to the NEH and the ALA!
The press release and complete list is here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Z is for Moose

Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky’s new picture book Z is for Moose has been widely and justly praised: six starred reviews! And now there’s a new trailer for the book, which premiered  yesterday at Betsy Bird’s A Fuse #8 Production blog, hereMy studio mates and I and others not necessarily known for dulcet voices had the chance to speak and mutter for this production. Thank you to Paul for helping us to get our voice-over careers off the ground, and congratulations to Kelly and Paul on the creation of a smart, generous, and very funny book.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Cook Prize

I was pleased and honored earlier this year to be asked to design a seal for a new award to be given out annually by the Bank Street College of Education, with support from School Library Journal: the Cook Prize. 
The Cook Prize is named in memory of two Bank Street teachers, unrelated but both with the surname Cook, Don Cook of the Graduate School of Education, and Michael Cook of the School for Children. The prize is meant to recognize and encourage excellence in picture books for children aged eight to ten that address STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. 

The inaugural prize goes to Melissa Sweet’s Balloons Over Broadway. This year’s honor books are About Hummingbirds, by Cathryn Sill and John Sill; The Honeybee Man, by Lela Nargi and Kyrsten Brooker; and Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story, by Thomas F. Yezerski.
The final seal design incorporates an image of a tellurian (sometimes spelled tellurion) — a moveable model depicting the relationship between sun, moon, Earth, and Venus. I went to the image of a tellurian because I find such models beautiful; because they require skill and care to design and create; and because when done well, these relatively small objects give insight into much larger things and processes. So, too, with the picture books being recognized. 
(And, I hoped that drawing a tellurian in a professional capacity might allow me to justify buying one, maybe an early 20th century model from the Trippensee Company, and then I would be able to have that on a shelf in my apartment. Or maybe a later model with a midcentury look and a sun that lights up, and that could be good for mood lighting. It was hard to choose. In the end, however, I felt that I was able to do my work without actually owning either. This saved me somewhere between five hundred and a thousand dollars, but.)
The Cook Prize will be presented at Bank Street this week, on the morning of Thursday, May 17, along with the Irma S. and James H. Black Award. Paul Zelinsky will be there to speak in conjunction with the Irma Black Award presentation, and I’ll be there with brief remarks about the process of designing the Cook Prize seal, and to show you some ideas that you will be glad did not make it to the final design. Details are here. More about the Cook Prize is on the Bank Street Center for Children's Literature blog, here and here.
I’m glad I had the chance to play a small part in the life of this new award, which I think will be of real value. My thanks to Lisa Von Drasek at Bank Street and Jennifer M. Brown, Children's Editor at Shelf Awareness and a member of Bank Street College's Children' Book Committee, for the opportunity! 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy birthday, Martha Graham

Today is May 11: happy birthday, Martha Graham! And thank you to Anita Silvey for marking the day by highlighting Ballet for Martha at her Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac! You can read the review of the book on the Almanac here.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Wild blue yonder

My hometown sources tell me that the Central Texas Air Show is on this weekend in Temple, Texas. I’ll be in the studio this weekend, in Brooklyn, drawing trains, but last year I was back in the old country when the show was on and I went out to see the planes and to do some sketching. It was hot, it was dry, the sun was beating down and the (simulated) B-25 bombing runs were setting off grass fires, but I enjoyed it all. The planes were fascinating, even to someone as temperamentally and experientially civilian as yours truly. (“Fly the Friendly the Skies” was the motto of none of these aircraft.) I left the air show with some drawings which I meant to post here. A year later, here are a few. Click to enlarge. Happy flying.

Nanchang CJ 5

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Marty McGuire Book Club

Thank you to John Schu and Colby Sharp for launching an online Marty McGuire book club! To be a part of it, first read Marty McGuire and/or Marty McGuire Digs Worms! Then log on to Twitter on May 23 at 7:00 PM CST (Central! Time zone of my youth!) and then, ah, you know, you do whatever one does on Twitter. The hashtag is #martymcguire. A video on YouTube, here, will give you the details. 

Thanks again to Schu and Sharp, and best wishes to the book club!

Baby worms are cute, Annie tells her.
No. Veronica Grace shakes her head. “Baby horses and baby lambs and baby giraffes like we saw at the zoo are cute. Baby worms are gross.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More Marty

It’s nice to be able to report two new reviews for Kate Messner’s and my Marty McGuire Digs Worms! 
School Library Journal reports: “The spirited youngster introduced in Marty McGuire returns…. Packed with eco-friendly ideas, this realistic, plot-driven early chapter book is a welcome addition to Earth Day or environmental units. The illustrations reflect the characters well, and the black-and-white drawings help to establish the mood. Readers of Annie Barrow’s “Ivy and Bean” stories (Chronicle) or Megan McDonald’s “Judy Moody” series (Candlewick) will enjoy Marty McGuire’s adventures.” 
And the Washington Post writes, here, that: “It’s hard to think of cafeteria composting as the topic for a good chapter book, but Messner and Floca pull it off. It’s the characters who make this book entertaining, whether it’s Marty’s wildlife rehabilitator mom or her inventive Grandma Barb, who thinks both worm slime and duct tape have essential uses.”

Thanks to SLJ the Post
Above: the great worm escape.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Population 1

You may have seen Buford, Wyoming in the news last week (here, for instance). The town, population 1 (one), was recently sold. I stopped in Buford in the summer of 2010 while I was on the road doing research for my current project, Locomotive, which is about the transcontinental railroad. (Yes, this book has taken an inordinately long time.) I had pulled off the interstate to look for where a spectacularly rickety bridge once stood, and also I wanted to find an H. H. Richardson pyramid, built to sustain the memory of two brothers whose fortune, made from the sale of shovels, helped fund the railroad. (One odd thing leads to another in the transcontinental railroad story. This has been part of my problem.) 

Anyway, Buford. There was a flinty woman behind the register when I stepped in to the Buford Trading Post pay for a tank of gas and, I hoped, to buy a good local map that would help me find those local sites. “Do you sell maps?” I asked. “No,” she said. I was surprised. “No maps?” I said. “No maps,” she said. I handed over my credit card to pay for the gas. For reasons that escape me I attempted small talk as I waited for the card to be approved. “Are you the population of one?” I asked. She shook her head. With a stoney straight face she said, “I’m from out of town.” 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

To the 月!

Here’s a fantastic surprise that was waiting for me when I got to the studio today: a Japanese edition of Moonshot, from publisher Kaisei-sha. (The book is on the Kaisei-sha web site here.) I had no idea this was in the works. I’ve had some illustrations make it into foreign editions of Avi’s Poppy Stories, but this is the first of my picture books that has been translated and published abroad. My sincere thanks to everyone at Simon & Schuster and Kaisei-sha who made this edition possible!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Marty McGuire Digs Worms!

Next month the second of Kate Messner’s Marty McGuire books comes out, Marty McGuire Digs Worms! The first book was about frogs; the second one, as you may have guessed, involves worms. I’m not sure how far down the food chain we can go with these books but I hope all the way; illustrating Kate’s characters and stories is great fun.
(A side note: I thought of the frog-loving Marty last week when I read that scientists have identified a new frog — a brand new frog — right here in New York. Read all about it here. Will a new New York worm follow? If it does, would you really want to know about it?) 
Good news for the new book comes in the form of its first review, a starred notice from Kirkus Reviews: “Third-grader Marty and her classmates are given a challenge by a visiting environmentalist: to develop Earth-friendly projects that she will then judge…. Floca’s cheery black-and-white illustrations match the upbeat theme of the tale, and with at least one per brief chapter, they break up the text pages nicely. Marty’s first-person commentary, sometimes just a tiny bit sarcastic, splendidly conveys the eroding innocence of middle graders. A quick, amusing read with an easily digestible environmental message; it is a perfect match for its young intended audience.” The full review is here. Thank you, Kirkus! Marty McGuire Digs Worms! is available April 1 in hardback and paperback from your local independent, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Moonshot news

Some recent nice news regarding Moonshot
First, the magazine Time Out New York Kids has just published a list of the 50 Best Books for Kids, and it’s great to see Moonshot clocking in at number 38. See the list here
Second, this weekend, in conjunction with NASA’s Destination: Station exhibit opening at the Tech Center in San Jose, California, several astronauts will be speaking in the Bay Area. Among them will be Rex Walheim, who flew on the final shuttle mission to the space station, and who on Saturday will read excerpts from Moonshot and talk about his own trips into space. Thats on Saturday, March 10, from 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. at the Oakland Public Library, 1021 81st Avenue, Oakland, CA. Details are here
Thank you to Time Out and to the organizers of the Oakland Public Library reading!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Slow Train Coming

This was apparently the take-away message from a school visit I did a couple of years ago. It was true then, and it’s truer now. I’ve been working on my current author/illustrator project, Locomotive, for longer than I care to say. 

What happened? 
The book started off simply enough a few years ago, when I pitched a picture book about a steam locomotive to Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. The idea was simple: to show a locomotive going from Point A to Point B, and in the process to show how one of these marvelous machines worked. After a couple of false starts, I sold a draft of the book, and everything seemed, as they say, on track.
What I had not really figured out yet, though, was exactly what and when Points A and B would be. Eventually I settled on a ride on America’s first transcontinental railroad. I set my engine on that line of track, in the summer of 1869, and pointed it west—and then the trouble began. The amount of information I was handling expanded like steam in a boiler. With hindsight I realize that I had imagined, naively, that the choice of setting would affect only the finishing touches of the book—the views outside the window, that sort of thing. Instead it meant rebuilding the book from the foundation up. It took me a while to figure that out, and then it took me a while to figure out what to do about it. 

And now, finally, I am painting, painting, painting.
I’m working toward a May deadline, aiming for a Fall 2013 book. 
Let the following illustration say something about my pace, but also let it show that the book is underway. My hand is on the throttle, my eye is on the rail!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A shot across the bow

Here’s part of an email I received recently from someone who picked up Lightship as a gift for a young reader:
“As I was reading the book, I came to the page with mail being delivered from an anchored ship W227. I know of a steamship lightship tender Lilac and she is in NY City also....  In 1933 my grandfather captained the Lilac, and the book will go to a family member. I was just wondering if I could truly say that was the Lilac.”
I was happy to be able to answer yes! (Are you surprised? Would I be blogging about this otherwise?) Anytime somebody catches a detail like that in a book it’s rewarding, but I certainly never expected to hear from the Lilac’s captain’s granddaughter. I’m grateful she took the time to write. More about the Lilac — and current efforts to maintain and preserve her — is here.