Tuesday, December 24, 2013
It’s the 45th anniversary of Apollo 8, the first Apollo mission to give astronauts a view of the Earth, whole. An interview from earlier this year with historian Robert Poole and astronaut Bill Anders, here, digs into their iconic image of the Earth rising over the face over the moon, and a new video with historian and author Andrew Chaikin, here, gives a new understanding of the taking of the photo. And today is, of course, the perfect day to listen to Apollo 8’s Christmas Eve address from their orbit around the moon, here. It concludes, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” Merry Christmas!
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The year is closing, which makes this the season for lists. For anyone with a book out, watching these collections of titles trickle out can be as nerve-wracking as rolling over the Dale Creek Bridge, but Locomotive has had a good crossing and found itself in a lot of good company this year, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s included the book in their year-end accounting:
New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Books of the Year selection
Wall Street Journal Top 10 Children's Books of 2013
Amazon.com Top 20 Children's Books of 2013
Booklist’s Top of the List pick for Youth Picture Book 2013
Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2013
School Library Journal Best Books 2013 Nonfiction
Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2013
Horn Book Fanfare selection
NYPL 100 Books for Reading and Sharing 2013 selection
Huffington Post Best Picture Books of 2103 (Best History/Biography)
Shelf Awareness Best Books of 2013
Fuse #8 100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2013 selection
It was a long, often difficult, often fantastic experience making Locomotive — all of which makes this notice all the more rewarding. Thank you to all above.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
A commission and funding from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge made possible the collaboration described in Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. Fast forward to today, and the Martha Graham Dance Company is running a Kickstarter campaign to make possible a new collaboration, this time with choreographer Nacho Duato. If the process in Ballet for Martha was interesting to you, then here’s a chance to see something like it from the inside, and for less than it cost Elizabeth Coolidge; for $20 (or more), donors will be able to watch a rehearsal via live streaming video. I feel lucky to have been able to watch the Company rehearse while I was working on Ballet for Martha and am glad to think of other people getting the chance, too. And even if you don’t watch the rehearsal, the campaign still gives those interested the chance to help some great artists create new work. You can take a look at the campaign, including a video that shows more of what this new piece will be about, here.
Friday, November 8, 2013
Thank you to the Times, thank you to this year’s Best Illustrated jury, and congratulations to all the other illustrators on the list! It’s an honor to be in their company!
Above, the masthead of the Times as it appeared in the 1860s, the era of Locomotive—back when New York was New-York. (More on that, here.)
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
A new Emily Dickinson archive is online today, here. (An article about the archive appears in today’s New York Times, here.) At the archive you can find Dickinson’s poem “I like to see it lap the miles”:
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop docile and omnipotent
At its own stable door.
The poem never says what “it” is, but you can guess, I think. Dickinson wrote the poem in or around 1862—by coincidence or not, the year Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act. “I like to see it lap the miles” and two other poems—Walt Whitman’s poems “To a Locomotive in Winter” and “Passage to India”— are mentioned in the author’s note in Locomotive as examples of the train’s once commanding place in the culture.
Friday, October 18, 2013
For teachers and librarians interested in using Locomotive in the classroom, or for readers just interested in digging a little further into the book, a page of Teacher Resources is online from Simon & Schuster, here. These include a (Common Core-friendly) curriculum guide. (The direct link for that PDF is here.) A review and a collection of links, resources, teaching ideas, and other relevant titles is also on the blog The Classroom Bookshelf, in a post by Erika Thulin Dawes, here. Thanks to S&S and the Classroom Bookshelf for the thoughtful attention!
Above: a painting of the train leaving the station. This page eventually became a spread, and so this painting wasn't used.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Life on the road touring for Locomotive has me late in posting some review news for the book. First, thank you to Shelf Awareness for a starred review of the book that appeared last month, here. “[R]eaders will want to board this locomotive again and again,” concludes the review. And now I’m happy to see Locomotive on a list, here, of books receiving starred reviews in October’s issue of The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. The BCCB asks, “So, how much do you want to know about America’s first transcontinental railroad? Just the general picture?” In which case a reader might go through the book and simply enjoy the “poetic account” of a family’s trip. Or, “if you’re truly among the nerdiest of train nerds,” you can dig into author’s notes and endpapers and “compare the engines underway in the main text with the innards in the diagram” and so on. The idea that the book can operate on different levels for different readers is one I’m very glad to read. Thanks again, Shelf Awareness, and thank you, BCCB!
Above: a doubleheader pulling out of Truckee, California. Two engines for two reviews.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
On rolls the Locomotive book tour. Above is the train that brought me to Washington for the National Book Festival last weekend—very similar to the train that brought me to Philadelphia tonight for some school visits and a store appearance tomorrow. (Thursday the 26th! Towne Book Center! 6:00 P.M.!) There have been a lot of flights up to this point on the book tour, so it’s nice to get some honest train travel in, even if a modern Amtrak engine makes it hard to work an 1869 theme. What else on the tour? I have signed books, I have met great readers, I have met great booksellers, I have been to great stores, and at the National Book Festival I had the privilege of giving a presentation on the National Mall with my parents and some friends in the audience. I have done a lot of school visits, and in doing so have seen a lot of kids sitting on their rears on gym floors. (When did we stop building auditoriums in schools, with stages and seats? I oppose this development.) In small bits of free time I’ve seen music in New Orleans, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Kansas, a county fair in Ohio (horses, rabbits, pigs, roosters), and I’ve been licked on the neck by a ferret in Minneapolis. (Thank you for that, Wild Rumpus.) It has been exhausting and fantastic and the tour is not over yet. (The full schedule is here.) Thank you to everyone who has come by for any part of the tour—from all the friends I was so glad to see at the book launch at BookCourt three weeks ago, on to the nanny and two girls who found themselves rather by accident at a Locomotive reading at Hooray for Books in Alexandria, Virginia, this afternoon. One of the girls, dressed all in pink and sparkles, went and found herself a copy of Pinkalicious as soon as I finished talking trains, and then clutched it to her chest like a life preserver. But the kind nanny bought a copy of Locomotive, and so I think the kid may not be out of the woods yet.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Here’s a photo (click to enlarge) of Corinne, Utah, on the route of the first transcontinental railroad. This was taken by A. J. Russell sometime between 1864 and 1869 and is online today thanks to Yale’s Beinecke Library. The resolution on the original scan, at the Beinecke web site, here, is so good that you can almost fall into it. Zoom way in, and on the left, just back of CITY BAKERY, there’s a sign, not easily readable, but readable:
NEWSPAPER, MAGAZINE, &
CORINNE BOOK STORE.
Now that is a local, independent bookstore, and local independents are on my mind; last night there was a launch party for Locomotive at Brooklyn’s BookCourt. Thank you to Simon & Schuster for organizing, to BookCourt for hosting, and to everyone who came! It meant a lot to see a lot of familiar faces in the audience. And local independents are also on my mind because as of today I’m off for the next five weeks (!) on a Locomotive book tour that’s going to take me to local independents across the country. This afternoon, the Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina; tomorrow, Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C.; Saturday, Octavia Books in New Orleans, Louisiana; Tuesday, a signing at the Saint Louis Public Library in Saint Louis, Missouri. The tour goes on from there but I’m taking things one step at a time here on the blog. The full tour schedule is here. All wishes for smooth travel currently being accepted. I look forward to sharing Locomotive transcontinentally. I hope I’ll see some of you on the road!
Sunday, September 1, 2013
“Mr. Floca manages not just to tell the story of one eventful journey but to summon the great rail enterprise as a whole: the sweat, ingenuity and ambition that went into building it, the smells and sounds of it, and the stunning, varied topography those first tracks traversed in the American West. Here young readers will also encounter possibly the most lucid explanation of how steam power works ever to appear in a children’s book.” So concludes Meghan Cox Gurdon’s review of Locomotive in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. Thanks to Ms. Gurdon and the Journal for the review! The full review is online for Journal subscribers here. Tuesday is the book’s publication date. On Wednesday a book party will be thrown at BookCourt on Court Street in Brooklyn. Details are here and here. I hope to see you there!
Friday, August 9, 2013
On almost every trip to the airport that I’ve made for the past eight or nine years, I’ve found myself, at one point or another, gazing across the tarmac and thinking longingly of the book Five Trucks, out of print and largely unavailable now for, well, eight or nine years. (Such a moment is sketched out here, and more about Five Trucks is here.) It’s happy news for me, then, that Five Trucks will be coming back into print at Atheneum/Simon & Schuster next year, where it will join the other vehicle books I’ve made over the past few years, The Racecar Alphabet, Lightship, Moonshot, and now Locomotive. Land, sea, air, space, together at last! Here’s a detail from a new cover painting now underway.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
It’s great to see Locomotive on a list of titles (here) which will be receiving starred reviews in the September/October issue of the Horn Book Magazine. I’m happy to say that this is the book’s fifth starred review. Thank you to the Horn Book!
Monday, August 5, 2013
Saturday, July 27, 2013
I'm very happy to see Locomotive on an interesting list of interesting books from the always interesting Paul Zelinsky, here. The list places the book in the company of the work of Sergio Ruzzier and others whose books I’ve long enjoyed and admired, and in the company, too, of some work I don’t know but now look forward to checking out. (King Rene’s Book of Love, by the Duke of Anjou and King of Sicily, is now on order.)
Thank you, Paul and Sergio!
Above: through the Great Basin, from Locomotive.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Best wishes to these ships, museums, and the dedicated people who keep them literally and figuratively afloat!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Thursday, July 18, 2013
If summer comes, can spring be far behind? Apparently not; I’ve just received early, unbound copies of Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, a picture book by the amazing Lynne Cox, coming in Spring 2014 from Schwartz & Wade Books. Elizabeth is a southern elephant seal, great of girth, slow of flipper, inclined to nap in city roadways. Complications ensue!
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Tomorrow, July 12, is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau. Happy 196, Henry! To mark the occasion, here is a railroad-centric excerpt from chapter 4 of Walden, first published in 1854. This makes for a long blog post, but it’s too good a passage for chopping up. I should also say that I don’t post the excerpt meaning to imply that Thoreau was a fan of the railroad; this is the man who wrote, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” (And see D.B. Johnson’s Henry Hikes to Fitchburg for a picture book telling of what Thoreau thought of spending money on a ticket.) Still, even within Thoreau’s critique there’s an evocation of the grandeur of the engines and some marveling at their workings, and the passage presents a vivid contemporary view of the transformative and disruptive power of the railroads.
Just fifteen years after Walden was published, the first transcontinental railroad was completed; the changes that Thoreau was observing in his corner of New England then reached from coast to coast.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
For the 150th anniversary of the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, here’s a picture from Billy and the Rebel, a Gettysburg story by Deborah Hopkinson that I illustrated that came out in 2005. It was one of two Ready-To-Read Civil War books we did together, the other being From Slave to Soldier.
More links: Billy and the Rebel, From Slave to Soldier, and Deborah Hopkinson.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
It was a big day here last week when word of two coming reviews for Locomotive arrived on the same afternoon, one right after the other.
First, a starred review from Booklist: “Floca follows up the acclaimed Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (2009) with this ebullient, breathtaking look at a family’s 1869 journey from Omaha to Sacramento via the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad…. The substantial text is delivered in nonrhyming stanzas as enlightening as they are poetic…. Just as heart pounding are Floca’s bold, detailed watercolors.... It’s impossible to turn a page without learning something, but it’s these multiple wow moments that will knock readers from their chairs. Fantastic opening and closing notes make this the book for young train enthusiasts.”
Second, a starred review from School Library Journal: “As in Moonshot (2009) and Lightship (2007, both S&S), Floca proves himself masterful with words, art, and ideas. The book’s large format offers space for a robust story in a hefty package of information…. Train buffs and history fans of many ages will find much to savor in this gorgeously rendered and intelligent effort.”
Thanks to an early Kirkus review, these are the second and third starred reviews for Locomotive. Either of them alone would have made my day. Thank you to Booklist and SLJ!
Next up for Locomotive is ALA in Chicago this coming weekend, where I’m looking forward to sharing the book and some of the process behind it. I’ll be at the Simon & Schuster Original Art Lunch on Sunday, June 30, from 12:00 to 2:00 PM, and signing at the S&S booth (number 2312) from 3:00 to 4:00, also on Sunday. Chicago was a jumping off point from the East to the transcontinental railroad in 1869, and I’m hoping it will be in 2013, too. If you’re going to be at ALA, I hope you’ll come by and say hello!
EDIT: The date above has been corrected to Sunday, June 30 (not Saturday).
EDIT: The date above has been corrected to Sunday, June 30 (not Saturday).
Thursday, June 20, 2013
One weekend almost three years ago I struck out for Governor’s Island with some reading I needed to get through for Locomotive. I figured that if I had to be working on a weekend I might as well be doing it in an appealing setting. But then, while looking for a spot where I could knuckle down in comfort with the research, I came across a Jazz-Age Lawn Party in full swing, if you’ll forgive the expression. Instead of reading I did some drawing (which I posted on the blog, here.)
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
BookExpo America arrives today. My studio mates Sophie Blackall, Eddie Hemingway, John Bemelmans Marciano, and Sergio Ruzzier are preparing to welcome booksellers to our studio this afternoon. (We have tried to get it clean, but not too clean. We have certainly succeeded with the latter, possibly even the former.)
The other bit of BEA I’ll be taking part in is tonight’s auction of donated children’s book art. (Details here.) Above is the piece I pitched in, a drawing originally done for Locomotive — but then the page ended up needing a different engine, or a different angle, or a different engine from a different angle. I forget the details. Anyway, if you’re attending the auction tonight and your credit is good, this drawing of Union Pacific engine number 119 can be yours. (Click the image above for a closer look.)
And because I’m not above regional pandering in my effort to drum up bidding: visiting Omaha booksellers, here is Omaha’s own Union Pacific! Visiting Californians, here is one of the engines that linked far-away you to the rest of the country (and now you’re stuck with us)! Visiting Utah booksellers, this is one of the two engines that met at the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869. And New Jersey! New Jersey booksellers take note! This mighty engine of the West was built in your backyard by the Rogers Locomotive & Machine Works of Paterson! Happy viewing and bidding and BEA to all.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
We’re expecting guests in the studio next week when BookExpo America is in town and so the last few days I’ve been cleaning. Well, “cleaning” suggests cleanliness, and that’s going too far, but improvement is nevertheless afoot. As part of the process, old piles, old files, old piles of files are being examined. Above is a drawing I came across today (click to enlarge), a location drawing of a junk-strewn vacant lot in Williamsburg, down by the East River. This was done in maybe 2004. Now, in 2013, every Saturday, this site is host to the Smorgasburg outdoor food market. (Here.) Now on this site, you can visit dozens of vendors and then on open green fields with a view of the water and the Manhattan skyline you can sit with your friends and enjoy a foie-gras beignet with Nutella powder, or Tunisian pumpkin stew, or a micro-batch of Kurdish labneh flavored with brined garlic shoots, or what have you. But the price of progress: if you’ve got an old GMC or an International 4700 hood you’re looking to dump, you’re straight out of luck.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
In conjunction with National Train Day (see last post) the Grand Centennial Parade of Trains is on at Grand Central Terminal this weekend, May 11-12. Details here.
I swung by today. I hadn’t expected vendors selling historic railroading items, but there they were. I bought more than I meant to but less than I might have. (I mentioned idly to one vendor’s wife that I wasn’t buying an antique brakeman’s lantern — reasonably priced! — because I knew in my heart that I had no real use for it. She assured me that her husband had gotten good service from the old lanterns during Hurricane Sandy. With oil and a good wick, the things still work! Well, why wouldn’t they? Still, I stayed strong.)
Then it was on to the modelers, where I spent some time drawing the terrific N-scale setup shown above. I got to speak with Charlie Sanborn, who along with his partner in very small trains Walt Palmer constructed the scene, an imagined town and valley inspired by the landscape around New York’s Shawangunk Ridge. They drove the model in from upstate in the bed of Walt’s pickup truck; this made easier than it might sound because the model was precision designed to fit the truck bed. Like a great, busy, Richard Scarry spread, the model invites the eye to wander, rewards with interesting details, and suggests narratives. There’s a lonely hilltop house, a farm, cows, a city, a bridge, tunnels, hairpin turns, even a bit of graffiti on the cliff face (“Class of ’49”), a whole little world. If you’re near Grand Central tomorrow between 10 AM and 4 PM, it’s worth slogging through the crowds (the considerable crowds) to get a look!
Click the images for larger versions.
Today, May 11, is National Train Day. (Truly. Amtrak and Wikipedia say so, here and here.) Here’s one train rider’s memory of a formative cross-country trip:
“I was fourteen when my parents returned from one of their trips out West to say that they had found a home in California and we would be moving to the town of Santa Barbara. The train ride from Pittsburg to California took us across country for nine days. The train was taking us from our past, through the vehicle of the present, to our future. The tracks in front of me, hugged the land, and became a living part of my memory. Parallel lines whose meaning was inexhaustible, whose purpose was infinite. This was, for me, the beginning of my ballet Frontier.”
Above: a detail from Locomotive, coming in September.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Saturday, April 20, 2013
A not minor (to me) detail that I forgot to include in my IRA post yesterday: I’ll be signing books at Texas bookseller Pat Anderson’s Overlooked Books booth (booth number 2519) on Sunday, from noon to 2:00. Come by and say hello!
Friday, April 19, 2013
I head to San Antonio, Texas tomorrow to appear on a Sunday panel at the International Reading Association’s 58th Annual Convention: “But Kids Haven’t Heard of That!”: Why Teaching Unconventional Nonfiction Is Important.
The panel was put together by Marc Tyler Nobleman and will also include Chris Barton, Shana Corey, and Meghan McCarthy. We’ll each say a bit about our work—I’m looking forward to talking a little Moonshot and Ballet for Martha, plus I’ll be packing F&Gs for Locomotive and will look forward to showing some of the process and research behind that book—and then our moderator, professor of children’s books and reading and language arts Susannah Richards, who isn’t really any more moderate than any of the rest of us, will get the questions and conversation going.
I’m happy to be on a panel with this great group and looking forward to everyone’s presentations. Thanks, Marc, for getting this organized. The panel will run from 3:00 to 5:45 in room 006D of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. If you’re going to be at IRA, I hope you’ll come by! Details are in the IRA schedule online, here. (That link should take you directly to page 236 of the schedule, in PDF form. Page 236 is where the action is.)
Edit: And! I’ll be signing books at Texas bookseller Pat Anderson’s Overlooked Books booth (booth number 2519) on Sunday, from noon to 2:00.
Edit: And! I’ll be signing books at Texas bookseller Pat Anderson’s Overlooked Books booth (booth number 2519) on Sunday, from noon to 2:00.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
My thanks to the Baltimore School of the Arts and to Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library for the chance to be a part of the BSA’s Appalachian Spring Festival this past weekend, and the chance to speak at two branches of the Pratt as a part of Baltimore’s 10th Annual CityLit Festival.
Two great events, but the BSA Festival in particular is one that I will remember for a long time. (No offense to the Pratt intended!) Ballet for Martha may have gotten the school started thinking about Appalachian Spring — an exciting thought for me — but when the students of BSA put their own Appalachian Spring on the stage I felt lucky just to be in the room. First there was the set, recreated by the students from Noguchi’s designs. Then there was a prologue to the dance, excerpts from letters and other writings by Graham, Copland, and Noguchi, stitched together and acted out by students. (That was a bit of work that I worried might fall flat, or worse, I confess to thinking, but it was well done and effective; it helped to put the work in context, suggested the outlines of its creation, and even touched on the question of why a diverse cast of young dancers today might and might not find the piece relevant.) Then from left of the stage came the opening to Copland’s score, and it was remarkable to look over and see such young performers working away on their instruments to such good effect. The music swelled, the young dancers came out, and they did their thing and they did Martha Graham’s thing — not a Lite version of it, either, but fully felt and fully enacted. You could feel the emotions in the house building as the dancers and musicians took us all the way through the piece, and the standing ovation, from a capacity crowd, was as fully and happily delivered as you can imagine. I also had the chance to meet a few of the talented students in the art program and to take a stab at critiquing their work, and that was a pleasure, too. A remarkable school, a remarkable Friday and Saturday for me.
And then on Sunday, after speaking at the Pratt’s Central Library, I headed off to visit friends in the area and succumbed either to food poisoning or a stomach bug or something and spent the next twenty hours sleeping, rising only to be fed small portions of rice, toast, broth, and JELL-O. And then I was over it and caught the train to New York, feeling a bit Lazarus-like the whole ride back. Well, there are ups and downs even to the best weekends.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Locomotive doesn’t come out until September, but the first review is out today, and I’m happy to say that I couldn’t ask for a better start for the book. The review is a starred notice from Kirkus Reviews: “Floca took readers to the moon with the Apollo 11 mission in Moonshot (2009); now he takes them across the country on an equally historic journey of 100 years earlier. In a collegial direct address, he invites readers to join a family—mother, daughter and son—on one of the first passenger trips from Omaha to Sacramento after the meeting of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific in May 1869… Full- and double-page spreads take advantage of the book’s unusually large trim for breathtaking long shots of the American landscape and thrilling perspectives of the muscular engine itself. The nameless girl and boy provide touchstones for readers throughout, dubiously eyeing an unidentifiable dinner, juddering across a trestle, staring out with wide-eyed wonder. Unjustly undersung as a writer, Floca soars with his free-verse narrative…. Nothing short of spectacular, just like the journey it describes.”
The review is up in its entirely on Kirkus for subscribers, here, and also on Amazon, here. Thank you, Kirkus Reviews!
Above: a newspaper “butch” hawks his wares. Any resemblance is purely coincidental.