Friday, December 31, 2010


Before the year closes I want to say how grateful I am for the fall and winter that Ballet for Martha has had. In October, Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan, Neal Porter and I had the incredible experience of seeing the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra incorporate the book into a performance of Appalachian Spring. Publishers Weekly gave the details here. Thanks especially to Jan and the SLSO for working to make that happen, and to Roaring Brook to sending us all to St. Louis so we could see it for ourselves. This past month, I’ve been grateful to see Ballet make a number of end-of-the-year lists: Booklist Top Ten Art Books for Youth, Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books, School Library Journal Best Books, New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, Fuse #8 Production’s 100 Magnificent Children’s Books of 2010, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare, and the Washington Post Best of 2010: Books for Young Readers. Sincere thanks to those reviewers.

And that’s a wrap for 2010. I look forward to posting soon about some work recently completed, and about the book currently sprawled across my drafting table. That’s my work for the rest of the winter and into spring. But that’s for next year. Happy 2011 to all!

Above: An alternate cover sketch.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

I think I post this video every year. I feel a little badly about that, but not so badly, because I like it so much. Christmas cheer for the lightshipmen, and for you and yours, and best wishes for 2011!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hear me, outer boroughs!

I have a busy few days of presentations coming up. On the morning of Thursday the 9th, I’ll give a presentation about my work at the Brooklyn Public Library. Details are here.

On the morning of Saturday the 11th, I’ll read at the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School book fair. Details are here.

And on Sunday the 12th, at 3:00, editor Neal Porter, author Sandra Jordan, and I will give a presentation about our book Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, at the Noguchi Museum in Queens. (The circle is complete!) The full event description is: “Ballet for Martha: Making of Appalachian Spring tells the story of the collaboration among Isamu Noguchi, composer Aaron Copeland, and choreographer/dancer Martha Graham to create the iconic ballet Appalachian Spring. In this special program—intended for adults—co-author (with Jan Greenberg) Sandra Jordan, editor Neal Porter, and illustrator Brian Floca will introduce the book and discuss their own collaborative effort to make Noguchi's, Graham's, and Copland's art accessible to a young audience. A slide show of sketches will accompany the discussion.” Details are here.

I hope some of you can come by!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Maker's Dozen

I’m happy to be part of a loose confederation of friends and illustrators here in Brooklyn operating under the moniker “Book Maker’s Dozen.” We are: Aileen Leijten, Boris Kulikov, Brett Helquist, Dan Yaccarino, David Gordon, John Bemelmans Marciano, John Rocco, Peter Brown, Sean Qualls, Selina Alko, Sergio Ruzzier, Sophie Blackall, and myself. You can know that we are a legitimate operation because we have a blog (here) and a Facebook page (here). You can go to the Facebook page, and “like” us, and everything.

This Thursday, December 2, we will transcend the virtual and touch the brick and mortar with a show, an opening, and some wine-fueled conversation about art and literature for young people, all at one of the great local and independent bookstores here in Brooklyn, powerHouse Arena. The powerHouse Arena is at 37 Main Street (corner of Water and Main Streets), in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn. The opening will run from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. Full event details are here.

At the opening we will also be selling signed limited-edition prints of our work. Just in time for the holidays, you might say! (More information on the prints is here. Interested parties in far-flung places can order prints through our Etsy page, here.)

I hope you can come by the reception, stop by to see the show, or just follow us online!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book-A-Day, today

Last month Anita Silvey launched the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac — “a daily love letter to a book or author” and a source for “events, trivia, and celebrations for every day of the year, as well as a featured children’s book to explore in more depth.” It’s a great site and I’m happy to see that today’s book is Moonshot. The thoughtful (and appreciated) review is here. Thanks, Anita!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cover me

Over at the Fuse #8 blog today Betsy Bird covers the HarperCollins librarians’ preview. One of the books on show is Eric Luper’s Jeremy Bender Vs. the Cupcake Cadets. The cover design is by talented designer (and friend and picture book author) Polly Kanevsky, and I did the spot drawings. This was a small but fun project.

Typing about that work reminds me that I never blogged about another cover I enjoyed working on this year, for the paperback edition of Avi’s The Traitors’ Gate, a story full of twists and turns that I enjoyed taking a crack at illustrating. (Illustrating the cover for, I should say. The interior illustrations are by Karina Raude.) The designer for the Traitors’ Gate cover was the adept Michael McCartney at Simon & Schuster, with whom I also had the pleasure of working on Lightship and Moonshot. (And to whom I owe some sketches for the next book we’ll work on together.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

It’s a gift to be simple (but not that simple)

Ballet for Martha, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, tells the story of the creation of Appalachian Spring by Martha Graham, Isamu Noguchi, and Aaron Copland. Jan and Sandra end the book with a wonderful line that looks beyond the dance’s premiere and toward performances to come: “And the collaboration will be created anew.”

And how!

Ladies and gentlemen, from mine own home state of Texas, the Stephen F. Austin High School Bulldog Band and Angels Dance Team:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Politics and Prose

I’ll be presenting Ballet for Martha on Thursday at 10:30 A.M. at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. I’ll show slides, talk process, and take questions. If that’s within your striking range I hope you’ll come by! Event details are here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Memories of East Texas

I had a great time at the East Texas Book Festival in Tyler, Texas this past weekend. Thank you to everyone at the festival for the invitation and for managing the logistics!

I returned to the diaspora yesterday. My flight was delayed due to the weather in New York, so I had some extra time in the Austin airport. A sketch and a Five Trucks flashback were the results.

Next stop: St. Louis!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At the library!

I’m excited to have my work included in a show opening this week at the Brooklyn Public Library, “Drawn in Brooklyn.” The show is curated by John Bemelmans Marciano and features the work of 34 children’s book illustrators who live in Brooklyn. (One of them is the talented Sergio Ruzzier, who put together a list of all the artists in the show, with links to their web sites, on his blog. I suppose I could do the same, but why reinvent the wheel? Sergio’s list is here. Grazie, Sergio.)

My contributions to show are original drawings and paintings from Ballet for Martha, Moonshot, Poppy’s Return, and The Hinky-Pink. Several of us with work in the show are also exhibiting process drawings in display cases in the library’s youth wing. In my case (so to speak) there’s a soup-to-nuts presentation on the making of The Racecar Alphabet: initial inspiration, sketches, storyboards, book dummies, revisions, original art, and a scale model Mercedes-Benz 300SL (1952). It’s an honor to have work up in the show. I hope you’ll be able to come by and see it! Exhibit details are here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Live from St. Louis

A great review of Ballet for Martha from Carol Rasco, the CEO of RIF — Reading is Fundamental — ran on Monday. I am (naturally) happy to link to it, here.

The review mentions something remarkable that I’m excited about that’s coming up next month: the St. Louis Orchestra will perform Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite on October 1 and 3, accompanied by images from the book. Will 10” x 11” drawings work at 10’ x 11’? Visit St. Louis and find out! More information on those performances is here. (Scroll down to the header AMERICAN ARTS EXPERIENCE-ST. LOUIS.)

And on October 2, authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, editor Neal Porter, and I will give a panel presentation at the St. Louis Public Library on Ballet for Martha and our experience making the book. Information on the panel is here.

Why such favor from the Gateway City? Because that’s where Jan Greenberg lives. More on Jan is here. My thanks to her, as well as to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Public Library, and Roaring Brook, for putting together these events. If any of you are in or near St. Louis, it would be great to see you there!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Brooklyn Book Festival

This Sunday, September 12, the Brooklyn Book Festival will be held in and around Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. I’m glad to be one of the readers this year, and look forward to reading and sketching at the children’s tent at 3:00. I’ll read from The Racecar Alphabet — not my most recent book, but the one I think best suited to the expected audience category: Children of Varying Ages, Energy Levels, and Attention Spans. If there’s a wave of interest in lightships, astronauts, or Martha Graham, though, well, we’ll see what happens. Event details are here. Scroll down to the “Target Children’s Area” header for a full list of children’s book readers. It’s a great lineup (if I do say so myself), including Tad Hills, Michael Rex, Mac Barnett, John Rocco, Sergio Ruzzier, Chris Raschka, and others. It should be a great festival and I hope I’ll see you there!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sketches from the ’20s (approx.)

I was on Governor’s Island yesterday and came across: an orchestra playing ’20s-era jazz, a flock of flappers, two gramophones, and three vintage cars — a “jazz-age lawn party,” the poster told me. Here are sketches. (Click to enlarge.) The one car is a Ford Model A from 1930, the other a Packard from 1940. The Packard was as clean and bright as it must have been in the showroom window seventy years ago.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Run, don’t walk!

The benefit auction for 826LA, organized by Dan Santat (more on Dan here) and described in my previous post (which is here) is now underway. You can see and bid on the first round of donated art on eBay, here. Happy shopping!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oh No? Oh Yes!

The talented, funny, and, as it turns out, charitable Dan Santat has put together a benefit auction on the occasion of the publication of his and Mac Barnett’s great new book, OH NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World). Dan, who did a virtuoso job illustrating Mac’s story, brashly asked thirty illustrators to take their own shot at imagining Mac’s text, with the results to be auctioned off. What Dan’s request had going for it was, one, the story concerns a girl who creates a giant robot for her school science fair, a robot that nearly tears down the city before (spoiler alert) being defeated by a giant frog. Two, all monies raised will support Los Angeles’s 826LA, “a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.”

My contribution is above, a little something I threw together with some leftover Soyuz hardware. (Click to enlarge.) You can see the work of all the contributors and learn how to bid, bid, bid at the benefit auction’s online gallery, here. From August 14 to 17, you can see the actual drawings, paintings, and so on at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, California. More information on the Gallery Nucleus exhibit is here. You can read more about the book here, visit Dan’s site here, and visit Mac’s site here.

Thanks for bidding!

EDIT: And! Completists, please note: the auction has a blog, here, and there was a nice piece about it in Publishers Weekly, here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ballet for Martha

Tomorrow, August 3, is the official publication date for Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, which I illustrated. I’m very happy to report that the book recently picked up its fifth starred review. (The stars have come from The Horn Book, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and, most recently, School Library Journal. Excerpts are on my web site here.) An interview with me on the SLJ site is here. The idea of leaping into the air for the accompanying photo was not mine but I was game, despite the fact that the photo shoot came the day after I tried wakeboarding for the first time, and that I was sore that day in muscles I didn’t even know I had. Other reviews that have warmed the heart have appeared on the Fuse #8 blog, here, and from the San Francisco Chronicle, here. Thank you to all the reviewers!

As I hope I’ve conveyed in the interviews I’ve done for the book, this was a wonderful project on which to work. I’m grateful to editor Neal Porter for thinking of me for it, and for the chance to work with Jan and Sandra on the book. I hope you’ll give the results a look!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I’m hitting the road to research the past…

...with a road atlas from the future. I hope this thing doesn’t lead me anywhere that won’t be built for another six months.

Friday, July 16, 2010


If it occurs to me that today is the 1st anniversary of the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, does that make me nostalgic for last year’s nostalgia? Don’t answer that. Now other books are coming out (Ballet for Martha, next month) and other books are in the works (It’s 1869, not 1969, on the drafting table these days) but Moonshot will always have a special place on my shelf, and I do appreciate my memories of last year, especially of listening to NASA’s real-time internet broadcast of the original mission transmissions. Through that broadcast and through all the attention the anniversary received I got to share with friends what I had worked on for so long in relative privacy of my studio, and that’s worth remembering. Happy 41st, Apollo 11!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ALA recap

Recently I’ve been trying to spend (a little) less time on the great and terrible internet, so I’m late in saying thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me to Washington for ALA, where I had a wonderful time, and thank you to this year’s Sibert Committee for the Sibert Honor for Moonshot (a considerable contributor to the wonderful time), and thank you to Roaring Brook for a chance to have a Ballet for Martha signing while at the conference. (Ballet for Martha! Coming next month!) Thanks also to everyone who came by and picked up a book!

After conference duties were done I spent a day at the National Gallery, and after seeing a few great things, I happened onto the museum’s collection of Renaissance Portrait Medals. The medals, given as “tokens of esteem,” were created very deliberately on the model of ancient Roman coins. (Click to enlarge the sketch.) I looked at these for a minute before I realized, ah ha, here are the great grandparents of the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Sibert (the Pulitzer, the Nobel) and so on. Today’s children’s literature medals have fewer swords, less nudity, and no elephants, but the connection is clear. That discovery made a coda to ALA, and I left Washington satisfied. (Also, the exhibit was an opportunity to to brush up on usage for the word “obverse,” so that was another bonus.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

ALA 2010

I’m preparing today to leave the sweltering, muggy weather of Brooklyn, New York to attend the American Library Association Annual Conference in the sweltering, muggy weather of Washington, D.C. (I learned something about library budgets years ago when I realized that the January conferences are always in places like Boston and Chicago, and the July conferences are always in places like Washington, D.C. or Anaheim, CA.) I’ll be signing Moonshot at the Simon & Schuster booth on Sunday, from 1:00 to 2:00, and advance copies of Ballet for Martha at the Macmillan booth on Monday, from 12:30 to 1:00. And on Monday morning, I’ll be happy and honored to receive a Sibert Honor Award for Moonshot. I’m looking forward to seeing old and new friends and to a weekend full of librarians, authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, and books. If you’re going to be in D.C., I hope I’ll see you there!

Monday, June 14, 2010

More Martha

Some recent good news for Ballet for Martha: last week Elizabeth Bird, aka Betsy, alias Fuse #8, posted some generous thoughts about the book in her recap of a Macmillan preview for librarians, here. And now there’s word that Booklist’s July issue will give the book its second starred review. Ilene Cooper’s review says: “The book as a whole beautifully captures the process of artistic creation…what readers will surely want after putting this down is to see and hear Appalachian Spring for themselves.” An interview with authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, editor Neal Porter, and myself will run with the review.

Thank you, Fuse and Booklist!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Horn Book

Jump for joy! A starred review of Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by yours truly, will appear in the July/August Horn Book Magazine. Thanks, Horn Book!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Hey Bidder, Bidder

The Association of Booksellers for Children holds a silent auction of children’s book art each year during BookExpo America. Monies raised help underwrite projects that benefit the ABC independent booksellers, a group for which I’m glad to try to do my small bit. My donation is above (click to enlarge): a riff on Moonshot, with a nod, executed in humility, to Hergé, who sent Tintin to the moon well before Apollo 11 got there. (Please don’t infer from the drawing that I speak French, but I thought that if I was going to butcher a Hergé cover I ought to at least work with the original.) The auction will be part of an evening event featuring a keynote speech by David Wiesner, and will be held in New York on May 25. More information is here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A lightship on the move

If you happen to be reading this blog, in Boston, and a fan of lightships, then this is the post you’ve been waiting for! Light Vessel 112, which for years languished unwanted in Oyster Bay on Long Island, is on its way to a new home in Boston Harbor, traveling via Long Island Sound, Buzzard’s Bay, and the Cape Cod canal as I type. The latest word is that she’s expected at the Charlestown Naval Shipyard dock around 7:00 tomorrow (Tuesday) evening. So if you’re in range and you’ve ever wanted to see a lightship come into port, now’s your chance.

Why is this happening? I’m late to these events but it seems that the United States Lightship Museum (itself a developing story, I believe) has rescued the ship from Long Island limbo. According to the museum’s handsome web site, here, they are moving LV 112 to Boston where the ship “will serve as a floating museum and learning center for the general public, chronicling the maritime history of the U.S. Lightship Service from its inception in 1820 to its end in 1985. Visitors will experience what lightship service was like for crewmembers living aboard these “floating lighthouses,” whose duty was to stay on their station regardless of conditions, faithfully and courageously guiding transoceanic shipping to and from the United States through dangerous seas.”


Theoretically I could wait until I know a little more about this story before posting it, but some of you will want as much advance notice as possible to aid with rescheduling your Tuesdays, so here we go. I’ll follow up when I have additional information. Set those RSS feeds!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Coming Soon

I got to visit the Roaring Brook offices yesterday (in the eternally fantastic Flatiron Building) and was able to pick up a copy of their Fall 2010 catalogue, which includes Jan Greenberg’s and Sandra Jordan’s (and my) Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. I also got to pick up an unbound copy of the book itself. It was great to see the book handsomely treated in the catalogue, and also to see how beautifully it’s been printed. (Thank you, Neal and Susan.) It was one of those good moments when you realize that those drawings you worked on for so long are actually going to be a book. Coming in August!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Guenter Wendt, 1924-2010

From friend and Apollo obsessive (I use the term with affection) Sharyn November I learned that Guenter Wendt passed away this morning. Wendt was the “pad leader” for the Apollo flights, the man who ran the White Room at the top of the launch tower and who oversaw the astronauts’ ingress into their spaceships. Several astronauts describe riding up to the White Room on launch day as the moment that it hit them that, yes, this is really going to happen. Wendt and his closeout crew were waiting for them at the top, a last set of trusted hands and eyes to see them on their way.

Wendt (someone playing Wendt, I should say) appears briefly in the movie Apollo 13; Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell gets the line, “I vhonder vhere Guenter vhent?” (It’s a joke that was actually made by Donn Eisele on Apollo 7, but who’s counting?) Wendt’s German background and accent seem to have been a running source of comic material for the astronauts, with mixed results; he was affectionately known as the “pad führer,” and there’s a photo out there somewhere of Alan Shepard giving him a WW II-era German helmet labeled “Col. Guenter Klink” as a gag gift just before the liftoff of Apollo 14. The image is a little jarring and apparently Wendt wasn’t thrilled with the gift, but I suppose nobody ever said Al Shepard was hired for his cultural sensitivity.

Wendt is not mentioned in Moonshot, but I included him (and his glasses and bow tie) as the man sealing the hatch in the drawing above. An obituary today at the web site Collect Space, here, points out that Wendt never actually closed the door himself (So do I tell you that the drawing includes a mistake, or artistic license? Okay, mistake.) but also helps give an idea of why I wanted him in the book.

Wendt’s personal web site is here.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Coloring in Queens

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

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Come to Queens

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 12, 2010


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

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Countdown: Apollo 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Books for NYC Schools event

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Blue Moon of Kentucky

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

Sundress, by Joey Fortuna

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bank Street

I want to thank the Children’s Book Committee at the Bank Street College of Education for yesterday — for their recognition of Moonshot with a Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, and for the chance to attend a reception, ceremony, and lunch for all the authors and illustrators of this year’s award books. It was an honor to take part in the day and a pleasure seeing friends there and making new ones. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ballet for Martha

I hit the blog hard last year with Moonshot, but on the desk it was a different story; I was working on drawings for a story by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan (more on this team here). Their subject: how choreographer Martha Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and sculptor Isamu Noguchi together created a landmark piece of American art, the ballet Appalachian Spring. It was a wonderful manuscript to work with, and a great chance for me to work with material a little different from what I’ve worked on so far in my books. So that was last year, and now I’ve received a copy of the advanced reader copy of Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, and the good news that the book is a Junior Library Guild selection. Thanks, JLG! Ballet for Martha comes out in August from Flash Point/Neal Porter Books/Roaring Book Press.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Robert McCall

Author Andrew Chaikin’s appreciation of artist Robert McCall on NPR, here, clued me in, belatedly, to the news that McCall passed away on February 26, at the age of 90. You can’t dig too far into NASA or Apollo before you have the pleasure of bumping into McCall’s work, and you’ve seen his paintings if you’ve ever been to the Air & Space Museum in Washington, where he created a six-story-high (!) mural, or if you know the poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m sorry that he’s gone. His obituary in the Times is here.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hello, Brooklyn!

Here’s a plug for my reading this Sunday, March 7, at powerHouse Books. That’s in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, at 37 Main St., Brooklyn, NY, 11201. I’ll be reading, signing, and sketching. Author Randall de Sève will be there, too. Event details are here. If you’re in range I hope you can come by!

Addendum: Thank you Susanne, Ryan, and Maggie at powerHouse, for a great visit!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Nominations (x2)

It is, in all honesty, a (great) surprise still to have new Moonshot news to report, but here it is: The Children’s Book Council, in association with Every Child a Reader, Inc., has named the 2009 finalists for the Third Annual Children’s Choice Book Awards, and Moonshot is one of five finalists for Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year. More here. And! The American Booksellers Association has announced finalists for the 2010 Indies Choice Book Awards, and Moonshot is one of six finalists for Book of the Year in the New Picture Book Category. More here.

Either nomination would be exciting news. The two nominations together are, ah, double exciting news! Thank you to the organizers, booksellers, and young voters!

Above: From the cutting room floor, a sketch of Eagle, Armstrong, and Aldrin on the Moon.


I had the chance last month to speak to the fantastic Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C. about my work, and then just over a week later to appear alongside some great authors and illustrators at the second annual Killeen Salutes the Arts festival in Killeen, Texas, near my hometown. Both events were a chance to meet authors, illustrators, librarians, and booksellers and to have some great conversations. (And in Killeen, thanks to bookseller and master of the culinary arts Pat Anderson, I got have some great enchiladas, too.) Thanks to the organizers of both events and to everyone who attended!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bellissimo, come si vede in un film di fantascienza!

This sure beats the windows on the Apollo modules. It’s the new cupola on the International Space Station, built by the Italians, installed last week, “the largest window ever built for space,” says NASA. An article and slide show at the New York Times is here. The design made the Times think of Monticello and the Millennium Falcon. “TIE fighter!” was my first reaction, but to each his own.

Image is from NASA, via the Times.

Edit: Title edited to correct my Italian. Or perhaps to introduce new errors. I’m never sure, but I keep trying.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Flora Stieglitz Straus Award

Each year the Children’s Book Committee at the Bank Street College of Education gives the Flora Stieglitz Straus Award “for a nonfiction book that serves as an inspiration to young readers.” Usually one award is given, but two books written for different ages can also both receive the award. This year, I’m happy to say, Moonshot has received the award for younger readers, with Almost Astronauts, by Tanya Lee Stone, receiving the award for older readers. That’s great news! Thank you to the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street!

More about the award and Bank Street is here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

PEN panel

I’m glad to have been asked to appear on a panel this coming Monday on the theme “Crafting a Career as a Children’s or Young Adult Author—Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” The panel is sponsored by PEN and includes Richard Peck, Jane O’Connor, and Marilyn Singer. The conversation will be moderated by David Levithan. I will answer questions to the best of my ability. Come by! Monday, February 8, 7:00 PM, at the Cervantes Institute, 211 East 49th St., New York City. Free, with book signing to follow.

More information at PEN’s site, here.

Addendum: Publishers Weekly’s coverage of the panel is here. Thanks to PEN and everyone who came!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Moonshot is a Sibert Honor Book

The annual wave of ALA awards hit shore this morning, and I am happy and honored that Moonshot is a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book. The book is in excellent company: Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, by Tanya Lee Stone, is the Sibert Medal winner. The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani, and Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose, are the other Honor Selections. The ALA press release is here. Thank you to this year’s Robert F. Sibert committee!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hinky-Pink, or Blue, or Red, or…

To be honest, I have no idea whether anyone ever makes use of the coloring pages up on my web site. But I don’t let that stop me, and the sort of recent news that The Hinky-Pink is on the 2010-2011 Texas Bluebonnet Master List has spurred me finally to post some Hinky-Pink coloring pages, something I’ve been meaning to do since the book came out. (Sometimes I get behind.) You can color a princess in a dress, or you can color Anabel, or you can color some architecture. Or you can color all three. All are up on my web site, ready for downloading and crayons, here.