Shooting for the Moon with Brian Floca
and Debbie Ouellet

h1 July 20th, 2009 by jules


“…The rocket is released! / It rises / foot by foot, / it rises/ pound by pound.”
(Click to enlarge.)

Today we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the first manned mission, Apollo 11, to land on the Moon. Launched on July 16, 1969, it landed on July 20, and Mission Commander Neil Alden Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., became the first men to walk on the moon, while Command Module Pilot Michael Collins orbited above.

If you haven’t already seen a copy of Brian Floca’s Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, April 2009), you’re in for a big treat. And I’m going to give you a bit of a peek into the book today, since Brian indulged my over-enthusiastic request for some of the watercolor spreads from the book.

I’m stubbornly holding on to my library copy—I’m probably already in Overdues Territory—because it’s an excellent picture book. As in, I hope it sees some awards. As in, it would be just wrong if it didn’t. Yes, I’m a fan of Floca’s work, but this is a book that’s already been met with all kinds of wide acclaim: Kirkus, Booklist, The Horn Book, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and School Library Journal have all given it starred reviews. Publishers Weekly wrote that Brian’s rendition of the flight is “as poetic as it is historically resonant.” And, in the Washington Post, Kristi Jemtegaard wrote:

…while the illustrations speak eloquently of the wonders of science, the free verse text positively sings. Within a single sentence, facts (the rocket is 30 stories high and weighs 6 million pounds) and artistry (“a tower full of fuel and fire”) keep company. In this beautiful amalgam of science and poetry, words, set free from gravity, merge into images that reverberate and soar.

Michael Collins himself wrote, “Reading Moonshot gave me the feeling I was back up in space.” Man, that has just GOT to feel good to Brian Floca. Really good.

Take a look at this spread. I mean, really look. Be sure to click, and you can enlarge. The panels, the composition, the tension Floca builds with the two, the lines, the perspectives, the sideways glance of both fear and elation that we get from that astronaut closest to us in the bottom panel: It’s all simply perfect. (Of course, it’s followed by what Jemtegaard called the “shattering double-page spread at ‘LIFTOFF!’”, the stunning one opening this post.)

And spreads like the one below must be what Alan Bean (Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 12) is referring to, when he wrote, “the art is very accurate, in fact more accurate than I can remember seeing anywhere else. There is little that is not complex and confusing about space hardware, yet Moonshot gets it right….” The first time I read the book, I must have spent about ten minutes on this one spread (which you can also click to enlarge):


“Onboard Columbia and Eagle, / Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin / unclick gloves, / unclick helmets, / unclick the straps / that hold them down, / and float inside their small ships, / their home for a week….”

Speaking of Floca’s accuracy and details, he writes this at “Moonshot Notes,” a fairly recent addition to his website:

I had two goals while researching and writing Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.

First, I wanted to find the information that I needed to make an accurate book.

Second, I wanted to keep from beating the reader over the head with all that information. I wanted to be accurate but to evoke the mission, not exhaustively detail it.

So, what has he done? At that page of his site, “Moonshot Notes,” he has provided additional information about the book, the choices he made in writing and illustrating it, and fun facts for those who have read Moonshot and are full-to-bursting with questions about little details. As he puts it, it’s a resource for those of us who love annotated editions of our favorite titles, director’s commentary tracks on our favorite films, and footnotes.

And, as a picture book nerd, I love it and now wish that more picture book creators did that. Perhaps Floca can start a trend? A girl can dream. Yes, I’m an annotation geek.

So, take a look. “Moonshot Notes” is here.

I’m going to close the Moonshot-portion of the post with one of the final illustrations from the book (which will enlarge slightly if you launch the image itself). Floca’s ability to capture the emotions of what it must have felt like to see this event on television in 1969 is spot-on. Look at the father: Exhaustion. A bit of disbelief at the magnitude of the event? Maybe some tears? The mother: Wonder. Awe. The children: Jubilation. Perfect.


“And far away, / where friends and strangers lean to listen, / where friends and strangers lean to hear, / there comes a distant voice: / Armstrong, calling from the Moon, / calm as a man who just parked a car. / ‘Houston,’ he says.
‘Tranquility Base here. The
Eagle has landed.’

Armstrong is calm — but on Earth they cheer!”

I hope you get to see a copy of the book, since these are just a few spreads here I’m showing you today. There’s much more beauty. The endpages alone make it worth a read, and then there’s the spread of “the good and lonely Earth, / glowing in the sky.” Oh, I could go on…

Thanks to Brian for sharing his artwork today.

* * * * * * *

I’m going to close today with a poem from Debbie Ouellet. (Remember this?) This comes from Earth to the Moon, a poetry anthology (Hidden Brook Press, April 2009), which Debbie edited and which celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the moon-walk. This is Debbie’s “Footprint”:

“That’s one small step for a man,
one giant leap for mankind.”

– Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969

* * * * * * *

I think I know how Armstrong felt
walking in a Teflon skin—
a stroll between the spaces.

That first step
might as well have been a leap
of faith or lunacy.
(The sixties were like that.)
And he on the cusp
of knowing what we could only imagine.

Digging into the old girl’s secrets
cradled in a tranquil sea,
where no wind sings her mystery,
and coming up with forty-six pounds of rock.

To gaze upon her earth sister
like she was a new girl
decked out in her blue dress,
an emptiness between them
frigid as a lunar night.

Like the Eagle stranded, wingless,
we left our wonder there
haunting the shadow of his bootstep.

* * * * * * *

If you want to read about other nonfiction titles today, the Nonfiction Monday round-up is being hosted by Sherrie Petersen at Write About Now.

* * * * * * *

All artwork courtesy of Brian Floca. All rights reserved.

MOONSHOT: THE FLIGHT OF APOLLO 11. Copyright © 2009 by Brian Floca. Published by Richard Jackson Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, NY. Reproduced by permission of the author.

“Footprint” copyright © 2009 by Debbie Ouellet. All rights reserved.

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11 comments to “Shooting for the Moon with Brian Floca
and Debbie Ouellet”

  1. I especially feel Debbie’s second to last line ” we left our wonder there” it evokes the enormity of it all. Thanks Debbie


  2. Thanks for sharing this!


  3. I’ve just placed a holds request on this book. If it’s about space, count me in. One thing: I always felt that Michael Collins should have been sent up in the subsequent visit to the moon to be able to get a look around. I know somebody had to stay on board Apollo 11, but it must have been so hard to have been so close to the moon and yet not be able to step foot on it. Check out The Man Who Went to the Far Side of the Moon by Bea Uusma Schyffert for a good children’s biography of Michael Collins.


  4. What a great post! The living room scene is almost exactly the one that played out at my house (we didn’t have a dog). My memories of that night are among the most vivid of my childhood. When I finally got to the Air and Space museum 10 years ago and saw the Apollo 11 capsule, I cried. Hopefully, all these wonderful titles will spark new interest in space and get more kids thinking about science.


  5. Thanks, Laura and Jenn.

    Farida, I was thinking that about Collins as I typed this up. Thanks for the book tip.

    Catherine, that just HAD to be super cool to witness (the actual night-of, as well as the capsule). Thanks for sharing.


  6. Happy moonwalk day!


  7. Out of this world post (hee)! I remember the magical feeling of that day — miraculous that we could watch it on television.


  8. One of the many things I love about Moonshot is how he manages to convey all of the sounds from the blips to the blast-off. You can HEAR this book. Amazing.


  9. I. Love. This. Book.

    Okay, more accurately, I love the LOOK of this book. The colors, the details, the apparently elegant balance between science and poetry: ye gods, to be a boy again… *looks over shoulder for mischievous leprechauns about to grant that wish*

    I worked for a summer — I’m pretty sure it was the summer of 1969, but it might have been ’70 — for RCA, in the mailroom of their Camden NJ facility. Once, we got this big old wooden box — like 4′ x 4′ — which we had to open and repack, ensure it would be safe during shipment and so on. Inside was a perfect, small (maybe 6″ across) scale model of the Eagle lander, on a lunar surface, being used for something-or-other… I think it was some kind of cross-promotion between RCA and NBC, which at the time were part of the same company. Seeing it felt eerily like participating somehow in the event itself.


  10. [...] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a blog about books « Shooting for the Moon with Brian Flocaand Debbie Ouellet [...]


  11. [...] Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, April 2009). Brian stopped by in July to share some art and point us to the fabulous “Moonshot Notes” at his site. Click to [...]


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