Thursday, January 9, 2014

Favorite Authors: Brian Floca

Most of our new books come by way of recommendations from friends or blogs (Little Lamb Books has yielded some great favorites). Brian Floca, however, came into our home more or less by happenstance. At our library, the picture book section always has some books pulled out and displayed on top of the shelves. When I saw one called "The Racecar Alphabet," I figured on a cute bit of fluff to amuse a vehicle-obsessed two-year-old, and perhaps he'd learn a couple more letters along the way as a bonus. We got it home to find  it full of alliterations that roll deliciously off the tongue. (Find me something cuter than a toddler's version of "Instruments indicating speed" or "Veering, vying, vowing victory!") The ink-and-watercolor illustrations beg to be described as "lush," despite the mechanical subject manner. Honestly, it's hard to say whether the words or the pictures make his books more of a treasure.

It even inspired his Halloween costume. (Yes, my toddler's car is a Bugatti Type 35. What about it?)

For those who love a good story, there's "Locomotive" and "Moonshot". I'd say that these are for longer attention spans ("Locomotive" clocks in at 64 pages), but they're both so full of action and the same great literary style that The Bean has no trouble sitting through either (multiple times in a day when he can get away with it). The illustrations, are both technically accurate and beautiful in a way that reminds me of the best of architectural renderings. My pre-teen self would have spent hours trying to copy them. Honestly, if he sold prints, I would paper The Bean's room with them. I'll have to console us both with coloring sheets until then.

The design geek in me loves his use of fonts in these two volumes, too. "Locomotive" uses playbill-style text to emphasize the sounds of the train, and Bean loves to "read" along (he'll point right at the words and shout "Full Steam Ahead" when we get to this page). By contrast, "Moonshot," true to its era, is set almost entirely in varying styles of Helvetica.

While I've been reading these to The Bean, the historical and technical details, both in the stories themselves and in the extensive notes on the flyleaves make them a great read for anyone who has an interest in the subject matter. Honestly, I'm still trying to puzzle through the technical diagrams in "Locomotive"; external combustion is complicated.

I'd also be remiss if I neglected to mention "Lightship." It's humbler in scope (and length) than the two above, but with the same expressive prose style. (Something else these three have in common, in a detail boys will love: all three contain an aside about how exactly one uses the facilities on these modes of transport. We're potty training right now, and he loves to recite, "In space, it takes some skill to use the toilet!") It's rare to run across new children's books that I'd even deem worth the money to buy a new copy, but these exhibit such artistry that I'll gladly be adding all of them to our collection when our library renewals are up.

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