I enjoy sharing the stories behind the books I've worked on with kids, parents, teachers, librarians, and others interested in writing and illustrating. I hope to interest an audience in how the stories that they read have been told, and in how they might tell stories of their own.
I give my presentation with the help of a slide show that begins by showing a childhood love of drawing. (Students will recognize the subject matter: cars, monsters, Bert and Ernie, dinosaurs, Yoda.) I show how I kept drawing through school and how a class in college lead to a career making children’s books.
Then it's on to working as an author and illustrator. Students first see where I've gotten the ideas for some of my books, and then see how much lies between an idea and a finished book. Students see sketches, storyboards, and book dummies. (An example of a book dummy is on YouTube, here.) They see how each plays a role in the bookmaking process, and hear how the form of the physical book influences the way authors and illustrators tell stories. (Think page turns. One review said about my work, “he also knows how to give his pictures a cinematic energy, especially in the way he “cuts” from page to page.” I liked that, and like to show students what that means.)
I talk in particular about making nonfiction books. I want students to see that the creative process is a way to engage with and learn about the world around them. Writers don't only write what they know, as the familiar advice goes. Writers also write what they want to know. I show different kinds of research — different ways of learning — that go into a book: reading books, articles, and (reputable) web sites; talking with experts; trips to museums, zoos, and dance studios; looking at model space ships. I talk about trying to put all that information together in the final book.
I talk about working with editors and show students something they'll recognize: work covered with notes and suggestions. I want kids to understand that art requires (and rewards) persistency, thought, and work. It's rewarding, purposeful, and enjoyable work — but work.
I show the studio in Brooklyn that I share with four friends and fellow author/illustrators, and the tools used to make drawings. Videos help explain how a nib pen works and other details of how I make a picture. Finally, there is a glimpse of the production work and printing processes that turn drawings into books.
I give the presentation with humor and energy, and work to keep the audience’s interest. Questions and sketching follow the presentation.
Presentations focus on the process behind the picture books The Racecar Alphabet, Lightship, Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, and Locomotive, and (important point!) assumes students are familiar with the books. With advance notice, other titles of particular interest can be included easily. Presentations are also available that focus solely on the creation of a particular title. These presentations are available for Moonshot, Ballet for Martha, and Locomotive.
The slide show clocks in at about thirty to forty minutes, which typically leaves fifteen to twenty minutes for the Question and Answer and sketching period. Timing can be adjusted to fit a school's needs.
The presentation's tone can shift to fit different grade levels, schools, and classes. Having said that, because there is so much about process and revision and research and artistic decision-making in the presentation, I find that it works for grades 1 and up, works best for grades 3 and up, and is really more than kindergarteners want to hear. For kindergarteners what works best for me is simply reading and drawing, rather than giving them the whole slide show.
I'm happy to work drawing into the Q&A part of the presentation; for that, the school should provide an 18" x 24" (or larger) drawing pad. (I ask the school to provide the paper simply because it's not practical to travel with a large drawing pad. All drawings stay with the school.)
Presentation needs: I show my presentation from my laptop, which can plug into any A/V system with a VGA connection. Full setup and A/V requirements are here.
Fee: The fee for a school visit is $2000 for a full day, which can include up to three presentations. (After three presentations I begin slurring my words.) Transportation and lodging in a local hotel for the night preceding the visit must also be provided for visits outside New York City. Please note that I don't have a car, so transportation generally means commuter rail or Amtrak.
(About the fee. Over the years, and to my disappointment, I've learned that when I'm at work, I'm making a living, and when I'm not, I'm not. If my fee is not a good fit with your budget, you can find someone whose honorarium works for you. A list of other Simon & Schuster authors who do school visits is here. Some of my personable and talented studio mates also make school visits, including Sophie Blackall, Edward Hemingway, and Sergio Ruzzier.)
Book sales and signings: I’m happy to sign and personalize books sold at events and presentations. I don’t, however, have the skills or contractual right to sell my books myself. Sales can be coordinated through the bookseller or wholesaler of your choice, or directly through the publishers, some of whom offer a discount for author visit sales. Many of my books are published by Simon & Schuster. Information on ordering S&S titles is here.
Further information: Please send an e-mail to brian (at) brianfloca.com. It will help me spot your email amid the spam if you please include “school visit query” or “mail from brianfloca.com” in your subject heading.
“Brian took our students on an exciting journey through his creative and writing processes with his lively presentation. He brought us up close and personal into his New York City studio. He delved into the intricacies of his research by sharing his travel experiences and how they influence his artwork. Brian had each and every student in the palm of his hand with an intimate portrait of his life and work. His presentations are extremely entertaining and he related as beautifully to our first graders as he did to our sixth graders.”
Barbara Burns, Lower School Librarian, Norfolk Academy, Norfolk, VA
“Brian Floca captivated students with his good humor and inventive presentation. Whether connecting the beginnings of his career to childhood drawings of dinosaurs or describing how being curious—about race cars or ships or space—can to lead to a book, Mr. Floca emphasized that the passion a writer needs lies in everyone. His impact was lasting: for weeks after his visit, students chose to write their own books during playtime and recess.”
Liz Leyden, St. Clement's School PTO, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.