5 Questions with Brian Floca

Floca, who won the 2014 Caldecott Medal for Locomotive, discusses the joy of sharing the news with family and the challenges that come with the "big gust of wind" that hits winners.

Photo of Brian Floca and Locomotive Cover

Winning awards can be life-changing. That’s definitely true if the honor is the Caldecott, Newbery, or Printz. SLJ asked past winners of the Big Three about their fondest memories of receiving the award, the biggest challenge after, and their words of advice for this year’s winners—who will be announced Monday, January 22 during the Youth Media Awards ceremony.

Brian Floca, who won the 2014 Caldecott Medal for Locomotive, which he also wrote, shares his experience and offers advice to the newest winner. 

For you, rules and criteria aside, what makes a book Caldecott worthy?
A good Caldecott book has a feeling of unity, of sound construction. It feels whole and complete. It feels true to itself.

What is your fondest memory of winning the award?
It was deeply moving to receive the call, of course, even though I wasn’t fully awake when it came in. (I will always be sorry I wasn’t more responsive on hearing the news, my apologies to the committee.) But the most moving memory is of sneaking a word, before the public announcement, to a very few people who were important to me and who I knew would be happy for me. (I hope I’m not voiding anything by admitting to this.) Would it be okay to wake my parents, I wondered? I decided, correctly, that it would be. But would it be as easy to share the news as it had been to hear it? Not at all. I remember pacing in my predawn apartment, practicing getting the words out so my parents might hear something more than gibberish when they picked up the phone. At first, it seemed an impossible task. It all felt quite unreal and emotional.

What is the biggest challenge for an author after winning?
Winning brings a lot of attention and asks for a lot of time. It’s disruptive. Some people thrive on that kind of disruption, others don’t. It’s a big gust of wind. If you know where you want to go and how to set your sail to it, you can catch it and launch yourself forward. If it catches you muddling or poorly positioned, it can bounce you around.

Any advice for this year’s winner?
Seize the opportunities, accept the obligations, decline the distractions, and seek, in the words of the prayer, the wisdom to know the difference. Enjoy as much of the year as much as you can, but get ready to recenter your work, too; winning can be a wonderful, life-changing event, but from a productivity perspective, it’s not a great thing to dwell on. Anticipate some happier-than-usual royalty statements, maybe much happier, but remember there is such a thing as gravity. Open a SEP-IRA. Thank the people who helped make it happen.

What are you working on now?
Last year I finished illustrating With Dad, the story of a father and son camping trip written by my late editor Richard Jackson. That will come out from Neal Porter Books in May. Currently, I’m drawing the end of the world for Dinosaur Doomsday by Jennifer Berne, for Melissa Manlove at Chronicle.

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