Backroads

Brian Floca’s talk opens the museum’s traveling exhibit, “Young at Art: A Selection of Caldecott Book Illustrations” on view from Friday through April 25. Named in honor of 19th century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the medal annually honors the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This illustration comes from Floca’s book, “Locomotive.”

Even if history doesn’t repeat itself, it does run full circle.

Belton’s former children’s library will welcome a children’s book author and illustrator at 6 p.m. Friday at the Bell County Museum, 301 N. Main St. in Belton.

Expect color, enlightenment and a big locomotive.

Temple native Brian Floca, author-illustrator and illustrator of numerous books for children, will kick off Bell County Museum’s Spring Lecture Series with a presentation on the process of writing and illustrating children’s books.

Co-sponsored by the Salado Institute for the Humanities, his talk opens the museum’s traveling exhibit, “Young at Art: A Selection of Caldecott Book Illustrations,” which is on view from Friday through April 25.

The Caldecott award is the most coveted award given to children’s books. Named in honor of 19th century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the prestigious and highly-coveted medal annually honors the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Floca received the Caldecott award in 2014 for “Locomotive,” inspired by his hometown’s railroad heritage. Following the lecture, Floca will sign copies of “Locomotive.”

His appearance at the former Carnegie Library-turned-museum is a bit of literary synchronicity. Opened in 1904 thanks to a generous gift from the Carnegie Foundation, the stately Belton Library was a lively hub of learning and exploring for 70 years.

Beginning in 1946 and for more than a half century, Lena Armstrong (1913-1999) organized, directed and nurtured the library and its patrons. Besides her love of history and genealogy, she saw the need for expanding children’s literature offerings because Belton, like most of Bell County, was booming. The city of Belton had grown from a modest county seat of about 3,500 in 1940 to more than 8,000 in 1960 — a 128 percent increase, much of it due to the post-war baby boom.

By the time Armstrong assumed duties as the Carnegie Library director, children’s books were undergoing “a brilliant renaissance” nationwide, according to The New York Times.

By spring 1966, Armstrong began converting the Carnegie Library’s top floor — formerly a small auditorium for performances and offices for the Bell County Health Department — into a place just for kids with a children’s library and space they could call their own. She moved all books for youngsters and teens into the second floor space and created a special study area with tables for teens. She also included child-size furniture — essential to help kids of all ages feel at home in the library.

Eventually, times and library services changed in Belton. By 1975, the library moved to new quarters, 301 E. First Ave.; and the former Carnegie building eventually became the Bell County Museum.

The museum’s upstairs area — the former children’s library — will be the site of Floca’s talk.

Floca’s work represents the evolution of children’s literature over the centuries. The first volume for children published by John Newbury, “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly,” appeared in London in 1744.

By the early 19th century, U.S. publishers produced a series of moralistic tales. For example, “The Affecting History of the Children in the Wood,” published in Massachusetts in 1837, was intended to teach youngsters “how much the love of gold depraves mankind.”

Floca’s imaginatively illustrated books reflect the current shift in children’s literature as publishers continue to expand offerings, styles and stories.

Floca, now living in New York, is prolific with a variety of styles and subjects. He is the author-illustrator and illustrator of numerous books for children, including “Lightship” and “The Racecar Alphabet.” His most recent book is a new edition of “Moonshot,” revised and expanded for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

He illustrated Avis Poppy Stories novels, Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s “Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring,” Laura Amy Schlitz’s “Princess Cora and the Crocodile” and “Hawk Rising” by Maria Gianferrari.

In addition to the Caldecott Medal, his books have received four Robert F. Sibert Honor awards for distinguished informational books, a silver medal from the Society of Illustrators and have twice been selected for The New York Times’ annual 10 Best Illustrated Books list.

The children’s book industry has gone through more changes and growth spurts than a pre-teen. The exhibit, “Young at Art,” reflects the changes along with remarkable art work.

“Through picture books, readers embark on visual journeys that engage all of the senses and encourage curious, imaginative, and thoughtful interactions with the world around them,” said Coleman Hampton, Bell County Museum director.

“Since 1938, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, has recognized the significant impact of art on early reading experiences, awarding the Caldecott Medal for excellence in this area,” he added.

The exhibition includes original illustrations from Caldecott Medal recipients and from runners-up as well as other illustrations by award-winning artists.

“These illustrations are widely recognized not only as artistic classics in children’s literature but also as the source of countless beloved memories for the young and young at heart,” Hampton said.

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