Poetry Picture Book: “How to Draw a Dragon” by Douglas Florian



It’s Douglas Florian Day!


While researching this post, I came across an interview in which the interviewer asks poet and artist Douglas Florian where he begins a new project, and Douglas says “Duluth.” Now, you see — that’s exactly what I like about Douglas. He’s a wry guy! He’s a whimsical guy! Look, here he is being whimsical with the kids:

douglas-school visit
Is this Douglas in Duluth?

And he’s slightly absurd, the best kind of funny in my book. He could have said Tallahassee or Toledo, two serviceable towns. Or even Boise. Boise is funny! But he chose Duluth because Duluth is clearly superior. It’s a word that makes you lisp.

This silly tidbit reminded me of a greeting card I received many years ago which showed two artistically rendered French railroad workers fixing a broken track. A speech bubble from one worker simply said “Toulouse Lautrec.” Then that reminded me of a magnetic fridge notepad I once gave to a friend. It had lines on it and at the top was written “Chopin Liszt.”

Playful language is one of my favorite things, and Douglas Florian is one of my favorite purveyors of said play. You know right from the clever titles of his books that you’re in for an imaginative treat when you crack open that cover. There are books like Poem Runs and Poetreeswhich of course includes a Glossatree (click pics to enlarge) 


…and delightful dinosaur ditties in Dinothesaurus


… and the marvelous, inventive language in my personal favorite, UnBEElievables. I share “Summer Hummer” with my Lyrical Language Lab students as a perfect example of language play. I love those never-humdrummers!



But today we are here to celebrate Douglas’s

most scaliest,

most clawiest,

most fire-breathingest book ever …


Douglas is not only a master wordsmith, but also a renowned artist whose paintings for his books have all the whimsy of his words. In How to Draw a Dragon, Douglas gives us important instructions for creating our very own dragons.


And he even provides us with parts!


So gather your art supplies and listen up as Douglas leads us through the dragon-making process! Then stay tuned for the interview below.




Douglas: who are you, where are you, and how long have you been a rhyming fool?
Hi Renee, and thanks for all your support. I am an author and an artist born and raised in New York City. Although now I live on Long Island, I still have a studio in New York City. And in that wonderful place I have lots of paints and brushes and paper and pencils and pens, and when I look out my window I can sometimes see the children of PS 111 playing in their schoolyard. The sound of children playing is one of my favorite things to hear! I am very lucky because my father was an artist (he loved to paint landscapes and seascapes) and my mother was a lover of literature with a huge vocabulary. She could even finish The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, which is quite impossible for me.

Do you remember, and would you share, the first poem you ever wrote?
I believe the first poem I wrote that was published was “A Winter Day.” It went like this:

A winter day.
Cold and gray.
Snow flakes.
Cover your heads.
Skates and sleds.
A snowball grows.
Warm your toes.
Everything white.
Orange light.
A winter night.

Those are couplets, two rhyming lines at a time, except for the end which has three rhyming lines.

Douglas Florian in his studio
Douglas Florian in his studio

Still on the subject of young Douglas, how many dragons did you have as a boy? What kinds of trouble did you get into (with or without the dragons)?
I had dozens and dozens of dragons at home. Green dragons, red dragons, Roman dragons, and Chinese dragons. It was a very wild neighborhood, but we certainly had a lot of barbecues. They did get me into all sorts of trouble. The worst was when we were flying over Yankee Stadium and I caught a fly ball that Mickey Mantle had hit. I think it would have been an upper-deck home run if I hadn’t snatched it from the sky.

The other day a student asked me where I got the idea for my book, How to Draw a Dragon. I told him I wasn’t sure but I think I was inspired by a huge dragon that I saw in the library of the St. John’s School in Houston, Texas, when I was a visiting author there.

Detail from a painting in HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON by Douglas Florian

What were your favorite types of books to read as a young ‘un? Who were your early influencers? Do those early interests still find their way into your books and art?
When I was a young ’un I loved to read adventure books, especially those written by Jules Verne, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I also had a big book of Sherlock Holmes stories that I loved. I was probably most influenced by the poems of Ogden Nash. He wrote short witty poems, often about animals but sometimes about people, and so do I.


This question may show what a philistine I am when it comes to art, so Im sure youll be sending your dragon over to singe my eyebrows as punishment. But Im curious: You are also an accomplished artist and illustrate your own books. How to Draw a Dragon and your other childrens books are so delightfully fanciful both the words and the paintings while your grown-up art is abstract and more…serious, perhaps?

Do you ever find it difficult to switch gears between your work for children and your work for adults? What do those words share/not share?
It may sound funny, but I don’t see a big difference between my abstract art and my children’s book art. They both share my love of color and shape, texture and line. The biggest difference I guess is that abstract art can be many different things but illustrations are very specific. The images of both come from things I see in the natural world.

Douglas Florian: Grove Swoot and Green, oil on linen, 2013. Via www.1stdibs.com.

Do you have formal training in poetry and/or did you have a mentor when you were starting out? How has your craft/style (in both art and poetry) changed from your first book to your latest?  
I don’t really have much formal training in poetry other than what we learned in high school, such as “iambic pentameter,” whatever that is. I taught myself the elements and qualities of poetry by reading a lot of poems and trying to figure out what the writer was using in the poem, such as alliteration, metaphor, or personification. I didn’t really like poetry at all until the summer before 6th grade when I discovered the witty poems of Ogden Nash in the library near my home. My first poems were generally silly, but as time went by I started to bring information about the natural world into my verse. I guess beast feast was my first book to do that.


Is there anything you know now that you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?
I wish someone had told me to take my time more with my books. Today I spend more time revising and illustrating my poems. In fact, How to Draw a Dragon took two years, on and off, to create. With my editor Andrea Welch and my designer Ann Bobco, I worked very hard to make it as good as it could be.

If you could go on a dragon adventure with any children’s poet (living or otherwise), who would it be and why, and what would the two of you do on this adventure?
I imagine I would like to go on a dragon adventure with Emily Dickinson. Even though you may not consider her a “children’s poet,” I think that children can appreciate many of her poems, and I believe she would be an absolutely fascinating person to meet, especially flying atop a dragon.

Quick: a rhyming couplet (haiku, joke, silly sentence, whatever) using the phrase “fire-breathing.”

There’s a fire-breathing dragon. He sits in my back yard.
He’s very good at basketball and plays extremely hard.
He’s eaten all the grass we had and dandelions, too.
But best of all he’s excellent at cooking barbecue.

Thanks for stopping by, Douglas, and for adding How to Draw a Dragon to the No Water River poetry video library!

Thank YOU, Renée!


More Stuff about Douglas

Extension Activities for How to Draw a Dragon




Matt Forrest Esenwine has today’s Poetry Friday roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.

Derrick the Dragon, by Douglas Florian

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See more poems in my poetry video library.
All poems and paintings © Douglas Florian. All rights reserved.