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:
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 Poetrees, which 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 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.
WHAT’S UP with DOUGLAS FLORIAN
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.
Cover your heads.
Skates and sleds.
A snowball grows.
Warm your toes.
A winter night.
Those are couplets, two rhyming lines at a time, except for the end which has three rhyming lines.
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.
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 I’m sure you’ll be sending your dragon over to singe my eyebrows as punishment. But I’m curious: You are also an accomplished artist and illustrate your own books. How to Draw a Dragon and your other children’s 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.
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
- See more videos of Douglas, including readings of poems from UnBEElievables, at the Simon & Schuster website. These are fabulous — don’t miss them!
- Douglas’s bio
- See a list of all of Douglas’s books.
- Invite Douglas to visit your school!
- Visit Douglas at his blog, Florian Café
- Many interviews of Douglas are accessible online. Here are a few I liked:
- Interview and poems on The Miss Rumphius Effect
- Interview on Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast
- Interview on Curled Up
Extension Activities for How to Draw a Dragon
- Reading & Writing
- Lots of ideas in this ALA Book Links article by Anne Davies.
- Have students “adopt” a dragon from How to Draw a Dragon, give the dragon a name, and write a poem of introduction to introduce the dragon to their classmates. Students might include the dragon’s name, birthplace, hobbies, talents, and so on in their poems.
- Drawing & Fun
- Do some How to Draw a Dragon activity sheets from Simon & Schuster! (PDF)
- Check out this roundup of colorful dragon crafts at The Crafty Crow.
- Play with your food! Ideas from Mixedupalot, Almost Unschoolers, and Make Do and Friend.
Matt Forrest Esenwine has today’s Poetry Friday roundup at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme.
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See more poems in my poetry video library.
All poems and paintings © Douglas Florian. All rights reserved.
Thank you both, Renee and Douglas! Wonderfully witty winterview! (Sorry couldn’t helpymyself!) And I afraid I’ve fallen in love with little Derrick and will have to take leave and write him a story immediately. Farewell, friends!
I thought I had all of Douglas’s books already but it looks like I’m missing a couple of older ones (must remedy that situation). I will need a bigger shelf for just the books by Doug himself!
When I learned that Douglas is also an Ogden Nash fan, that moved him up to the top of my favorite author/artist-friends list. 😉
This was an interview well-worth waiting for!
Thank you! This is a wonderful post! How fun to hear Doug read the book and see the images. I especially love the picture from Doug’s studio because I had no idea he was working on such a large scale. Now I’m even more eager to see his work in person.
Thoroughly enjoyed this post — always fun to hear poets read aloud, and it was great seeing some illustrations from his new book. I wonder if Derrick the Dragon likes tea?
Yes! Yes! Hooray for Douglas Florian! I’ve enjoyed and admired his work for years- though I am ashamed to say, I am not familiar with UnBEElievables…Summer Hummer- what a brilliant poem! I’ll guess I’ll be adding this book to my collection too 🙂 Great interview! Thanks.
Thanks for such a fun, enlightening interview! Douglas has a great sense of humour. I’ll keep an eye out for the book!
Wonderful post with one of my favorite poets! Thanks Renee and Douglas.
Douglas Florian is one of my Rockstar Poets!
I have an autistic boy in my class this year who is passionate about (obsessed with?) dragons. He was thrilled to be the first in the class to read How to Draw a Dragon!
Wonderful interview, Renée and Douglas. I feel the same as T, I thought I’d read them all too. Hurray for more treats in store.
What a great post. I must have this book. I’ll add it to my Florian library. Thank you, Renee and Douglas. LOVE the poem he made up on the fly. 🙂
Thanks for the great interview, Renee! I love his poems and his whimsical art.
A deliciously dragony interview, Renée and Douglas– crunchy on the outside with a chewy center, just the way dragons like ’em (or so I’ve heard). Such a fun video as well! Loved how Douglas read the line about needing lots of art supplies. (The lumpy head line came in a close second.) Thanks for tickling my fancy!
What a fabulous interview! I not only love Douglas’s books, but also his fantastic art! (And he is hilarious to boot!) Thanks, Renee!
A genius. A fun genius! What could be better? Thank you, once again, Renee, for highlighting such a bright light. xo
Appreciations for this dragon ride.
D.F. is a sure-fire laugh-igniter if I grab any of his titles to read for
BookPALS storytime. I am most partial to POETrees but the kids laff most at the animal poems & pictures most 9such as his 2003 bow wow meow meow.
Will scale the library to find the newest & drag it on home. Your questions/his answers & his video have brought on the smiles.
And on a personal note – a lovely home word to me, –
Tallahassee is in your blog today! Caloo, Calay!
I love Douglas Florian’s books! To date, unBEEliveables is my personal favorite, too. But only by a narrow margin because they’re all so much fun!
My library has How to Draw a Dragon and I’ve put it on hold! Can’t wait to read it.
Thanks for this great post and interview, Renée 🙂
What a fire-lighting interview! I am immediately inspired to let the creative gasses flow.
Your art, Mr. Florian, is honest and frank. Love your books, your story and your journey. Thanks for sharing.
Great interview, Renee and Douglas. Your “Beast Feast” was one of the first collections I bought when I was just starting out in children’s poetry. And it’s been a love affair ever since! Love your sense of humor. Also love Ogden Nash