Douglas Florian has written and illustrated more than fifty children’s books including beast feast, winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, MAMMALABILA, winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and INSECTLOPEDIA, a national bestseller featured on National Public Radio and The Today Show. He has recited his poetry at Carnegie Hall, The White House, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
For what age audience do you write?
I think most of my books can be appreciated by all ages of people, but my favorite audience to recite my poetry is second and third graders. They are my biggest laughers.
Tell us about your latest book.
In my newest book, HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON, I show boys and girls how they too can draw dragons while enjoying such things as a bike ride, soaring flight, violin lesson, and marshmallow roast. The end papers give some practical tips, and the ending has a big fold-out surprise. The idea for this book took shape at a school library in Houston, Texas, where a humongous dragon was suspended below the ceiling.
Henry: Dragons AND marshmallows!? Sign me up!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I’m sure readers will enjoy the wide variety of dragons and start creating their own dragons and dragon adventures.
Henry: I also think drawing dragons should be added to Common Core requirements.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The most challenging aspect of writing is to keep things fresh and also create something new and different from what I’ve done before. I want each book to be better than the one’s I did before. It’s also a challenge to make sure my facts are accurate if I’m incorporating information in a poem.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
I think it’s important to believe in your own work and to constantly improve it, but at the same time to be open to suggestions from an editor or designer. My book HOW TO DRAW A DRAGON went through many changes, but in the end it soared as high as it could.
Henry: Yes, book publishing is truly a team effort.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
It’s been a great pleasure to recite my poems and show my artwork to students across the country. The response I get from them is inspiring and deeply rewarding.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
My advice would be keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, and keep your mind open. Read a lot. Write a lot. And re-write a lot.
Henry: Yes, the concept of revision is alien to many people, particularly young people.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Nobody is sure where this originated but someone once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” I have found that to be true in most cases. I also like this quote from the scientist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”
Henry: “Fortune favors the prepared.” And don’t get me started on quantum mechanics…
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Yes, I only write when there is a full moon. I’m just joking. My only writing ritual is to have no ritual. I can write any time, any place. In fact I just wrote a chapter book while writing this sentence.
Henry: Damn, you’re good!
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would like to have four or five clones so I would have more time to do all the things I want to do, like fly to Mars.
Henry: And think of all the writing that clone could accomplish on the long commute to Mars!
If you could have three authors (alive or dead) over for dinner, who would it be?
I don’t think I would want a dead author at the dinner table, but if I could bring three authors back to life I would enjoy meeting Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. Twain because he was so witty, saying such things as “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” Poe, because I think he would be creepy, scary, and spooky, and it’s good be creeped, scared, and spooked once in a while. Lastly, Emily Dickinson because she is one of my favorite poets. Meeting her would be a unique and memorable experience, and she wouldn’t hog all the food, I imagine.
Henry: There was a dead poets society, so why not a dead authors dinner? After such a dinner, the expression “neither the twain shall meet” would take on new meaning for Poe and Dickinson.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
I’m partial to dragons, and they, unfortunately, are partial to me.
Henry: Gee, I did not see that coming.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I usually like to track down tarantulas, komodo dragons, and boa constrictors. Actually, I love to read or go to an art museum.
Henry: You just gave me a picture book idea: Kimono Dragons.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
His day is done. His time is through. He wrote a witty poem or two.
Henry: The creatures he drew, many a mind blew. He’s run out of time; here’s his last rhyme.
Where can readers find your work?
In Outer Mongolia and libraries through the world.
Henry: Your works are ubiquitous, though they haven’t yet reached Inner Mongolia.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.