Florian, Douglas 1950–
Florian, Douglas 1950–
Born March 18, 1950, in New York, NY; son of Harold (an artist) and Edith Florian; married November 3, 1985; wife's name Marie; children: five. Education: Queens College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1973; attended School of Visual Arts, 1976.
Author and illustrator, 1971—. Lecturer at elementary schools. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at Society of Illustrators show, 1993.
Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children designation, National Science Teachers Association/Children's Book Council, 1987, for A Winter Day, and 1992, for Vegetable Garden; Parents' Choice Award for story book, 1991, for An Auto Mechanic; Gold Medal for poetry, National Parenting Publications Awards, 1994, Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for poetry, 1995, and American Library Association Notable Book citation, all for Beast Feast; Reading Magic Award, Parenting, 1994, for Bing Bang Boing; International Board on Books for Young People honor list inclusion, for Discovering Seashells; Claudia Lewis Award for Poetry, 2001, for Mammalabilia; Gryphon Award, Center for Children's Books, 2004, for Bow Wow Meow Meow; named Children's Book Council Young People's Poetry Poet, 2006.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
A Bird Can Fly, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.
The City, Crowell (New York, NY), 1982.
People Working, Crowell (New York, NY), 1983.
Airplane Ride, Crowell (New York, NY), 1984.
Discovering Butterflies, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
Discovering Trees, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
Discovering Frogs, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
Discovering Seashells, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
A Winter Day, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
A Summer Day, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.
Nature Walk, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.
Turtle Day, Crowell (New York, NY), 1989.
A Year in the Country, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.
A Beach Day, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.
City Street, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.
Vegetable Garden, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.
At the Zoo, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.
Monster Motel: Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Bing Bang Boing: Poems and Drawings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.
Beast Feast, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.
On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1996.
In the Swim: Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1997.
Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.
Laugh-eteria: Poems and Drawings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.
Winter Eyes: Poems and Paintings, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.
Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs: Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Mammalabilia: Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
A Pig Is Big, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.
Summersaults: Poems and Paintings, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.
Autumnblings: Poems and Paintings, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2003.
Bow Wow Meow Meow: It's Rhyming Cats and Dogs: Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2003.
Omnibeasts: Animal Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.
Zoo's Who: Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.
Handsprings: Poems and Paintings, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2006.
Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.
"HOW WE WORK" SERIES
An Auto Mechanic, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.
A Carpenter, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.
A Potter, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.
A Chef, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.
A Painter, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.
A Fisher, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Kristin Linklater) Freeing the Natural Voice, Drama Books, 1976.
Dorothy O. Van Woerkom, Tit for Tat, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1977.
Thomas M. Cook and Robert A. Russell, Introduction to Management Science, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1979.
Mirra Ginsburg, adaptor, The Night It Rained Pancakes, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.
Bill Adler, What Is a Cat?: For Everyone Who Has Ever Loved a Cat, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Mary Lyn Ray, A Rumbly Tumbly Glittery Gritty Place, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Tony Johnston, Very Scary, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Contributor of illustrations to periodicals, including New Yorker, New York Times, Nation, Travel & Leisure, and Across the Board.
See for Your Self ("Meet the Author" series), Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 2005.
Although he has been writing and illustrating children's books for many years, Douglas Florian did not receive special attention until he moved from writing nonfiction to creating self-illustrated collections of nonsense verse. The silly poems and imaginative artwork in books such as Beast Feast, Mammalabilia: Poems and Paintings, Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings, and the seasonal self-illustrated Autumnblings and Summersaults, have prompted some reviewers to compare Florian to Ogden Nash, a famous writer of free verse. Other well-known poet/illustrators that have been compared to Florian include Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein, and John Ciardi.
The son of artist Hal Florian, Douglas Florian decided to follow in his father's footsteps at age ten. As Florian later recalled on Embracing the Child online: "I studied drawing with many teachers, but my first was my father. He taught me to love nature in all of its forms." At age fifteen, Florian attended a summer painting course at New York's School of Visual Arts and he enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to make art his career. "When I walked into the school's large studio filled with paint-encrusted easels, vivid palettes, and the smell of linseed oil," Florian explained in a Harcourt Brace publicity release, "I knew then and there I was going to be an artist." He later attended Queens College, studying under the Caldecott award-winning illustrator Marvin Bileck. "He taught me to treat a drawing like a person: with love and affection," Florian noted in Embracing the Child.
Florian soon discovered that desire alone was not enough to make it as an artist. The hard work of honing his skills did not pay off until he was twenty-one years old and saw his first drawings published in the New York Times. He continued to produce work for a variety of magazines, but eventually grew tired of working to meet deadlines. When his illustrations for Mirra Ginsburg's The Night It Rained Pancakes earned praise from critics, Florian turned his focus to children's books. He began working on a series of nonfiction titles, teaching children about nature in one volume of his "Discovering" series and introducing them to adult occupations such chef and auto mechanic in another.
Despite these first efforts, it would ultimately be Florian's self-illustrated poetry collections that earned the author/artist the most praise. When asked how he made the transition to verse, he explained on Embracing the Child: "One day at a flea market, I bought a book of poems called Oh, That's Ridiculous, edited by William Cole. The poems in that book were so funny that I was inspired to write some of my own. A few early poems wound up in my book Monster Motel: Poems and Paintings, and others in Bing Bang Boing: Poems and Drawings."
Florian received praise for both these early nonsense verse collections. With Monster Motel the author created fourteen poems about remarkable creatures, including the "Gazzygoo" and the "Fabled Feerz," accompanying each with pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations. "Similar in style to the works of Jack Prelutsky," Kay Weisman remarked in Booklist, "this will make an excellent choice for youngsters." School Library Journal contributor Lauralyn Persson concluded in her review of Monster Motel that "Florian's seemingly simple watercolors grow more intriguing with each new book." In a School Library Journal review of Bing Bang Boing, Kathleen Whalin complimented Florian's "control of the medium," comparing his work to that of Ciardi.
Discussing his initial attraction to verse forms with Booklist interviewer Gillian Engberg, Florian noted: "I didn't want to be tied down to the literal." "I just felt that I wanted to be able to flex my imagination a little bit more—," the poet added, "to use my so called poetic license (I get it renewed every six months by the way)." Asked how he handles children's questions about breaking the rules of grammar, spelling, and writing, Florian replied: "I tell them that they should do whatever they have to do to make their poems better, even if it means putting words upside down, or backwards, or spelling words wrong, or using bad grammar…. The only rule in poetry is that it has to work."
Following his own instructions for writing children's verse, Florian has produce an award-winning series of books about creatures big and small in Beast Feast. A collection of lighthearted poems that feature animals of all types, Beast Feast took a great deal of effort on Florian's part to complete. "I actually wrote eighty poems and painted more than fifty watercolors for the book," the author/illustrator said in his publicity release, "and then my editor and I picked the ones we like the best. We wanted Beast Feast to be absolutely first-rate."
Earning its author the National Parenting Publications Gold Medal award for poetry along with the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for poetry in 1995, Beast Feast includes twenty-one carefully selected poems and illustrations. A Kirkus Reviews contributor described the work as "subtle, sophisticated, and quite charming." The poems in the collection rely on alliteration and puns based on animal names that invite the verses to be read aloud to children. "Florian's distinctive, full-page watercolors are as playful as his verse," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, calling the book an "ideal read-aloud." Also remarking on the useful factual information about animals that Florian incorporates into his poems, Lee Bock commented in School Library Journal that Florian "knows what children find funny" and deemed Beast Feast "a wonderful book."
Florian followed Beast Feast with On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings, In the Swim: Poems and Paintings, Insectlopedia, Mammalabilia, and Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs: Poems and Paintings. On the Wing offers readers twenty-one poems that focus on a variety of birds, while In the Swim presents the same number of poems about water-loving creatures. Writing in Booklist, Carolyn Phelan claimed that the appeal of On the Wing "lies in its fluent wordplay and generous use of humor in both the poetry and the paintings." Commenting on In the Swim, Horn Book contributor Roger Sutton reported that "these clipped verses splash with mischief and wit." In a review of the same book, School Library Journal critic Ellen D. Warwick observed: "What's unusual here is the sheer, unforced playfulness, the ease and fluidity informing both verse and pictures."
Continuing his nature theme in Insectlopedia, Florian again collects twenty-one short poems, this time entertaining young readers with the uniqueness of different types of bugs. Covering everything from worms and beetles to termites and mayflies, Florian's poems received high praise from reviewers, particularly with regard to his efforts to capture the spirit of the verse in his accompanying watercolor illustrations. "Readers may not be able to stop looking at the inventive watercolor-and-collage illustrations," predicted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the critic going on to add that Florian's "silly, imaginative verses … (almost) match the exquisite pictures in playfulness and wit." Phelan, writing in Booklist, stated that "the clever artwork, deftly constructed, and the entertaining collection of insect and arachnid verse it illustrates will delight readers." "There are other books of poetry about insects and lots of collections of humorous verses about animals," concluded School Library Journal critic Carolyn Angus, "but none match Insectlopedia."
Similar high marks were awarded to both Mammalabilia and Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs. Through the twenty-one poems in Mammalabilia, Florian covers a wide-range of animals, both familiar and exotic, among them an aardvark, a fox, and a tapir. Citing in particular the author/illustrator's unique gouache artwork, New York Times reviewer Cynthia Zarin remarked that Florian's "combination of … winsome pictures and often inspired text transforms the animals he scrutinizes into boarders at his own personal bestiary: they're Florianized." Describing the book as an "irresistible homage to mammal memorabilia," a Publishers Weekly critic noticed that the poet's "humor is eccentric, but just right for his target audience." Comparing Mammalabilia to its creator's earlier successes Insectlopedia and On the Wing, Booklist contributor John Peters found the book "ideal for reading aloud, to one listener or to a crowd."
Taking up the cause of reptiles and amphibians, Florian combines short, playful verse with watercolor illustrations to produce Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs. Constructing poems and pictures that feature such unlikely creatures as geckoes, Gila monsters, and skinks, the author/illustrator again reaped warm words from critics. "This one stands up to the rest," remarked School Library Journal reviewer Nina Lindsay, the critic going on to say that, "beautifully designed, this title is as irresistible as Florian's others." A contributor to Publishers Weekly pointed out that, in addition to the "mischievous reptile lore that will make young readers laugh," Florian has added a new dimension to his artwork. "These frogs and friends don't necessarily jump out at readers," according to the critic, "but continually take them by surprise."
Animals, animals, and more animals—from slugs to lizards, to sharp-toothed sharks—make an appearance in Zoo's Who, while creatures more familiar to young readers take a bow in Bow Wow Meow Meow: It's Raining Cats and Dogs. As expected, Florian's fans can continue to indulge in the "simple joys of playing with language and imagery," as a Kirkus Reviews writer assured readers of the twenty-one verses in Zoo's Who, and Christian Science Monitor reviewer Jenny Sawyer praised the poet for his "laugh-out-loud linguistic cleverness." While household pets prove endearing in Bow Wow Meow Meow, their wildhearted cousins—wolves and predatory big cats—illustrate the species' more exaggerated characteristics in several of the twenty-one poems included. Noting that the collection is typical of Florian's high standards, Joanna Rudge Long made particular note of the illustrations in the book. "Luscious with offbeat color, [and] composed with wit and grace, Florian's art not only illustrates his verse, it's a pleasure as pure design," Long noted in Horn Book, praising Bow Wow Meow Meow as a celebration of pets and their people. Some of the most popular animal verses from Florian's books—including Bow Wow Meow Meow—are also collected in Omni-beasts: Animal Poems and Paintings, which gives children new to Florian's art a healthy dose of whimsical wordplay topped by his colorful art.
Florian moves from the earth's residents to its four seasons in the poetry collections Winter Eyes, Handsprings, Summersaults, and Autumnblings, all which pair humorous verse and engaging art. In Winter Eyes he treats readers to forty-eight short poems that explore the bright and dark sides of the last season of the year. Some verses focus on the joys of cold-weather activities such as sledding, skating, and ice fishing, the poet nonetheless echoing the complaints of some that winter is just too cold and lasts too long. Noting the volume's "appealing" artwork, New York Times contributor Tiana Norgren added in her review of Winter Eyes that "the beautiful washes of watercolor that make the snow, ice, thawed earth, and pink sunset sky so convincing are punctuated by cheerful penciled patches of bright orange, blue, and hot pink." In a School Library Journal review, Shawn Brommer predicted that "this book will be as welcome as a warm cup of cocoa after a long day of making snowmen and turning figure eights." Horn Book reviewer Roger Sutton found "the rhymes are just predictable enough—without being boring—to make [Winter Eyes] … a good choice for newly independent readers."
Florian allows readers to enjoy warmer weather in both Handsprings, which a Kirkus Reviews writer described as a "thoughtful but humorous look at the joys of spring," and Summersaults. In twenty-eight poems that a Publishers Weekly contributor described as "overflowing … with inventive verses celebrating the delights and discontents of summer," Summersaults brims with images of those lazy, crazy days: from flies and fleas and grasshoppers to a refreshing bite of watermelon to a day spent at the beach or skateboarding with friends. "Each poem distills one aspect of summer life into a small, polished shell full of rich vocabulary," noted a Kirkus Reviews writer, the critic adding that Summersaults "is children's poetry at its best." Scrolling further through the seasons, Autumnblings begins the move to fall, as patchwork words and engaging rhymes are as animated as windblown autumn leaves. In School Library Journal Susan Scheps noted the "childlike style of the various-sized watercolor and colored-pencil paintings" Florian pairs with his playful verse, while GraceAnne A. DeCandido cited the use of varied typefaces as well as the author/illustrator's talent for "Using rhyme, meter, and … puns to good effect," in her Booklist review of Autumnblings.
Children attracted to the rhymes of "Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky and other purveyors of nonsense" are bound to enjoy Laugh-eteria, according to School Library Reviewer Barbara Chatton. In this collection of short verse, Florian takes on topics familiar to children, including school, dinosaurs, and eating strange foods. "Kids won't have to force their laughter while reading Florian's … pithy verses," observed a Publishers Weekly critic. Writing in Booklist, Phelan remarked: "Often clever, occasionally gross, the short rhymes appeal to an elementary-school child's sense of humor."
In A Pig Is Big, a picture book designed for younger readers, Florian explores the concept of size as a pig is compared to larger and larger objects. On each page, a pig shows his relative size next to other things, beginning with a hat before moving on to other animals and concluding with the entire universe. While admitting that the later pages feature vocabulary that might be out of a preschooler's grasp, a Publishers Weekly contributor nonetheless felt the book's "presentation is clever and humorous, well suited for elementary school children prepared to grasp the size of [the] universe." "Florian's illustrations, watercolors with colored pencils, expand the text to make this a satisfying book," claimed Phelan.
Called "one of the most remarkable contemporary versers for young readers" by Bulletin of the Center forChildren's Books contributor Deborah Stevenson, Florian continues to build upon his well-established reputation as a poet who understands how to delight children and present poetry in an way that appeals to them. Appreciated for his illustrations as well as his verse, he persists, according to critics, in taking both his art work and poetry to new levels. "While it's never possible to have too much good poetry, children's literature is particularly blessed with a fullness in this area," continued Stevenson, adding: "Florian is one of those blessings."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1993, Kay Weisman, review of Monster Motel: Poems and Paintings, p. 1351; September 15, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Painter; February 15, 1994; August, 1994; March 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of On the Wing: Bird Poems and Paintings, p. 1258; March 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Insectlopedia: Poems and Paintings, p. 1240; March 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of Laugh-eteria, p. 1340; March 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, interview with Florian, p. 1382; March 15, 2000, John Peters, review of Mammalabilia: Poems and Paintings, p. 1380; September 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Pig Is Big, p. 247; April 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Summersaults: Poems and Paintings, p. 1330; February 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Bow Wow Meow Meow: It's Raining Cats and Dogs, p. 994; August, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Autumnblings: Poems and Paintings, p. 1985; October 15, 2004, Diane Foote, review of Omnibeasts: Animal Poems and Paintings, p. 407; March 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Zoo's Who: Poems and Paintings, p. 1290; March 15, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Handsprings: Poems and Paintings, p. 48.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1992, p. 110; July-August, 1994, p. 355; November, 1994, p. 77; May, 2002, review of Summersaults, p. 322; April, 2003, review of Bob Wow Meow Meow, p. 312; September, 2003, Deborah Stevenson, review of Autumnblings, p. 13; May, 2005, review of Zoo's Who, p. 381; March, 2006, April Spisak, review of Handsprings, p. 311.
Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 2005, Jenny Sawyer, review of Zoo's Who, p. 16.
Horn Book, December, 1980, p. 632; July, 1997, Roger Sutton, review of In the Swim, p. 470; November, 1999, Roger Sutton, review of Winter Eyes: Poems and Paintings, p. 752; March, 2000, review of Mammalabilia, p. 204; May, 2001, Martha V. Parravano, review of Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs, p. 342; July-August, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Summersaults, p. 478; May-June, 2003, review of Bow Wow Meow Meow, p. 363; November-December, 2003, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Autumnblings, p. 759; May-June, 2005, Martha V. Parravano, review of Zoo's Who, p. 336; March-April, 2006, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Handsprings, p. 201.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1983, review of People Working; April 15, 1994, review of Beast Feast; March 1, 2002, review of Summersaults, p. 333; March 15, 2003, review of Bow Wow Meow Meow, p. 466; July 15, 2003, review of Autumnblings, p. 963; April 1, 2005, review of Zoo's Who, p. 416; February 15, 2006, review of Handsprings, p. 182.
New York Times, November 21, 1999, Tiana Norgren, review of Winter Eyes, p. 41; November 19, 2000, Cynthia Zarin, review of Mammalabilia, p. 46; December 3, 2000, Allison Steele, review of A Pig Is Big, p. 85.
Publishers Weekly, April 1, 1983, review of People Working, p. 60; March 7, 1994, review of Beast Feast; March 9, 1998, review of Insectlopedia, pp. 69-70; April 19, 1999, review of Laugh-eteria, p. 73; March 13, 2000, review of Mammalabilia, p. 84; October 9, 2000, review of A Pig Is Big, p. 87; March 12, 2001, review of Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs, p. 90; April 29, 2002, review of Summersaults, p. 70; February 10, 2003, review of Bow Wow Meow Meow, p. 187; June 30, 2003, review of Autumnblings, p. 77.
School Library Journal, August, 1982, Mary B. Nickerson, review of The City, p. 96; June, 1993, Lauralyn Persson, review of Monster Motel; May, 1994; Lee Bock, review of Beast Feast; September, 1994, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of A Fisher, p. 207; November, 1994, Kathleen Whalin, review of Bing Bang Boing; May, 1997, Ellen D. Warwick, review of In the Swim, p. 119; April, 1998, Carolyn Angus, review of Insectlopedia, pp. 115-116; June, 1999, Barbara Chatton, review of Laugh-eteria, p. 114; September, 1999, Shawn Brommer, review of Winter Eyes, p. 212; April, 2000, Barbara Chatton, review of Mammalabilia, p. 119; April, 2001, Nina Lindsay, review of Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs, p. 129; May, 2003, Susannah Price, review of Bow Wow Meow Meow, p. 136; October, 2003, Susan Scheps, review of Autumnblings, p. 149; October, 2004, Lee Bock, review of Omnibeasts, p. 140; April, 2005, Margaret Bush, review of Zoo's Who, p. 122; April, 2006, Kirsten Cutler, review of Handsprings, p. 124.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Online,http://alexia.lis.uiuc.edu/puboff/bccb/ (July 7, 2001), Deborah Stevenson, "True Blue: Douglas Florian."
Children's Book Council Web site,http://www.cbcbooks.org/ (March 8, 2007), interview with Florian.
Douglas Florian Home Page,http://www.douglasflorian.com (March 8, 2006).
Embracing the Child,http://www.eyeontomorrow.com/ (June 30, 2001), "Meet Douglas Florian."
Storybook Art,http://storybookart.com/ (July 7, 2001), "Douglas Florian."
Florian, Douglas, "Artist/Author at a Glance" (publicity release), Harcourt, c. 1994.