Spring into summer with Douglas Florian's playful poems
<B>Spring into summer with Douglas Florian's playful poems</B>Douglas Florian does it again. In his newest title, <B>Summersaults</B>, the award-winning children's poet and illustrator brings together another perfect combination of verse and pictures. But children's poetry? Who would've thunk it! Well, not Florian apparently. The former cartoonist whose work often appeared in <I>The New Yorker</I> magazine first launched into the children's book scene with several nonfiction titles on careers. But something was missing. "I wanted to use more of my imagination," Florian says. One day at a flea market, he picked up a book of poems called <I>Oh, That's Ridiculous</I>, edited by William Cole. Florian was so amused and inspired by the book that he decided to write some poems of his own and quickly realized his niche. "The poetry just seemed suited for my quirky nature," he says. And quirky it is. Since that fateful day, Florian's whimsical imagination has produced such witty titles as <I>Bing Bang Boing, Laugh-eteria</I> and <I>Beast Feast</I>. His newest book, <B>Summersaults</B>, which includes such humorous verses as "Sidewalk Squawk" and "Dog Day," is a celebration of the season. The poems and pictures take the reader on a fantastic, fun-filled vacation. From "dande-lion" fields to cow pastures to "sidewalk hiking" to "The Sea," the book embraces all that summer has to offer. Florian's creative style both in illustration and word usage catches the eye and hits the funny bone. Never a stickler for the rules of grammar, he uses words as he uses paints anyway he wants. Often treating the poems as pictures, he uses the formatting of the text to convey his message. So "The Swing" swings, the "Double Dutch Girls" skips, "Fireflies" flies, and "Summersaults" tumbles. How does he get away with such unconventional usages of words? Poetic license. "The sound of the word is what really matters," says Florian. "So I often switch things around and try to shake things up." Anything that enriches the word works for him. His goal is to have fun with the poetry and bring a sense of fun to his audience.
Where does the inspiration for these amusing musings come from? "Nature is an amazing endless variety of forms, structures and habitats," says Florian, who lives in New York City with his family. "The more you research the more inspiring it becomes." According to the author, <I>Beast Feast</I>, a 1994 ALA Notable Children's Book, opened the floodgates to animals and nature for him. "As I would find out information about one animal, it would inspire me to write about another I had come across," says Florian. And the same goes for the seasons. While he was researching his first seasonal title, Winter Eyes, which won the 1999 <I>New York Times Book Review</I> Best Illustrated Books Award, Florian started thinking about all the marvelous things that summer has to offer. "I try to separate each topic in my head while I'm working on it, so that I can see it on it's own terms," says Florian. "But once the inspiration is there, I can't wait to get started on it."Florian, who grew up watching his father paint landscapes of the shores of Cape Cod and Long Island, credits his excitement for and love of nature to those early years. He gets back in touch with nature by reading Walt Whitman or Henry David Thoreau. "I have to activate the brain waves in order to work," he admits. As for the illustrations, he likes to mix those up and he admits that his creations are often accident or trial and error. "The way the human eye sees things and the camera picks them up are two very different things," says Florian. Creations that may look fabulous on paper end up looking less exciting in a book, so he plays around a bit. Florian has worked with such diverse media as brown bags with watercolor <I>(Beast Feast)</I>, crayon and off-white paper, and watercolor and colored pencils on vellum paper (as in <B>Summersaults</B>). "I liked the way the liquid sat on top of the paper," says Florian of his latest creation, "and I had a lot of fun doing the illustrations." Florian's pictures and poems undoubtedly convey the fun he had writing <B>Summersaults</B>. But more importantly, his poems show readers that words do not have to be literal and mundane. They can be played with and adapted to whatever meanings we choose. "Poetry is not black and white," says Florian. "It is more like the gray and purple area that connects all the things we live in."