Meet the Brightest Star of TCS’s Poetry Month: Douglas Florian

For National Poetry Month, the children have been enjoying one of our favorite writers, Douglas Florian. Florian has composed and illustrated more than a dozen award-winning books of poetry for children. Both an artist and a poet, he has focused his design imagination and facility with puns on the natural world, capturing the lives of bees, trees, dinosaurs, pets, birds and fish. His paintings and poems—despite their scientific accuracy, distilled from careful research—show a zany freedom, humor and spontaneity.

“In poetry you can pull or push words, s t r e t c h words, shape words, invert words, invent words or anything that makes the poem better,” he explains. “That’s poetic license, and I get mine renewed every Thursday.”

Perhaps his most beloved work at TCS is Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars, a poetic tour of the solar system. Each familiar planet—as well as the sun, moon, comets and other space features—gets its own poem, a mix of facts, jokes and word play.

Jupiter’s jumbo,
So wide
Side to side,
But gaseous, not dense.
With some sixteen moons
It’s plainly prolific—
So super-dupiter

Florian’s beautiful illustrations—painted in gouache on brown paper bags, and collaged with scraps of star maps and photographs—add a layer of astronomical allure. The rich, luminous colors of the planets echo images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Rubber-stamp labels indicate that the impact craters on the surface of Mercury are all named after artists: Beethoven, Goya and Shakespeare. Several pages have holes so you can peer through to the next page, much like gazing through a telescope. As Florian explains, “I used the die-cut holes to give the reader the feeling of a space voyage in the continuum of the universe.”

Some of the poems, like the one on Venus, remind us that astronomy is an old science, and that many objects in the solar system were given names in antiquity.

Scalding-hot surface,
Nine hundred degrees.
Nothing can live there,
No creatures,
No trees.
Poisonous clouds
Of acid above.
Why was it named for
The goddess of love?”

While Florian was creating this book, the International Astronomical Union held a famous convention and officially demoted Pluto to a “dwarf planet.” As he recalls, “I rewrote my Pluto poem within an hour of finding out the ‘bad’ news”:

Pluto was a planet.
But now it doesn’t pass.
Pluto was a planet.
They say it’s lacking mass.
Pluto was a planet.
Pluto was admired.
Pluto was a planet.
Till one day it got fired.

As a launch pad for exploring poetry, any of Douglas Florian’s picture books would be a blast to read aloud with your child. As he says: “I hope to impart my love of poetry and painting to the many children I see, and it’s most rewarding to hear kids laugh while reading or listening to my poems.”

Here’s to discovering poetry can be out of this world …