When and why did you begin writing and illustrating children’s books?
I began to write and illustrate children’s books about 1980. I had been doing drawings for The New Yorker and The New York Times, but I wanted something with the freedom
and energy of children’s books. I looked in the Times book review section and decided that Greenwillow Books was the place to be for me. Susan Hirschman there immediately gave me a book to illustrate, and I went on to write my first book as well,A Bird Can Fly. I’ve gone on to write and illustrate more than 60 books.
What is the principle inspiration for your books and illustrations?
Most of my ideas for books come from my study of the natural world we live in. I try to use primary sources and field guides to bring accurate information to my readers. I sometimes get ideas for books at schools, from something I hear or see. For example I was at a school in Long Island and I saw incredible and funny drawings of space by 1st graders in the hallways. I went on to create my book Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars.
If you had to choose, which writer and illustrator would you consider a mentor?
My father Harold Florian was an artist and my first teacher. I also studied book art with Marvin Bileck (Rain Makes Applesauce) at Queens College. The mentor for my poetry was Ogden Nash, whose verse I discovered in the fifth grade. I enjoyed his wit and economy of means.
What do you want young readers to learn or take away from your books?
I hope children will discover how poetry can be fun to read and create, and come away from my work with a love of wordplay and nature, as well as art. And I hope they take away a few laughs, but give them back when they’re done.
Did you have any formal writing or art education, if so, where?
I studied painting and drawing at Queens College and The School of Visual Arts, both in New York City. I also took a course on poetry at Queens College where we delved into “Paradise Lost” by Milton. It was largely lost on me.
Which of your published books is your favorite and why?
It’s hard to say which is my favorite book, as I favor different books for different reasons. I will say that I am very proud of Dinothesaurus, insectlopedia, mammalabilia, and for pure fun, Laugheteria. I also love my new books UnBEElievables and Poem Runs.
What do you want readers to take away from your work?
What I’d like readers to get out of my books is that poetry, language, and the sound of words can be an expressive connection that we have to the world of nature. And I hope they have a few laughs and enjoy the pictures along the way.