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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

Interview with legendary board book author/illustrator Sandra Boynton

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Sandra Boynton is a songwriter, director, music producer, children’s author and illustrator. She has written and illustrated more than fifty books for both children and adults, over four thousand greeting cards, and five music albums. Damn!

Per Wikipedia, “Boynton’s greeting card designs for Recycled Paper Greetings were at the forefront of the Alternative Cards commercial movement that began in the mid-1970s. According to RPG co-founder and president Mike Keiser, nearly 500 million copies of Boynton’s distinctive humorous cards—featuring an assortment of unnamed cartoon animal characters, spare layout, and droll messages—sold between 1973 and 2003. The best known of these is a 1975 birthday card bearing images of four animals and the message “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes”, a pun playing on the phrase “Happy Birthday to You”. The card has sold over ten million copies to date.” Double dog damn!

BoyntonSandra

I first fell in love with Sandra’s greeting card artwork and humor. Then, when I had kids, I soon became a fan of Sandra’s board books. “The Going to Bed Book” is the best board book ever written. It’s a scientific fact. And scientific facts are the best kind of facts.

Apparently, writing and illustrating children’s books doesn’t keep her busy enough, so Sandra also writes and illustrates songbooks. This is a good thing, as the world has long needed a frog-centric music album.

Dare I ask, what is FROG TROUBLE?

FROG TROUBLE is my first Country music album, sung by some very cool Country stars and a few beyond-Country stars. And I’ve also made an illustrated songbook to go with it. It turns out that my characters look surprisingly comfortable in cowboy hats.

Henry: No surprise there. Frogs’ fashion sense is well-known. It’s a scientific fact. Her cats also look good in hats (see below). 

Frog Trouble Interior.indd

For what ages is FROG TROUBLE intended?  

Truly all ages. The cover says “For Ages One to Older Than Dirt.”

Henry: That seems unnecessarily disparaging to dirt. Then again, there’s also “dumb as a rock”.

Why did you decide to go Country for this album?

I guess sometimes a person just needs a little more twang in her life.

Henry: That makes me happier than a tornado in a trailer park, I tell you what!

Country is a broad musical genre. What can we expect from FROG TROUBLE? 

The songs are quite varied, but overall there’s a definite retro sound and look to the whole project. That’s probably because my own deepest connection to Country is really through my ’50s childhood. I grew up in Philadelphia, which isn’t exactly considered traditional Country territory. But back then, pretty much any American kid was surrounded by cowboy TV shows and Country-driven jukebox music. So that’s the sound that most captivates me.

Who performs the songs?

That’s the most astonishing thing. I got to work with (hang on to your hat) Dwight Yoakam, Brad Paisley, Ryan Adams, Fountains of Wayne, Alison Krauss, Ben Folds, Darius Rucker, Mark Lanegan, Linda Eder, Josh Turner, and Kacey Musgraves. And a nonexistent group called Falls Mountain Cowboys.

Henry: Well, you cain’t beat that with a stick! 

That’s quite an array of artists. How did you choose them, and how were you able to get them all on board?

I actually do write most of my songs with a specific singer or group in mind, and I think that probably helps. But I find it very surprising and very wonderful that it all worked out this way. It did start out very slowly, because I hadn’t worked in Nashville before. There was a point at which I thought it really wouldn’t come together at all. But as soon as I got a yes from Alison Krauss (we’d collaborated before) and Brad Paisley (who has two little boys who like my books), it got a whole lot easier.

Who performs on the instruments?

We recorded all the instrumentals in Nashville with legendary, impossibly inventive musicians, including Viktor Krauss, Stuart Duncan, Ron Block, Jim Hoke, and Kenny Vaughan.

You wrote and produced the album alongside your longtime music collaborator, pianist Mike Ford. How was that?

Wonderful. We’re a very lean team: At our own small New England studio—which is indeed in the country!—Mike and I do all the songwriting, arranging, demos, recording, agonizing, comping, and mixing of all the tracks. For this album, we traveled to Nashville seven times, and once each to New York City and L.A., to do all the recording. And then at last we made a pilgrimage to Portland, Maine, in a blizzard, to have the incomparable Bob Ludwig do the final mastering of the album.

How long did FROG TROUBLE take from start to finish?

Including the book, it took nearly two years. I’d guess more than half of my time was spent on correspondence and logistics. But the fun parts were incredible.

You have three Gold records and a Grammy nomination. What are you hoping for with FROG TROUBLE?

I’d like a hat. Actually, I did buy a cowboy hat for my official FROG TROUBLE author photo. But I really liked Dwight Yoakam’s hat better. So I just cut-and-pasted it onto a photo of me.

Henry: Clever. That technique will also be the fastest way for me to get a Newbery medal on the front of a book.

Sandra’s books and albums are available wherever fine books are sold. Her website is www.sandraboynton.com. You can also follow @SandyBoynton on Twitter. 

This interview is also posted at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Author: Henry Herz

Children's book author

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