The name Sandra Boynton is instantly recognizable to most parents who read to, or have read to, their kids. Since 1977, she has written and illustrated over 60 children’s books, with board books like Moo, Baa, La La La! and Barnyard Dance! acting as a literary soundtrack for many of our lives as parents. She’s also an accomplished songwriter, producer and greeting card designer. Other lesser known but very interesting facts: she’s recorded with an eclectic mix of people, from Meryl Streep to Blues Traveler, and in 2003, was nominated for a Grammy award. Currently working on several new books, Boynton took time to chat with The Local Moms Network about her extraordinary career and unique place in millions of childhoods.
Your name is synonymous with toddler storytime—your books have been read by and to millions and millions of kids over the years. What’s that like?
If I think about it, it’s surreal. And wonderful, of course. But most of the time, the reach of my work is not at all present in my own life. My husband Jamie pointed out that I have the ideal version of “fame”—pretty much no one I interact with has any idea what I do for a living. Heck, I don’t know quite what it is I do, either…
Ha! When you started out, did you anticipate this level of success?
Well, no. Though I was reasonably sure I’d be happy following whatever path unfolded. I often don’t know what I want to do, but I do tend to know clearly what I don’twant to do, which has been very helpful. The great surprise to me was the seismic shift at age 40, when, through an odd series of unlikely events, I started producing music, and then directing music videos. Never ever ever did I imagine I’d get to write songs and make short films, and work with so many of my favorite actors and singers and musicians.
Do you get any funny questions from parents when they realize who you are?
Parents don’t tend to ask me things. More typically they want to tell me something—say, about what a particular book or song of mine means to them, or to their child, or to their family. What’s better than that? It’s very cool, and it’s amazing that people take the time to let me know.
Very cool. I’m just curious–how do you get your ideas? For instance, where did Barnyard Dance! come from?
I wrote Barnyard Dance! for my youngest daughter, Darcy, when she was three years old. Her Uncle John is a terrific bluegrass musician, and Darcy has always adored him and has also always loved farm animals (we live across the road from a farm). As soon as I had the thought to combine two of Darcy’s enthusiasms—Uncle John and farm animals—the book kind of wrote itself, in a square dance cadence. (It didn’t draw itself. Alas. I often struggle with getting the line work to where I’m happy with it. ) Like most children’s book writers, I’m absurdly in touch with my own childhood, so it’s not very hard for me to imagine what would amuse my child-self. I find it much harder to understand what motivates adults. Also, we have four kids, now grown. Each one of them brought, and brings, infinite inspiration to my life and work.
You’ve been doing book readings for a long time. Do you have any tips for parents trying to engage restless toddlers?
I feel like this question sets me up for a Boynton books promo spot.
Ha, totally! What’s something that would surprise people about you?
Hmm. I don’t know. Perhaps that I’m not personally acquainted with any hippos?
And one more—what is a typical day like in the life of Sandra Boynton?