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Meet the WritersImage of Sandra Boynton
Sandra Boynton
In the 1980s, it was hard to enter a gift shop without seeing Sandra Boynton's name. Her humorous pen-and-watercolor cartoons of hippos, ewes, and her famous turkeys (you know, symbolizing the human ones in life who can get you down) were emblazoned on cards, mugs, stickers, stationery...and of course, her wonderful, wacky books, the first of which was 1979's Hippos Go Berserk! .

Boynton began her career as a greeting card illustrator with aspirations of theater directing; but having a family changed her focus, and she began devoting herself full-time to art. Her board books, filled with goofy animal illustrations and rhyming verse, are toddler staples. But their appeal to adults is undeniable, and she has also written a number of humor books for the general public.

Given the rhythmic, buoyant style of her writing, it was only natural that Boynton would become involved in companion music to her books. From the '90s on, several of her titles included accompanying CDs, culminating in the 2002 release of Philadelphia Chickens, a CD-book extravaganza written with composer Michael Ford and featuring musical performances by several high-profile stars.

Who knows what lies ahead for this irrepressible force of nature? If there's one thing Sandra Boynton has proved in the course of her remarkably diverse career, it's that she's not lost her capacity to surprise us. (Thank heavens!)   (Christina Nunez)

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In 2002, Sandra Boynton took time to answer some of our questions about inspirations and favorite reads.

What was the book that most influenced your life, and why?
Clutter's Last Stand by Don Aslett. It's an upbeat, practical guide to getting rid of all the accumulated STUFF. I don't know exactly what it said -- it went out in a box of teapot cozies.

What are your ten favorite books, and why?

  • Romola by George Eliot, because it fails so grandly.
  • The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov. You can be sensitive and still happy.
  • Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. It's good. Also has a tortoise.
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. It's good, and has a horse. If you haven't a tortoise, a horse will do.
  • The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. Because it doesn't have a seagull.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Has some creature, I think. White, or maybe beige.
  • Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Has Jim.
  • A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. Startling, evocative.
  • The Golly Sisters by Betsy Byars, illustrated by Sue Truesdell. Perfect convergence of writer and illustrator.
  • Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. A pebble tossed in a pond. Or a boulder in a swamp. Who are your favorite writers?
    • George Eliot
    • Charles Dickens
    • Vladimir Nabokov
    • Tom Stoppard
    • Anton Chekhov
    • Dave Barry
    • Douglas Adams
    • William Butler Yeats
    Each one is a superb stylist, with a subtle sense of irony, and an unsentimentalized compassion. (Well, okay, Dickens is a little sentimental.) What else do you want your readers to know? Likes and dislikes, hobbies, whatever comes to mind.

    Dark chocolate is good, cell phones are bad.

    Want to know more about Boynton? Check out this 2001 publisher's interview, below.

    Was there a particular milestone that inspired you to write Yay, You!?
    I wrote Yay, You! for my son, Keith, as a high-school graduation present. I worked on it in secret, and gave it to him right after the graduation ceremony. He thanked me dutifully, but without marked enthusiasm. I think he would rather have gotten, oh, maybe a car.

    Were you very artistic as a child? When did you know that you wanted to pursue art as a career (and did you consider other careers)?
    Growing up, I never had any particular talent for art; I just always loved to draw and make things (My mother would add, "...and never clean anything up."). The school I went to from age 5 to 17 -- Germantown Friends in Philadelphia -- was an absolutely superb environment, with the arts thoroughly integrated into the curriculum. This kind of effortless immersion is bound to resonate through the life of any student, at school and beyond.

    I went to Yale intending to major in art; but the English program at that time was much more in line with my somewhat classical sensibility, so that's the direction I went. I then went to graduate school in drama -- first at U.C. Berkeley, then at Yale -- ostensibly headed for a life as a director. I was designing greeting cards to pay my way through school, and I wrote my first book, Hippos Go Berserk (1979), while I was still a student. When my first daughter was born, I realized that the drawing and writing were much more compatible with a reasonable family life than theater would be, so I followed that path.

    What is your favorite medium to work with (pen and ink, marker, paint)?
    I work almost entirely with technical pen and watercolor -- sometimes pencil. Never computers, except for typography. Pen and fudge is also good, for sepia tones.

    Is there a particular reason that you draw mostly animals?
    Animals are versatile people --surrogates, since in using them, an artist becomes largely freed from the constraints of age, gender, race, and so on. Though the real reason is I have no idea how to draw people.

    Do you have a favorite character that you've created?
    I really don't have a favorite character. People who know me tend to see my cats as me -- and sometimes the hippos (particularly if we're sharing a dessert).

    Has your work ever been animated for television/video?
    I've had quite a few inquiries about animation rights, but I'm unwilling to relinquish that control. If I do animation, it will be at a time that I can assume a central creative role, not a license-granting one. I still have children at home, so it's certainly not the right time yet.

    What other authors and artists do you admire?
    George Eliot, Nabokov, Keats, Shakespeare, Shaw, Dave Barry, Turner, Van Gogh, Jessie Willcox Smith, Bill Waterson.

    Do you write and draw at the same time, or do the poems come to you outside of the studio?
    It's rare to be suddenly inspired -- a fairy chicken with a magic wand appears kind of thing. Though perhaps I wouldn't admit it if that were to happen. I'm pretty prosaic: I work when I work. Sometimes the pictures are first, sometimes the words, sometimes they're apparently simultaneous.

    Chocolate is often mentioned in your work. Do you have a favorite chocolate treat?
    I like intense, brooding, elegant dark chocolate, often with toasted almonds.

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  • About the Writer
    *Sandra Boynton Home
    * Biography
    * Interview
    *Hester in the Wild, 1979
    *Hippos Go Berserk!, 1979
    *Gopher Baroque and Other Beastly Conceits, 1979
    *If at First..., 1980
    *The Compleat Turkey (adult), 1980
    *Horns to Toes and in Between, 1982
    *The Going to Bed Book, 1982
    *Moo, Baa, La La La!, 1982
    *Opposites, 1982
    *But Not the Hippopotamus, 1982
    *A to Z, 1982
    *Blue Hat, Green Hat, 1982
    *Doggies: A Counting and Barking Book, 1982
    *Chocolate: The Consuming Passion (adult), 1982
    *A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet, 1983
    *Chloe and Maude, 1983
    *Good Night, Good Night: Based on the Going to Bed Book, 1985
    *Hey! What's That?, 1985
    *Don't Let the Turkeys Get You Down (adult), 1986
    *Christmastime (adult), 1987
    *The Classic Prints: A Portfolio of Twelve Great Drawings and Three Pretty Good Ones, 1990
    *Barnyard Dance!, 1993
    *Birthday Monsters!, 1993
    *One, Two, Three!, 1993
    *Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!, 1993
    *Hippos Go Berserk! (revised and rewritten), 1996
    *Grunt: Pigorian Chant from Snouto Domoinko de Silo (adult), 1996
    *Rhinoceros Tap: 15 Seriously Silly Songs, 1996
    *Snoozers: 7 Short Short Bedtime Stories for Lively Little Kids, 1997
    *Dinosaur's Binkit, 1998
    *Bob And 6 More Christmas Stories, 1999
    *Hey! Wake Up!, 2000
    *Pajama Time!, 2000
    *Dinos to Go: 7 Nifty Dinosaurs in 1 Swell Book, 2000
    *Yay, You! Moving Out, Moving Up, Moving On, 2001
    *Consider Love, 2002
    *Philadelphia Chickens, 2002
    *Belly Button Book!, 2005
    *Dog Train: A Wild Ride on the Rock-and-Roll Side, 2005
    *Your Personal Penguin, 2006