moo baa lalala
October 9, 2019 7:57 AM   Subscribe

"One day last October, Sandra Boynton struggled through six drafts of Dinosnores. She’d written down “honk shoo,” the obstreperous sound that dinosaurs make after “they all settle down in a dinosaur heap,” early in the morning, but only as a notion: “And the big dinosaur / has a snore like / honk shooo!” By the afternoon, three honk shoooooos appeared alone on a spread. A fourth arrived the following morning, and it made all the difference. The incantation was excessive—annoying to say and to hear, especially at the volume the type size suggested—which was exactly the point. She made a crucial alteration later, when drawing the page: “honk shoooooo!” became “honk SHOOOOOO.” “I look at these things,” she wrote in an email about the Dinosnores drafts, “and think, How do I have a career?” Ian Bogost writes for The Atlantic on Sandra Boynton's captivating universe.
posted by ChuraChura (38 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
The Dinosnores characters are no less idiosyncratic. They were once a set of bedsheets Boynton printed 20 years ago; she rediscovered them after looking for a pillowcase and remembered that her son Devin had loved them. “And I went, ‘Oh my goodness, I should make this a book.’ ”

Oh my god I had those dinosaur sheets. I loved them.

Writing books for the youngest of children is especially hard: they will be read aloud by an adult who will be asked to read them over and over and over until the corners of the pages start to fall apart, and so the rhythm and rhyme and sound of the language is supremely important. Boynton gets this, and it shows. Her books are a joy to read.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:11 AM on October 9, 2019 [18 favorites]

I always give Boynton board books at baby showers. When I had a kid, I bought them partly for him, but mostly for myself; they made bedtime reading so much less tedious and you never get tired of looking at them.

(Sendak is mentioned a lot in this piece, and he was a hit at our house too, for different reasons.)
posted by emjaybee at 8:17 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

We have so many books that I try to push to the back of the bookcase so the kids don't see them too easily and ask for them to be read, but these are never the Boynton books. Even on 50th read-aloud, they are fun and funny and I love reading them. She really is skilled.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:20 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

That she felt compelled to complete the Armadillo's story arc is magnificent.
posted by jquinby at 8:37 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

The description of the sounds that these dinosaurs make reminds me of the famous bit in the Carol Burnett Show where Tim Conway goes off script in a scene to describe a circus act of Siamese twin elephants joined at the trunk. One of the funniest bits is when he describes what happens when one of them sneezes ("SNORF!").
posted by ElKevbo at 8:38 AM on October 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

National. Treasure.

I loved reading her books to my kid. We had some CDs, books, and a "mom calendar" which is still probably the best organizational tool we've ever used.

Pajama Time!
posted by bondcliff at 8:39 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

From the article: “ Two years later, Boynton made a children’s picture book called Hippos Go Berserk!“

This is a bit like saying “and then Tolstoy wrote down some of his thoughts about the Napoleonic wars”. I say this as someone who counts Tolstoy as one of my three or four favorite authors.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:52 AM on October 9, 2019 [9 favorites]

My kids are tweens/teens now, and I still have several of these books engraved in my memory.

The sun has set not long ago
Now everybody goes below
To take a bath in one big tub
With soap all over, scrub scrub scrub
posted by Chrysostom at 9:36 AM on October 9, 2019 [13 favorites]

The moon is high
The sea is deep
They rock and rock
and rock to sleep


Please don't tell me she is a nazi or something awful, I can't take it.

Can we talk about the awesomeness that is Barnyard Dance?

Edit: I did not preview, so the timing of my post with Chrystosom's is a Sandra Boynton Miracle.
posted by medusa at 9:38 AM on October 9, 2019 [14 favorites]

She is amazing. And yes, Barnyard Dance.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:39 AM on October 9, 2019

Boynton's "Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!" was on heavy rotation back when I was reading to the kids every night. I enjoyed it a lot.
posted by coppertop at 9:44 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Philadelphia Chickens is a fun album, too.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:45 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

But YES the hippopotamus!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:45 AM on October 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have a video of my four month old daughter flapping her arms and snorting furiously while I'm reading 'Moo Baa La La La' to her, which remained her favorite book by far until about month 18 when she switched to 'Going to Bed' and 'The Barnyard Dance'. Her books are still very much going strong is what I'm saying.
posted by tatiana131 at 10:10 AM on October 9, 2019

Blue hat, green hat, red hat, OOPS!

When I just checked on Amazon to remind myself of the order of colors, it told me "You have purchased this 6 times." Yep -- it's a baby shower must have.

She has just perfectly cracked the code of what small kids will enjoy + what parents won't get sick of + simple yet hilarious illustration + clever punch lines. These books are classics, and deservedly so.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:28 AM on October 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

We read Pajama Time at pajama time to my son, and still sing him Snuggle Puppy at bed time, even though today's his 8th(!) birthday. Boynton's books have always been my favorite because they're funny, sweet but not saccharine and blessedly short. Too many picture books could double as novellas (looking at you Seuss!) and my kids don't have that kind of attention span, especially at bedtime. Also, if you haven't checked them out, some her most well-known books are interactive story apps with perfect sound effects (the little duck in Moo Baa La La La that just says, "quack" in this little voice never fails to crack me up.)
posted by cottoncandybeard at 10:30 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

We love Boynton in our house. Both my kids (currently 14 and 20 months) have grown up reading her. I've been able to recite "But Not the Hippopotamus" for 14 years. I bought "But Not the Armadillo" about a month ago.

There are sooooo many shitty kids books out there. My youngest loves to read and will put away the book you brought to her to go find the book she wants to read right now. Boynton books are what she frequently grabs.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2019

A guy I know on twitter was recently complaining about a Boynton book because the art was extremely lazy. I do love reading her books aloud to my kids, but I think he has a point.
posted by sleeping bear at 11:21 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

That mountain shot throws me out of Personal Penguin if I let myself look at it. (The other criticisms -- pfft! Identical penguins are needed for the emotional point of that scene.) I let it slide because, dude, that's the best book ever aside from Oh Me Oh My Oh Dinosaurs.

(I am sad that the Randomlet has outgrown Boynton.)
posted by Quasirandom at 12:12 PM on October 9, 2019

I've been bothering my grownass friends with solemn recitations from "Happy birthday, Little Pookie" for YEARS now. [removes Special Announcement Hat]
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2019

There are so many nice memories associated with our Boynton books. Like puzzling out with my daughter what exercises each animal was doing in the "Going to Bed Book", and pointing out who's got each other's pajamas (maybe in the same book?) And when my daughter learned to read the books to me, with the same intonations.

I find "Happy Hippo Angry Duck" very philosophical:
A difficult mood is not here to stay / Everyone's moods will change day to day / Unless you're that duck. / He's always this way.
posted by of strange foe at 1:42 PM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

The greeting cards!
“Things are getting worse,” an unnerved-looking hippo says on one.
posted by readinghippo at 2:27 PM on October 9, 2019

A guy I know on twitter was recently complaining about a Boynton book because the art was extremely lazy.

Imagine my surprise, on comparing the 30-year-old copy of But Not the Hippopotamus that my parents saved with a recent printing, only to discover that Sandra Boynton had redrawn the entire book to improve the art.

Also, the one flaw in her meter, from Birthday Monsters: “Your present opening can’t wait” should surely be “Your present opening cannot wait.”
posted by stopgap at 4:17 PM on October 9, 2019

I never to my memory encountered Sandra Boynton's work as a kid of the target age range, but when I was a teenager I found Philadelphia Chickens at a local bookstore and bought it, probably on the basis of having sheet music in the back. It looks like my two favorite songs from the album both now have music videos (well, one has a "moosic video"):
  • Be Like a Duck (I played this around midnight a lot when I was a radio DJ in college)
  • Cows (the paper at 2:12 is pretty great)
Runner-up The Intermission Song doesn't have a video but it's probably funnier to imagine that act anyway.
posted by C. K. Dexter Haven at 4:33 PM on October 9, 2019

Chocolate: The Consuming Passion is the greatest book ever written.
posted by bruceo at 6:17 PM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

"Hippo Birdie Two Ewes" is still the standard birthday song in my family.
posted by sundrop at 6:52 PM on October 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

My wife and I courted by trading Boynton cards starting in the early 80s. "Hippo birdie two ewes" is a standard greeting in our house to this day. We had the Mom calendar, but somehow missed most of her books when our kids were growing up (except The Philadelphia Chickens, of which we have an autographed copy). Still, she's been a constant in our household.
posted by lhauser at 7:08 PM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was just reading one of my favorite Boynton books to my niece last week, Moo, Baa, La La La. And for the first time, when we got to the end of the book and I asked her what she said, she told me. And we both companionably repeated her backing a bit, agreeing that it was what baby said.
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:14 PM on October 9, 2019

I've loved her work ever since I was a pun-loving young(ish)ster who bought several boxes of "Mare egrets moose two ewe" cards and kept sending them to various parts of my Xmas card list over the years, trying not to double up anyone.

When LittleSix was 18-month-old TinySix and just getting used to English, she would grab Blue Hat, Green Hat from the shelf, then plop it and herself in my lap to get me to read it to her. By the 3rd or 4th "oops!", she'd be giggling so hard that her whole body was shaking. That was a tactile joy of parenting that I never expected, and remember so fondly.

We played the heck out of Philadelphia Chickens and Rhinoceros Tap so much that we kept copies in the car *and* in her room. I can't sing worth a plate of beans, but LittleSix loved it when I'd sing "Silly Lullaby" ("Go to sleep, my zoodle") to her, over and over. She'd chime in each time on the final "moo", and when she didn't, I know that she herself was drifting off to sleep.

Thank you so much, Ms. Boynton.
posted by NumberSix at 9:29 PM on October 9, 2019

If you are a Boynton fan to any degree, and you do not already own Amazing Cows, stop everything and get it immediately. Except for the brain-hurting fact that at least half of the "cows" are male, it is udderly perfect.

Case in point: Related musical piece from the book.
posted by Mchelly at 9:53 PM on October 9, 2019

Although it does irritate me greatly that Lancaster County is pronounced wrong in Philadelphia Chickens. Maybe it's the fault of the Bacon Brothers, but they're from Philly, and presumably know better.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:33 PM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pajama Time!
doot doo-doo doo

in our house.
posted by away for regrooving at 10:47 PM on October 9, 2019

I love Sandra Boynton. When my son finally got to the point where he wanted to purge all the "little kid" books from his shelves, I hid all her books so that I could keep reading them myself.
posted by chbrooks at 11:52 PM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

In our household, the polite way to say, "Excuse me, I'm about to interrupt your conversation by running the blender," is to shout "BLENDER SOLO!"

Our compost bin is referred to as "the Bobs" because our kids decided the worms were all named Bob ("There's my worm named Bob, another named Bob, and my worms, Bob, Bob, and Bob...")

But I think my favorite is the Snoozers song:

We like to snooze
In the morning
We like to snooze all day
We like to snooze
Whenever we choose
Snoozing our cares away

Snooze in the sun
Snooze in the rain
Snooze in the fog and snow

It can be amusing
To see us snoozing
Snoozing wherever we go

But when the world grows quiet
And the evening moon is bright
We put on pajamas
And hug all our mommas
And never fall asleep
All night, all night
We never fall asleep all night

We're singing...

We're not snoozy, momma
Wake up, momma, please
We know who's
Got the snoozer blues
'Cause we don't want
Those dormez-vous

Are you sleeping
Wake up, brother john...
posted by straight at 12:22 PM on October 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if something is out of reach... "I'm not tall enough, to reach you myself.... so near, and yet, so very far..." which of course leads to everyone singing

posted by straight at 12:29 PM on October 10, 2019

The Belly Button Book!
“We always like to get balloons, and I know why, do you???”
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:28 PM on October 10, 2019

fans should follow her on facebook. it's a nice reprieve from everything.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:15 AM on October 11, 2019

Kidagonalize is not quite two. The number of times I have read the Pookie books at this point can only be expressed in wordless moans, but they are truly a welcome respite from most of the dreck that passes for early children’s literature.

Guyagonalize and I also seriously considered using My Personal Penguin as our first wedding dance song, but decided we lacked the balletic ability to do it justice. Years later, we somehow soldier on despite the haunting regret.
posted by Diagonalize at 5:34 PM on October 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

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