Sandra Boynton, Creator of Children's Board Books and Much More

October 6, 2006

   It seems Sandra Boynton has the magic touch. With a few strokes of her pen, she has an amazing ability to create lovable critters that transmit silent messages of humour and sweetness through their big, googly eyes. Peering out from the colourful pages of board books, Sandra's irresistible animals thrill wee children, entertain all ages in greeting cards, and capture the attention of music fans, too. Sandra Boynton's sheep, pigs, goats, catsdogs and a whole range of zoo critters have been tickling fans' giggle factors since 1974.

    The Boynton parents, Bob and Jeanne, welcomed the birth of baby Sandra on April 3, 1953, the third of what would be a family of four daughters. Sandra grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where her father was an exceptionally skilled English teacher and her mother took care of the household. (Her father founded Boynton/Cook Publishers, now a division of Heinnemann.) Sandra attended Yale University at Calhoun, majoring in what else? English.Upon graduation, she enrolled in graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley to study Drama, then returned to Yale for a portion of the second year. *(1)

    Disinclined to be a waitress for the summer after Junior year, Sandra designed a line of hand-coloured gift cards, with the support of her uncle who owned a printing company. Able to repay him after only a few short weeks of sales, Sandra added Christmas cards to the collection, selling them to stores on the East Coast. She even took her wares to a trade show in New York City. *(1)

Boynton Calendar

    By the time she completed her first year of grad school, Sandra had signed a contract with a greeting card company, Recycled Paper Greetings, to sell her card designs. She also negotiated royalty payments to be paid to her when her cards sold, something rarely done at the time. "It was probably the best decision I ever made," Sandra told the Yale Bulletin and Calendar in a 2001 interview. In a short time, her cards were top sellers, earning much more in royalties than she would have made as a contract designer. Sales for Sandra's cards peaked at 80 million pieces one year, levelling off to 20 million later. (That is still an enormous number of sales.) Her best-selling birthday card was, and still is, "Hippo Birdie Two Ewes", counting over 10 million copies sold. It has been reconfigured a time or two but has remained in popular print. *(2)

Boynton Hippos

    Needing to fulfill an English requirement at grad school in Yale, Sandra was permitted to follow the unusual path of creating a children's book. Hippos go Berserk was published in 1977. Debuting the delightful art and story-telling talents that featured soft, cuddly, innocent animals, it became a well-loved standard with children and parents alike. The book is still in publication.

    A falling-out in philosophy with Recycled Paper Greetings lead Sandra to Portal Publications in 1996. At that time, she was producing 200 card designs a year, some taking as few as 20 minutes to create, others taking up to 10 hours to produce. Working from her home studio, she also designed merchandise to go with the card line, such as soft toys, t-shirts and mugs. Employing an assistant only for administrative tasks, Sandra handled "almost every detail of her cards herself, including proofreading, contracts, design and licensing" for her growing merchandise line. *(3)

   Sandra's joyful and spirited animals grabbed attention, becoming "her" cats, pigs, hippos and chickens. The simple yet captivating board books are built on funny, lyrical verse that rolls off the tongue, and characters with expressive faces and entrancing eyes. Her characters have no names, she said, because they are then unlimited and open to flexibility. "It's enough of a palette that it can be anyone." *(2) Sandra's book collection has grown into the dozens, including titles such as "Philadelphia Chickens", "The Going to Bed Book", "The Belly Button Book" and "Moo, Baa, La La La ", just to name a very few. ("Moo, Baa, La La La" is Sandra's best-selling book.)

Boynton Moo

Boynton Bedtime Boynton Penguin

    Chocolate: The Consuming Passion, was Sandra's first non-children's book, published in 1982 but out of print as of 2002. The next endeavour for this blessed-with-talents woman was to wrap her humour, characters and rhyme together came as music. With composer and musician Mike Ford, Sandra has written more than 50 songs, culminating in three CD albums by a variety of singers: Rhinoceros Tap, first out in 1996 and then revamped for 2004, Philadelphia Chickens in 2002, and DogTrain in 2005. Of course, animals are the centre-pieces of the work, such as the songs Cows and Be Like a Duck. Sandra also created an adult album, Grunt: Pigorian Chant, "written in Latin and Pig Latin" in 1996. She also write the words for several more serious choral pieces.

    Merchandise is an important part of Sandra's flourishing business. Baby clothes and toys, sleepwear, baseball caps, t-shirts, bedding, magnets, boxer shorts, date books, gift wrap and invitations, posters, puppets, rubber stamps, mugs and so many more items have the Boynton stamp.

    While happily making a seriously big career for herself, Sandra married Jamie McEwan, a fellow Yale grad and 1972 Olympic Bronze Medallist in Whitewater Canoe Slalom. Jamie McEwan is a writer and avid whitewater enthusiast. They have four children, three of whom are now grown: Caitlin, Keith, Devin and Darcy. The family makes their home in Litchfield County, Connecticut. Sandra still uses only one assistant, working from her converted-barn studio. Sandra has earned the freedom to choose the projects that are interesting and important to her. She licences "only what I can develop and design myself" and does not allow other businesses to manipulate her characters for their own use. *(1)

    As cartoonist, illustrator, writer and composer, Sandra Boynton has etched a place for herself, quietly, steadily and successfully in the hearts of those who have touched upon her enchanting work. Nineteen million Boynton books in the hands of adoring kids are the indisputable proof.

Sources:

*(1) http://www.sandraboynton.com
*(2) http://www.yale.edu/opa/v29.n18/story5.html
*(3) http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/03-96/03-03-96/1boynton.htm

© Susanna McLeod 2006
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