By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent magazine
Hang on to yer hat, cowboy. One listen-to and read-through of Sandra Boynton’s illustrated country music songbook/CD combo, “Frog Trouble,” and you’ll be humming your way through the day.
Created for children ages 1 to “older than dirt,” this is Boynton’s fifth foray into merging music, words, and art. Like the others she’s created with keyboard player Michael Ford, it’s likely to become a certified Gold, and an award-winning New York Times bestseller.
Packed with star power—including musical performances from Linda Eder, Brad Paisley, and Dwight Yoakam—the message of the book is as charming and iconic as the lyrics and illustrations by Boynton herself.
From “I’ve Got a Dog,” to “Deepest Blue,” and “More Frog Trouble,” this 64-pager is filled with wit and wisdom—as well as lyrics and sheet music so readers can sing and play along.
We wouldn’t expect anything less from the successful artist and author, who has been writing books and drawing charming animal illustrations since the 1970s.
“I love illustrated books, and I’ve always been smitten with records, so I guess it was inevitable that I’d eventually want to put the two together,” Boynton tells us from her home office in Connecticut. “I think I’m happiest in a recording studio, working with great singers and musicians. Making a record is pretty much the most fun a person can have. Though drawing confused hippos is way up there, too.”
How did the native of Orange, New Jersey, make her way to the recording studios of Nashville?
“If you love recording, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in Nashville,” she believes. “And y’all might even start saying ‘y’all’ without even realizing it.”
Taking a traditional route through life has never been Boynton’s style. She went to UC Berkeley for a year, then dropped out, transferred to Yale School of Drama for a year and a half, and dropped out again. That’s when the art bug bit her.
“The summer after my junior year (1973), I couldn’t face the prospect of waitressing again,” Boynton explains. “So, I designed gift cards and Christmas cards, had my Uncle Bill, a printer, print them, and I trudged around to various East Coast stores selling them.”
The cards took off, and so did her love life.
“Jamie McEwan was a tall, swarthy, and cheerfully subversive Yale wrestling captain/1972 Olympic bronze medalist when we met,” says Boynton, who married and moved with him to a farm in the foothills of the Berkshires. “Then we collaborated on four perfect children and two quirky books.”
Those stories were “The Story of Grump and Pout,” and “The Heart of Cool.” Dozens of books by Boynton followed.
Then, in 1996, she met her now professional partner, Michael Ford.
“We’re a very lean team,” she explains of her collaboration with the Pennsylvania-based music man. “I write all the lyrics and most of the melody, and from there, Mike and I create each song together in our own small New England music production studio, with Mike playing scratch instrumental tracks on keyboard and helping with all the technical stuff, which he’s masterful at. I call him The Computer Whisperer.”
Was it tough to round up such stellar singers such as Eder, Paisley, and Yoakam for “Frog Trouble”?
“It was!” Boynton admits, insisting it took foolish optimism on her part. “The good news is they all really loved the songs, so that helped.”
To seal the deal, Boynton also sent each country star a gift of a stuffed animal (Mr. Chicken, to be precise). “Surely there’s nothing so persuasive as receiving an unexplained stuffed chicken,” she says.
What are Boynton’s plans for the future?
“I’m thinking of tackling an enormous pile of laundry—and buying the Christmas gifts I meant to get for the kids last year,” she says. “But that’s just a little Frog Trouble.”