Bridging the Atlantic Book Divide: the madcap humour of Sandra Boynton

Barnyard Dance!; Pajama Time!; Moo, Baa, La La La! and many others, by Sandra Boynton, Workman Publishing

The series that brings you the most popular books you’ve always/never heard of – depending on which side of the Atlantic you live! (see Intro) Following on from Knuffle Bunny and Pip and Posy

Before arriving in the USA – nearly six years ago now – I had never read a book by Sandra Boynton. Even though she has sold many millions of them. (For more, here’s her website.) But since I started reading them – and watching teachers reading them to console tearful children – I have also started buying them for friends. I think anyone who’s had a new baby gift from me in the last (nearly) six years has been given (at least one) Sandra Boynton book.

So what’s all the fuss about? They’re funny. Some are really very funny. There’s a particular joy in laughing with a toddler, and a book that’s funny for little kids and funny for adults is a gem. Boynton’s books are also wonderfully rhythmic. Some of them come with songs of their own, but they’re almost impossible to read without some sort of tune in your head. I don’t love every single one. But considering that she has written and illustrated over 50 books full of her idiosyncratic animals, some are bound to be stronger than others. Some are sweet, some are hilarious, all have a touch of whimsy.

My push-comes-to-shove favourite is Barnyard Dance! (1993), for some foot-stamping, twirling dance fun – and Barnyard Bath! (2008) got us through many otherwise-fraught toddler bathtimes – Wash the duckies, Wash the cow….

Pajama Time! is great fun, but more a getting-those-pjs-on book than a settling-down-in-them one: Now all around the room in one big line,/wearing our pajamas and looking so fine….  Of course we have to do the actions.

For sweet silliness, I love the Belly Button Book! (2005), and, thanks to tiny hippo, it will forever be a ‘Bee Bo’ in our house.

Moo, Baa, La La La! (1982) delivers animal noises with a twist; Oh My, Oh My, Oh Dinosaurs! (1993) does the same for opposites.

Snuggle Puppy! (2003) reminds me forever of the Infant Room at my daughter’s first daycare: Katie, Meghann, Erin and Megan rocking and soothing and singing.

Tickle Time! (2012) is fun – although I know that tickling can be way too much and stop being fun, so I only tickle my kids on request – and usually I just need to wave my fingers in the air to bring on the giggles. Birthday Monsters! (1993) delivers raucous havoc.

Boynton has also collaborated with a staggering array of people to produce her children’s songs. Her latest book – releasing 23rd March in the US and 12th April in the UK – Jungle Night (2021), has a soundtrack featuring Yo-Yo Ma on cello, making the animal noises. (I kid you not.)

I can’t promise you’ll like every book – some don’t strike the right note for me – but if you want humour for the under 3s (and over 3s), Sandra Boynton has an array of sweet, silly, rhythmic books. The rhymes and rhythm make them easy to remember so the kids can join in. Pick one, try one. They say laughing is good for us, and my kids are always in a better mood after a good giggle together.

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