Michael Sampson and Bill Martin Jr wrote more than 30 books together—including Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?—between 1978 and 2004, the year that Martin died at the age of 88. Sampson subsequently found publishers for a number of the manuscripts by the duo, among them The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry, featuring the artwork of various illustrators (Simon & Schuster); three Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat picture books, with pictures by Laura J. Bryant (Two Lions); and Listen to Our World, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (S&S/Wiseman).

Martin and Sampson’s joint children’s oeuvre continues to grow, with three new books to be released by Dallas-based Brown Books Kids. Armadillo Antics is due on April 26, followed by Ten Little Squirrels (previously published by Holt in 1967, but later rewritten by Martin and Sampson) on October 4, and Bing! Bang! Chugga! Beep! in spring 2023. All three titles are illustrated by Argentinian artist Nathalie Beauvois.

Earlier this month, PW spoke by phone with Sampson, who was in Warsaw after being evacuated from Ukraine in advance of the Russian invasion. He had been teaching Ukrainian university students as a Fulbright Scholar and has subsequently returned to the States. The author talked of his friendship and collaboration with Martin, his commitment to perpetuating their creative legacy, and his future publishing plans.

What sparked your friendship and creative collaboration with Bill Martin Jr?

I first got to know Bill in 1978, at a reading conference in Tucson. I was 27 years old and was finishing my Ph.D. in reading at the University of Arizona, and the conference was a powerful experience for me. I knew immediately that Bill and I had a great deal in common. We were both educators, and I started working with him on his summer workshops for teachers, which we expanded into the Pathways to Literacy Conference, training close to 100,000 teachers over the years.

Working with teachers, Bill and I got to know each other well, even though I lived in Texas and he lived in Manhattan. We both loved to read poetry, especially the work of Robert Frost, and we internalized the work of many poets. Bill believed that you make your way to the cognitive domain by engaging with your heart and soul, and he did that in a brilliant way.

We were a good match as collaborators. Bill was an auditory person, and I am a visual person. I would say, “Let me see it,” and he would say, “Read it to me.” He always wanted to hear the language, hear the cadence. He worked to the ear, and I worked to the eye. It was sometimes a long process to get it right. We wrote 60 drafts of Chicka Chicka 1, 2 ,3 before it finally worked!

Did your collaborative process evolve over your quarter-century of writing together?

We definitely had an important turning point in 1992. It all began when my family and I were driving to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport one day to catch a flight to New York to visit Bill. My son, Jonathan, had heard about a 26-acre property for sale on a river in Commerce, Tex. We took a detour to see it, and what we found was a piece of land that was untouched by time. I immediately told my wife that I wanted to live there. Right after our plane landed in New York, I called the owner and bought the land.

When I showed Bill a map of the property, he quickly pointed to a spot by a lake and said, “I want to live right here!” We both built homes on the land, which we named “Woodfrost” in honor of Robert Frost. Bill spent the last 11 years of his life there, and we wrote together, side by side, six days a week, for six or seven hours each day, while I taught graduate school in the evenings.

What motivated you to publish this trio of titles now, and why did you select Brown Books Kids as publisher and Nathalie Beauvois as illustrator?

Bill and I generated a lot of manuscripts during those years at Woodfrost—and there are still a lot that I haven’t shown to publishers. I placed eight or 10 books with publishers since Bill died but, with my work as an educator, I didn’t have a lot of spare time. I served as a dean of education at several universities, most recently at the School of Education at St. John’s University in New York City, beginning in 2014. After I left that post two years ago, I had more time to spend on placing our manuscripts.

Armadillo Antics, Ten Little Squirrels, and Bing! Bang! Chugga! Beep! are some of my favorites—and they were among Bill’s favorites as well. They are all written in a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom pattern of rhyme, rhythm, and repetition, which lets kids acquire reading skills without knowing it.

I was drawn to Brown Books Kids because it is a Texas publisher, where we wrote so many of our books, and I am impressed with their team in terms of technology and production and marketing. So, I placed these three books with Tom Reale at Brown Books. He also signed up a fourth book, The Pig, the Elephant, and the Wisecracking Bird, which I co-authored with Bonnie J. Johnson, a renowned educator. That will be published in August.

When it came to choosing an illustrator for the four books, Tom suggested three possible artists, including Nathalie Beauvois, and I was blown away by her work. She has an Eric Carle-like style—yet it’s different, too—and it fits the texts just right. I was especially impressed at the phenomenal way she paints squirrels! Bill and I have been fortunate to have had such great illustrators for our books, and with Nathalie’s art we have something that is greater than the sum of its parts. She makes characters come alive.

What is next for you?

I am going to be busy promoting Armadillo Antics on a national book tour, in late April and early May, which I am looking forward to. And I will tour again in October to promote that book as well as Ten Little Squirrels.

And I have been working on a biography of Bill. I’ve been writing it piecemeal, as it comes to me. I am telling his story from childhood and have been going back through archives and artifacts, many in Texas. In the process, I am constantly reminded of how remarkable Bill’s understanding of language is. I think this will be a very interesting book.

I am really enjoying this chapter of my career. Writing a biography of Bill is something I have always wanted to do. And I am so pleased that Armadillo Antics, Ten Little Squirrels, and Bing! Bang! Chugga! Beep! are being published—and with such beautiful illustrations. Bill really loved these stories, and I know he would be happy to see them in libraries, classrooms, and homes.

Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin Jr and Michael Sampson, illus. by Nathalie Beauvois. Brown Books Kids, $18.99 Apr. 26 ISBN 978-1-61254-547-9

Ten Little Squirrels by Bill Martin Jr and Michael Sampson, illus. by Nathalie Beauvois. Brown Books Kids, $18.99 Oct. 4 ISBN 978-1-61254-600-1