Board book virtuoso Sandra Boynton delivers a bounty of her trademark “serious silliness” in 2018, as Little Simon publishes a quartet of titles by the author, whose books have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. This year’s releases include Here, George!, a collaboration with iconic New Yorker cartoonist George Booth; But Not the Armadillo, a follow-up to 1982’s But Not the Hippopotamus; and two new capers starring Boynton’s earnest and expressive porcine character, Merry Christmas, Little Pookie and I Love You, Little Pookie.
There are winsome backstories attached to Boynton’s first two 2018 publications. Sheer serendipity led to the creation of Here, George!, which pubbed in May. Back in August 2017, “through a series of odd coincidences,” Boynton attended a block party in Brooklyn at the invitation of Booth, whom she had met several times. “I suddenly found myself sitting side-by-side with George Booth, who is my and my entire family’s cartooning hero,” she explained, “There we were, hanging out, drawing for kids, and I had to keep pinching myself! He was 91 at the time but has the mind of a 17-year old—he came alive as he talked to kids. He is the most magical human being.”
During lulls in the drawing-for-kids action, Booth would continue to draw, and Boynton watched him create a picture of a dog, which she described as “the best drawing I’ve ever seen anyone draw live.” And, she added, “I rudely said, ‘Could I have that one?’ and then asked if he’d draw another one for my son, Devin, who was with me, and George drew the same dog—dancing. I drove home to the foothills of the Berkshires with both drawings—and couldn’t believe what precious cargo I had in my car. And, inspired by those drawings of dogs, I wrote what became Here, George! in my head as I drove—actually it wrote itself.”
To propose to Booth that they collaborate on this project—centering on a dog who dances when no one can see him—Boynton created a layout featuring her story and Booth’s block-party and earlier dog cartoons, which she scanned and colored. “I never intended it to be the final art,” said Boynton. “I thought George would redraw his art, but he decided not to—he liked what I’d done with his cartoons. It was the easiest collaboration imaginable—all the planets seemed to align. And it was one of the highlights of my whole life.”
Revisiting the Armadillo—Who’s Just Fine
But Not the Armadillo, due out on September 4, was not as fast in the making. The title character appeared on the final page of But Not the Hippopotamus, and his unknown fate worried some fans, who shared their concerns with Boynton. One of the most memorable letters arrived in 2004 from Diane Waters, a Washington State mother of two boys whose husband, a soldier deployed to Iraq, had told her he was having trouble sleeping because he was concerned about what happens to the armadillo. Boynton eased the soldier’s fears (replying that the armadillo became a successful rock musician and eventually reunited with the other animal characters in Hippopotamus), and the entire Waters family showed up at one of Boynton’s signings the following year to thank her in person.
The subsequent explosion of social media vastly expanded Boynton’s interaction with fans, and she heard from many more parents whose children were worried about what happened to the solitary armadillo. So, more than three decades after the creature’s first appearance, But Not the Armadillo offers a heartening answer. “But Not the Hippopotamus was never about exclusion, it is about self-exclusion,” Boynton explained. “The hippo is reticent to join in, and finally decides to go for it. The book’s ending sentence—‘But not the armadillo’—shifts the focus, suggesting this is now the armadillo’s dilemma. Readers who wrote to me seemed to want to be reassured that the armadillo will join the group. But not joining is an excellent option. There’s quiet joy in going your own way at your own pace. So that’s what I wanted to offer as a resolution.”
And fans of Little Pookie will be happy to learn that this overall-clad piglet is also faring well—and in a celebratory mode. Pookie and Mom prepare for the holidays in Merry Christmas, Little Pookie, due out on September 18, and reveal their mutual affection in I Love You, Little Pookie, a December 4 release. Boynton launched the Little Pookie series in fall 2007 with What’s Wrong, Little Pookie?, one of the inaugural titles published by Robin Corey Books, the eponymous Random House imprint of Boynton’s former editor at S&S. Little Simon recently reissued that debut Little Pookie book and five other titles, rights to which had reverted to Boynton.
Jeffrey Salane, editorial director of Little Simon, noted that he is “pleased as punch” to be working on the Pookie books—adding “everyone has a bit of Pookie in them”—and is thrilled to welcome Here, George! and But Not the Armadillo to his list. And he expressed high hopes for Boynton’s future creative output: “I always compare reading Sandy’s books to eating a dish prepared by a fine chef where you can see the ingredients in front of you, but you never thought they’d all end up on the same plate. And you wonder, ‘What is that special ingredient she has added?’ We are looking forward to growing Little Pookie however Sandy wants to do that—and we’re also excited to see whatever new creative directions she wants to take.”
Here, George! by Sandra Boynton, illus. by George Booth. Little Simon, $7.99 May ISBN 978-1-5344-2964-2
But Not the Armadillo by Sandra Boynton. Little Simon, $5.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-4814-8100-7
Merry Christmas, Little Pookie by Sandra Boynton. Little Simon, $5.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-5344-3724-1
I Love You, Little Pookie by Sandra Boynton. Little Simon, $5.99 Dec. ISBN 978-1-5344-3723-4