Sandra Keith Boynton:


I was born April 3, 1953 in Orange, N.J. --immortalized (the city, not my birth) in the song, “I Met a Peach in Orange, New Jersey in Apple Blossom Time.” I grew up in Philadelphia, if indeed anywhere, the third child in a casually Quaker family of four girls, and from Kindergarten through 12th Grade went to the truly terrific Germantown Friends School, where my father, Bob, taught English and was head of the Upper School. My mother, Jeanne, did everything else, and admirably. My dad went on to found Boynton/Cook Publishers, now owned by Heinemann, and was at the forefront of an uncommonly common-sense approach to the teaching of writing.

I went to Yale, and majored, happily if unimaginatively, in English. The summer after my junior year (1973), I couldn’t face the prospect of waitressing again, though I had almost perfected the requisite accommodating manner. Instead, 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. In the summer between college graduation and graduate school in drama at U.C. Berkeley, I continued to sell the cards, did more designs, took them to a trade show in New York City, and at summer’s end, signed up with a Chicago company called Recycled Paper Greetings, founded by Amherst College classmates, Phil Friedmann and Mike Keiser. (In addition to his card company stewardship, Mike is now the mastermind/owner of the two most beautiful golf courses in America, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes, in Bandon, Oregon.)

I went to U.C. Berkeley for a year, then dropped out, transferred to Yale School of Drama for a year and a half, then dropped out. Then I married tall, swarthy and cheerfully subversive Yale wrestling captain/1972 Olympic bronze medalist in Whitewater Canoe Slalom (singles), Jamie McEwan. We moved to a farm in the foothills of the Berkshires, and over time collaborated on four perfect children and two quirky books: The Story of Grump and Pout, Crown 1983 (now, alas, out of print); and The Heart of Cool, Atheneum 2001.) We all lived in the French Pyrenees for 1991/92 so that Jamie could train for the Barcelona Olympics, this time in doubles canoe with Lecky Haller. (They came in 4th.) Jamie has also been a member of several “alpine style” whitewater expeditions to Bhutan, Mexico, British Columbia, and Tibet (this last the subject of two books: The Last River by Todd Balf, and Courting the Diamond Sow by Wickliffe Walker.) Jamie and our son Devin were on the USA Whitewater Team in 2001 as a two-man canoe team.


CARDS AND STUFF ........ .....

Over the past thirty-odd, odd years, I have designed, by varying estimates (none of them in fact mine because I’ve not yet gotten sufficiently motivated to start counting) somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 greeting cards. Almost all were published by Recycled Paper, 1975 to 1996. They sold 50 to 80 million Boynton cards per year in the peak years (1980’s). Probably my best known card is a birthday card, “Hippo Birdie Two Ewes,” first printed in 1975, pretty much continuously in print since then, redrawn 5 times, 10 million copies sold. In 2003, I started doing a few card designs again, for the sake of auld lang syne.

Along the way, I have also designed many other wry and/or cute but largely irrelevant things: aprons, baby clothes, baby toys, balloons, baseball caps, bed sheets, buttons, boxer shorts, calendars, crib sets, date books, fabric, gift wrap, invitations, magnets, mugs, note pads, plush, popcorn tins, posters, Post-its, puppets, puzzles, rubber stamps, shopping lists, ski hats, socks, sleepwear, stickers, sweaters, t-shirts, ties, towels, wallpaper, and ziggurats. Well, okay, no ziggurats. Yet.

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And I’ve written/illustrated a lot of books for discerning children, and some other books for peculiar adults. I wrote my first children’s book, Hippos Go Berserk, in 1977 as a January Project while I was still a student the Yale School of Drama. I have no idea why they let me get away with that. Actually, I really wrote my first children’s book at age four; it was called The Funny Animal, and the entire text goes: “Once there was a funny animal. One day he had a birthday party. All the animals came. They did not like it, so they left. The end.” Clearly I had made very little thematic progress between 1957 and 1977.

My first non-children’s book was Chocolate: The Consuming Passion (retired from print in 2002, after 20 years of noble service) for the quirky and creative independent publishing house, Workman Publishing. The book was largely motivated by the allure of having all my chocolate expenses be tax-deductible for a year. The fabulous editor, Suzanne Rafer, has been my lone and loyal Workman editor and buddy for lo these many years and books since. I have worked also with one of the Big Guys, Simon and Schuster, with the irrepressible Robin Corey as my spirited editor, friend and guide. In 2007, Robin was given her own imprint, Robin Corey Books, at Random House, and to celebrate her new adventure, I have created the Pookie books.

By 1995, my secret ambition of being a rock star was still unrealized due to the fact that, in all the excitement, I forgot to do that. And also due to the appalling indifference of a fickle music-buying public. And also perhaps because I don’t really sing and can’t really play any instrument. So I decided to write and produce music instead because hey, how hard can THAT be? I wrote the words for “Rhinoceros Tap,” which fell into the hands of the brilliant yet provocatively humble Michael Ford, a composer and pianist. Mike sent me a demo of his composition for that song, and the rest is History, except that there aren’t any Assignment Questions that begin with “Compare and contrast.” Together, Mike and I have now written more than sixty songs (and several more unreleased songs that still need A LOT of work) recorded by various singers—some famous, all noteworthy—collected in four albums sold as book/recording sets: Rhinoceros Tap (Workman 1996, a spiffier version was released in May 2004,) Philadelphia Chickens (2002), Dog Train (2005) and Blue Moo:17 Jukebox Hits from Way Back Never (2007.) Rounder Records has also released the albums as stand-alone CDs.
The first three albums have been certified Gold by the RIAA, and Philadelphia Chickens was nimonated fro a Grammy. That’s a typo, yet I feel that “nimonated” is too fine a word to correct.

Between the first two recording projects, giddy with my new-found calling, I wrote and composed a most unlikely non-children’s album (with illuminated book) Grunt: Pigorian Chant. It’s plainchant and polyphony written in Latin and Pig Latin. I like to think of Grunt as the culmination of a lifetime of joyfully squandering an expensive education on producing works of no apparent usefulness. To prepare and conduct the recording sessions, I asked Fenno Heath, director emeritus of the Yale Glee Club, who never says no; and he called up twenty singers, and no one ever says no to the chance to sing with Fenno. It became’s best-selling title in its category in 1999, which is true but don’t think about it too closely.

Subsequently, I had the unexpected privilege to write the text for three serious pieces of choral music by Fenno. One of these, “Invocation”, was performed at Avery Fisher Hall in 2002. Really.


I work happily amidst glorious vintage clutter in a converted barn, which sports perhaps the only hippo weathervane in New England.

I choose the projects I do and products I design somewhat at whim, and only if there’s a company that looks interesting to work with. I only “license” what I can develop and design myself, rather than letting companies adapt my characters according to their own sense and sensibility. I have no agent, no business manager, no contracts attorney. This is a rather haphazard way to do things, but it’s more fun than an actual plan. Since I’m not sufficiently committed to Optimizing Market Potential, I seem to be a bewilderment and, one hopes, a minor annoyance to many.

Photograph by Jamie McEwan