Sandra Boynton is the author and illustrator of more than 60 children’s books. Yo-Yo Ma is a world-famous cellist. They came together to create a short, animated video Jungle night, a new book by Boynton that takes the little ones on a journey through a sleeping jungle. Boynton wrote, illustrated, and directed the creation of the Jungle night Video of Ma using his cello to bring the sounds of sleeping jungle creatures to life. Ma also appeared in the soundtrack that accompanies the book.
The Jungle night The book and video were released today. ZEIT für Kinder Kid reporter Sophia Hou, 11, spoke separately to Boynton and Ma about their collaboration and what inspires them.
Hou: Can you tell me something about your book?
Boynton: The book is called Jungle nightand it’s a boardbook, like many of my books. It comes with a free download of two audio tracks: one narrated and a mystical handpan track – a book narration by my son Keith, and Yo-Yo Ma is snoring on his cello in the background. Part two is an instrumental performance. It’s an arrangement I made by Erik Satie Gymnopédie No. 1and I added Jungly Percussion.
What inspired you to write Jungle Night and record music in it?
A friend of mine who is a writer is good friends with Yo-Yo Ma and I didn’t know him. This [was] a few years ago. Her name is Ann Patchett. She said, “You two should definitely work together. You both have grandchildren, he loves children, and you are both like children yourself: very playful and just plain lively. It would be a great collaboration. “And then he came to play at Tanglewood Music Center, a summer concert venue in the Berkshires not far from my house. Ann was visiting and I said, “We should go see this.”
How did you and Yo-Yo Ma come together to create the book and music?
Well, we met at the sound check. He played the six cello suites by Bach. It is a solo performance that is extraordinary, for an instrumentalist who carries an entire performance as a soloist on stage without anyone else being there. It’s the best I’ve ever seen on stage. The cello is my favorite instrument.
What was your favorite aspect of working with Yo-Yo Ma?
Just his playfulness, just his openness to everything, his good nature. He’s tireless, he always wants to try things out and it’s just as exciting as working together can be.
Is this your first book with an animated video?
I’ve made a lot of videos, some animated, some live action. Sometimes they are before I do a book and sometimes they are after. Books are two-dimensional and music is music-dimensional, and it’s exciting to have a visual component, a moving visual component.
How did you come up with the various noises animals make when they sleep?
Some of the sounds I can’t remember how I came up with because I wrote them so long ago. What was fun is adding more animals and saying, “OK if the tiger does Meer-sooo-haaaand when the cheetah does chee-chee-taaah What are the monkeys doing? ” [The monkeys go chatter-chooo chatter-chooo.] Like everything, it is an evolution.
What do you like most about writing for children?
Oh my god everything. I think people who write for children write for themselves first. Do you know what I mean? You know, I remember my childhood very vividly. I think if you write for children, it is your own childhood first. And then – I have four children, they are all grown up now – we write for them when they were little. Books were so important to me as a child. The exciting thing is to imagine that my books may be very important to certain children.
Hou: Have you ever made music to be a soundtrack for a book before Jungle Night?
Ma: I’ve made soundtracks, but not for books. So it’s the first time I’ve been doing a soundtrack for a book, which is very exciting. It’s Sandy Boynton who came up with the idea [of] the specific noises the animals would make Jungle nightand then I would try to fit [them] on the cello.
Did you visualize the illustrations while playing the music?
I always looked at the animals and creatures. And Sandy is a wonderful musician indeed. So here you have an author who is a writer and illustrator, who has a very vivid imagination, and has a very specific idea of what the sound of each animal will be like. I tried to match her imagination.
What was the most exciting aspect of creating the soundtrack?
We did all of this virtually. I think the exciting part was working with the writer, with Ms. Boynton, to really fit in and capture what she had in mind – because as you know she has a very special kind of humor and sensitivity to what she is doing. She’s so specific that I really just wanted to get the feel of what she had for the music and just wanted to get it right, depending on how she thought it. And it was a lot of fun trying because I really admire their work.
Was there anything that was challenging?
It was more of an adventure. All challenges are welcome. Whatever it is, if it doesn’t sound quite right, it’s a challenge. Let’s try something different. So you kind of are [are] just always forward. And so I think Challenge not negative, but Challenge as in “Yeah, let’s try to get this just this way.”
What was your favorite animal sound on Jungle Night?
Oh my god I think it was the elephant. Because when you hear it, the elephant not only makes that very loud noise when it wakes up the whole forest, the whole jungle – you can also hear the echo afterwards. So it is a grrrrand then you go whoooo. You hear the echo echoing through the forest, giving you the feeling of space. You get the feeling that this is not just a sound that happens in one place, but that it reverberates throughout the jungle. And that’s the thing that ends up waking everyone up.
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.