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Boynton, Ma Join Forces For 'Jungle Night,' A Book With Soundtrack, Video


KEITH BOYNTON: "Jungle Night" by Sandra Boynton.


Sandra Boynton and Yo-Yo Ma have collaborated. You might wonder, how does the artistic maestra of children's board books and greeting cards collaborate with the cello maestro? It's a board book. It's a soundtrack. No, wait; it's both - a book with a soundtrack and now a video. And it's called "Jungle Night."


K BOYNTON: Listen to the cheetah - chee, chee, tah.

SIMON: The narrator, by the way, is Keith Boynton. Sandra Boynton, whose books have sold more than 70 million copies - most to close friends and family, she insists - and Yo-Yo Ma, who's recorded more than a hundred albums and performed for nine U.S. presidents - I believe, including Chester Alan Arthur - joins us now. Thank you so much, both of you, for being with us.

YO-YO MA: It's great to be with you.

SANDRA BOYNTON: Thank you. It's exciting.

SIMON: So I'm not particularly proud of this question. But Sandy Boynton, you know, the story famously is about the snoozing sounds of various jungle animals. So how do you choose which animals? I mean, there are a lot of animals in the jungle.

S BOYNTON: They have to audition for me. They've all got difficult managers, you know?

SIMON: (Laughter).

S BOYNTON: And you just - it's - you know - so you just, you know - and you got to be kind of ruthless, you know? The alligator comes in. It can't really cut it. You just say next, you know? That's just the way it goes.


K BOYNTON: Can you hear the crocodile? - snorkel-oon (ph), snorkel-oon.

MA: I think Sandy said to the alligator, you've got to give me something I can sink my teeth into.

S BOYNTON: (Laughter).

SIMON: Ah. Ah.


SIMON: I can't believe I'm hearing such atrocious puns from two so conspicuously intelligent and accomplished people.

MA: Right. Right. And the elephant said, tusk tusk (laughter).

S BOYNTON: Oh, no. Oh, no.

SIMON: Oh, it's getting worse. The story, of course, is accompanied by Satie's "Gymnopedie No. 1" - by the way, a piece of music that always gets to me. I often listen to it. But you have - you've rearranged it for the jungle.


S BOYNTON: We wanted to do a lullaby. And I think at first, we thought we were going to write something or improvise something. But you can't be in the same space, you know, these days. So in trying to think about what existing piece had the kind of mesmerizing feel, it's not hard to come up with the "Gymnopedie." But it's not very jungly (ph).

And it was actually one late night - I don't sleep (laughter). My poor parents - I never did sleep (laughter). And so I was curious to see if I could add a jungle rhythm to it. And I searched on the Internet just to try it out, you know, to do the music editing. And all drums were much too fast for it. And I finally had the idea to go into trance drums. And I found a track that I thought, that might do it. And then it turned out that I could actually buy that track from the percussionist. It was a guy named Matos Sevikas (ph), and he's Lithuanian. So I did that. And then Ron Block is the person who does the guitar of Alison Krauss Union Station. It was kind of exciting for it all to pull together like that.


MA: A source of Sandy's creativity comes to having her subconscious available to her. So what strikes her subconscious? Like, she's fumbling around on the Internet listening to trance drumming, right? Who else does that?

S BOYNTON: (Laughter).

MA: But in a subconscious state, and then figures out, maybe this rhythm might jive with the "Gymnopedie" and then sort of figures out that maybe this is something we'll ask Yo-Yo to play. And, I mean, it's all somewhat wacky, like doing Ravel's "Bolero" with 300 kazoos, you know?

S BOYNTON: Who would do that? That's...

SIMON: Which she has done...

S BOYNTON: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Yes, yes.


MA: Who else would do that? But that's what actually strikes very young children.

SIMON: You know, and I find this fascinating, Yo-Yo, 'cause we certainly wanted to ask you - you have an Audible original out now, "Beginner's Mind," in which you talk about the value of having the mind of a child when you begin a creative task.

MA: That's because I never grew up.


MA: And so it's - see, I don't have to work at it. It just comes at me naturally. I have the mind of a child because every time I perform, it has to be as if it were clean chalkboard and you start from new every time. You're not doing something because you did it yesterday because that doesn't count. It's like you're playing on the beach, and you have your pail and your shovel and you build a sand castle. Every time, every day, it's going to be a new one because the tide comes in and washes it away. You work with the moment, and that requires a beginner's mind.

S BOYNTON: What a great description. Oh, my goodness. That's - I like the idea of a sand castle as a mandala of sorts, too...

SIMON: Yeah.

S BOYNTON: ...That it just, you know, it's great.

SIMON: It was such a great description. I'm inclined just to turn to you and say, OK, top that. But I will...

S BOYNTON: I'm going to grab my cello. I'll be right back.



MA: Yes.

SIMON: But look; communicating with children and the child in all of us, as you have for so many years, I'll bet that means a lot to you, too. Is that what you go through creatively?

S BOYNTON: Well, my experience of every children's book writer that I know and admire is that they're not actually writing for specific children. They're writing for themselves as a child, first and foremost. People who write for children tend to be absurdly in touch with their own childhood. I have much more trouble understanding adults than I do (laughter) children.

So I just - you know, I loved what Yo-Yo was saying, and I understand it. I understand how exciting it is to find that place. And both Yo-Yo and I have grandchildren. And there's just nothing better than seeing things through their eyes. I mean, talk about something that's fresh every single time. It's so illuminating to be with young children. I don't know. It's - I haven't had to get a real job yet, and that's a good thing.

SIMON: Sandra Boynton, Yo-Yo Ma - their book, their soundtrack, their video, "Jungle Night" - thanks very much to both of you. And good dreams this weekend.

S BOYNTON: Oh, thank you so much. This was fun.

MA: Fat chance. Sandy's staying awake.


SIMON: Oh, that's right.

S BOYNTON: Good point.


SIMON: I do have one last request. Yo-Yo Ma, you could make someone very happy by telling people that BJ Leiderman writes our theme music.

MA: Oh, well, of course. Didn't you know that BJ Leiderman writes your theme music?


MA: And gosh, you guys are so lucky to have him write your theme music. My goodness. How did you get him?

SIMON: Oh, that's a long story. I can't go...

MA: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Into it now - with many auditions. The alligators were lined up, as you can imagine.

S BOYNTON: (Laughter).


SIMON: Yeah. Now it can be revealed. The alligators chose him. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.