I knew I was in the right place when I spotted cartoon-fowl statuaries flanking the gate of a rural drive. Bright, fat beaks and combs bulged out from stoic, teardrop bodies. These were unmistakably Sandra Boynton chickens.
Since the early 1970s, Boynton has herded her animals onto greeting cards, calendars, and songbooks. But she is best known for her board books, written for the youngest children and the parents who read aloud to them. She has published more than 60 of them, including the perennial best sellers Pajama Time!; Moo, Baa, La La La!; Barnyard Dance!; and The Going to Bed Book. Together they have sold some 75 million copies. Two more titles joined her menagerie this year, Dinosnores and Silly Lullaby. They bring Boynton’s usual oddball joy—snoring reptiles and owls that moo—to a new succession of bedtimes.
“Everyone needs chicken sentries,” Boynton explained when I arrived at her studio, a red barn that sits behind a centuries-old farmhouse in western Connecticut’s Berkshires. With her publishing royalties, she has outfitted her real farm with the storybook trappings of her fictional ones. The barn’s two-and-a-half-story interior looks less like Boynton’s studio than Boynton’s Country Store. On display are books, cardboard stand-ups, records, hundreds of critter-emblazoned greeting cards, and stuffed animals (an enormous, fuzzy pig fills a rustic dining chair).
Boynton reached for a copy of Blue Moo, her 2008 Grammy-nominated album of kids’ songs, which includes B. B. King singing the Boynton-composed “One Shoe Blues.” While working on the accompanying picture book, she started acquiring memorabilia from the 1950s as design references, and she didn’t stop after the album was released. What was once an unused conference room on one side of the barn is now a whole diner, complete with vinyl counter stools, red-cushioned booths, and a working pay phone. The rest of the decor, from the fridge to the ceiling to the colander of fresh cherries, all matches the sea green of Blue Moo’s cover. “Before, it was kind of a depressing room,” she said. “This is no longer a depressing room.” Here, nestled among fixtures that recall her own childhood, Boynton cooks up stories for kids who are just beginning theirs.