Tag Archive for picture books

Tangled Tunes—She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain

When working on my adaptation of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain,” I wanted to do something similar to my version of “On Top of Old Smoky.” I wanted to turn it into a fun, silly, and hopefully rememberable song. One kids will have fun singing.

Now sometimes I don’t know where my inspiration comes. An idea will just hit me, and this can happen while I’m walking the dog, cooking dinner, or on the verge of falling sleep. The best ideas always seem to strike when I am away from my computer, which is what happened in this case.

I started to think: What if the main character was a clown? So I began to list all the things that remind me of a clown: big nose, floppy shoes, painted face . . . Then I started to wonder: What will the clown be doing? And that’s when it struck me, my clown, the clown in this song will be a rodeo clown. And instead of riding a buckin’ bronco, she’ll be trying to round up a pesky billy goat.

And then I wrote . . .

She’ll round up a billy goat on the loose.
(na-a-a-a, na-a-a-a)
She’ll round up a billy goat on the loose.
She’ll round up a billy goat,
she’ll round up a billy goat,
She’ll round up a billy goat on the loose.
(na-a-a-a, na-a-a-a)

“She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountian” was once a song sung by railroad workers, and as one person sang, the other workers would call out after certain lines in the song. I thought it would be fun to do that as well, so each verse will have call outs, like this one, which has the billy goat na-ing.


Tangled Tunes—On Top of Old Smoky

Growing up, and given the choice, I’d sing “On Top of Spaghetti” before the traditional “On Top of Old Smoky.” The made-up lyrics were funny and silly and all about my favorite food—I could eat spaghetti and meatballs for every meal, including breakfast. Plus, the original version was all about courtin’ and losing a true lover. Things I knew nothing about in my knee-scraped youth.

When approaching an adaptation of “On Top of Old Smoky,” I wanted to recreate that feeling of silliness inspired by the “On Top of Spaghetti” version. And here’s where my background in research helped inspire me. “Old Smoky” refers to the Smoky Mountains—I once edited a book about Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This fact wasn’t in that book, but there have been hundreds of Bigfoot sightings in those mountains. So . . .

On top of old Smokey
all covered in snow,
I lost my true lover
by courtin’ too slow.

. . . became . . .

On top of Old Smoky,
all covered with fog,
went looking for Bigfoot
with my pot-bellied hog.

My version of the song is about a boy and his pot-bellied pig looking for Bigfoot, and the various animals they meet along the way.

Stubby, the Dog Soldier

9781479554652_p0_v1_s600Stubby, the Dog Soldier has been selected for the 2015 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People reading list by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC). The committee “looks for books that emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic are easily readable and of high literary quality, and have a pleasing format and, when appropriate, illustrations that enrich the text.”

A nice shout out to an extra special pooch!

Tangled Tunes—Oh, My Darling, Clementine

So the song Oh, My Darling, Clementine is about a miner who’s daughter drowns, and he sings about the tragedy. It’s a pretty morbid tale.

In a cavern, In a canyon,
Excavating for a mine,
Dwelt a miner forty-niner,
And his daughter Clementine.

Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
Oh my darling Clementine,
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry Clementine.

Now I wanted to have a more playful twist on this song, so I thought, what if it was a cowboy who was looking for his cow? Throughout the story, the cowboy rides across the plains searching for his long-lost cow, and the cow will be hiding somewhere within the illustrations: behind a cactus or riding on a train.

In a pasture, in a prairie,
walking down a railroad line,
lived a cowboy with a big hat
and his cow named Clementine.

Oh, my darling, oh, my darling,
oh, my darling, Clementine,
you are lost and gone forever.
I’m so sorry, Clementine.

To find out how the cowboy and his cow became estranged, you’ll just have to check out the song at Cantata Learning when it’s published—all songs will be available to listen to on their website.

Tangle Tunes—The Chores We Do

This Tangled Tune is based off of Here We Go ’round the Mulberry Bush, a song in which children hold hands and go around in a circle. And it’s a pretty simple tune with one basic verse.

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

My version will use the same melody, but the publisher wanted to have a wider variety of verses, and that’s when I came up with the idea of doing daily chores throughout the song.

This is the way we pick up toys,
pick up toys, pick up toys.

This is the way we pick up toys
so early Sunday morning.

And the illustrations will be fun, because instead of showing children, there will be monsters doing the chores.

Tangled Tunes—Three Blind Mice

So my first Tangled Tunes adaptation was Three Blind Mice. The original song is pretty simple, with one verse.

Three blind mice,
Three blind mice,
See how they run,
See how they run!

They all ran after
The farmer’s wife.
She cut off their tails
With a carving knife.

Did you ever see
Such a sight in your life
As three blind mice?

I wanted to create more of a story for this book, so I added a few characters. Not only do the mice meet the farmer’s wife as they run through his house, but also his daughter and son, and a farm cat at the end.

Then there’s that bit about cutting off tails with a butcher’s knife—since these will be illustrated picture books, I was told to stay away from such gruesome details. So here’s one of my verses, in which the mice wander into the kitchen as the farmer’s daughter is doing the dishes.

Three blind mice.
Three blind mice.

See how they run!
See how they run!

They all ran after the farmer’s daughter,
who picked up a cup
and splashed them with water.

Did you ever see such a thing in your life
as three blind mice?

Tangled Tunes

Ever since I first strummed a guitar way back in middle school, I’ve been writing songs. The lyrics always came easier for me than the music, which could explain why I became a poet instead of a rock star, but that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to pluck away on my 6 string. Today I play a Dobro acoustic with resonators. It has a deep, bluesy sound.

Now I can’t say that my guitar skills have improved much over the years, but I still try to write songs, though, nowadays those songs have turned silly. I blame that on my kids as they influence what I write.

There’s the nose-picking blues:

Everybody knows when [insert name] picks [his/her] nose
[he/she] eats her boogers,
[his/her] green, slimy boogers.

And the pretty butterfly song:

I’m a pretty butterfly—watch me flap my wings
I’m a pretty butterfly—watch me flap my wings
I’m a pretty butterfly—I’m a pretty butterfly
I’m a pretty butterfly—watch me flap my wiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnngssssss

 Now image me and my two kids singing that as we stroll through a butterfly garden—quite a sight.

Recently, I’ve been contacted by Cantata Learning, a new publisher that is pairing books with music—the text is actually written as a song. And while they weren’t impressed with my guitar licks, my poetry skills have landed me a chance to write some books/songs. I’ll be working on several stories in their Tangled Tune series, which will take some of those old classics like She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain and twisting them into funny new songs.

To see what I come up with, stay tuned . . .

Stubby the Dog Soldier: World War I Hero

9781479554652_p0_v1_s600As a bit of a history buff and a dog lover (just ask my spoiled pooch Ty), I jumped at the chance to write a picture book about Stubby, a dog who truly shows how heroic and loyal are canine friends can be.

This book was released earlier this summer and features some fantastic art by Oliver Hurst.

Summary: A stray dog named Stubby braves the World War I battlefields alongside Private J. Robert Conroy. See the story unfold as this brave little canine makes a big difference in the lives of many World War I soldiers.

Friendship Poems

Since graduate school, I haven’t worked on a lot of poetry, other than dabbling here and there with cinquains. But earlier in the year I was asked to compose children’s poems to be included in several anthologies due out next spring. The first batch was for Trust, Truth, and Ridiculous Goofs—all poems about friendship.

Below is my favorite of the bunch, and what more loyal friendship is there than a boy and his dog’s. For this one, my dog Ty, helped with the inspiration, as she’s constantly chasing squirrels and racing about. She has so much more energy than me. The poem is also a villanelle, which is my favorite form. The sing-songy feel of the repeating lines plays into the happy, mindless joy a boy and his dog have simply playing together. Friend_boydog_BH