Tag Archive for poetry & songs

Knock Knock Moo!

Ever since I wrote my first graphic novel, Matthew Henson, Arctic Explorer, I have been fascinated with the format. Sure, some of that has to do with me reading Spider-Man and Batman comics as a youngster. And part of it is that I wish I was better a better artist because I’ve always wanted to draw my own comics. But it’s also because of the added element, the pictures, in telling a story. Sometimes, illustrations can present things is a simpler, more straightforward way than just words, especially when targeting young readers.JJ_KKMoo_F16_Page_07

So recently, I was given the challenge to create graphic novel joke books within a picture book trim and page book. Oh, and they were also to be paired with music. I thought knock-knock jokes would be a perfect fit, and then to the great annoyance of my kids, I began telling and retelling some of the classic knock knock jokes to them.

The above sample is a sketch from Knock, Knock, Moo!, a play off of the interrupting cow joke. Though the farmer in this book has more than just an annoying cow.

Math Saves the Day!

Only once before, for the book War in Afghanistan, have I co-written with someone. That project was easy, as I worked with a long-time friend and we were able to divide up the writing by chapters. All went smoothly.FSS_MSDay_F16_tp_091415_Page_11

I was a little more worried, though, about a recent batch of songs I had pitched. They were to be illustrated in picture books and paired with music, and they were based on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachings. See, I had the bright idea that my wife could help me with them. She is a STEM specialist, and I know this publisher was looking for science songs. So I hoped that pairing our skills would get them to bite.

And they did! The pitch was accepted, and thankfully, we devised a system for getting the books written. My wife provided me with the ideas (her expertise as a STEM specialist) while I wordsmithed the text (my expertise). Sure, there was a little back and forth, and a few disagreements. We both have our musical talents (she sings while I play guitar) and preferences (she likes more classical music while I’m into American and blues). But in the end, I think we may have some hits on our hands.

The above sample is from Math Saves the Day!, a song about how we use math every day, even when we aren’t thinking about it.

Do You Know The Muffin Man


Starting to see artwork for my Tangled Tunes—adaptations I wrote of classic songs. Here is an interior spread for The Muffin Man, which follows the Muffin Man as he opens up his shop on Drury Lane and bakes some tasty treats. Luke Flowers is the illustrator, and his take on my story in amazingly fun. I love the color palette and playful style. And by the way, the the dog’s name is Cupcake!

To match the lively illustrations, the producer for this song, Mark Oblinger, pulled in a very talented singer, Brittany Mahoney, who gave the song a jazzy feel. Here’s a sample clip of the song, just as a teaser: MuffinManClip

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.

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 . . .

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