A Quick Look at the Collaborators of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
by Alexie Basil and Alana Pedalino
Bill told John, and John told Lois…“Let’s make a book about a coconut tree!”
So many incredible creators collaborated to make Chicka Chicka Boom Boom the alphabet book we know and love today. Here are some fun facts you may not have known about writers Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault and illustrator Lois Ehlert.
Bill Martin Jr.
Bill Martin Jr. is the author behind some of the catchiest picture books, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and, of course, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. But did you know that he couldn’t read until he went to college?
Even though he absolutely loved it when his elementary school teacher, Miss Davis, would read aloud to him, he grew up in a home without books and was able to fake his way through school.
“If anyone had told me that I was going to be a writer of children’s books when I was a child, I would have said, ‘You’re badly mistaken. I can’t even read,’” he said in an interview with Reading Rockets. But after a special professor, Mr. Rowan, took an interest in him, he got hooked on reading. It just goes to show how big a difference teachers can make in a kid’s life—and that it’s never too late to become a reader!
“[Bill Martin Jr.] and I ping-ponged back and forth over the phone, reciting and rewriting the book literally dozens of times,” wrote John Archambault in a foreword from the 2009 30th-anniversary edition of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. “Bill and I had a blast working together.…I will never forget his marvelous ear for language and his face-lit grin when he would turn to me and say, ‘John, that’s it! That’s the book!’”
John Archambault collaborated with Bill Martin Jr. to write Chicka Chicka Boom Boom—and many other childhood classics, such as Knots on a Counting Rope, Barn Dance!, and Listen to the Rain. But his journey to becoming a writer looks quite different from Bill’s.
John knew he wanted to be a writer by the time he was in third grade. He had just finished reading E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and it made such an impact on him that he told his teacher right away that he was going to be a writer. Just like Mr. Rowan had told Bill, John’s teacher also told him that “to be a writer, you must be a reader.” It seems that must have been pretty good advice!
In the same 2009 foreword, John wrote that Chicka Chicka Boom Boom’s famous refrain evolved from a different rhyme:
“More than twenty-five years ago, Bill Martin Jr and I were at a hotel in San Francisco, conducting a workshop for teachers on the power of poetry and predictable text for early readers. A man introduced himself, explaining that he hadn’t learned to read until the fifth grade, when his class came up with a lively cheer that began with ‘Chigga Chigga whole potata, half past alligata, bim bam bulligata.’ By connecting the rhythm and sounds with the letters he saw written on the chalkboard, he finally began to read.
“I couldn’t get that story and that cheer out of my head, and as I said the cheer over and over to my six-month-old son, it evolved—in that wonderful way that things often do when you repeat them a lot to your baby—into ‘Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.’”
Lois Ehlert is the Caldecott Honor–winning artist behind the colorful and energetic illustrations in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom—but you may also recognize her work in other classics, such as Color Zoo and Leaf Man. Like John, she has been practicing her craft since a very young age. Her father did woodworking and her mother sewed, and they would give her scraps of wood and cloth so she could experiment with art.
Today, she has a fascinating book creation process. After doing a “dummy” version of the book with just pencil drawings, she will study it and pull out the strongest topic. From there, she begins the real work of cutting out each individual piece of the collages she creates.
On illustrating Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, in the 2009 foreword Lois Ehlert wrote the following: “I thought [Chicka Chicka Boom Boom] sounded like the letters of the alphabet were having a party in that coconut tree. I began cutting out the letters from colored paper with my scissors, and then I made a polka-dot border for a stage. Soon Chicka and I were dancing together, words and pictures moving in a festive rhythm that still gets me tapping my toes, even after all these years!”
Encore with Ray Charles
Ray Charles, aka the Father of Soul, is an award-winning musician and the charming voice of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. The audiobook version, that is.
Blind since the age of seven, the singer-songwriter once described his love of stories in music by saying, “I am very into lyrics. I start with what the words are saying, what the story line is saying, like a good script. It should really capture me, do something for me. If I don’t get it, it’s not going to move people, and if it’s not going to move people, it’s not going to happen.”
According to a 1992 Entertainment Weekly review of the audiobook, “Ray Charles recites [Chicka Chicka Boom Boom] as though he’s got a perpetual grin on his face, and adds enough falsetto at alarming moments to let a kid know it’s all in fun.”
Definitely give his audiobook a listen if you want to hear how he brings the whimsical words to life!
We hope that the incredible creators of this week’s Dollar Deal, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, will remind you and your students that there are infinite ways to accomplish your dreams and that no two journeys look exactly the same.
Bill Martin Jr. (1916–2004) has been called “America’s favorite children’s author.” He wrote more than 300 books for children, including the classic texts Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, illustrated by Eric Carle; and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, illustrated by Lois Ehlert.
John Archambault is a poet, journalist, and storyteller who worked with Bill Martin Jr. on several projects. He lives in Idyllwild, California.
Lois Ehlert has created numerous inventive, celebrated, and bestselling picture books, including Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Holey Moley, The Scraps Book, Mice, Ten Little Caterpillars, Rrralph, Lots of Spots, Boo to You!, Leaf Man, Waiting for Wings, Planting a Rainbow, Growing Vegetable Soup, and Color Zoo, which received a Caldecott Honor. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Ray Charles (1930–2004) was a soul music pioneer best known for his distinct voice and skillful piano playing. Over the course of his lifetime, he received numerous Grammy Awards for his recordings, which include “Georgia on My Mind” and “Hit the Road Jack.”
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