Jul 11, 2020

Rhyme after rhyme

Bryan Cole / The Collegian

Professor puts California spin on Mother Goose tales

Fresno State professor Doug Hansen is gleaming with pride over the release of his first children’s book, “Mother Goose in California,” which puts a new spin on numerous classic rhymes.

The book’s official release date is April 1, but it is already available on campus at the Kennel Bookstore.

Hansen said it has been a rewarding challenge creating a different picture for each letter of the alphabet that also tied into Mother Goose rhymes.

“I wanted each picture to be just as memorable and remarkable as the one before,” Hansen said.
To meet his needs, Hansen chose rhymes that naturally evoked images and ideals in him.

“I read rhyme after rhyme after rhyme and jotted down interesting words within the rhymes that started with different letters of the alphabet. I had this whole ridiculous check-off list,” Hansen said. “Some of the language in the rhymes is archaic and mystifying, or the point of some of the nursery rhymes are just absurd and make no sense. The crazy language of the rhymes actually gave me a lot of opportunity as an illustrator to interpret them my own way, which really was the point of this book.”

Worth the wait

Hansen said his favorite page is F, for fiddle, in “Hey Diddle Diddle.” He created the F illustration first, early in 1987, along with the cow jumping over the moon, seen on the dedication page. Hansen dedicated his book to his two sons.

“It was the picture that made me realize that I wanted to do more than just make one or two of these … I wanted to do a whole big pile of illustrations,” Hansen said.

Unfortunately, that conceived pile of illustrations sat for almost two decades under the weight of making a living and starting a family.

Hansen was finally able to bring forward the idea that had sat so long in the back of his mind when he retired from his job as an illustrator for The Fresno Bee and became a professor at Fresno State.

Then he faced another challenge. “What can I do that is different?” he wondered. His answer was to distinctly set the rhymes in California and put them to the tune of the ABCs.

Hansen is not the first to have a regionally flavored book of Mother Goose rhymes; other covered states include Hawaii, Alaska and Texas.

All in the family

Hansen had the help of his brother Rob, a biologist at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia.

“I turned to him time and again for input,” Hansen said. “Sometimes I had to remind myself, ‘Doug, these are just animals, dressed up. Don’t worry about it too much.’ But I did have a responsibility, because I was showing California wildlife, to get it right.”

On a suggestion from his brother, Hansen used the state bird, the California valley quail, to represent the old woman who lived in a shoe. Her children are outside the shoe playing various games, including hopscotch and jacks.

Hansen came from a family of five boys and one girl, so he always had a playmate. He remembers his childhood fondly.

“In a way the whole book is a tribute to childhood,” Hansen said. “I was trying to express the better qualities of what it’s like to be a child through the illustrations in my book.”

Exercise in ingenuity

Hansen struggled most with the letter X. “I couldn’t just leave the letter out,” Hansen said.

Unable to find any Mother Goose rhyme words that began with the letter X, he thought he may have to ask for help but then he stumbled upon the rhyme “Hot Cross Buns,” which involves the celebratory period before Lent. The buns have a cross on their tops so Hansen put a spin on them, literally, and “sneaked it in there in a way.”

Hansen sees his book as an evolution of his career.

“People ask me how I feel. That’s like a question that a celebrity gets, or a disaster victim,” Hansen said. “It is one of the most pleasurable and satisfying moments of my adult life.”

Visit Hansen’s Web site at DougHansenArt.com for more information about him and his artwork.

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