Author's Note: Rap a Tap Tap: Here's Bojangles, Think of That!
by Leo and Diane Dillon
Where do ideas come from? Sometimes they come from an experience we've had, something we've seen or heard about, and sometimes they come from some place we can't explain. Have you had a thought that just popped into your head about something you weren't thinking about at all and you ask yourself, where did that come from? It has happened to us, and we thank our "good spirits" because we have no explanation for it. That's how Rap a Tap Tap came to us.
For a long time we thought about writing a story but hesitated because that's a different talent and craft we had little experience with. We are illustrators. We usually illustrate stories written by someone else. We had been thinking maybe we should start with something very simple. One morning a phrase came… "There once was a man who danced in the street. Rap a tap tap — think of that!" That thought got us started, and the rest was just waiting.
We knew of Bill Robinson (Bojangles). There is a famous song about him, and when we were children we saw movies he was in. But we hadn't thought of writing about him until that phrase came to us.
After the poem was written we went to the Schomberg Library to research information about Bill Robinson. We also searched for photos of the streets of New York City in the 1930s and '40s when he was at the peak of his career. The Lincoln Center Library specializes in the performance arts, and we found more information and pictures there.
We were also inspired by a black painter, Aaron Douglas, who was successful around the same time. He painted overlapping shapes in a graphic way. We decided to keep everything flat and two-dimensional. The depth was achieved by placing one form in front of another. The multiple images and shades of color provided the movement of the legs. As another challenge we added a counting element by starting with one person on the first spread and increasing the number of people by one in each scene. Even though our work doesn't look like his, seeing his paintings was a starting point that led us to what we finally did. That's what inspiration is… it's seeing something that triggers a new idea.
The words to Rap a Tap Tap seem simple, but it took much thought and research to fill in the story visually over all those pages. Every book has its own challenges, but it was fun to create Bojangles dancing across the pages.
Rap a tap tap — think of that!