About a year and half ago I interviewed a quirky Sarasota snowbird who had just won an award from the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office for an 82-page screenplay he wrote about a city kid who imagines he’s a cowboy in the wild west. The fella’s name: Mifflin Lowe. The title of his story: The Adventures of Cowboy Kareem. His objective: to get a studio to turn the script into an animated short; a big dream, but not impossible for someone with ambition, heart and talent.
As Lowe described scenes from the story – Kareem envisioning skyscrapers as mountains, bike handlebars as ox horns and women’s fur coats as grizzly bears – I immediately saw the project’s potential. I could picture it almost as vividly as Lowe could; this beautiful and lively animated short about a boy with an overactive imagination.
In a perfect world, the script would fall into the hands of the geniuses at Moonbot Studios. (Note: Moonbot won the Academy Award in 2012 for Best Animated Short for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. In September the studio grabbed headlines again when its Scarecrow ad for Chipotle went viral. Dear Moonbot, Lowe is on to something with Cowboy Kareem. You read it here first.)
After our interview, Lowe (above) performed an acoustic ballad from the Kareem soundtrack, then sent me home with Beasts By The Bunches, his children’s album about the strange but true names of groups of animals.
“Let me know what Henry thinks,” he said, handing me the CD.
Henry was overjoyed. By the time he was two the album was a musical staple in our house.
I have a stereo in the kitchen that gets more use than the TV, well, by me anyway. Listening to Beasts was one of three ways I could get Henry to stay in the kitchen and finish his lunch. “Animal music,” as he came to call it, was our go-to CD for lunchtime entertainment. This seemed more productive than propping him in front of the TV. We’d eat our grilled cheese and bananas and huddle around the radio like it was 1932 and Little Orphan Annie had just come on.
Henry and I became Mifflin Lowe groupies.
Originally published by Doubleday Books as a collection of poetry, Beasts By The Bunches is part genre-bending musical romp and part teaching tool. Through the use of poetry and song, Lowe explains the odd labels assigned to different groups of animals: a gaggle of geese, a smack of jellyfish, a clowder of cats and a leap of leopards, for example.
As an album it debuted to rave reviews. Beloved children’s book author Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express, Jumanji) described it as, “a wonderful mix of silliness and insight.” In 2007, the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra presented a full-length orchestral version of the album. In 2008, it was selected as “Pet of the Week” on XM Radio’s Kid’s Place Live.
Personally, it reminded me of all the hours I spent as a child dancing to Raffi, a children’s folk entertainer whose song, Apples and Bananas, is still stuck in my head.
When I shared with Lowe my son’s infatuation with Beasts, he mailed me his second album – The King Who Forgot His Underpants, a story with music about a terrible king who starts a terrible fire in the land of Frown.
As a disciple of of Roald Dahl, I was enchanted by The King Who Forgot His Underpants, which includes a cast of oddball characters, such as the fun-loving, all-day-candy-eating Winkies. (Coincidentally, Winkie is my favorite nickname for Henry.)
Underpants was even MORE fun than Beasts. Like Dahl, Lowe snared me with his cockamamie imagination, dark humor and outrageous wit. Henry and I started listening to Beasts on long car rides.
It occurred to me that while many parents of small children are well acquainted with the lineup of children’s programming on Nick Jr. and Disney Jr., they’ve probably never heard of Lowe’s work. As an independent artist, his stuff is self-released, which means his mass-market reach is limited. Unless you’ve attended one of the DOZENS of children’s shows he performs around his hometown of Newport, R.I., you’ve probably never rocked out to The Beatles-eque Boo Hoo, the feel good folk tune Friends or my personal fave, I Spit Out My Food.
His stuff is IMAGINATION FUEL. And remember imagination is more important than knowledge, or at least that’s what Einstein said.