Jamie Runnells, “Fiesta!”
Artist: Jamie Runnells (Fairview, TN)
Title: Fiesta! (2013)
Medium/technique(s): Original illustrations, digitally printed, drum leaf binding
Number of pages: 9 spreads / 18 pages
Dimensions, open: 9 x 18 x 0.5 inches
Dimensions, closed: 9 x 9 x 0.5 inches
This book documents, visually celebrates, and gives life to the energy and whimsy of the Flea, Fly, Flew song—a popular nonsensical song sung by Scouts and Camp Guides during the 1970’s in the USA. The version of the song used in the book is as follows:
(the leader and follower(s) do a repeated hand then knee clap beat, the leader calls out each line and the group repeats the line to the beat)
Flea fly flew,
Kooma latta kooma latta kooma latta festa,
Oh no no no not a festa,
Eenie meenie decimeenie ooh wada wada meenie eximeenie salimeenie ooh wada wah,
Beep bidily oat and dote and bo bo bedeet and dot and SHHHHHHH…
(the song becomes very challenging to repeat starting with the “eenie meenie” line and can take many attempts for participants to learn by ear)
Children’s handclapping and singing games are a longstanding past time and a plentiful subject for folk studies. In their definitive book, The Singing Game, Iona and Peter Opie trace the roots of children’s singing games from the depictions of ring dancing in the Ancient World, to the Medieval Carole, to courtship dances of the Middle Ages, and thru the Romantic Revival in the late nineteenth century. The Opies’ believe that today’s games “are the final flowering of a tradition known since antiquity”(v).
Handclapping games and songs provide entertainment for children but they can also build memory and recall, enhance vocabularies, teach rhythm, counting and coordination, and promote invention. Of course kids are not motivated to play because of these educational benefits of games. Julia Bishop’s 2010 article states that “[…] the ‘performativity’ of these games, with their physical and verbal challenges, appears to be their main attraction and holds the key to their capacity to temporarily alleviate ‘boredom’” (1). In addition, the Opies’ propose a value beyond the alleviation of boredom for the players:
They enjoy (though they may not be able to say so) the gaiety, warmth, sociability, excitement; the laughter; and the chance to star […] Girls, too, seem to like games that are rhythmic and repetitive, formal and enigmatic. They accept them uncritically, not worrying that the words make little sense; in fact the stranger the words are, the greater is the liberation into fantasy (26).
If the Opies’ assertion of eccentric words liberating fantasy is correct, then the nonsensical lyrics of the Flew, Fly, Flew song certainly make imaginations run wild.
The visual content of the book aims to depict the “call and repeat” format of the Flea, Fly, Flew song. The original illustrations act as the visual “call” depicting the song as Runnells has imagined it since her childhood—eximeenies, bidily oats, and all! The illustrative text acts as the visual “repeat” of the voice of the audience who is just learning the song. The lettering visually expresses the disorientation and hilarity of the early attempts at learning the song aurally.