Losing an author is akin to losing a dear friend. A wonderful, knowing voice has been stilled, one that could be depended on for laughter and fun, provocation and inspiration, wisdom and insight—and did someone say wisdom?
That is how we felt when we heard the sad news that best-selling author Anna Dewdney had died at the age of 50. Her passing was all the more poignant because our memories of her work are intertwined with the warmth and closeness that we felt reading her books aloud to young children at The Children’s School.
Beginning with Llama Llama Red Pajama, Dewdney introduced readers to her most famous character—a sweet llama who, like toddlers and preschool age children everywhere, is learning about life. Dewdney shows Llama Llama experiencing a range of feelings as he spends his first night away from home, misses his mother, decides to be kind to a bully, learns to share his toys and has a “holiday drama” meltdown as the wait for the holidays becomes too much.
With their simple rhymes and expressive illustrations, the many books in the Llama Llama series are as comforting as they are instructive to little ones trying to manage new situations and people, emotions and challenges. “Small children are ‘unadulterated’ beings,” Dewdney told Horn Book Magazine a few years ago. “They experience and recognize feelings in themselves and others much like animals do, without all of that other stuff on top.”
We could go on and on about Anna Dewdney, but the best encomium is to encourage you to read her many books with your children. Let us leave you with one last thought from this author who left us much too soon. It is a point of view not heard that often in discussing why books and reading to children are so, so essential.
“Empathy is as important as literacy. When we read with a child, we are doing so much more than teaching him to read or instilling a love of language. We are doing something that I believe is just as powerful, and it is something that we are losing as a culture: by reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human,” Anne Dewdney wrote in an essay. “When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I will go further and say that the child then learns to feel the world more deeply, becoming more aware of himself and others in a way that he simply cannot experience except in our laps or in our classrooms or in our reading circles.”
Dewdney asked that in lieu of a funeral service, people instead read to a child. We honor her memory when we share the marvels in books with our children.
We will cherish the stories Anna Dewdney left as her legacy,