Anna Dewdney, the author and illustrator of the popular Llama Llama children’s books, died on Saturday after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. She was 50 years old.
In lieu of a funeral, Dewdney requested that people read to a child instead, according to her publisher, Penguin Random House.
Prior to becoming a full-time children’s book writer, Dewdney worked as a day-care provider and boarding school teacher. Her first assignment as an illustrator was The Peppermint Race by Dian Curtis Regan, which was published in 1994.
Llama Llama Red Pajama, the first book she both authored and illustrated, was published 11 years later. Told in rhyme, it is the story a baby llama who is lying in bed and waiting for his mother to bring him a glass of water. He begins to fret and pout, until she arrives and assures him she is always near. He is then able to fall asleep.
Dewdney turned the Llama Llama book into a series, which sold more than 10 million copies. Netflix is producing an animated version of the books, due out in 2017.
Dewdney was also an outspoken advocate for literacy. In 2013, she published a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the relationship between empathy and reading. She wrote:
“When we read with a child, we are doing so much more than teaching him to read or instilling in her 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. 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. ....
Sit down, put a child on your lap, and read a story. Have fun. Read in character and use funny voices. Ask questions about the plot and the characters. Talk about how the story makes you feel, and ask your child if she can relate to what the characters are experiencing. Laugh and cry. Be human, loving, and strong, and that will allow the children in your care to be human, loving, and strong.”
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.