The Llama Llama books have been a staple in our home since our first child was born nearly 10 years ago. Now four kids down the road, we’ve built up quite the collection. Our youngest son Amos enjoys them the most now; adoring all the antics of the lovable little Llama.
When I heard about the death of the series’ creator on Tuesday, after a lengthy battle with cancer, it spawned a rush of emotion that honestly surprised me. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Anna Dewdney’s loss will surely be palpable in children’s libraries everywhere, though that’s just the beginning of her story. The legacy Dewdney leaves behind reaches far beyond the tales she’s filled our bookshelves with.
According to a post by Publisher’s Weekly, Dewdney made one thoughtful final requested to her fans: In lieu of a funeral, she asked that parents to read a book to their children.
That’s it — just one simple, yet meaningful last request. A single line that stopped me in my tracks.
But over the last two days, as I’ve read more about the author and illustrator behind the stories my children so love to read, I can see her final request couldn’t be more in line with the way she lived her life.
It’s clear from everything written about her that Dewdney was more than just an amazing author. She was a former teacher, a loving partner, and a devoted mother to two grown daughters. Her love of reading and writing and sharing stories with so many was rooted in her commitment to building of empathy in children.
In fact, she shared that in her very own words, in an op ed for the Wall Street Journal back in 2013:
“The one key element to a successful, functional child in a classroom or social setting is the ability of that child to understand other children and adults — in other words, empathy. 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 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.”
Reading these words made me think of my son Amos and his wonderful laughter whenever I recite, Llama Llama Mad at Mama. It’s always made my heart swell, and now I’m sure it will even more. The lessons in each of Dewdney’s books — of being kind to one another, and treating everyone as you’d like to be treated, no matter their differences — are especially touching to me, as the mother of a child with special needs. They’re lessons I try my best to impart on all four of my children, in a million different ways. But the truth is, I never realized before just how strongly Dewdney was cheerleading for children like my little Amos through the stories she told.
So tonight, when I read with my four little ones, I will do as she directed: I will read a story to my own children and I will follow her recipe for empathy.
And I will think of the words she spoke at a conference back in 2013. Words I read yesterday that have been rattling around in my head ever since:
“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.”
I have read to my children since each of their births, and yet I had never truly recognized its power. Reading to our kids is beneficial for so many reasons, of course, but I am thankful most for its ability to teach lessons of kindness and compassion. I can only hope to pass on a thirst for books to my children after all these nights spent reading together; growing up with memories of us all piled into the bed, reading well into the evenings. It’s a special time for us, to talk and discover new stories and, hopefully, to ensure that my children are growing up to be the type of humans Dewdney has described.
But when I pick up our well-worn copy of Llama Llama Wants to Go! this evening, I’ll be sure to also share the story of the loving and kind author behind its pages. The author who asked only one simple thing upon her death: Read to a child. I will tell them what I know about her, and why she chose to tell the stories she told; and I will make sure to fulfill that wish for years to come.
Thank you, Anna — for helping me teach my children the importance of being kind, good-hearted people.More On