Local mamas read "Llama Llama"

Mothers read the children's book "Llama Llama" to their little llamas at the Wichita Public Library Central Branch. The book's author, Anna Dewdney, recently passed away. (video by Jaime Green / September 16, 2016)
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Mothers read the children's book "Llama Llama" to their little llamas at the Wichita Public Library Central Branch. The book's author, Anna Dewdney, recently passed away. (video by Jaime Green / September 16, 2016)
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Suzanne Tobias

‘Llama Llama’ author’s last wish: Read to your kids

By Suzanne Perez Tobias

stobias@wichitaeagle.com

September 16, 2016 06:19 PM

Anna Dewdney didn’t want a funeral.

Instead, the author and illustrator of the beloved “Llama, Llama” books for children, who died Sept. 3 after a 15-month battle with brain cancer, asked that people read to kids.

She believed — as so many readers, writers and teachers do — that books are about much more than basic literacy. They teach kindness and empathy. Cuddled up on a parent’s lap, children learn to name feelings, express love and make connections.

“When we read books with children, we share other worlds, and even more importantly, we share ourselves,” Dewdney wrote in an essay published by the Wall Street Journal in 2013.

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“Reading with children makes an intimate, human connection that teaches that child what it means to be alive as one of the many beings on the planet. … I believe that it is this moment that makes us human. In this sense, reading makes us human.”

The recent outpouring of love on social media and elsewhere for Dewdney illustrates the impact children’s authors have not just on kids, but on the parents and caregivers who love their stories just as much.

When we read books with children, we share other worlds, and even more importantly, we share ourselves.

Anna Dewdney, children’s author and illustrator

My friend Jaime said she was deeply affected by the author’s death, and teared up during the days following as she read “Llama Llama Red Pajama” to her toddler son, Cameron.

It’s not hard to see why.

“Llama llama red pajama, reads a story with his mama,” the book begins. “Mama kisses baby’s hair. Mama llama goes downstairs.”

The rhymes are infectious, the illustrations super-sweet. And the story — about a baby llama’s need for comfort at bedtime and his mother’s calm, reassuring presence — is one every harried parent can relate to.

“Little llama, don’t you know? Mama llama loves you so,” Dewdney writes. “Mama llama’s always near, even if she’s not right here.”

About three years ago, I was saddened by the untimely death of Barbara Park, author of the Junie B. Jones series of chapter books for children. Her books, like those by Jan Brett, Shel Silverstein and E.B. White, spur vivid memories for me and my children.

It’s been more than a decade, but I can still recall lines from Brett’s “Armadillo Rodeo” and whole verses from “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

If you are a dreamer, come in,

If you are a dreamer,

A wisher, a liar,

A hope-er, a pray-er,

A magic bean buyer …

Those authors drew me closer to my children, made me a better parent, and for that I am grateful. Modern-day parents feel the same way about Dewdney, the original llama mama, whose books already have become bedtime classics.

Read one. Tonight.