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'Llama Llama' Author Dies of Cancer and Leaves Parents One Last, Amazing Advice

Photograph by Getty Images

"Llama Llama, morning light.

Feeling yucky, just not right.

Down to breakfast. Tiny sneeze.

Sniffle, snuffle. Tissues, please!"

"Llama Llama Home With Mama" was one of the first books I ever read to our daughter that made me feel like a real, actual mom—someone with the power to soothe a little person’s aches and pains, to provide comfort, to deliver medicine in the form of snuggles and head pats. I totally empathized with that little red pajama-clad llama, who's uninterested in his (yes, I’m personifying) trucks and tractors, climbing under his multicolored patchwork quilt and succumbing to a nap. And who can’t relate to poor, tireless, dedicated Mama Llama, taking care of her sick babe even though she’s getting sneezed on and coughed on and knows she is totally going to come down with a crazy sore throat in two days? Because that’s what parents—human and llama alike—do.

By reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human.

On September 3, Anna Dewdney, the author and illustrator behind the celebrated "Llama Llama" series, died at age 50 following a 15-month fight with brain cancer.

In her Publishers Weekly obituary, we learn there was much more to Dewdney than rhyming “doing” with “boo-hooing.” She worked as a waitress, a mail carrier, a daycare provider and an art and history teacher before becoming an author; in 2005, Viking published her first authored/illustrated picture book, "Llama, Llama Red Pajama." (More than 10 million copies of "Llama Llama" series books have sold and Netflix is expected to release an animated series in 2017.)

Last year, Dewdney told the Washington Post, “I [wrote] my books about llamas because I love the sound to the word ‘llama.’ But they’re just so funny. They have such wonderful expressive faces. They’re fuzzy and goofy, and they’re just fun to look at.”

A dedicated children’s literacy advocate, Dewdney once wrote that, “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.”

Indeed, in "Llama Llama Home With Mama," once the sick little llama recovers from his brief bout of illness, he returns the favor by taking care of his sick mama, bringing her tissues, fluffing her pillow and allowing her some much-needed rest. He also tries to comfort her by bringing her books; exactly what she did when he was hurting. Mama Llama taught him about empathy, and by reading the story to our kids, we pass that same lesson along.

At the end of that Publisher's Weekly obituary, we learn that instead of a funeral service, Dewdney—herself a mom of two grown daughters—requested “that people read to a child instead.” So tonight I will honor Dewdney’s request and read to our girls. Definitely a "Llama Llama" book, along with whichever other ones they choose. I’ll try to keep her advice, offered in a 2013 Wall Street Journal commentary, in mind:

“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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