Anna Dewdney and the Joy of Reading Aloud

Anna Dewdney. Photo courtesy of Open Book Foundation.

Anna Dewdney. Photo courtesy of Open Book Foundation.

Llama Llama
Red pajama
Reads a story
With his mama.

Sound familiar?

It’s not surprising to me that Anna Dewdney’s beloved and best-selling picture book, Llama Llama Red Pajama, begins with a parent and child reading together. Reading aloud was all important to Anna; her fun-to-read rhyming words leapt off the page and into the mouths of parents and teachers and just about anyone who picked up her books. They were so much fun to say and to share that children wanted to hear them again and again and again.

Anna Dewdney passed away all too early from cancer in 2016, but she would’ve been honored and thrilled that her little llama llama was part of World Read Aloud Day 2017. Anna never took herself overly seriously, but she took writing for children VERY seriously. Her stories were for very young children—listeners and pre-readers—so she believed that the more children enjoyed her books, the more they’d want to read any books. As she wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial in 2013, “A good book and the joy it provides is often the reason a child is motivated to become a reader in the first place. Language is fun, imagination is fun, and when a child experiences the joy of reading with a childcare provider or a teacher, he or she is encouraged to take that next step and become a reader.”

As Anna’s longtime editor, I witnessed nearly every day Anna’s love of and respect for language. We traded many emails and letters while we worked on her picture book texts, but when we really wanted to see if a line or stanza could work better, we got on the phone and read aloud to each other. While rhyming came more easily to Anna than most people, I know for a fact that she spent hours and hours, days and days, mulling over words to get them right.

Anna read her books aloud to children as much as possible. She had a hard time saying no when bookstores, schools, and libraries asked her to visit, often leaving her studio in the middle of painting a new book to travel to Tennessee or Texas or California. She believed that reading together went deeper than just being together. Again, she said it best in her WSJ editorial, “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. . . 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 . . . 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.”

I wish Anna were here to witness World Read Aloud Day this year, but I know she would be beyond happy and thankful that so many people worldwide were taking part in a cause so close to her heart. Her advice for reading aloud was simple. “Sit down, put a child on your lap, and read a story. Have fun.”

Tracy Gates is the Editorial Director of Picture Books at Viking Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers.