Anna Dewdney has been illustrating stories of her own creation from the time she was a very little girl. And though she got illustration work almost immediately after college, it took her about 20 years to convince a publisher to buy one of her books.
Now the successful author/illustrator of the Llama Llama books, Anna says she always, “ever since I can remember” wanted to “live in Vermont, write stories, and illustrate them. I also wanted to go back and time and live in the 1880s, but I’m glad that part didn’t come true.”
The idea for Llama Llama is some kind of combination of Anna, her children and the boys she used to teach, Anna told Cracking the Cover.
“The name (‘Llama Llama’) comes from my experiences with my children as we drove on the back roads of Vermont,” Anna said. “When my two daughters were small, we would drive through the countryside and we would see cows everywhere. Every time we passed a field of cows, I would loudly ‘MOO!’ (I still do this, even though I only have dogs in the car now…) When we saw sheep, I would ‘Baaaaaaa.’ When we passed chickens, I would ‘Cluck cluck cluck.’ But sometimes we passed a field with a llama, and I had no idea what a llama ‘said,’ so I said, ‘Ooooo… look! Llamallamallamallama! There’s a llamallamallamallama!’ And one day, ‘Llama Llama’ became ‘Llama Llama … red pajama … reads a story with his mama …”
Anna’s latest book, “Llama Llama Home With Mama,” came from Anna’s experiences staying home with sick children and she distinctly remembers what it was like to stay home from school as a child. “Those days at home can be very long, and Mama often gets sick soon after the child gets sick,” she said. “I wanted to write a book about what that universal experience.”
It’s so hard to say how long it takes to create a book, Anna said. “A book usually begins at least a few years before it is ‘finished’ in the studio. It takes many months of writing and at least six months of straight painting to finish my piece. Then it takes another year from the time it leaves my studio before it actually becomes the book!”
Making sure the verse is easily readable is the most challenging part of writing, Anna says. The highlights — “when I lose myself in the writing and the painting and make myself giggle.”
Anna can’t say for sure her latest book turned out the way she imagined it would because a book is an amorphous experience. “I’m not sure I ever had a set image in my mind of the way the book (or product) will look! I think I had an objective for the cover, and I feel very good about it; it conveys the sense of coziness that I remember from my parenting experiences.”
“My work is all about feelings, and I try to express feelings; I don’t have a sense of the book as an object, as much. My primary focus is on the experience of the child reading the book.”
Perhaps it’s that primary focus that resonates so well with children. Though Anna thinks it’s more because children see themselves in Llama Llama. “I think they see truth in his experience of the world, and I think they can understand the love that Llama Llama and his Mama share.”
Anna is currently working on close to 10 books right now. She just finished 4 Llama Llama board books and is also working on the next Llama Llama book about sharing. There’s also a Daddy book in the works and another book with a character that readers will meet in the Llama Llama sharing book. Llama Llama sticker books, a Llama Llama scratch-and-sniff book and a book about recycling are also in the works.
All that work is thanks to the support of Anna’s fans. The success of the Llama Llama books is very humbling, she said. “What it means to me is that many children (and their parents and caregivers) can relate to what I’m trying to convey.”
Anna took a lot of time and care to answer Cracking the Cover’s questions. Read a complete transcript of her answers.
Anna will be at The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. Anna says she always starts a visit some drawing on an easel. “Children like to see Llama Llama come to life on paper and say hello to them,” she said. “Then I talk about where I’m from (Vermont — a very soggy place right now) and then I read my books — dramatically! I love to meet individual children, and I have fun drawing little pictures in every book I sign.”