Allison's Book Bag

Why a Llama?

Posted on: November 13, 2014

I live in a big old house in Vermont with three scruffy dogs, and I spend a lot of time on the road, mostly visiting my two daughters, as well as schools and libraries. I talk at conferences, and I go visit my publisher in New York. But mostly, I spend my time at home, sketching, writing, and painting. I spend at least an hour a day in the woods, running and walking with my dogs, and I love to putter around outside, planning gardens and cutting down trees. I spend most of my time in the studio, making pictures and writing stories. It’s a pretty good life, and it took me a long time to get here.

Anna Dewdney, About Me

Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama books have all been New York Times bestsellers. In 2011, Llama Llama Red Pajama was chosen as Jumpstart’s Read for the Record book, setting the world’s record for most readings of a particular book on one day, an event which was recorded on the Today show. Dewdney’s work has been adapted into stage plays, dance performances, and musicals, most notably by Dolly Parton at Dollywood. Many other not-for-profit organizations use Dewdney’s books for literacy campaigns and programs too, including the Library of Congress, which featured her work in its 2012 National Book Festival. Dewdney’s work is highly acclaimed by critics and is often recommended on booklists by national reviewers. In 2013, Dewdney spoke at the 2013 Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival. I’ll review her book Llama Llama Mad at Momma tomorrow. Save the date: November 14!

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

AnnaDewdneyBorn in New Jersey, Anna Dewdney came from a family of five. Dewdney told Scholastic that she had a traditional upbringing; her dad was the bread-winner and her mom stayed home with the three kids.

Her dad was a doctor. He liked to collect books and to read a lot to the family a lot. When Dewdney and her sisters were little, he used to read from A. A. Milne’s POOH books. Dewdney says whenever she reads these books, whether to herself or to her own children or to myself, she hear his voice. Her mom was the caregiver and primary emotional support. She was also a writer.

Dewdney’s older sister, Tanya, went away to school when Dewdney was only seven years old and so the girls didn’t spend much time together when young was little. Now her sister teaches at the Stanford University and writes serious books. Her latest book is When God Talks Back. As for her younger sister, Alice, the two girls liked dressing up and playing pretend.

After high school, Dewdney earned a bachelor’s degree in Art from Wesleyan University. Before her work became well known, Dewdney supported herself with lots of paying jobs: waitress, retail, school bus driver, furniture salesperson, and daycare provider. She also served as a remedial-language, art, and history teacher at a junior boarding school for dyslexic boys for a stint. Her favorite job was delivering the mail. Through it all, Dewdney drew pictures and wrote.

WRITING BACKGROUND

In 2005, Dewdney gained critical acclaim for Llama Llama Red Pajama, the first book which she both wrote and illustrated. Why a llama? Dewdney chose the unusual character of a llama because of the funny face and the sound of the word. She explained to Scholastic, “When my children were little, we would drive around our town in Vermont and when we saw cows, I would moo. When we saw chickens, I would cluck. When we saw sheep, I’d baaaaah… and so on. But when we saw llamas, I had no idea what llamas “said”, so I would say, “Oh, look at the llama! Llama llama llama llama!” Then one day, that became, “Llama Llama red pajama… reads a story with his mama….”

Anna Dewdney draws Photo from peanut butter on the keyboard

Anna Dewdney draws
Photo from Peanut Butter on the Keyboard

According to New Jersey, Dewdney actually wrote her first Llama Llama book when her children were very small, but then put it away because she was writing all kinds of books at the time. When her children were teenagers, Dewdney finally sent out her Llama Llama book and had a crazy experience. After trying to get published for 20 years, she received two offers on the same book on the same day!

When asked if she starts with the writing or the drawing, Dewdney said she starts with a feeling. Her books come from some sort of intense emotional place. After that, she does a lot of word play. Then Dewdney starts to sketch. In an interview with Creative Mom, Dewdney described the process of creating books as being a bit like creating a collage, one thing layering on top of another. Only after she has write/sketch/write/sketch for a long time does she start to put together a book dummy or pretend book.

For inspiration, Dewdney draws on her own memories, such as one she recalled for Scholastic. The very first time Dewdney went to school, she was very nervous. “I have distinct memories of the smell of graham crackers, the feel of my blanket that I brought on that first day, and the dust from the chalkboard. I remember my cubby, and the place where everyone sat for stories…. I think we all experience a little “first-day” shock in a new place.”

Dewdney also spends a lot of time watching people. She shares with Scholastic that there’s a lot in this world that makes her laugh. She particularly appreciates the honesty of young people and their willingness to be silly. Of course, she also had her own children for inspiration. Then there are her three goofy dogs. And there are all her young relatives.

When Dewdney started out as an artist, she used to draw in pencil in sketch books. Now she uses a touch screen and transfers her sketches to it. From there, she’ll print out her drawings and trace them onto canvas. The actual oil painting, she still does on canvas. To her, it feels like having the best of both worlds.

In response to a question posed by Creative Mom about how it feels to be an established author, Dewdney shared that in a sense, nothing is different. She still does the same old things she always did; mother her children, run in the woods with my dogs, putter around her garden. In another sense, now she gets paid for her pictures, signs books, and sometimes sees a giant Llama “puppet” walking around. Ultimately though, Dewdney says:

The most important thing to know about me, really, is that I’m a mom.

Anna Dewdney, About Me

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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