Some children’s books are so well read and dear to parents and their children that the words are seemingly seared into their brains. Even years after these books were last read, the words roll easily off the tongue.
For me and my kids, the “Llama Llama” series is that kind of book. Reading the phrases of the books not only bring to mind the illustrations, but of the mental image of sitting in the glider in my oldest daughter’s nursery, with her toddler self curled up in my lap, the curl of her soft, brown hair against my face, the sound of her giggle when we’d reach a funny page.
“Llama llama, red pajama, reads a story with his Mama,” the book “Llama Llama Red Pajama” begins. “Mama kisses baby’s hair, Mama Llama goes downstairs. Llama Llama red pajama, feels alone without his Mama.”
Whether going to bed or going to the grocery store, the “Llama Llama” books — there are 10 in the series — use common experiences to teach children that feelings like impatience and fear are normal, but that it’s best to be calm and that Mama is always there.
“Llama Llama red pajama, in the dark without his Mama,” the red pajama books reads. “Eyes wide open covers drawn, what if Mama Llama is gone?”
The image of my son, sleepy-eyed but scared, standing at the end of our hallway at bedtime is brought to mind, the endless begging for a cup of water, a bathroom break or one more kiss goodnight. The fear of the dark and being alone is a normal bedtime occurrence that parents of most preschoolers can relate with.
“Don’t you know Mama Llama loves you so, Mama Llama’s always near, even if she’s not right here,” the red pajama books reads.
Anna Dewdney, the author of illustrator of the “Llama Llama” books, died Sept. 3 at the age of 50 after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. Dewdney, who worked as a waitress and rural mail carrier before her books became best-sellers, told the Wall Street Journal in 2013 that “empathy is as important as literacy.”
“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,” Dewdney told the Wall Street Journal. “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. I will go further and say that that child then 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.”
Ultimately, Dewdney hoped her books would help parents teach their children to be better people.
“Be human, loving, and strong, and that will allow the children in your care to be human, loving, and strong,” she wrote. “Perhaps, the next time those children feel like hitting or pinching someone, they’ll hold off and ask for a hug from you instead.”
According to Dewdney’s obituary, in lieu of a funeral, she asked that people read to a child instead.
As I lay curled up with my three young children at bedtime tonight, we’ll do just that, and be extra thankful for it.
“Mama Llama, red pajama, gets two kisses from his mama.
Snuggles pillows soft and deep, Baby Llama goes to sleep.”
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.