Who knew a llama, of all things, would become such a beloved children's book character? I wouldn't have guessed it but in Anna Dewdney's hands Llama Llama--and his mama--is a favorite with kids and parents, and I always look forward to seeing what she's going to tackle next.
The llama love started with Llama Llama Red Pajama, a story about bedtime fears and separation anxiety, and that is the appeal of these books--preschooler issues and drama that are oh-so-familiar, a llama mama that real moms can relate to (she gets annoyed sometimes, just like we do), and resolutions that make sense. Dewdneys' illustrations are bright, adorable, and expressive, as you'll see in her latest picture book, Llama Llama Time to Share, (now there's a good topic for toddlers and preschoolers!). Author and illustrator Anna Dewdney answers some questions about Llama Llama, including what we can look forward to next, and you can check out an exclusive sketch of an illustration in process below (above is the cover in progress).
Q&A with Anna Dewdney:
Q: Llama Llama is the quintessential preschooler. What got you so interested in creating a character for this age-group?
A: I find very little people infinitely interesting…they are all about honesty. Preschoolers are pretty straightforward; they don’t mess around. Although they sometimes make up elaborate fantasies, they are completely honest emotionally. The life of a preschooler is full of drama, intense circumstances, and new experiences…it can be scary. I’m a mom, too, so I’ve witnessed most of these experiences first hand with my children.
Q: You recently introduced a new character in Llama Llama Time to Share--Nelly Gnu. Why a gnu as opposed to any other type of animal?
“Gnu” is a funny word. You can say it either way: “new” or “guh-new”, although most folks say it with the silent “g”. Most of Llama Llama’s friends are “wild” animals, so it made sense to have his new friend be one, too. Also, how cool is it that this little girl has a mohawk and a goatee? Seriously, she’s a cutie…even though she is a gnu.
Q: Mama Llama saves the day in all of Llama Llama's adventures. What do you think is Mama Llama's best quality and why?
A: Mama Llama isn’t perfect; it’s challenging to be a parent. But she loves her little Llama Llama, she knows him well, and she does her best to help him out with the tough stuff. Her best quality is probably that she understands him and loves him, even in the midst of his meltdowns. She tries to be patient…she knows that it is challenging to be a preschooler, too!
Q: What's next for Llama Llama--will he ever grow up?
A: Llama Llama will grow and change…all children do! But will we ever see him as a grown up llama? I doubt it. I’m having too much fun with him as a little guy. His next challenge is to deal with a bully – that book comes out in a year. I’m working on it now.Q: What's your process for creating the Llama Llama books? Do you write the words first, sketch first, or paint first? How does it all come together in the end?
A: I get this question a lot, since I both write and illustrate the books. The answer is that the whole thing comes together rather like a collage…or (to use a Llama Llama metaphor) like a quilt. I usually start with a feeling or sensation (“I don’t WANT to go shopping!” or “I’m scared by myself in the dark!”) and go from there. I usually have a few snippets of language that I really like, and then I weave them into a few lines of text. By that time, I’m usually sketching the characters at the same time.
After months of weaving the text and the images, I’ll usually stop for a few weeks to focus on the text, and then draw a set of images to go with that text. However, once that first book “dummy” is created, I’ll still go back and forth on the images and text almost until I start painting the final pictures. And I’ve been known to change the text while the book is in production, too (which my publisher finds a little stressful!).