Mama Llama hears Baby Llama crying, and the look on her face is expressive and alive. She drops the phone and runs up the stairs, pearl necklace trailing behind her. She bursts into the room to find that Baby Llama is just fine, but screaming and hollering.
It’s our toddler son’s favorite part of the book. I think he likes the excitement of the pictures. But mine comes next, when Mama Llama tells her baby why it’s going to be all right.
Anna Dewdney, author of “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and many other books, died September 3 at the age of 50. Her obituary in Publishers Weekly notes her battle with cancer, her advocacy for children’s literacy, and her request in lieu of flowers that people take time to read to a child. It talks about her most popular work, the simple story of a scared baby llama who wanted his mama to come back.
“Llama Llama Red Pajama” became part of our house soon after our son was born. The pages of our copy are torn and taped back together, and the binding has begun to stretch and pull in places. When I think of the book, I hear it in my wife’s country twang, her voice sing-songing its way through the line, “Please stop all this Llama Drama and be patient with your mama,” through the door of our son’s room.
Like many of our family’s favorite books, “Llama Llama Red Pajama” helps us teach our son about the world in a way that makes sense to him. “Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site” teaches him that everyone needs to go to sleep, even tough, tough trucks who spend all day building. “Little Blue Truck” teaches him that it’s important to be kind and helpful, even to those who don’t return the favor. And “The Little Engine That Could” teaches him to try, even when he’s not sure he can succeed.
These are good lessons, but they’re not as important as what “Llama Llama Red Pajama” teaches – that mama and dada are here. We’re coming back. We’re always here. You don’t have to be afraid.
Everyday, we say goodbye to our son. We leave him in the capable hands of our daycare, or we put him in his crib at night and close the door. With all these goodbyes, I don’t want him to be scared or worried. I want him to trust that we’re coming back at the end of the school day, or that he’s not alone in the darkness.
I want him to know, in ways that make sense to him, that I’m there. And “Llama Llama Red Pajama” helps me do that.
I know I can’t be there forever, but I don’t want him to know that’s even a possibility now. I want him to believe that we’re always going to be there when he screams and hollers in the night; that we’ll drop the phone, run up the stairs and burst into his room just like Mama Llama.
We want him to know what Mama Llama tells Baby Llama: “Mama Llama’s always near, even when she’s not right here.”
It’s a gift to be able to explain something very complicated in that way – so warm and comforting. It’s helpful to have a book to wrap around my son like a blanket, to help him not feel afraid or alone.
Thank you, Anna, from all of us with a beloved Baby Llama in our life.