“Every act of kindness is a prayer.”
These words of author and illustrator Joan Walsh Anglund epitomize the joy and beauty she shared with the world for 60 years. With a prolific career, she published 120 books and sold over 50 million copies. Her delightful pen-and-ink drawings are beloved around the world, even Queen Elizabeth II is a fan. I have written often of my love of Children’s Literature and it is fair to say that Joan Walsh Anglund was one of my earliest inspirations. She was woven into my childhood so that I cannot remember a time that her work wasn’t part of my life. Her illustrations graced my bedroom walls as a little girl, her books were always by my bedside and we often had a calendar or seasonal decoration with her artwork on display.
When I learned of her passing earlier this month, I was not sad, I was grateful. I can think of no finer example of a life well lived. Her unique style, which she crafted in the 1950’s and 60’s was timeless – referred to by Publisher’s Weekly as, “instantly recognizable delicate images of sweet-faced, dot-eyed children.” I count myself one of the lucky ones to have grown up in the worlds she created. Each time I saw her illustrations or read her words I felt happy. Now, I feel a lovely nostalgia as I revisit them once again. She lived her life sharing wisdom and grace with generations. What a gift.
Somehow, it feels she was “mine.” She was adored by my Great Aunt Vivian and my mother, which, to my young mind, was certainly a stamp of approval. However, it was the dedication of the “Joan Walsh Anglund Story Book” (my favorite JWA book) that solidified that feeling for me. “These were stories I told at bedtime to my granddaughter, Emily…” and then at the bottom of the page was the drawing of a little blonde-haired girl. I was a blonde-haired granddaughter; it was as if she was writing for me too! I felt an instant kinship to Emily. I am ever grateful to her for sharing her grandmother with me all these years.
Joan’s childhood must have been a delight – the daughter of artists, she grew up playing beneath her father’s drawing table. She shared a close relationship to her devout Irish Catholic grandmother who took her to mass and read to her from the book, “The Lives of the Great Saints.” As Tim Jackson so eloquently shares in his remembrance of her, “Her love of drawing and poetic language, of spirituality and family remained central to her life and an inspiration for her art.”
Upon reflecting on my fond memories of Joan Walsh Anglund’s work, I set out to find my childhood books. Having recently moved with boxes left to unpack, it was a bit of a challenge. I quickly found a book of her poems and prayers I read to my own children. After some more digging, last night I found my treasured 1978 copy of the “Joan Walsh Anglund Story Book.” Reading that dedication to Emily brought tears to my eyes. As I reread each story, memories flooded in. I moved often as a little girl – attending a different school for Kindergarten, First, Second and Third grade. I clearly remember my different bedrooms, with this book by my side. Her familiar stories serving as my constant and forever friends.
I must admit, at one point in my childhood, I did question Joan’s lack of facial features on her young characters. For some reason, I was especially bothered that the teddy bear and his young owner in, “A True Teddy Bear,” did not have mouths. So, I did what any young, determined child would do, I drew them in myself. I instantly regretted it and decided that Joan Walsh Anglund did, in fact, know what she was doing. She artfully allowed her characters to express emotion without the need for such details. We all knew the boy and the bear were happy, their smiles unspoken, but they were there – that was her magic. I never questioned her artistic style again, but I kept the smiles as a reminder of my misjudgment. Imagine my delight to find those penciled in smiles staring back at me as I opened the book over thirty years later.
While I have too many favorites to count, I found great comfort in the closing poem from her Story Book, words that saw me to sleep many nights as a young girl.
Good-by to all the stories now,
The sun has set, the shadows fall,
The stars, like candles,
light the blue.
A downy pillow waits for you.
The quilt is tucked about your bed.
And so… to dreams,
Thank you Joan Walsh Anglund, for your beautiful stories. And thank you Emily, for sharing your grandmother with us all.
For the full article by Tim Jackson: https://artsfuse.org/224702/arts-remembrance-poet-and-illustrator-joan-walsh-anglund/