Remembrances for Joan Walsh Anglund
The New York Times
Joan Walsh Anglund, 95, Dies; Her Children’s Books Touched MillionsHer first in a prolific career, “A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You,” was a phenomenon. And her illustrations capturing childhood became a cottage industry.
By Katharine Q. Seelye
March 30, 2021
Joan Walsh Anglund in an undated photo. Her children’s books have been translated into multiple languages and sold more than 50 million copies around the world.Credit...Ted HorowitzWhen her family moved to New York City from the Midwest in the mid-1950s, Joan Walsh Anglund found herself profoundly lonely. Staring out at the Manhattan cityscape, she had the feeling that everyone was living in what she called “separate boxes of distrust.” It comforted her to imagine that behind every window was a potential friend.
She jotted down her thoughts and left them in a desk drawer. Her husband found them, suggested that she include illustrations and then showed the work to a series of publishers. The first few rejected it, but when it landed on the desk of Margaret McElderry, the children’s book editor at Harcourt Brace, she was delighted.
“I think we have a book here,” Ms. McElderry told Ms. Anglund.
And so they had.
That book, “A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You” (1958), sold more than four million copies and was named one of The New York Times’s 10 best illustrated books of the year. It was the first of a cavalcade of more than 120 children’s books that Ms. Anglund would produce over the next half-century. They have been translated into multiple languages and sold more than 50 million copies around the world.
If you didn’t know Ms. Anglund’s stories, you probably knew her drawings of children: Their faces were blank orbs with just two wide-set dots for eyes. They became ubiquitous, appearing on Hallmark cards, dolls and ceramics, as Anglund merchandise secured a prominent niche in the collectibles market.
“I think perhaps I am trying to get down to the essence of a child,” Ms. Anglund said, “not drawing just a particular, realistic child, but instead I think I’m trying to capture the ‘feeling’ of all children, of childhood itself, perhaps.”Credit...Joan Walsh AnglundMs. Anglund died at 95 on March 9 at her home in Litchfield County, Conn. Her daughter, Joy Anglund Harvey, said the cause was heart failure.
Ms. Anglund expressed herself in many formats. She illustrated two anthologies of children’s poems compiled by Louis Untermeyer, “The Golden Treasury of Poetry” (1959) and “The Golden Book of Poems for the Very Young” (1971).
She also wrote poetry for adults, including “A Cup of Sun” (1967), “A Slice of Snow” (1970) and “Goodbye, Yesterday” (1974).
Her poetry so struck Maya Angelou, the poet and author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” that she began quoting one of Ms. Anglund’s lines: “A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer, he sings because he has a song.” Many mistakenly attributed the line to Ms. Angelou. The U.S. Postal Service, for one, issued an Angelou stamp with the quotation, then had to retract it. An easy mix-up, a flattered Ms. Anglund said, bearing no grudge.
But Ms. Anglund was far better known as a prolific author and illustrator of children’s books. Most offered variations on the theme that love and friendship are essential to happiness, with titles like “Love Is a Special Way of Feeling” (1960), “Childhood Is a Time of Innocence” (1964) and “What Color Is Love?” (1966).
Reviewing many of these books in The Times, the newspaper’s children’s book editor Ellen Lewis Buell used words like “reassuring,” “cozy” and “comfortable” to describe the worlds that Ms. Anglund created for her readers.
Ms. Anglund’s fans included Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth II and the actor Cary Grant, according to a 2001 article in the Irish magazine The World of Hibernia.
If some critics found the books overly sentimental and more suitable for gift shops than for libraries, there was no arguing against their wide commercial appeal. They “have been selling phenomenally for over 20 years,” a Publishers Weekly reviewer said in 1980, and they continued to sell well into the 21st century.
Ms. Anglund’s illustrations were particularly distinctive. While the adults in her drawings all displayed fully formed and expressive facial features, the children had none at all, save for those dots for eyes.
Ms. Anglund, who used her own children as models, said she had never made a conscious decision to omit her young characters’ mouths and noses. But over time, she said, she realized that unformed, untouched faces better evoked the innocence of childhood.
“I think perhaps I am trying to get down to the essence of a child,” she said, “not drawing just a particular, realistic child, but instead I think I’m trying to capture the ‘feeling’ of all children, of childhood itself, perhaps.”
Ms. Anglund’s sentimental images of children became ubiquitous, appearing on Hallmark cards, dolls and ceramics.Credit...Joan Walsh Anglund
Words like “reassuring,” “cozy” and “comfortable” were used to describe the worlds she created.Credit...Joan Walsh AnglundJoan May Walsh was born on Jan. 3, 1926, in Hinsdale, Ill., just west of Chicago. Her father, Thomas F. Walsh, was a commercial artist. Her mother, Mildred (Pfeifer) Walsh, was a painter.
Growing up in an artistic household brought her much pleasure, but her childhood was beset by tragedies.
Joan was 6 when her younger sister, Barbara Joy, died of spinal meningitis at 3. She was 10 when her father was killed in a car accident. Around the same time, her grandfather was killed when his car stalled over railroad tracks and was hit by a train.
As their mother grieved, Joan’s other sister, Patricia, who was two years older, took Joan under her wing and nurtured her interests in writing and drawing.
“She helped to take what could have been a very frightening time for us and turned it into something more positive,” Ms. Anglund told The World of Hibernia.
Soon after the deaths, their mother packed up Joan and Patricia in the family automobile and drove with other relatives to St. Petersburg, Fla. It was 1936, and though the country was still mired in the Depression, the yearlong escape turned into a much-needed change for the surviving family members.
“That was the most healing and freeing experience,” Ms. Anglund’s daughter, Ms. Harvey, said in a phone interview. “She went to school in Florida, but she was free to walk on the beach and breathe the fresh air and be part of nature.”
Joan benefited too from being removed from the scene of the tragedies and all the reminders of her loved ones.
“Getting away helped her to see that there are always other possibilities,” her daughter said. “You don’t have to stay enclosed in sorrow.”
After the family moved back to Illinois, Ms. Anglund studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art, also in Chicago. She then worked as a commercial artist for advertising firms.
While still a student, she met Robert Anglund, an actor who was studying at the Goodman School of Drama, now the Theatre School at DePaul University. “When he first kissed me, I just swooned, and I had to sit down,” she said in a 2015 documentary film, “Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem,” by Tim Jackson, a longtime family friend. She and Mr. Anglund married in 1947.
They spent a brief period in Pasadena, Calif., hosting a talk radio show. But radio was rapidly losing ground to television, and they moved back to Illinois. With better prospects for Mr. Anglund in New York, they moved to Manhattan in 1957, and shortly thereafter to suburban Westport, Conn.
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Anglund is survived by two grandchildren and twin great-granddaughters. Her son, Todd Anglund, died in 1992, and her husband in 2009.
She often said that her stories were for young readers and people who were young at heart.
“My books are about what I really believe is important in life: finding and being a friend, expressing love,” she told The World of Hibernia.
“When I first started writing them,” she added, “there were no children’s books about emotions; it was all ‘See Dick run.’ I wrote simply, in part because my son was dyslexic and I wanted him to enjoy my books. I also wanted people to get the essence of what I was saying and to give everyone the joy of saying, ‘I read a book.’”
From the Washington Post
March 19, 2021 at 10:48 p.m. EDT
Joan Walsh Anglund, a prolific children’s author who earned the devotion of millions of readers with her sentimental depictions of little ones, their features often reduced to their all-seeing eyes in illustrations that sought to capture the essence of childhood, died March 9 at her home in Litchfield County, Conn. She was 95.
The cause was a heart ailment, said her daughter, Joy Anglund.
Ms. Anglund produced more than 120 books that, translated into numerous languages, sold 50 million copies. No translation was needed for the emotion evoked by her illustrations, which became ubiquitous through their adaptation for greeting cards, calendars, figurines and other collectible merchandise.
Ms. Anglund worked primarily in pen and ink. (Joan Walsh Anglund)Working in pen and ink, Ms. Anglund honed a signature style in which children’s round faces were rendered without mouths or noses. Much like children themselves, they were a tabula rasa, a screen on which young readers could project and try out their own new and unfamiliar emotions.
“I think perhaps I am trying to get down to the essence of a child — not drawing just a particular, realistic child, but instead I think I’m trying to capture the ‘feeling’ of all children — of childhood itself, perhaps,” Ms. Anglund observed in reflections quoted in the reference guide “Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults.”
“This may be too why I find myself dressing the children in my books in a timeless manner,” she continued, “not really in any definite ‘period’ in time — but always with a vague sense of nostalgia.”
Her first book, “A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You,” was published in 1958 after her husband discovered the manuscript and submitted it to the Harcourt publishing house in New York City, where the family lived at the time. A transplanted Midwesterner, Ms. Anglund was consumed by loneliness and despaired that she might never find a companion in the city.
“I would look at the huge buildings around me and imagine that behind every window was someone who had the potential to be a friend,” she once said, according to an obituary that appeared in Publishers Weekly.
Her ruminations on friendship became the germ of her book, which Ellen Lewis Buell, a reviewer of children’s literature for the New York Times, described as “small, pretty” and “deceptively slight-looking.” For any child who has ever felt left out, she wrote, Ms. Anglund’s “theme — that friendship is where you find it — can be a very reassuring experience.”
Ms. Anglund went on to produce dozens more books, finding particular success in the early years of her career with “Love Is a Special Way of Feeling” (1960), “Christmas Is a Time of Giving” (1961) and “Spring Is a New Beginning” (1963).
A color illustration by Ms. Anglund. (Joan Walsh Anglund)She displayed particular skill in defining emotions in ways that children could understand — explaining, for instance, that love is the “good way we feel when we talk to someone and they want to listen and don’t tell us to go away and be quiet.” If some readers dismissed her writing as saccharine, other found it pure and true.
A profile of Ms. Anglund published in 1972 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited a psychiatrist who furnished copies of “Love Is a Special Way of Feeling” to clients with criminal records. The effect, according to the article, was felicitous.
Joan May Walsh was born in Hinsdale, Ill., on Jan. 3, 1926. Her father was a commercial artist, and her mother was a painter who sought to cultivate her daughter’s creativity by occasionally allowing her to play hooky from school.
Ms. Anglund recalled that, in their household, everyone drew on the porcelain table, on mirrors — everywhere. She said she would often retreat to the attic to read books and doodle on their pages, erasing the marginalia to leave room for another magical session the next day. She absorbed a spirituality and love of the written word from her Catholic grandmothers, one of whom read to her from “Lives of the Saints.”
But Ms. Anglund’s childhood was also marred by tragedy. She was 6 when a younger sister died of spinal meningitis and 10 when her father was hit by a car and killed. “After Daddy died, we never had a home again,” she said in the documentary “Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem” (2019) by filmmaker Tim Jackson.
“The tragedies made me more aware of the realities of life and what they might mean,” Ms. Anglund told the Post-Dispatch. “Children are very concerned with life and can cope with anything that is true. I think any life experience should be discussed with a child, at a certain level. . . . But while we’re expressing realism we must also express truth. Truth is different than just presenting facts. There don’t have to be happy endings in children’s stories, but there does have to be honesty.”
“I think perhaps I am trying to get down to the essence of a child,” said Ms. Anglund. (Joan Walsh Anglund)Ms. Anglund studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art, also in Chicago, before working as an apprentice to a commercial artist. In 1947, she married Robert Anglund, then a student at the Goodman Theatre. They had two children who often played at Ms. Anglund’s feet as she worked at her drawing table.
Robert Anglund died in 2009. Their son, Todd Anglund, whose childhood fascination with his cowboy hat and boots made him the model for her book “The Brave Cowboy” (1959) and its sequels, died of a heart attack in 1992. Besides her daughter, of Litchfield County, Ms. Anglund’s survivors include two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In addition to illustrating her own works, Ms. Anglund provided drawings for “The Golden Treasury of Poetry” (1959) by Louis Untermeyer. Among her more recent books were “Babies Are a Bit of Heaven” (2002), “Love Is the Best Teacher” (2004) and “Faith Is a Flower” (2006).
She also wrote several volumes of poetry for adults. Her more inspirational observations were so quotable that one was incorrectly attributed to Maya Angelou, the poet and author of the memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” when the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Angelou in 2015, a year after her death.
The stamp bore a picture of Angelou and the aphorism “a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” The line — which Angelou had often cited and which was often attributed to her, including once by President Barack Obama — appeared first in Ms. Anglund’s 1967 poetry collection “A Cup of Sun.” (In the original, Ms. Anglund referred to the bird as “he” rather than “it.”)
Ms. Anglund told The Washington Post at the time that she admired Angelou, that such a passage could easily enter one’s “subconscious” and that she wished success for the stamp.
Although story books are often described as imparting wisdom on children, Ms. Anglund seemed to draw hers from them. “Children are little people who know how to experience the ‘now,’ ” she told the Boston Globe in 1988. “Adults look fore and aft, and pine for what is not.” For her part, she said she never wished to grow up.
By Shannon Maughan |
Mar 18, 2021
Artist, poet, and children’s book creator Joan Walsh Anglund, widely known for her instantly recognizable delicate images of sweet-faced, dot-eyed children, died on March 9 at her home in Connecticut of natural causes. She was 95.
Anglund was born January 3, 1926 in Hinsdale, Ill., to Thomas and Mildred Walsh, both artists. “In our family we illustrated everything,” she said in a 2001 interview for World of Hibernia magazine. “In the kitchen we had a large porcelain table where we would write notes to each other accompanied by little drawings and then wipe them off later. I didn’t realize it then, but it was really a work of art.” She remembered spending long hours squirreled away in the family’s attic when she was a girl, reading favorite books over and over again, and lightly drawing pictures and writing stories in the margins, erasing her work before dinner each day so she could start anew.
Her parents and her beloved paternal Irish grandmother Cookie—“a wonderful storyteller,” Anglund recalled—filled her early childhood with books and stories. “Your family stories become a part of you; they’re a precious treasure to pass on,” Walsh told World of Hibernia.
By 1944, Anglund had begun her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. She continued her art education at the American Academy of Art in 1945 and became an apprentice to Chicago commercial artist Adele Roth. Then, in 1946, Joan’s brother-in-law introduced her to actor and playwright Bob Anglund, a student at the Goodman Theater. “It was love at first sight,” she said. The pair were married in 1947 and soon moved to Pasadena, Calif., where they hosted a popular radio variety show.
The Anglunds welcomed daughter Joy while in Pasadena, then relocated to Evanston, Ill., where their son Todd was born. By 1956 the family had settled in New York City, a move that proved difficult initially. Anglund was “profoundly lonely” in New York and her husband traveled frequently for work. Missing their life in the Midwest, she began putting words and drawings in a notebook. “The small-town feel of Illinois inspired by writing,” she said. “I would look at the huge buildings around me and imagine that behind every window was someone who had the potential to be a friend.” Her illustrations were inspired by her own two children as well as her observations of kids on the playground. The result was the seed of what became her first children’s book, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You (Harcourt, 1958), which was selected as one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books that year.
That debut title’s journey to publication is a story in itself. Bob Anglund came across his wife’s notebook in a desk drawer, and without telling her, showed the work to several publishers. After a few rejections, the manuscript landed on editor Margaret McElderry’s desk at Harcourt Brace. She called Joan and delivered the news, “I think we have a book here.” A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You, Brave Cowboy (Harcourt Brace, 1959), and Love Is a Special Feeling (Harcourt Brace, 1960) were among the earliest of her more than 120 books, many of which became international successes. In total her books have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.
Over her career, Anglund’s artwork has been featured on Hallmark greeting cards and licensed for figurines and dolls, among other items. Collectors of her work and merchandise have formed fan clubs, and some of her notable admirers have included Queen Elizabeth II and Eleanor Roosevelt. Filmmaker and musician Tim Jackson, a longtime family friend of the Anglunds, produced the feature documentary Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem in 2015.
Family has always been a strong inspiration for and a theme within Anglund’s art and writing. Her granddaughter, Emily Anglund-Nellen, remembered Joan as “such a big part of our everyday lives. We’ve always been a very connected and close family and she was always in the mix keeping up with all of us. My grandfather died in 2009 and my twin daughters were born in 2011. I was living in New York City at the time, and she and my mother were such a big help with the newborns. For the past 10 years, Joan’s been able to spend a lot of time with the girls and was devoted to them. And she passed on her love of poetry to the girls. Joan would recite Emily Dickinson poems for any appropriate occasion—a sunrise, or a cloudy day—and my daughters would then memorize and recite them, too. She continued to write poems and always had her journal by her side.
She loved time outside and being in nature. One of her favorite things was going for long rides in the country; it was very important for her to get outside every day. She would say ‘I need to see the beauty.’ My brother Thaddeus was able to spend a lot of time with her in Connecticut this past year, playing music, taking her on rides, and just being together. She was so appreciative of even the simplest things.”
Brein Lopez, manager of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles, offered these words of tribute to his friend: “I met Joan 20 years ago when I curated a retrospective of her illustrations at Every Picture Tells A Story Gallery in Los Angeles. We became friends instantly, sharing memories, meals, and conversation over a shared love of art, music, words, and nature. She taught me the importance of always observing life around me with empathy and humanity and to appreciate and enjoy moments alone or with loved ones. I will miss her mischievous laugh and her innate sense of wonder at the world we live in.”
Boston Arts Fuse
MARCH 17, 2021 By Tim Jackson
Throughout her career, Joan Walsh Anglund remained humbled and amazed by her success, maintaining a quiet and private life.
Joan Walsh Anglund, whose words and delicate pen-and-ink illustrations of dot-eyed waifs were the source of poetic observations on love, nature, family, friendship, and faith for children and adults around the world for 60 years, died of natural causes on March 9 at home in Connecticut, surrounded by three generations of family. She was 95. Her gentle drawings were filled with small details. She often wove the names of children of friends and family into the leaves and branches of trees. Beyond children, she had legions of admirers, from Queen Elizabeth to Midwestern housewives. Beyond her artistic achievements, Joan possessed an inner light that inspired all who met her. I knew her and the family for 60 years and, in 2015, produced a documentary of her life called Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem.
As the daughter of Chicago artist Thomas Francis Walsh, Anglund learned her craft from watching her father illustrate for advertisements. “I would sit and watch. I remember him telling me that with billboards you only have six seconds to get your message across, so, with my first book, I illustrated in a circle and ‘a friend is someone who likes you’ was the message. I then the drew the pictures of the children.” Her mother, Mildred Pfiefer, was also an artist. “She went to convent school and was brought up by the nuns, but it didn’t take.” Her maternal grandmother took her to early mass every morning, which instilled in her an abiding sense of love and compassion, or “true religion” as she called it. She recalled her father’s mother saying, “If I was very good she would read to us the Lives of the Great Saints.” From those stories Joan developed a passion for language that led her to become a writer. Her love of drawing and poetic language, of spirituality and family remained central to her life and an inspiration for her art. Prior to the success of her own books she had been a literary illustrator, most memorably for The Golden Treasury of Poetry by Louis Untermeyer.
For more than 50 years she was married to producer and actor Bob Anglund, who passed away in 2009. They met when Joan was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and he was a student at the Goodman Theater. In the film she recalls, “He was so funny and when he first kissed me, I just swooned. I had to sit down. I fell in love in that moment. And that was it.” They had a radio show together in Los Angeles in 1948. In 1959, after moving to Connecticut, unbeknownst to her, Bob brought the manuscript for her first book to Harcourt, Brace, and World. She later read in the newspapers that the book, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You, had sold over one million copies. Her career was born.
The wind can be a friend, too.
It sings soft songs to you at night
When you are sleepy and feeling lonely
Sometimes it calls to you to play
It pushes you from behind
As you walk it makes the leaves dance for you.
from A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You
When her children were young, they scrambled about under her father’s original drawing board as she worked on illustrations, just as she had done with her father. Her 120 books went on to sell 50 million copies around the world in multiple languages. With the books came an array of figurines, calendars, dolls, and Joan Walsh Anglund accessories. She and her husband had numerous friendships in the theater and literary world but she remained humbled and amazed by her success, maintaining a quiet and private life.
Success is a garden
with too much sun
Be careful it does not dry your roots
Family was her constant source of inspiration. In her later years she would wake up and, as she put it, “transcribe” poems that came to her in the night. Her original manuscripts, letters, and unpublished poetry reside at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.
In the film she confides, “I realize I can’t stay here forever, but I feel that I can. I don’t have any sense of being old and sensible. Because every day the world is so new to me.” She spent 60 idyllic summers with the extended family at her small beach house on Nantucket. Days before she passed she said to her daughter Joy, “I’m going into the deep, deep waves. I’m going to a homecoming.”
She was predeceased by her husband Bob and son, Todd. She is survived by her daughter Joy Anglund and husband Seth Harvey, her grandson Thaddeus Harvey, her granddaughter Emily Anglund-Nellen and her husband, Gregory Martin, and their twin daughters, Rose and Elizabeth, known to all as Peach.
Why did you make me
If not to find the beauty
And tell to the others
There should be words
to build a bridge across loneliness
There should be words
to heal broken hope
There should be words
To weave a shawl of understanding
. . . but no one’s written any down
. . . or are they not yet here?
Unpublished Poetry from the Archives