Last week I received the unexpected and heartbreaking news that my friend, Anne Rockwell, had passed away.
These past few days I have been trying to figure out how to honor the memory of my dear friend, who was an amazing woman in Kid Lit, and nothing seems to be enough. She was truly one of the greats in our field, and she leaves behind a legacy of over a hundred children’s books, such as the classic, The Tool Box (illustrated by her late husband, Harlow), The One-Eyed Giant and Other Monsters from the Greek Myths (illustrated by Anne), as well as numerous beloved books illustrated by her daughter, Lizzy Rockwell.
Anne started writing children’s books in 1964 and never stopped. She was a pioneer in children’s non-fiction, and her interests spanned a huge range of topics from fossil fuels to supermarkets to Sojourner Truth. If you do a search of her work online, you will see the vastness of her oeuvre. A search on amazon.com comes up with 453 results, and I’m not even sure that it’s complete!
Every time I read one of her stories, I am always so amazed. She had such a gift of being able to take a complex topic and make it understandable and interesting to very young children without talking down to them. And she made it all seem so effortless.
I was so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet Anne after illustrating her wonderful story, Truck Stop, in 2013. To be honest, I was quite nervous to meet this legend in person, and I prayed she liked the artwork. Anne couldn’t have been more warm, supportive, and generous. I was floored. We became fast friends, sharing many interests.
Anne has illustrated many of her own books, and she was an accomplished painter. I saw several of her beautiful abstract paintings when I visited her several times --- further deepening my awe of her!
During my visits, I was always struck by how enthusiastic she was about life. Anne had such a passion for learning about new things and had so much curiosity. She was always thinking of more stories to write, and we had hopes to do additional projects together, especially after we did Let’s Go to the Hardware Store.
Though I am sad they will never come to fruition, I feel incredibly grateful I had the chance to work with her and get to know her in the short time we had. I loved hearing the stories she told: Of her childhood, growing up in the Southwest; of her family and their various artistic pursuits (such a talented family!!!); and especially of her youngest grandson, Sullivan and her time visiting him in China.
Sullivan was the inspiration for the little boy in Let’s Go to the Hardware Store. It was Anne who encouraged me to depict a bi-racial family (“like Jamie’s”, my son).
Anne was a mentor, teacher, collaborator, and friend to me. I will truly miss her.