“The response to this book just takes my breath away,” Sam McBratney once said of his cherished classic, Guess How Much I Love You. “I was talking to my agent about the text after I completed it, and she said, ‘Sam, this book can do nothing but good.’ I didn’t really understand what she meant at the time, but now I know that she was thinking about the opportunities this book would create for wee ones and big ones to come together for a few precious moments.”
Sam McBratney passed away on September 18, 2020, at the age of seventy-seven. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, the beloved author was a classroom teacher before becoming a full-time writer. While he wrote more than fifty books, including several best-selling and award-winning titles, what brought him international acclaim was the 1994 publication of Guess How Much I Love You, featuring a spirited yet tender bedtime competition between two nutbrown hares and the endearing illustrations of Anita Jeram. Now considered a children’s book classic, Guess How Much I Love You has sold more than fifty million copies worldwide, has been translated into fifty-seven languages, and serves as the cornerstone of a global licensing program. The phrase “I love you to the moon and back” has itself taken on iconic stature, and the book is considered an essential title for any nursery, preschool, or library bookshelf.
More than a quarter-century after the publication of Guess How Much I Love You, Sam McBratney authored a highly anticipated companion book, titled Will You Be My Friend?, also illustrated by Anita Jeram. On crafting a sequel to one of the most beloved books of all time, the author said, “When writing about the hares, I aim to describe moments of emotional significance, but with loads of humor and the lightest of touches. This story is about one of those moments. Little Nutbrown Hare’s world suddenly glows with the discovery of friendship.”
The Northern Ireland native started writing children’s books when he was a teacher in his thirties, with the aim of helping students who had trouble reading. But he continued writing for a more personal reason: “The act of imagining simply makes me feel good,” he said. “But, as the frog trapped in the milk discovered, if you keep going, sometimes you find yourself walking on cream cheese.”
Where did Sam McBratney get his inspiration? “I told my children stories when they were young,” he said, “so when I write, I try to think of what they would have liked.” But there may have been another source guiding his writing as well. The author’s father—who worked as a type compositor with the Belfast Telegraph, and whose favorite books were westerns—is the person Sam McBratney credited for giving him his love of the English language. “Most of my picture books explore the relationship between a big one and a wee one,” the author noted. “The big one is not called the father in the stories, but that’s what he is. Although my dad died before I became a writer, the father in my stories has a voice and a presence that he would have recognized and understood.”
In addition to authoring many books for children, Sam McBratney also wrote radio plays for adults and a prize-winning collection of short stories. A charming man who met friends new and old with a twinkle in his eye, Sam McBratney loved touring to support his books and built a lifetime of fond memories and meaningful connections with readers, booksellers, and librarians by traveling throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and the United States. His survivors include not only Maralyn, his wife of fifty-six years, along with his three children and six grandchildren, but also generations of readers whose hearts and minds he touched with his books.