Arts Remembrance: Poet and Illustrator Joan Walsh Anglund

By Tim Jackson

Throughout her career, Joan Walsh Anglund remained humbled and amazed by her success, maintaining a quiet and private life.

The late Joan Walsh Anglund. Photo: Ted Horowitz

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.

“Mother World”

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

The family requests any donations be made in the form of a children’s book to:

The Jonestown Family Center
PO Box 248
401 Main Street
Jonestown, Mississippi 38369

Tim Jackson was an assistant professor of Digital Film and Video for 20 years. His music career in Boston began in the 1970s and includes some 20 groups, recordings, national and international tours, and contributions to film soundtracks. He studied theater and English as an undergraduate, and has also has worked helter skelter as an actor and member of SAG and AFTRA since the 1980s. He has directed four feature documentaries: Chaos and Order: Making American Theater about the American Repertory Theater; Radical Jesters, which profiles the practices of 11 interventionist artists and agit-prop performance groups; When Things Go Wrong: The Robin Lane Story; Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem; and the short film The American Gurner. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can read more of his work on his blog.


  1. Alex Rankin on March 17, 2021 at 11:09 am

    I knew Joan for 20 years. A beautiful soul and loving person missed by everyone blessed to have known her.

    • tim jackson on March 17, 2021 at 3:45 pm

      You made the treasure hunt for images and poems at B.U. a pleasure. I could feel the affection you had for her. The family thinks the world of you. Thanks for everything.

  2. Ann Connell Bergin on March 17, 2021 at 11:46 am

    Rarely does someone come along who can impart Love & Spirit so deftly.
    Incredibly gifted was Joan Walsh Anglund ~
    The 1988 event celebrating Joan’s 30th Anniversary of “A Friend is Someone who Likes You.” (which seems to have been her Mission Statement in life! ) was co-celebrated with Boston University’s acquisition of all her papers for Archival.
    Howard B. Gotlieb, Ph.D., Founding Director of Special Collections at Boston University, hosted a grand Champagne Celebration and Exhibition of Joan’s artistry. I shall always treasure the Invitation, decorated with Joan’s Art, and that memorable evening… along with every note, every card and letter… every memory, of Joan, Bob and family from my discovery of her in 1958 to the present – 2021….and ever after. She leaves a Legacy of Love.
    Ann Connell Bergin

  3. Lori Neisler on March 17, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    When she autographed some books for me at Christmas time at Marshall Fields, she looked into my eyes and wanted to know the names of my children, how old they were, and something special about them so she could personalize each book. She loved people through her work and engaged with her fans. We need more people like her in our world today.

  4. Peg Dublin on March 17, 2021 at 4:39 pm

    This is so beautifully written Tim. I remember her books well and loved them all.
    Peg Dublin

  5. Jill Turner Odice on March 18, 2021 at 12:39 pm

    I was best friends with her son Todd for years. Joan used to give me a ride to school most days when we were at Staples High School. She was always so kind and generous. When we had 3 little girls from Ireland visit us, Joan autographed a bunch of books for me to give them. They were thrilled!
    It broke my heart when Robert told me Todd had passed away, we had lost touch over the years. The last time I saw Todd was at his gallery opening reception at the Park Lane Gallery in NYC back in 1981. He was so excited to be able to show his amazing artwork to the world.
    I am sending my condolences to Joy and her family. Joan will never be forgotten, her stories and art will live on for future generations to love

  6. Alison Inches on March 18, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    One time, Joan drew a picture for me and wrote a special note about something we both shared and loved. It helped me finish a book that I had been struggling with. I still have the framed picture and treasure it. Joan is a National Treasure.🥰

  7. […] and illustrator Joan Walsh Anglund has died at […]

  8. Mary Diane Hanna on March 23, 2021 at 3:30 pm

    My heart broke when we lost her but my heart is full because she was my friend and mentor. Thank you E, J, R, P, G and Tim above for sharing her with me.

  9. Robert Garvin on March 30, 2021 at 10:10 pm

    A family full of love, I remember them being kind and gentle. Joy, Emily, Thad, Seth, and Joan. I did not have the pleasure to meet Bob or Todd. The books I read as a child made me happy and even more when I met the family in CT. Thad the daring boy on top of the rock wall, Emily and her smile that could light up any room, Joy so serene in everything she did.How grateful Joan was when I drove her car out of the slippery snowy driveway. every day I will send out a thought and a prayer.

  10. John Kusiak on April 2, 2021 at 1:41 pm

    Really lovely article, Tim. I never met her, but could tell from your descriptions and anecdotes, and especially your movie, how much you revered her. She seems one of a kind.

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