2017 TOP 10 List

Little Ex

Written and Illustrated

by Anna Dewdney

2017 Best in Rhyme Award logo


Little Excavator is the rollicking tale of a young excavator trying hard to find his place in the grownup world. He fails and fails again!  With pluck and determination, Little Ex finds the one special thing that only he can do. Kids of all ages will relate to this universal tale of finding the specialness in each of us.
Anna’s soft, friendly but exuberant use of color exquisitely compliments the text and is a hallmark of her illustration style. It’s impossible not to fall in love at first site. Go Little Excavator, go!
I  recently had the  opportunity to interview the loving and devoted Reed Duncan, life partner of the late Anna Dewdney.  In the year and a half since Anna’s passing Reed and the creative team at Penguin brought Little Excavator to print with other books soon to come.
Little Excavator was very dear to Anna’s heart. She had sidelined it for a long time due to other obligations. According to Reed, Anna worked throughout her illness to finish it, altering her painting technique to accommodate her limitations. It was a true labor of love. She asked him to read it to her the day she died.
1)  You mentioned Little Excavator was near to Anna’s heart. What was her inspiration for the story?
Anna loved the Little Excavator character.  She had been drawing animals and people her whole life but she hadn’t rendered too many vehicles, so when she created this very animate, cute machine with lots of spirit, she was especially pleased.  The inspiration comes from when she and I were restoring our home; we have some large, deep stone-mill foundations on our property and in the process of preserving these stone foundations we encountered some small, tight spots that only a little excavating machine could successfully get to.  And the idea was born…
2) I loved that Little Ex cheerfully perseveres despite repeated setbacks.  He’s a wonderful role model. Today’s children live in an increasingly stressful and polarized world; how do you think Little Ex will impact them?
I hope that kids — and anyone, really — can take the core message of the book to heart and execute this principle in their daily practice, namely that we all have unique characteristics and sklll-sets that enable us to do what others can’t.  It may take some figuring out before we come to know our special talents and how to employ them, but everybody has them.
3) The patience and unconditional love the adult machines exhibit toward Little Ex is also important to this age group.  How did Anna feel about that?  Her adult characters always do exactly the right thing.
As a mother and a teacher, Anna knew implicitly that patience and support are key to a child’s development.  Young people are supposed to experiment and fail — that’s their job; it’s our job as adults to guide them and support them in that process of effort and self-discovery.
4) Of course the crowning achievement is when Little Ex finds his own perfectly suited place in the world.  How do you think kids will relate to that?
I hope the kids who read the book will feel relieved that somewhere in the world is a place perfectly suited to who they are, even if it doesn’t always or at first feel that way.
5) All of Anna’s characters are lovable and their struggles are relatable to children’s everyday experience.  She really understood them.  Can you tell us a bit about her experience bringing her stories to publication?
Anna spent many years working with children — her own and also her students when she was a teacher.  Those day-to-day experiences that we all can relate to are a big part of what make her books so immediate to her readers.  She worked for many years as a freelance illustrator until her own stories got published.  She also worked as a waitress and as a rural mail carrier and as a housesitter in addition to teaching; for her, making art was the only thing that mattered and everything else was just in support of those artistic goals.  She worked with limited success for about 20 years before the first Llama Llama book came out.  Persistence, persistence, persistence.
6) The Llama llama books are iconic and beloved.  Llama, Llama Red Pajama was my first mentor book.  What advice would Anna have for fellow rhymers/illustrators trying to get their first book published?
Keep at it!
7) Anna is also a gifted illustrator.  Her vibrant colors and sweet faced animals are appealing to kids and adults alike.  Can you tell us a little about her process and when she decided to be her own illustrator?
Anna began drawing and painting and inventing characters and stories when she was a very little girl.  She always had a high sense of theatre and drama and she imagined her stories very visually, so for her the story and the image were inseparable.  A story would unfold for her not just in a narrative arc, but also graphically and with strong color-value relation.
8) Can you include two of your favorite illustrations from Little Ex and tell us what you love about them?
I love the scene where Little E falls into the hole he has just dug — he’s so overzealous that gets in over his head, literally!
My favorite illustration in the book is just before Little E goes across the bridge with the apple tree, the scene where he’s looking back at the reader and is framed by all the other machines; the expression on his face there is Anna’s expression, a very happy can-do expression, like “I got this!”.  I see Anna everytime I see that picture of Little E.
Anna 2
9) I understand Anna left more books in various levels of completion.  Is that true and when can we expect them?  A world without more Llama llama would be a dreary world indeed.
Yes!  Lots of stories, some Llama stories and several others too.  Anna created many other characters that the public hasn’t met yet.  My hope is to bring as many of these to the public as I can over time.  The next full Llama picture book, Llama Llama Loves to Read, hits the shelves on May 1st, 2018.  And of course there are several other Llama books coming out all the time: board books, sticker books, spinoff books from the Netflix animated series, and a really lovely memory book (Llama Llama and Me: My Book of Memories) that comes out in January of 2018.
10) Speaking of little Llama, is it true there is a series coming out on Netflix?
“Llama Llama”, a Netflix Original Series, debuts on Jan. 26, 2018.  This first season features 30 animated episodes.  Anyone who loves Anna’s books will really enjoy the series; it’s very true to her work.  All the familiar characters have roles and there are some new characters who appear too.  Jennifer Garner voices the Mama Llama character and she is fabulous in that role — loving and warm and funny and perfect.  A huge amount of care and attention went into the development of every detail of this show, from the storylines to the original music to the animation and color palette and to the voices of the characters.  We had an all-star production team, with key players from award-winning shows like The Lion King, The Magic School Bus, Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Stuart Little, Inspector Gadget, etc.  I couldn’t feel luckier to have had such an assemblage of brilliant people work on “Llama Llama”, and I couldn’t be more proud of the result.
Anna and Reed  shared a very close connection, as life partners and work partners. Reed always got first reed on Anna’s stories. They bounced ideas off each other all day in regards to storyline, color etc. How lucky we are to have such a devoted man to bring Anna’s unfinished works to the world.  Best of luck to Reed and the team at Penguin books. Thank you Reed for this loving and insightful glimpse into Anna and her process.
Anna 3

1 star


We are so pleased to have

LITTLE EXCAVATOR by the late Anna Dewdnehy

on the

2017 Best in Rhyme Top 10 List!

1 star

Watch for the live, streaming

2017 Best in Rhyme Award Announcement

on February 4th at 6:00 pm ET

from the KidLitTV Studio in New York City.

KidLitTV Logo - NEW 2017



  1. Debbie and Reed–Thank you for this endearing, heartfelt interview. I look forward to forthcoming books by an inspirational lady like Anna.

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