Author-illustrator Derek Anderson, known for his expressive and often humorous acrylics in Lauren Thompson’s Little Quack picture books and numerous self-illustrated books, died of glioblastoma on April 26 in St. Paul, Minn. He was 55.

Anderson was born March 21, 1969, in Ames, Iowa, to Marvin, a physicist, and Carol Anderson, a teacher. According to his family, he was drawing almost as soon as he could hold a pencil, and never lost his passion for creating art.

Anderson graduated from Ames High School and went on to study at Iowa State University, earning his B.F.A. degree in drawing and painting in 1991. His college years were busy outside of coursework, too, and it was while working at the local Village Inn restaurant that he met Cheryl Meyer, who became his best friend, and then, in 1996, his wife.

Though Anderson knew he wanted a career where he could use his artistic talent, he wasn’t quite sure what that might be. That changed during his senior year of college when his mother, then a third-grade teacher, attended a book conference. “She brought armfuls of children’s books back with her, which immediately caught my eye,” he recalled in his 2003 Flying Start interview with PW. Seeing those books—“I was blown away by them,” he said—helped him envision a solid goal.

Shortly after college, Anderson moved to Minneapolis with his wife and landed a job as a sculptor at dimensional fine art company TivoliToo, creating figurines for Disney and Warner Bros. He moved through other positions there, eventually working in product design as well as greeting cards and animation storyboards. But even with an art-filled day job, Anderson did not lose sight of publishing. “It was during this time, on evenings and weekends, that I would write and paint and send my stuff off to New York,” he told PW.

In 1999, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers took interest in one of the stories he had sent out. Kevin Lewis, then executive editor, and Alyssa Eisner, then associate editor, encouraged Anderson and suggested rewrites, but ultimately passed on the project. But the experience motivated him to travel to New York in 2001 and make the rounds of 15 publishers with his portfolio. As a result, he received two contracts, one from Random House for Ready? Set. Raymond! by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, and the other for Little Quack (S&S, 2003), which became a New York Times bestseller and spawned nine more books featuring the fuzzy yellow duckling.

The first title Anderson both wrote and illustrated was Gladys Goes to Lunch (S&S, 2005). He did a number of picture books including Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure (Orchard, 2016), and more recently had developed the beginning reader Croc and Ally series, about a crocodile and alligator who are opposite personalities but best friends, and the early chapter book series Benny McGee and the Shark, about a shark who follows a boy home from school (both Penguin Workshop).

Anderson continued to illustrate stories by other authors, too, including the popular Hot Rod Hamster series by Cynthia Lord, which have tallied many state book awards and have been named to Best Children’s Books lists from Bank Street College of Education.

In all, Anderson published more than 30 books for kids, and was deeply committed to traveling to schools, libraries, conferences, and book fairs to meet young readers. “It’s important to give kids a glimpse into creating stories and pictures,” he wrote in a passage shared by his family. “It takes both patience and hard work to create anything. I want students to come away from my presentations knowing that if they’re willing to work hard and believe, they can do absolutely anything in this world.”

Before his recent declining health, Anderson had completed a new picture book for HarperCollins, which will be published posthumously.

Tracey Adams, Anderson’s literary agent, said: “Derek was an absolute joy to work with—professional, kind, and always ready with a great story about his beloved dog. He loved his characters, and that love spilled onto the page so we couldn’t help but fall in love with them, too. He wrote, ‘I simply look for interesting situations and then sit back and watch to see what they do.’ ”

Alexandra Cooper, executive editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, paid tribute: “I was lucky enough to work with Derek on several books, and he always took care to make sure his pieces were perfect, every detail attended to. He was as comfortable in his studio as he was in front of auditoriums of students, and I know he brought joy to many, many thousands of kids with his books.”

And author Cynthia Lord, who partnered with Anderson on the Hot Rod Hamster books, shared this remembrance: “Derek made the world a more colorful, warm, and kind place. We started as co-creators of Hot Rod Hamster, but quickly became friends. I loved his playful sense of fun. For example, he always drew our dogs in our books. That was Derek, adding something special into everything he did.

I love reading our books to K–1 students, but at middle schools, something poignant happens. I hear a gasp of delight and ‘Hot Rod Hamster? I loved that book!’ It’s a powerful reminder that we carry our most-beloved books inside us, long after we’ve read them. Derek has left us all a great legacy.”