Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, known for her sunny, witty children’s books and the optimistic, relatable memoirs and guided journals she created for adults, and writer of a widely read Modern Love essay recently published in the New York Times, died of ovarian cancer on Monday, March 13 at her Chicago home. She was 51.
Rosenthal was born April 29, 1965 in Chicago, the city where she also grew up and later lived with her husband and their three children. After graduating from Tufts University in 1987, Rosenthal’s first rung on the professional ladder was in advertising, working as a copywriter for commercials at agencies that included Foote, Cone & Belding. She spent roughly a decade in that career before, as she noted in a 2015 blog post, she had what she calls her “McEpiphany”: she realized she wanted to write books as she sat a local McDonald’s with her kids while on maternity leave for her third child.
But on the road to becoming a published author she pursued other artistic endeavors, too, contributing audio pieces to National Public Radio, cofounding a company that designed t-shirts, producing a line of humorous notecards, and launching her own radio show/audio magazine, Writers’ Block Party. “My basic drive to do anything is just a love of making things,” she said in a 1994 interview for advertising magazine Shoot.
Rosenthal published her first book for adults, The Book of Eleven: An Itemized Collection of Brain Lint (Andrews McMeel) in 1998, followed by memoirs about motherhood and marriage, her popular Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (Crown, 2004) and last year’s follow-up, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Dutton). In 2005, she made her children’s book debut with Little Pea, illus. by Jen Corace (Chronicle), about a young pea who is denied dessert (spinach) because he won’t finish his dinner of candy. Other well-received children’s titles include Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons, illus. by Jane Dyer (HarperCollins, 2006) and several sequels, Duck! Rabbit! illus. by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle, 2009), Spoon (Disney-Hyperion, 2009), and Uni the Unicorn (Random House, 2014). In all, Rosenthal published 28 picture books and had finished seven other forthcoming titles, including Dear Girl, written with her daughter, Paris, (HarperCollins, 2017), Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True (Random House), Straw (Disney-Hyperion), and Ballet Babysitter (Scholastic Press, 2018). During her work on these latest projects, especially, Rosenthal had praised the efforts of her assistant Ruby Western, who helped her keep things running smoothly for the past three years.
Though she found success in the print world, Rosenthal also continued to craft videos and short films, and designed interactive projects like “The Beckoning of Lovely,” which began with a short YouTube video titled “17 Things I Made.” That video invited viewers to Rosenthal’s favorite park in Chicago at an appointed date and time (the first one was 08/08/08 at 8:08 pm) to create something together. Those in attendance knew they could recognize Rosenthal as “the one holding a yellow umbrella,” the color of the optimism she always embraced. The collection of subsequent projects became the short film The Beckoning of Lovely Story. Rosenthal subsequently presented a TED Talk about her plan to “save the world” between 12/12/12 and 12/21/12.
On March 3, Rosenthal’s bittersweet essay “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” chronicling the love story of her marriage, and sharing news of her illness, was published online in the New York Times in the site’s Modern Love column and quickly went viral, reaching nearly four and a half million readers, according to the Times.
Rosenthal’s longtime literary agent Amy Rennert shared these words of appreciation: “What a joy it was for me to work with Amy all these years. Everything Amy did was life and love affirming. She was such a bright light with a great sense of wonder. Amy loved her family. She loved words, ideas, connections. She taught us that life’s seemingly small moments are not really small at all. Amy's final essay, written under the most difficult of circumstances, a love letter to her husband Jason, was the ultimate gift to him and also to the rest of us. She leaves behind a legacy of love and beauty and kindness.”
Victoria Rock, who edited Rosenthal’s books at Chronicle, offered this recollection: “I have an extremely clear memory of the first time I met Amy. I can see just where we sat as she showed me her dummy of what would become her first children’s book, Little Pea. She was funny and passionate. It was clear she had a big mind. I would come to know she also had a big heart. She was very insistent that she was going to illustrate as well as write her book. Over time, I convinced her that maybe her strengths were in the imagining, not the drawing (although many of her visual ideas are in that book). When the book was published, in her very Amy way, she thanked me for being as stubborn as she was. “Who else but Jen [Corace]) could have illustrated it?” she asked rhetorically. But of course, really, who else but Amy could have had the warmth and wit that created that very special book and the many that followed? Miss AmyKR—she was one for the books.” Upon the news of her illness and her wishes for “more” as posted in the Modern Love essay (and also in her 2015 book I Wish You More), Chronicle Books launched on March 10 the “I Wish You More”/Yellow umbrella campaign as part of #loveforamykrouserosenthal on Instagram, as an expression of love and support for Rosenthal and her family.
And Rosenthal’s editor at Penguin Random House, Maria Modugno, recalled a recent visit: “I visited Amy at her home in Chicago just a few weeks ago. We had three new books in the works and there was so much to talk about. The morning meeting ran into the afternoon and Amy decided to make lunch for us. I had to leave behind the beautiful pear she chose for dessert. “Just save it for the next time I see you,” I said kiddingly. A few days later, Amy sent me a framed photograph of the pear along with the words “Amy and Maria, What a pair!” Amy loved words and wordplay and seemed to find them everywhere, not just in her books. I really wish I could see her again.”
Click here to read a tribute to Rosenthal by her longtime editor.