Sammy In The Sky by Barbara Walsh – Paintings by Jamie Wyeth



We were so lucky to meet Jaime Wyeth and Barbara Walsh at Books of Wonder for this book signing event! What a touching book, Sammy In The Sky is. It’s the story of Sammy, a beloved dog, who becomes ill and passes away  – and the little girl and family who love him. The treatment of the subject matter, a tricky one for children, is very well handled and opened up a lot of discussion with Oona and me about what happens when we die, and that death is something that happens to all of us, people and animals alike. I end up choking back tears every time I read it and Oona is sad that Sammy dies but finds it positive that he is still up in the sky somewhere, floating around. And the love that this family has for their dog is heartful – the way they keep his spirit alive. The paintings by Jamie Wyeth (son of iconic American painter, Andrew Wyeth, who painted one of my all-time favorite American paintings: Christina’s World) are beautiful and dreamy and you really get a sense of the Maine landscape and energy, where the story is based, and also his lifelong love of dogs.

Barbara Walsh, who based this story on the loss of her family’s first dog, is a Pulitzer prize winning  journalist and has also penned a grown-up book called August Gale: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Into the Storm, which is a lyrical story of her father and their journey into the tempest, set in Newfoundland.

Jamie Wyeth, an accomplished painter in his own right, was homeschooled from 6th grade onwards, so he could devote more time to art. Having acquired most of his own schooling from private tutors, his father didn’t consider a formal education necessary for an artist. His work was in permanent collections by the age of 18 and he had his first solo show when he was 20. He won precocious fame with Portrait of Pig and his works are included in many public collections, including those of the Terra Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery, John F. Kennedy Library, Museum of Modern Art, and the Delaware Art Museum and he is a participating lender for the United States Department of State, Art Embassies Program.  


 Oona getting her book signed by Jamie..

and Solène barking at the cover of Sammy!

Photos by Samuel Walters of Dauntless Media

And here is our mini-interview with Barbara Walsh:

Jeanne:  How did painter Jamie Wyeth get involved in illustrating the book? 

Barbara: After I had rewritten Sammy in the Sky several times, people I shared it with loved the story and agreed that it was needed to help children cope with their own losses. Still, I could not find an agent. At the time — early 2005, few agents were interested in selling a story about the death of a dog.  A fellow journalist suggested that I ask the renowned painter Jamie Wyeth to illustrate the book. “You’re crazy,” I told her. But then I realized that, like my family, Jamie lived in Maine, and he also loved dogs. His grandfather, N. C. Wyeth, was also revered for his brilliant illustrations in several classic novels.  I figured the worst Jamie could do was say no, and phoning strangers was something I was used to. So I dialed Jamie’s number expecting to get his assistant. A male voice greeted me. “Jamie?” I asked. Nervously, I explained that I had written a story about the death of our dog and wanted to know if he would consider illustrating it. Jamie told me to send the story along; he would read it and get back to me. And the rest is history!

Jeanne: Do you think this book will help children cope with losing a pet or someone they love? 

Barbara: I hope the book helps adults and children talk more openly about death and loss. Sammy in the Sky illustrates how one girl overcame her grief, how she grew to understand that she will always hold Sammy in her heart. Grieving over a pet, friend, or family member is a natural, inevitable process. If you feel grief, you must have at one time felt love, and that love needs to be honored and remembered.

Jeanne: How did you feel about Jamie’s illustrations? 

Barbara: Since this was my first children’s book, I had no idea of how the process worked or how Jamie would share my vision of the story and create images from my words. I was thrilled with Jamie’s paintings. His illustrations evoke every emotion presented in the story: love, joy, grief, and reconciliation. His paintings capture a special bond between Sammy and the young girl, the unconditional love between a child and a dog.