Sam recalled : "I was about 16 and I remember my mother asking me what was I going to do later on in life, and I said to her I might be a poet. There was a long pause and she actually said, 'You know you can be put in jail for stealing other people's words'. Looking back on that, I ask myself, it is true, but that was the attitude in our family. She had no clue it was possible for someone from the family to write." "Certainly, there wasn't a tradition in our house of telling stories".
He said that he had favourite moments in books which stayed with him :"Robin Hood shoots an arrow and says, "Bury me where it lands"; Jim Hawkins hides in a barrel of apples; the lame boy fails to make it through the mountainside and so on. One story which made a big impression on me was 'Rip Van Winkle'. I loved the idea of playing about with time.""I used to go through the paper and point out mistakes and blame them on dad." At the age of 17 he won a scholarship in 1960 to study for a degree in 'history and political science' at Trinity College, in Dublin and started to take a notebook about with him there, to record all his thoughts and began to write historical texts.
In the event, the book was written in 395 words and Sam's expectations were low : "I expected that picture book to go like all the others, all the other books. You know, might get five years out of it, might get six, then after that you'll not be able to buy it in the shops anymore."
Sam was fulsome in his praise of the work of the book's illustrator, Anita Jeram, who had "beautifully captured the ugly, awkward ganglyness of hares, I mean, they're not bunnies. I mean, people call them rabbits and I get reaction about that, you know, they're hares. And it's one of the triumphs of the book I think to get the name Little Nutbrown Hare and to have them so wonderfully rendered by Anita."
Donna Cassanova at Walker Books said : “It is also the true mark of the man that he never failed to recognise the role that Anita Jeram’s exquisite illustrations play in the success of 'Guess How Much I Love You'. They were a literary pairing of the highest calibre. Sam faced everything in life, and death, with such great, good grace and humour. He always smiled out at the world and I feel so lucky to have felt the warmth of his smile.”
Despite the book's success, Sam remained modest and self-effacing and maintained that it was “a lighthearted little story designed to help a big one and a wee one enjoy the pleasure of being together”. Last year, at a celebration of the book's 25th anniversary he said : “I’d like to share with you one comment a father sent me. He wrote : ‘On good nights my little girl loves me all the way to the moon, but on bad nights she only loves me to the door.’ If you’re a parent (or a grandparent like myself), here’s hoping that you mostly make it to the moon. And back ...”
Then he looked up beyond the thorn bushes, out into the big dark night. Nothing could be further than the sky. "I love you right up to the MOON," he said, and closed his eyes.
"Oh, that's far," said Big Nutbrown Hare. "That is very very far."
Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him goodnight.
Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, "I love you right up to the moon...AND BACK."
"The best thing about the book is that I know that every day somewhere in the world a mum or dad will reach for it and read it to the most precious person they have in the world, their child. That thought really pleases me."
Readers' comments :
'That's a wonderful tribute' : Ann. London.
'Just read - and sent to my daughter' : USA
'That was a great read' : Garrick. Oregon. USA
'This is a really interesting read' : Holly. Liverpool
'An amazing tribute. Will share with my six year old this weekend' : Kavitha. UK
'What a beautiful tribute' : Veronica. UK
'This was a beautiful tribute' : Cordelia. Annapolis Valley. Nova Scotia. Canada