Sometimes humans struggle to find the words to convey the sheer depth of their love for one another. Leave it to Sam McBratney's Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare in Guess How Much I Love You to show us the way.
They love each other as high as they can hop, they love each other across the river and over the hills, and finally, all the way up to the sky.
McBratney died at his home in County Antrim, Northern Ireland surrounded by family on September 18, according to his publisher, Walker Books. He was 77. No cause of death was given.
With illustrations by Anita Jeram, Guess How Much I Love You was published in 1994. The now-classic story of two bunnies who try to outdo each other with their affections was translated into 57 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.
McBratney once called Guess How Much I Love You "a lighthearted little story designed to help a big one and a wee one enjoy the pleasure of being together." But he also acknowledged that writing a picture book for children was hard work.
In an interview with Reading Rockets, McBratney said his editor warned him: "She did say people think it's easy, Sam, but it's not easy. And it took me six months. ... And for those six months, every word you write is fighting for its place on the page, you know."
Born in Belfast, McBratney attended Trinity College in Dublin and was a teacher before he started writing. He was "a profoundly lovely human being," says Karen Lotz, group managing director of the Walker Books Group in a statement. "You could recognize his voice in a moment — he was an exceptionally talented wordsmith and always knew exactly what children would enjoy hearing the most."
McBratney authored more than 50 books but none had the lasting impact as Guess How Much I Love You, a bedtime story that included a refrain repeated the world over: "I love you right up to the moon — and back."
It was one of his proudest achievements, as he told Reading Rockets, "I just love the idea that, you know, somewhere in the world tonight some mom or dad is going to be reaching down a copy of a book that I wrote and reading it to the most precious thing they have in the world."
A companion to Guess How Much I Love You, titled Will You Be My Friend?, comes out at the end of September.
McBratney is survived by Maralyn, his wife of 56 years, three children, and six grandchildren.
A previous version of this story said Sam McBratney died at his home in County Antrim, Ireland. County Antrim is in Northern Ireland.