Sam McBratney, children’s author who wrote ‘Guess How Much I Love You,’ dies

Sam McBratney is pictured with artwork from his children's book "Guess How Much I Love You."
Sam McBratney is pictured with artwork from his children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You.”
(Anita Jeram via AP)

Sam McBratney, the Irish children’s author whose picture story of ever-wider and higher devotion, “Guess How Much I Love You,” became essential bedtime reading for millions of families, has died.

Candlewick Press announced that McBratney died Friday at age 77. Additional details were not immediately available. His death came less than two weeks before the publication of “Will You Be My Friend?” The book is a companion to his 1994 classic, which has sold more than 50 million copies and been translated into 57 languages.

“Sam McBratney was a profoundly lovely human being,” Karen Lotz, group managing director of Candlewick’s parent company, Walker Books Group, said in a statement Monday. “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. Amazingly humble, he also was a hilarious storyteller and convivial companion.”

McBratney would call his famous book “a lighthearted little story designed to help a big one and a wee one enjoy the pleasure of being together.” With illustrations by Anita Jeram, “Guess How Much I Love You” tells of older and younger nutbrown hares — presumed to be father and son — and their game of one-upmanship as each declares his feelings for the other, with the title a question repeated throughout.


How much does a tiring Little Nutbrown Hare love his father? “As far as I can reach.” Big Nutbrown Hare extends his longer arms even wider. The son raises his arms “as high as I can reach.” The father’s arms go higher, and Little Nutbrown Hare grows sleepier.

“I love you right up to the moon,” Little Nutbrown Hare finally says, as he falls asleep.

“I love you right up to the moon — and back,” his father tells him as he settles Little Nutbrown Hare into a bed of leaves and kisses him goodnight.

McBratney is survived by his wife of 56 years, Marilyn, three children and six grandchildren.

A native of Belfast and a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, McBratney was a history teacher who wrote more than 50 books, though he didn’t become a full-time writer until middle age, when he retired from teaching. His other works include the historical novel “The Chieftain’s Daughter,” “The Lough Neah Monster” and “School Trip to the Stars.”

Many of his books were inspired by his children, grandchildren, history or his local community: His debut novel, “Mark Time,” was a pre-adolescent love story set in Northern Ireland. He wrote “Guess How Much I Love You” after his publisher suggested he try a picture story.

“I went back to a little fragment of an idea that I had used in an earlier book and I thought I really liked that little episode that would make a lovely picture book,” he later told the Reading Rockets website. “And so I worked that up into a picture book. And 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, you know.”