The cause was a heart ailment, said her daughter, Joy Anglund.
Ms. Anglund produced more than 120 books that, translated into numerous languages, sold 50 million copies. No translation was needed for the emotion evoked by her illustrations, which became ubiquitous through their adaptation for greeting cards, calendars, figurines and other collectible merchandise.
Working in pen and ink, Ms. Anglund honed a signature style in which children’s round faces were rendered without mouths or noses. Much like children themselves, they were a tabula rasa, a screen on which young readers could project and try out their own new and unfamiliar emotions.
“I think perhaps I am trying to get down to the essence of a child — not drawing just a particular, realistic child, but instead I think I’m trying to capture the ‘feeling’ of all children — of childhood itself, perhaps,” Ms. Anglund observed in reflections quoted in the reference guide “Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults.”
“This may be too why I find myself dressing the children in my books in a timeless manner,” she continued, “not really in any definite ‘period’ in time — but always with a vague sense of nostalgia.”
Her first book, “A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You,” was published in 1958 after her husband discovered the manuscript and submitted it to the Harcourt publishing house in New York City, where the family lived at the time. A transplanted Midwesterner, Ms. Anglund was consumed by loneliness and despaired that she might never find a companion in the city.
“I would look at the huge buildings around me and imagine that behind every window was someone who had the potential to be a friend,” she once said, according to an obituary that appeared in Publishers Weekly.
Her ruminations on friendship became the germ of her book, which Ellen Lewis Buell, a reviewer of children’s literature for the New York Times, described as “small, pretty” and “deceptively slight-looking.” For any child who has ever felt left out, she wrote, Ms. Anglund’s “theme — that friendship is where you find it — can be a very reassuring experience.”
Ms. Anglund went on to produce dozens more books, finding particular success in the early years of her career with “Love Is a Special Way of Feeling” (1960), “Christmas Is a Time of Giving” (1961) and “Spring Is a New Beginning” (1963).
She displayed particular skill in defining emotions in ways that children could understand — explaining, for instance, that love is the “good way we feel when we talk to someone and they want to listen and don’t tell us to go away and be quiet.” If some readers dismissed her writing as saccharine, other found it pure and true.
A profile of Ms. Anglund published in 1972 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited a psychiatrist who furnished copies of “Love Is a Special Way of Feeling” to clients with criminal records. The effect, according to the article, was felicitous.
Joan May Walsh was born in Hinsdale, Ill., on Jan. 3, 1926. Her father was a commercial artist, and her mother was a painter who sought to cultivate her daughter’s creativity by occasionally allowing her to play hooky from school.
Ms. Anglund recalled that, in their household, everyone drew on the porcelain table, on mirrors — everywhere. She said she would often retreat to the attic to read books and doodle on their pages, erasing the marginalia to leave room for another magical session the next day. She absorbed a spirituality and love of the written word from her Catholic grandmothers, one of whom read to her from “Lives of the Saints.”
But Ms. Anglund’s childhood was also marred by tragedy. She was 6 when a younger sister died of spinal meningitis and 10 when her father was hit by a car and killed. “After Daddy died, we never had a home again,” she said in the documentary “Joan Walsh Anglund: Life in Story and Poem” (2019) by filmmaker Tim Jackson.
“The tragedies made me more aware of the realities of life and what they might mean,” Ms. Anglund told the Post-Dispatch. “Children are very concerned with life and can cope with anything that is true. I think any life experience should be discussed with a child, at a certain level. . . . But while we’re expressing realism we must also express truth. Truth is different than just presenting facts. There don’t have to be happy endings in children’s stories, but there does have to be honesty.”
Ms. Anglund studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art, also in Chicago, before working as an apprentice to a commercial artist. In 1947, she married Robert Anglund, then a student at the Goodman Theatre. They had two children who often played at Ms. Anglund’s feet as she worked at her drawing table.
Robert Anglund died in 2009. Their son, Todd Anglund, whose childhood fascination with his cowboy hat and boots made him the model for her book “The Brave Cowboy” (1959) and its sequels, died of a heart attack in 1992. Besides her daughter, of Litchfield County, Ms. Anglund’s survivors include two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
In addition to illustrating her own works, Ms. Anglund provided drawings for “The Golden Treasury of Poetry” (1959) by Louis Untermeyer. Among her more recent books were “Babies Are a Bit of Heaven” (2002), “Love Is the Best Teacher” (2004) and “Faith Is a Flower” (2006).
She also wrote several volumes of poetry for adults. Her more inspirational observations were so quotable that one was incorrectly attributed to Maya Angelou, the poet and author of the memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” when the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Angelou in 2015, a year after her death.
The stamp bore a picture of Angelou and the aphorism “a bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” The line — which Angelou had often cited and which was often attributed to her, including once by President Barack Obama — appeared first in Ms. Anglund’s 1967 poetry collection “A Cup of Sun.” (In the original, Ms. Anglund referred to the bird as “he” rather than “it.”)
Ms. Anglund told The Washington Post at the time that she admired Angelou, that such a passage could easily enter one’s “subconscious” and that she wished success for the stamp.
Although story books are often described as imparting wisdom on children, Ms. Anglund seemed to draw hers from them. “Children are little people who know how to experience the ‘now,’ ” she told the Boston Globe in 1988. “Adults look fore and aft, and pine for what is not.” For her part, she said she never wished to grow up.