Amy Krouse Rosenthal, an author and maker of short films who touched many lives when she wrote a touching essay about her husband, Jason, and her terminal ovarian cancer diagnosis, died Monday, March 13, 2017, in Chicago. She was 51.
Rosenthal was a prolific writer, with more than two dozen children’s books to her credit, as well as five books for adults and a line of keepsake journals.
A number of Rosenthal’s children’s books were New York Times bestsellers, including “Exclamation Mark!” (2013), which also won a California Young Reader Medal. It, like her other children’s books, received glowing reviews, including a Kirkus starred review that called it “Funny and spirited (and secretly educational, but nobody will notice).”
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In a 2007 New York Times review of “The OK Book,” Rebecca Zerkin described the theme that ran through many of Rosenthal’s offerings for children: “validating children’s concerns and providing quiet encouragement, all while using light, spare language.” In that book, Rosenthal did it by reminding children that they don’t have to be great at everything – it’s fine to be “OK” at a lot of things. In “Spoon,” she did it by following a young spoon who was sad that he couldn’t do the marvelous things forks and knives do – until he found out that the other utensils were jealous of his own special skills.
In 2010, one of Rosenthal’s children’s books – “Duck! Rabbit!” – was chosen to be read during the White House Easter Egg Roll. Another notable honor came in 2015, when five of her books were featured in the year’s Global Read Aloud, in which educators all over the world are encouraged to read a group of recommended books to their students, bringing together a variety of classrooms through the shared activity.
Rosenthal’s books for adults were also well received, and her best known was “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life” (2005), a memoir of sorts. A series of short, alphabetized entries, it mused on minutiae of everyday life in a relatable way that charmed readers: "Every. Single. Solitary. Time I go to get gas I have to lean out the window to see which side the tank is on." Her 2016 follow-up, “Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal,” employed a similar concept but organized her musings in the format of a textbook rather than an encyclopedia.
Though Rosenthal already had a wide following for her books, she gained new readers when she wrote the March 3 Modern Love article, "You May Want To Marry My Husband," that appeared in The New York Times. It was similar to a letter of introduction about her husband, Jason, but written for the modern woman who might use a dating app such as Tinder. Addressing women who someday may date her husband, she encourages them to "swipe right" when they view his profile, a gesture of acceptance. "I have been married to the most extraordinary man for 26 years," she wrote. "I was planning on at least another 26 together."
She details how those plans were dashed in September 2015 when doctors told her she did not have appendicitis, but rather ovarian cancer.
"So many plans instantly went poof," she wrote.
The profile described her husband as "incredibly handsome," "a sharp dresser" with a "flair for fabulous socks," and "man, can he cook."
A native of Chicago, Rosenthal attended Tufts University and got her professional start as an advertising copywriter. As she transitioned to writing columns and essays, her work was picked up by high profile publications including the New York Times and Parenting magazine.
Her first books followed her early writing style, collections of essays and musings for adults, but when she began writing children’s books in 2005, she didn’t look back. She published 26 books for young readers over the course of 10 years, focusing her later efforts primarily on these and her series of journals – “The Belly Book: A Nine-Month Journal of Baby’s First Year,” “The Bride-To-Be Book: A Journal of memories from the Proposal to ‘I Do’” – rather than her early essay writing.
Rosenthal also made several short films, created using her iPhone or pocket-size Flip video camera. They include "17 Things I Made," "Today Is a Gift," "The Money Tree," and "The Beckoning of Lovely.” Some invited audience response or participation, and “17 Things I Made” invited viewers to meet Rosenthal in Chicago’s Millennium Park at a specific date and time to make an 18th thing. The small group she expected blossomed into 400 curious fans, who had an experience Rosenthal described as “magical” to Chicago Magazine.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by their three children, Justin, Miles, and Paris.