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Creator / Tomie dePaola

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"A picture book is a small door to the enormous world of the visual arts, and they're often the first art a young person sees."

Thomas Anthony "Tomie" dePaolanote  (September 15, 1934 — March 30, 2020) was an American author and illustrator, specializing in books for children.

From the age of four, Tomie knew that he wanted to be an artist, and also fantasized about being a professional tap dancer or singer. He credited his family with encouraging his development as an artist, and influencing the themes of many of his works.

dePaola studied art at New York City's Pratt Institute, and would receive honorary degrees from various colleges across the country, as well as teaching art at several more. He retired from teaching in 1978 to focus on his illustrating and writing career. He frequently collaborated with other authors (with his first illustration credit being for Lisa Miller's Sound, in 1965), but is best remembered for the works that he authored himself, ranging from childhood anecdotes to re-tellings of folktales and legends — among all of them, he is most famous as the creator of the beloved Southern Italian traditional healer/wise woman, Strega Nona. For his contributions to children's literature, he won several awards, including the Caldecott Honor (for the first Strega Nona story), the Newbery Honor (for 26 Fairmount Avenue), and the Children's Literature Legacy Award, as well as being named a Living Treasure by the State of New Hampshire.

In 2001, Tomie hosted a short-lived television series, Telling Stories with Tomie dePaola, produced by the Jim Henson Company, and airing on Hallmark Channel. The series is available for streaming on the Roku Channel.

Tomie was of Irish descent on his mother's side of the family, and Italian (Calabrian, to be exact) on his father's; many of his stories — such as those of Strega Nona, Old Befana, and Jamie O'Rourke — reflect his heritage. A native of New England, he was born and raised in Meriden, Connecticut, and lived in New London, New Hampshire for most of his life. This was reflected in his anthology of New England tall tales, Tomie dePaola's Front Porch Tales and North Country Whoppers.

In the last weeks of March 2020, Tomie fell in his studio and sustained a serious head injury, ultimately succumbing to complications from corrective surgery.

For a more comprehensive bibliography, consult his website.

Selected Bibiography (both written and illustrated by Tomie unless otherwise noted)

  • 26 Fairmount Avenue (series)
    1. 26 Fairmount Avenue
    2. Here We All Are
    3. On My Way
    4. What a Year
    5. Things Will Never Be the Same
    6. I'm Still Scared
    7. Why?
    8. For the Duration
  • Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story
  • The Art Lesson
  • The Baby Sister
  • Bill and Pete (series)
    1. Bill and Pete
    2. Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile
    3. Bill and Pete to the Rescue
  • Bonjour, Monsieur Satie
  • The Clown of God
  • Fight the Night
  • Fin M'Coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill
  • Front Porch Tales and North Country Whoppers
  • In a Small Kingdom (illustrated by Doug Salati)
  • Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato
  • Jamie O'Rourke and the Pooka
  • The Legend of the Bluebonnet
  • The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush
  • The Legend of Old Befana
  • The Legend of the Persian Carpet (illustrated by Claire Ewart)
  • Legend of the Poinsettia
  • Little Grunt and the Big Egg
  • Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs
  • The Night of Las Posadas
  • Now One Foot, Now the Other
  • Odd Jobs (written by Tony Johnston)
  • Oliver Button Is a Sissy
  • The Popcorn Book
  • Strega Nona (series)
  • Tom
  • Watch Out for the Chicken Feet in Your Soup

Tropes related to Tomie dePaola and his work include:

  • Aesop Amnesia: Big Anthony appears to suffer from this, as he keeps learning that he shouldn't play with magic, but gets into trouble with it all over again in the next story.
  • Art Evolution: dePaola's style of drawing changed a lot over the course of his 50+-career.
    • The style he used in the Strega Nona books increasingly resembles the style of Charles Schulz as the series progresses.
    • Some of Tomie's autobiographical works also use different styles of drawing. Now One Foot, Now the Other, for instance, looks markedly more naturalistic than such titles as Tom or Oliver Button is a Sissy.
    • Not just in terms of drawing style, either — the color palettes in his books got progressively brighter and more vibrant. This is especially evident in the Strega Nona series.
  • Big Fun: While Tomie was always fairly solidly-built, he put on a lot of weight between the late 1990's and the early 2010's (though he slimmed down somewhat toward the end of his life). In addition, everyone who knew him all agree that he was warm, friendly, and caring, with an unwavering and childlike joie de vivre and a charming sense of humor; as the page image indicates, he was also quick to smile.
  • Black Bead Eyes: A hallmark of dePaola's art style. Very rarely do characters in his books have eyes with visible irises and sclerae, and even then, only in close-ups.
  • Cool Old Guy: In Tom, Tomie's maternal grandfather, Tom Downey, is shown to have been a vivacious, warm-hearted man with an impish sense of humor. Considering all things, it's no wonder that his grandson shared such a strong bond with him.
  • Friend to All Children: From his sister Maureen's birth onward, Tomie showed a deep, sincere love for children; throughout his career, he frequently visited schools and local bookstores/libraries, and when interacting with his young fans, he was unfailingly gentle and affectionate. He also greatly encouraged children's creativity, and wrote his stories in a way that spoke directly to kids, indicating a strong respect for their intelligence.
  • "Just So" Story: The Legend of the Bluebonnet, The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, and Legend of the Poinsettia are retellings of such stories, which tell how these species of plants came to be.
  • Late Coming Out: He came out as gay publicly during an interview in 2019 at age 83, saying he'd waited so long since for most of his career schools would refuse to buy books by gay creators.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: Thoroughly averted in the Bill and Pete series; William Everett "Bill" Crocodile is a very Nice Guy, as are his mother and classmates.
  • New Baby Episode: The Baby Sister centers on Tommy's mother's pregnancy. Tommy really wants a sister with a red ribbon in her hair, and his mother ends up having to stay in the hospital for several days, as a result of a chickenpox outbreak going around. Tommy deeply misses her, but she later comes home with Tommy's newborn sister, Maureen, who does have a red ribbon in her hair.
  • Nice Guy: Tomie's friends, family, and colleagues — not to mention those of his fans who had the great luck to meet him — can vouch that he was the kindest, sweetest man you'd ever meet.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: In addition to hosting Telling Stories, dePaola made a few appearances on Barney & Friends.
  • Spell My Name With An S: dePaola's maternal cousin, singer Morton Downey, predicted that the boy would grow to be very famous, so if he wanted to be remembered, he would need to spell his name in a unique way. To that end, he spelled his name as T-O-M-I-E.(When he went to school, however, he was forced to spell it as T-O-M-M-Y.)
  • Stars Are Souls: In Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, shortly after Nana Upstairs passes away, Tommy sees a falling star through the window. He tells his parents, and his mother tells him, "It must be a kiss from Nana Upstairs." In the end, after Nana Downstairs' passing, an adult Tommy sees another falling star, and muses, "Now you are both Nana Upstairs."
  • Too Unhappy to Be Hungry:
    • In The Baby Sister, it's mentioned that Tommy doesn't eat his dinner because he misses his mother (who's still at the hospital) too much.
    • In Now One Foot, Now the Other, Bobby is too distraught to eat while Bob is recuperating from his stroke.