Friday, May 01, 2015

Tomie dePaola helps celebrate Family Literacy in Concord, New Hampshire!

I am SO glad that New Hampshire has a statewide Humanities Council!

Last Saturday we drove to the Concord Auditorium to hear beloved children's book writer and illustrator Tomie de Paola talk about his 60 years in the business.   He spoke conversationally with interviewer Rebecca Rule and then answered questions. I was surprised and grateful to know that TD Bank was the primary sponsor with further support by the Rowley Agency.  We also discovered another independent bookstore in town, Gibsons.  (they supplied books to buy and get autographed.  I understand that Mr. DePaola stayed for TWO HOURS signing books.  Pretty generous for someone who described himself as 80 and a half!

We were asked not to take flash photos... which meant I only captured the aura of this saintly gnome.  (He's not actually wearing vestments.  But he claims that when you are an artist you MUST wear scarves.  His was of nearly Whovian length.    You can see a dozen professional (i.e. GOOD) photos on the NHHC website here.     The identifiable image at right is his publicity photo from the SCBWI.  Isn't he devilishly darling?

One little girl asked if he had children.  He noted he had been married for about five minutes to a French woman, and had never  had children.  Then he asked the girl if she would like to be HIS daughter.  She paused and ultimately said "No."  I'm thinking I might have said yes.  Or at least asked to be an honorary niece.
 I wish my phone camera had been able to capture the full charm of the childhood(?) drawing of a cat.

 You are most likely familiar with his first big hit, Strega Nona.  He's written and illustrated more than 200 books, many of which are retellings of folk tales or lives of lesser known Saints. Since I left the world of children's books, he also wrote a series of books about his childhood living at 26 Fairmount Street in Meriden, Connecticut.

Who knew that minor adventures, mishaps and major life changes, charmingly told, could be so enjoyable.  Think of the kindness of Beverly Cleary's family tales and the sense of "a different place; different time" of the Little House Books.

The customs from the Italian (paternal) and Irish (maternal) sides of the clan are recognized as noteworthy, but depicted as just the way things were.

He talked at some length about how he KNEW he wanted to draw and illustrate from the age of four.  AND how supportive his entire family was. He had twin Aunts who were professional photographers in New York City, and one of his Dad's cousins was a famous singer of the era, so the arts were a part of the atmosphere.  He repeated his Aunt's advice which really resonated with me:

He then told most of the story in The Art Lesson which included a teacher who didn't understand the art prodigy (at first) but who became a life long friend.
We had no patience for standing in line for autographs (I've gotten his autograph before, and my grown son has a signed copy of Strega Nona), but we did want to find the independent bookstore.  While I was there, I took pictures of the titles they hadn't taken to the auditorium.

He also talked about the support he gets from his editor, Nancy.  I had no idea that he would  have qualms about his drawings or story telling given his experience, success and crowds of adoring fans.  I, too, am grateful that Nancy Paulsen helps him keep keeping on.  (And envy that she gets to do so!)
You might think that because his illustrations (and fine art paintings) are so simple, he didn't have "real" training.  But he did.  He went to the Pratt Institute, and then spent almost 20 years teaching at various schools in New England and California.  It wasn't until then that he devoted full time to books and illustrations.
To my admittedly amateur eye, when you look at his work critically, the composition, design, color and "mood" meet all of the highest criteria.

  " I try to be as clear and simple as I can be in my illustrations so that the child can tell what is going on 
and what the emotions are. "
Of course, I've been a "fan" for years.  But what struck me more than anything else that afternoon was what a NICE HUMAN BEING Mr. DePaola is.  And I can be critical, judgmental and snarky (you probably know that if you read much of my blog!).   
After a reference to the many many books of bible stories, lives of the saints and so forth, the interviewer asked him at one point to identify what was important to him. He said that although one might expect it to be religion or God, is was actually Faith.  And Family.  And (of course) Love.  All I can say is that we would all be better off is we were as loving and lovable as Mr. DePaola.

Thank you for the lovely afternoon.

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