As if the world didn’t have enough awful news at the moment, we just learned that Tomie dePaola has died. Readers are remembering the many great books he wrote and illustrated – even people who didn’t read many books as kids have usually read “Strega Nona” – while his fellow authors are remembering his kindness and support along with his endless creativity and enthusiasm.
I got to know Tomie a tiny bit – I would be stretching it to call him a close friend – but I did get to interview him for the radio in 2013, and it’s one of my all-time favorite interviews. It always helps when you interview someone who’s a storyteller because they make it so easy. And his stories about how he ended up going to art school, and dreaming up his books, were fantastic.
He was also a good listener. I mentioned to him after the interview that my then two-year-old was a big fan of his book “The Birds of Bethlehem,” in which Tomie had drawn shining stars in the sky as part of the story of the first Christmas. My little guy was taken with these pictures and called the book “the fireworks book.” Tomie thought this was hilarious and signed a copy of the newest Strega Nona book to him.
Now that’s awfully generous on its own – but some months later he was having a book event at our neighborhood bookstore, and when he saw me and my little man there, he not only recognized me, but remembered the story I’d told him about the fireworks book. “Is this clever little O?” he said, with a big smile. When someone who’s that special remembers you, well, that feels pretty special.
So, thanks, Tomie, for sharing so much of yourself with us. We’ll think of you every time we see fireworks!
A big thank you to Bob, Tomie’s longtime assistant, who not only made that interview possible but has also been posting wonderful photos and remembrances.