Mention Tomie de Paola's name to any group of children's or school librarians and you will see their eyes twinkle with joy. That is because those who know children's literature know that de Paola's work is about fun, joy, and stories that touch our hearts. He has written or illustrated approximately 200 children's books, and each is a work of art.
Tomie de Paola is one of those rare children's authors who is as popular among children as he is with adults. Many authors write books adults think children should like. His books bring children back again and again.
Each year I read Strega Nona to my first grade library classes. Her magic and the fun of Big Anthony never fail to catch their imagination. One year a student checked out Strega Nona over 20 times! His father finally bought the series of books about Strega Nona so that they could rotate their bedtime stories.
The world of Tomie de Paola is one of laughter, love, and joy. "Life is a wonderful, wonderful thing to experience and I hope my books help do that," he says. He often incorporates stories from his own childhood into his books. His Italian and Irish American background were featured in his autobiography 26 Fairmount Avenue, which was awarded with a Newbery Honor medal in 2000.
A few years ago one of our staff members had to leave quickly and take her sons to visit her failing mother. She asked for a book to help her sons understand their grandmother's death. I lent her Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs. In the book after Nana Upstairs dies Tommy wakes up in the middle of the night and sees a shooting star. His mother says it is a kiss from Nana Upstairs. After her mother's funeral our staff member drove her sons to school and it began to snow. One of the boys turned to his mother crying out, "Look, it's kisses from Grandma. Just like in the book."
What advice does Tomie de Paola have for adults, specifically librarians and teachers?
- Read aloud to your students every day. Tomie's fifth-grade teacher read aloud every afternoon for at least 20 minutes.
- Give students time to "mess." This same fifth-grade teacher had an enormous table filled with interesting stuff. Students were allowed to go to the table to make things from all sorts of scrap paper, fabric, machinery, etc.
- Let students daydream and spend time seemingly doing nothing. Since unstructered, unplanned time allows children to develop ideas, time doing nothing is not wasted.
- Let students make mistakes. If everything is done well the first time, students will not be able to grow and learn from their experiences. Give students opportunities to try something they may not be good at in order to learn how to get better.
Grab a seat and a friendly child and read one of Tomie de Paola's wonderful books together this week.