When my daughters Emma and Tess were six and four, we met Tomie dePaola at a book signing in Oakbrook, Ill., for his then-latest release, Jingle, the Christmas Clown. The girls were shy about meeting the artist who had created Strega Nona and The Art Lesson, classics in our home library. They were hanging back, half-hidden behind bookshelves.
Tomie not only graciously autographed Jingle but also signed the well-loved copies of his The First Christmas pop-up book and Merry Christmas, Strega Nona that we had toted with us.
Tomie was born in 1934 into an Italian-Irish family in Meriden, Conn. An artist from a young age, he has written and/or illustrated more than 250 books and has received every major children’s book award including the Newbery Award, the Caldecott Medal, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Of his works, I can only say, they make me smile inside. As a writer, I relate to his narratives, which are wise to the universal foibles of human nature. Since I’m not versed in art, I’ll quote illustrator Beth Gismondi on what makes Tomie’s illustrations unique.
“Tomie is known for his distinctive, deceptively simple style: bold outlines, washes of bright color, and very linear compositions. However, as many illustration students soon realize, simplicity is anything but easy to achieve. Tomie has a full mastery of his technique and characters when he works in his minimalist line-and-wash style. He can indicate a facial expression in four lines! Every mark counts, and there is no way to hide a mistake when working in translucent washes of paint.”