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Tomie dePaola on writing, illustrating, and Strega Nona - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tomie dePaola on writing, illustrating, and Strega Nona

Tomie dePaola Tomie dePaola

Books Over Breakfast -- October 26, 2011

The holidays are approaching, and a famous New Hampshire author is unveiling a new story for the season with some classic characters.

"When I was four years old, believe it or not, I announced to my family and all of my relatives that when I grew up, I was going to be an artist, and I was going to write and draw pictures for books, and I was going to sing and tap dance on stage," Tomie dePaola says. "[I've done] all of them. And gotten paid for all of them too!"

DePaola has lived a life as colorful and varied as his works -- all 250-plus of them. His first job was illustrating a children's science book.

"It got reviewed in the New York Times and the reviewer said 'dePaola's pictures are far too imaginative to be in a science book,' and I thought that was a great compliment," he says. "And the rest is history."

History that was made with his Caldecott Honor award-winning Strega Nona, which added its eleventh book last week in Shelburne. DePaola says he didn't originally intend for it to be a series, but the ideas kept coming.

"Everybody fell in love with this little grandma witch, which is what Strega Nona means," he says.

"Strega Nona's Gift" follows the familiar characters -- grandmotherly Strega Nona, bumbling Big Anthony, and their little Italian village -- as they ready for the Christmas festivities. The holidays depicted have a strong Italian cultural flavor that dePaola credits to his upbringing.

"Anybody that knows anything about the Italian culture knows that the Christmastime especially that whole month of December into January is all kinds of incredible, sometimes questionable food," he says.

DePaola always writes before he draws. But he says his best advice to illustrators who want to write is to let the pictures do most of the storytelling.

"You are writing long descriptions of all these characters. You don't have to do that," he says. "You just have to draw a picture. And so in my case, a picture is truly worth a thousand words."

Decades of writing and illustrating have gotten dePaola noticed. This year he received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for Lifetime Achievement -- an honor he says means a lot to him.

"It's not for a specific title it's for the body of my work, and that makes me feel as though I've been doing the right thing,"he says.

But even without the awards, dePaola says it's all the dreams come true when someone tells him they've read his books to their children -- been read to themselves -- or even both.

 WCAX News

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