Remembering Tomie dePaola
Some thoughts on the passing of author Tomie dePaola (1934–2020)
Author and illustrator Tomie dePaola passed away at 85 on March 30, 2020. I posted some thoughts about it on Twitter; reposting here for whatever fleeting sense of posterity the internet allows.
Around 1998–99, my first-grade class wrote a letter to Tomie dePaola after reading Strega Nona & other books of his. He wrote us back, and it was so exciting to me that I got his address from my teacher and sent him at least two more letters on my own. He responded each time.
Quite a few Tomie-related memories remain unusually intact for those of a 7-year-old: how thrilled I was by his first personal response to me; how I showed my teacher and she hung it in the hallway outside our classroom; how proud I was to have conversed with this great figure.
I remember reading 26 Fairmount Avenue the minute I got home from book fair day. I remember Strega Nona and Big Anthony. I remember each of his letters back.
But despite how little I remember of that age, it’s really not unusual how clear these recollections have stayed.
People like Tomie are some of the first artists — some of celebrities — we’re exposed to as kids, and it’s hard to overstate the impact of that; the value of having people like him and work like his.
A few years ago, those memories came back to me for the first time in a while. I checked Tomie’s website to see what he was up to. I was glad to see he was still with us; still writing. I noticed he still made occasional appearances in New York, and hoped I’d get to stop by one.
I thought it would be nice to shake his hand and thank him for those memories in person. I’d check his website for signings every so often. A couple times, I‘d just missed him.
I was sad to read of Tomie’s passing last month. I never got to shake his hand, but I’d like to think it’s not too late to put that “thank you” out there for him. In any case, I’m glad we had him, and I’ve enjoyed remembering everything he left us with.