Tomie de Paola, Children’s Book Illustrator and Writer (1934-2020)

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When I was an Early Childhood teacher, I produced my own lesson plans. I wrote most aspects of the daily/weekly curriculum within a philosophical framework. Different schools had different core objectives, but one thing every school I taught for had in common was literature. Books fit into every aspect of every other subject. The play area was filled with role playing items and dress-up clothes that related to a book we were reading. Blocks, Lego, and building supplies re-enacted scenes from the stories we read all week. Exercise and walks outdoors were times to talk about the children and their families and again, relate their lived experiences to what they had seen and heard their favorite characters do.

Early childhood settings often, more often than not have a period that we call circle time. The kids and their teacher sit in a circle on the floor and begin their day with language. Talking, singing, reading. Repetition is one of the major factors in the early childhood curriculum. Many of the books I chose could be read and enjoyed simply by listening, but others lent themselves easily to child participation.

Each morning, the first book I read was Here are My Hands by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambeault. It was beautifully illustrated, but simply written, and easy to follow. Rhyming, watercolor illustrations, parts of the body. Everything you could want in a circle time book.

Here are my hands for catching and throwing,

Here are my feet for running and growing.

Easy to remember, too.

I’d read and when I read a body part, the children would lift it up and name it in unison. Many of the books read that way.

One of my favorites at the time (and still is) was Charlie Needs a New Cloak by Tomie de Paola. There was just something about its simplicity, how it showed the process of making cloth, from sheep shearing to sewing. As each part was told, the last line was, Charlie needs a new cloak. The kids listened intently, and each time it came up they all chorused, “Charlie needs a new cloak.” Each successive time getting louder and louder. (We disturbed other groups, but we were learning and laughing.) I can still hear their voices rising, their bodies moving in anticipation of their favorite line.

As a teacher I collected many books. Many of them were written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola. Most people are familiar with Strega Nona who was a witch who had a magic pasta pot. She always had enough, and always had enough to share with her helper, Big Anthony who once made the pot overflow. This was a favorite of the kids. It had everything: magic, friendship, good deeds, respect, and of course, spaghetti. The book was set in Calabria, which is where Tomie’s Italian grandparents were from.

When I began to go on retreats a few years ago, I sat quietly in the retreat house chapel, staring at the enchanting mural at the back, on the wall behind the altar, behind the plants, behind the tabernacle. Seven women, saints, and the Blessed Mother. There was something about them. They were captivating, and they seemed alive. I have a friend who says that she can see Mary move when she’s watching her. It’s a wonderful mural, bright colors with their names labeled under their feet. I take a new photo of it nearly every time I visit. It is such a peaceful place for meditation and contemplation. The mural is just one of the many reasons why. I don’t know when I noticed a newspaper article in the retreat house that mentions the artist, Tomie de Paola. I had no idea, although once I saw his name, the images clicked with his art that I was already familiar with. He painted the mural in 1958. It still looks like it did when he first did it; like he painted it last week.

I was so sad to hear that he had died just a few weeks ago, in March. He was eighty-five, and died from complications from surgery after a fall in his barn studio, He lived in New Hampshire, and being so close by I had always thought I might meet him. I don’t know why I thought this, and I am heartbroken to see him go. His books, and his art will live on through eternity.

Mural at the Dominican Retreat Conference Center in Niskayuna, NY (by Tomie de Paola, 1958). Cover of Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie de Paola. (c)2020

Photo of some of my Tomie de Paola Collection of children’s literature. (c)2020

Obama Book Club

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As a young child, as voracious a reader that I was, I had never read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It was my close friend’s favorite book.

During my freshman year at college, there was an auction. Two of the British exchange students would tuck you into bed with a glass of warm milk an read you a bedtime story if yours was the highest bid.

The book was Where the Wild Things Are.

I was the highest bidder.

It was fun and sweet and I finally heard the story of Max.

Let the wild rumpus begin!

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is on President Obama’s Entertainment Weekly Book List.

Look it up and have a flashback to your own childhood.

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50-31 – The Magic Tunnel

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The Magic Tunnel by Caroline D. Emerson was one of my favorite books as a child, and it still resides on my bookshelf. I will take it out on occasion and thumb through it, reading bits and pieces and remembering what I loved about it.

It was multi-genre, taking on adventure, history and historical fiction, and time travel, and it probably influenced the direction of my interests more than I would have thought at the time. It had everything a voracious reader in elementary school could ask for.

I spent my elementary years in NYC – Queens with grandparents in both Queens and the Bronx. The brother and sister in The Magic Tunnel also lived in New York City, and in taking the subway, something I did with my uncle and on class trips, they found adventure in the past before NYC became New York. It was originally New Amsterdam, and in their travels, they met the original Dutch colonialists, the Native Americans already living in the area, and Peter Stuyvesant.

They explored the Dutch settlement and saw other aspects of Dutch colonial life and recognized much as what they had been learning in school as well as straightening out some misconceptions from that time period.

In the years after reading this, I immersed myself into history and science-fiction, still two of my loves. I also continue to have an unfinished novel from college in the same multi-genre way, combining time travel, adventure, and history. Without realizing it, I’m certain that The Magic Tunnel was a strong influence to begin and continue that story. Even today, I still come back to it and try to tweak and add elements, thinking maybe the story is relevant and can still go somewhere.

After college, I joined a re-enactment group to study and fully immerse myself in The Middle Ages.

I still love train travel, and am thinking of how to take a train trip for a writing excursion, although I’m not sure that I want to travel to another dimension or plane.

Published in 1964, it may certainly be dated and somewhat stereotypical, but it is still worth a look to see how our past was perceived and may have been perceived by two elementary age siblings just trying to get home.

The Post Office, Part 1

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Starting at the top, clockwise: Lapel pin of America Responds stamp, Ornament commemorating 100 Years of Letters to Santa through the US Postal Service, America Responds stamp sheet, Harvey Milk stamp sheet, plastic mailbox to hold stamps or Valentine’s. (c)2016

Starting at the Top, clockwise: Baseball Sluggers, Sunday Funnies, Star Wars, Disney Magic, Super Heroes Chapter Two, Animals, Super Heroes Chapter One, Disney Romance, Star Trek. (c)2016

Recs for Children’s Book Week

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Children’s Book Week

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

Aliki

Anno

Charles G. Shaw

David Macaulay

Doreen Mulryan Marts

Ed Young

Eric Carle

Graeme Base\

Jan Brett

Janell Cannon

Margaret Hodges

Tomie de Paola

Trina Schart Hyman

Children’s Book Week

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I love Children’s Book Week, but I also feel as though it’s somewhat redundant, especially for schools and libraries. Don’t get me wrong – there is no such thing as too many books, but I also sometimes feel that there isn’t a need for a special week to introduce books to your children and encourage them to read. We do this without thinking from the time they’re born; before they’re born.

Think of all the reading your family already does with your children: street signs, storefronts, grocery and Christmas lists, comic books, magazines, and of course all the books that line our shelves.

The huge varieties of available children’s books today meet the needs of all kids including those who are kids at heart. I still recall my favorite children’s books from childhood – The Magic Tunnel by Caroline Emerson, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – timeless treasures that can be read again and again. They continue to reside on my bookshelves.

I truly believe that almost all books can be used in all grade levels. Picture books have moved well beyond simple stories and large illustrations. I would read higher end picture books to toddlers when I was teaching in the early childhood field, and I’d read picture books to elementary level kids. Everyone loves to be read to.

Here’s a sampling of what I mean. They can all be read with and without the words, and they can be used as supplements to other subjects. I would bring in A Medieval Feast by Aliki yearly on Halloween to explain how my medieval costume was similar to a princess, but I wasn’t a princess. I was sometimes surprised at how much young children will accept when talked to on their level, with respect and honesty. I used the same book with a sixth grade class as part of their unit on The Middle Ages. It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles Shaw is beautiful on its surface, and is a jumping off point to exploring our imaginations and simply lying out in the grass surveying the clouds above us.

Good places to start for selecting books are with the Caldecott Medal and Newberry Medal winners.

These are five of my favorites that are appropriate across all ages, but they don’t begin to scratch the surface of good books for children:

Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon

The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery by Graeme Base

St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

The Mitten by Jan Brett

Castle by David Macaulay

At the start of this I said that I didn’t feel there was a need for Children’s Book Week, but you know what? Why shouldn’t there be a week to celebrate children’s books? Children’s books are wonderful and we should promote them everywhere, so I’ll admit it – I guess I was wrong. And it perfectly lined up falling right after Free Comic Book Day!

Enjoy the rest of this week, the 2015 Children’s Book Week!

This Week’s Theme: Reading

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I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but since the beginning of the year I’ve tried to maintain daily features and a weekly theme to tie my posts together a bit more.

I’ve also included my recent blogging classes – for the next two weeks I’ll be posting photos from Photography 101.

During Lent I’ve been posting a daily reflection, whatever stays in my head from my spiritual readings and thoughts. These are generally short but they’ve been open-ended, no agenda or word count.

As it hands, and as I mentioned in this morning’s prompt, it is Dr. Seuss’ birthday. He would have been 101 years old today, so this week I thought our theme would be reading, each day of the week a different genre. Today it is children’s books.

I have some favorites to share:

The Magic Tunnel by Caroline Emerson – kids, NYC subways, time travel, history.

It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles Shaw – white shapes on a blue background, great for the imagination and crafts with cotton balls. Good for laying in the grass liking up at the clouds. I also made a flannel board set to go with this book.

Castle by David Macaulay – the inner workings of building a medieval Welsh castle. All of his books are brilliantly written and illustrated and can be adapted for all ages. As a teacher I used them with preschoolers and middle schoolers. I recommend all of his works.

Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola – beautiful, gentle work, both secular and religious. In fact, at the retreat center I just returned from, he drew the mural in their chapel in 1958. Again, I recommend all of his works.

Tomorrow we’ll look at history and historical fiction.