Tomie dePaola (1934 - 2020) knew how to tell a story. In person, he could keep you spellbound with his stories. His eyes would twinkle and he knew just the right moment to pause and let a joke or a witty observation hit and leave you laughing. Over the past fifty years, his books have been equally brilliant, providing readers with a complex emotional range of characters and events.
DePaola's brush with Philadelphia was brief. His second book, Fight the Night (1968) was originally published by J. B. Lippincott & Co., located on Washington Square. In the story, readers meet a young boy named Ronald and his outrageous imagination that blooms at night. While this early work would be the only book dePaola would publish with Lippincott, his artistic viewpoint was already firmly established. Ronald's story could have been published this year - that is how strong dePaola's artistic style was. His art changed subtly but never wavered, and with it dePaola created some truly unforgettable characters. In 1975, the world was introduced to Strega Nona, the Italian grandmotherly witch who has been a staple figure of storytimes since her first publication. She wasn't the only grandmother found in dePaola's stories though; there were two more that made a lasting impact on the world of children's literature. Two years previously, dePaola turned his storytelling skills inward and wrote Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs (1973), an autobiographical story from his own childhood. The story gently explained death and the grieving process to young readers around the world. In the book, the main character Tommy learns about death when his great-grandmother, Nana Upstairs dies. Tommy asks his mother:
"Won't she ever come back?" he asked.
"No, dear," Mother said softly. "Except in your memory. She will come back in your memory whenever you think about her."
Goodbye Tomie. We know you're upstairs with both your grandmothers now, and we hope you know how many wonderful memories you've left us.
For more information about Tomie dePaola and his books, visit the Free Library's database, Something About the Author.