Tomie dePaola is a good storyteller who uses a simple stylized art with the unadorned text of legends, poetry and nursery rhymes. He has illustrated more than 200 children's books, published in 15 countries around the world. Five of the picture books get their material from his own life.
For example, "Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs" and "Now One Foot, Now the Other," are about his grandparents (Irish on one side, Italian on the other). His younger sister, Maureen, was the focus for "The Baby Sister," and he placed himself as the budding young artist in "The Art Lesson."His latest creation, "26 Fairmount Avenue," also autobiographical, is a beginning chapter book and a shift for dePaola, the artist storyteller.
"In picture books, the pictures move the story and the characters along. But with '26 Fairmount Avenue,' I had to find all those adjectives I learned to leave out over the years. Where before I had to reduce, reduce, reduce, now with this. . . . I had to add, add, add. It's a very interesting process for me," dePaola says.
The story is about the author's childhood, his parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and neighbors. "One memory sparked another. . .," he said.
He tells of his day in kindergarten where he was told he'd have to wait until first grade to learn to read. " 'Fine,' I said, 'I'll be back next year.' And I walked right out of school and all the way home." He relays his concern over seeing the movie of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
"I knew that Mr. Walt Disney hadn't read the true story carefully enough because he got it all mixed up with 'Sleeping Beauty.' "
"26 Fairmount Avenue" launches a series, each using the same title which will consist of four to six books each told in first person introducing new faces and memories of his own life as well as expanding on some of the episodes from his previous picture books.
"26 Fairmount Avenue" and the subsequent books are going to be big hits with his many fans.
DePaola may have been concerned about his move to writing a novel: "I worried most about the 'author's voice.' . . . Did I even have a 'voice' without pictures? Was the Tomie dePaola voice of the picture books the same as the Tomie dePaola voice of a chapter book? I wanted to write as if I was telling the stories. Then I started to write and I found myself naturally telling the stories in the voices of me as a 9-year-old. . . . Then I sent it to Margaret (Frith, Editor at Putnam) and held my breath. I knew it was OK when she called right back and said 'Tomie, you have a voice. And I loved it!"'
And we do, too! "26 Fairmount Avenue" will be treasured additions, right next to "The Legend of the Blue Bonnet" and "Strega Nona" and the many others of this gifted artist.