Monday, January 14, 2013

Writing to Tomie DePaola...

...That was one of our projects for school this quarter!  Just before Christmas, we wrote to one of our favorite authors, Tomie DePaola.

I could go on and on about why he ranks among the top for me, and I will - just not in this post.  I intend to fully expound upon the greatness of that author/illustrator in an attempt to convert (possibly the only) two readers of my know who you are... over to Tomie's fan club (not a real thing.)  And soon you will know why our bookshelves are bursting at the seams with Tomie's books.  

But for now, here's simply a little account of our project...

First, everyone wrote a letter to Mr. DePaola.
Since so much of his work is somewhat autobiographical, we all feel like we already know Tomie! It was fun for me to chat with the kids about what they would include in their letters.  I think one of the reasons I wanted to do this project, besides that it was just tons of fun, was to help my kids grasp more concretely that there are real people behind our favorite books.  We already love the stories, and now I hope that by coming to understand a little more about the human effort that goes into a written story and "real artwork" (as opposed to computer-generated illustrations.  blech.) they will appreciate a good book as a little piece of someone.  Good books come from real people.  And sometimes the books are so great, a mom can just tell that this author would be worth getting to know... and when you home school, you can call it a lesson!

(note: the "erasure" marks are mine... I'm still learning how to edit photos,
so it's all a little elementary-looking...)

If Clare could have written a letter she probably would have mentioned that her first words were "Garunge - arunga!"  We're all pretty certain we've heard it come from her lips; after all, everyone else around here says it about a dozen times a day as we wave our imaginary chicken feet at each other.  (from Tom)  
But since she couldn't send a letter, this photo will have to do...

I also wrote a letter, not shown here.  But I'm sure you can guess that it was full of
praise and thanks for Mr. DePaola's work.

Next, my fabulous dad helped the kids bake Irish Soda Bread.  Irish Soda Bread is my dad's specialty, and you may want to consider planning a pilgrimage to the source of this bread - his kitchen - to experience the taste sensation for yourself (it's BYO toaster oven and butter.)  In the meantime, know that real honest-to-goodness Irish people have given Dad's bread a shamrock-shaped stamp of approval.  
Anyways... my children, like their mother before them, have extensive experience in helping Papa make the bread of the fair Emerald Isle, and were excited to bake a loaf for Tomie (who is Irish on his mother's side.)  Because the baking and eating of soda bread is a significant portion of our family's gastronomical history, we love when Oonagh brings slippers, a pipe, a mug of stout, and a gigantic slab of soda bread to 
her dearie, in Fin M'Coul.

- from Fin M'Coul, by Tomie DePaola -

(I hope Tomie tries, and likes, the bread, and doesn't think it's a scary poisoned loaf from psycho fans.  I made the kids wash their hands and stop poking their noses before they made it.  Honest!)

 And, of course, we took a picture to send along with the package...

I sent the kids on a crazy run-around-the-house errand to gather all the DePaola books we have for the picture,  but we realized too late, that we missed a few. 

So, we're hoping to hear back from him!  On his website, Tomie writes that he tries to respond to fan mail but that it may take a while.  We're watching the mail box and I will post an update here if anything exciting shows up!   I'm planning another post soon, in which I will gush as much as I like and will make my case for "Tomie DePaola... An Author Whose Books I Will Buy at Full Price" or "Why Catholic Families With Children Should Have DePaola Books in the Home" or "The Books I'd Send With My Kids to a Deserted Island" or"What You're Missing if You Let Strega Nona's Looks Scare You Off" or
 "Garunge - arunga."  
Haven't decided on a title yet *wink*

If you want to check out Tomie DePaola's website for yourself, it's


  1. First, oh my goodness, your header looks so beautiful!! I may have to hire you out as my web designer!
    But back to Tomie...I'm slowly coming around, I think :) John Paul has really been liking his class but I haven't been good about fostering my own knowledge about him. I didn't even realize he had written chapter books until they began reading them for the class! They did write letters to him as well and we're supposed to send them soon! I wonder if he'll write back but John Paul told me he has an assistant who helps him read all the letters he gets. I think my mistake was long ago just going to the library and picking out what they had there and all they had was Strega Nona. Shouldn't have let that one be my first taste, I guess ;) Also, you are an awesome mom/teacher. The end.

  2. So what is it about Tomie that you love so much? I feel like as a Catholic mother, I'm "supposed" to love him, but I just don't. We've had, at various times, about 6 or 7 of his books (picked up by me at thrift stores), and most of them have ended up back in the thrift store giveaway pile. The art is not as beautiful as I like in children's books. And the stories never really capture me :-/

    1. Christine! I'm so sorry I haven't responded to this until now... I really don't know how it slipped my mind...
      I have several thoughts (as usual. *groan*) :

      * Tomie DePaola does show up all over the Catholic mom picture books lists doesn't he?!?

      * There are a lot of his stories that I don't care for either. It's possible you picked up the 6 or 7 I would have "thrown back" too. I definitely don't love ALL his stuff.

      * His artwork is definitely unique and you can't make yourself like the looks of it. I guess you could give it time, but if you don't like it, you don't like it. I love his style and how he incorporates traditional/cultural styles into his own to augment his work - like Italian architecture in "The Clown of God" and Mexican folk art into "The Legend of the Poinsettia" etc... I also love his use of color. His style has really grown on me and I love it :)

      * I wrote a blog post in my very early days of blogging that included the reasons why I love T.D. and a list of our family favorites (and WHY they are favorites) I'd love it if you read the post to get the full picture of why I really appreciate him, but here's an excerpt describing how I love that weaves the practice of Catholicism even into many of his "secular" picture books:
      "...Finally - and this is my favorite - much of Tomie's work portrays the practice of the Catholic Faith and Tradition as a natural and integral part of daily life. In his books the practice of Catholicism doesn't need fanfare, introduction, or explanation. He doesn't apologize for it or make excuses for it. It just is. Just as we (as Catholic parents) want the practice of the faith to be as natural as breathing and as integral in our children's lives as eating and sleeping, so it is for Tomie's characters. They sprinkle holy water during a storm, they go to Mass, they light Advent candles, they pray in the town square, they speak of the Sacraments, they have crucifixes and pictures of Our Lady in their homes, priests and religious not only exist, but they wear habits and clerical collars. All that stuff I just mentioned... NOT from the overtly Catholic books. It's all just seamlessly a part of his appealing-to-the-general-public story books. You don't have to go to a tiny musty smelling Catholic book store to find this good stuff, people! Don't tell the public library, but this stuff is on the plain old shelves in the juvenile section..."

      So - that was a long answer, but I really do think he's worth checking out again. Maybe look for some of the books I *highly* recommend on that list?? Here's the link to the whole post/list:

      My Tomie DePaola book list

      If you still can't be swayed, don't give it another thought, enjoy the children's authors you DO like, and don't give up on me :)

    2. here's the address. can't get the links to work :(


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