Tomie dePaola recently passed, but the nurturing tones of his stories will live on for many, many generations to come. This Caldecott Medal winner entertained many of us a children and now captures the imagination of our own children with beloved classics such as “Strega Nona” (1975) and over 270 other books written and illustrated during his prolific career. He was awarded the Children’s Literature Legacy Award in 2011 which recognized his work as “. . . substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children."
In total, almost 25 million copies of his books have sold around the world. However popular dePaolo’s books have been across generations, perhaps none is as indelible as “Oliver Button Is a Sissy” (1979).
Within the pages of this book, and many others, dePaola revealed very real parts of his childhood. His authenticity and tenderness is what made his work so successful, so likable, so real to his young audience. In “Oliver Button Is a Sissy” (1979) the impact of the narration and subject resonates so deeply because it was dePaola’s covert way of sharing that he was gay. Why share this way? Well, because dePaola was trying to freely express himself within the pages of a book during a time when outing himself to the public at-large, it likely would have led to his books being banned from libraries, schools, and other places of public institution, hurting most the young children who loved his books. This was in the ʻ70s after all.
And maybe he just understood that we can shroud a story’s soul in code, in pictures, in gibberish, and the bright, seeking mind of a child will find the essential truth and hold it near if an author is brave enough and trusting enough to share it.
This isn’t to say that things would be much different today, but rather provides a reflection on the excellence of writing to be free, writing to be real, writing to express oneself and share one’s imagination with others. These are core reasons we, and others, have become booksellers: to share the imaginations and stories of people indiscriminately. Reflecting on the life and work of a legendary author such as Tomie dePaola reminds us of how the power of words connects and liberates us when individual and shared ideals are presented creatively in books.
In 1998, dePaola told All Things Considered that he hoped to recognize children for all their capabilities. "As a grownup," he said, "I want to give children the credit for everything I can: their courage, their humor, their love, their creative abilities, their abilities to be fair, their abilities to be unfair. But I do wish that we grownups would give children lots of credit for these ephemeral kind of qualities that they have."
In honor of Tomie, we’re jumping into the kitchen with Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot. Here’s da Shop owner Dave DeLuca’s favorite keiki pasta recipe to make with his kids and share with with whole family. It’s easy — he literally makes his 5 and 2-year old do all the work! (Or so he claims).
Best-Ever PASTA WITH BUTTER and PARMESAN CHEESE
- recipe excerpt from “The Complete Cookbook For Young Chefs
written by America’s Test Kitchen and published in 2018 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
available from da Shop
Remember to chant like Strega Nona:
Bubble, bubble pasta pot
Boil me some pasta nice and hot
I’m hungry and it’s time to sup
Boil me enough pasta to fill me up . . .
Enough, enough, pasta pot,
I have my pasta, nice and hot,
So simmer down my pot of clay,
Until I’m hungry another day.