Children’s Author dePaola Visits Norwich

  • Childrens book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola, 82, of New London, reaches out to Tessie Blake-D'Amato, 5, of Wilder, after signing her books at the Norwich Book Store in Norwich, Vt., Saturday, November 26, 2016. It is dePaola's fifth annual signing event at the store. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tomie dePaola, 82, of New London, the author and illustrator of the Strega Nona books and others, laughs with visitors during a signing event at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vt., Saturday, November 26, 2016. He has now been publishing his stories for over 50 years. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, November 26, 2016

Norwich — As he walked up to a table on the second floor of the Norwich Bookstore, 8-year-old Aiden Peck and his 5-year-old sister Avery were greeted by a smiling Tomie dePaola.

The renowned children’s book author opened each book the Pecks were hoping he’d sign, but was also quick to ask them about school and cheerfully comment on their matching cowboy boots.

“I used to have boots. Now my feet hurt so I don’t wear boots anymore,” the 82-year-old author said with a chuckle.

When Aiden’s mother mentioned he was learning magic, dePaola perked up.

“Oh you are? You’re learning magic tricks,” he asked. “You know what Strega Nona says?”

Leaning in close, dePaola relayed the answer in a whisper, a secret moment between Aiden and a favorite author in a crowded bookstore.

“He’s very personable. He gets down to the kids’ level and engages them in conversation,” Janice Peck, Aiden’s mother, said on Saturday. “He’s very willing to help and do (nice things) for other people, and his books are fun to read.”

A New London resident, dePaola has made the annual post-Thanksgiving treck to Norwich for five years.

He has illustrated more than 260 published works, half of which he’s also written, and sold more than 15 million copies, but that doesn’t stop him from taking the time to talk to fans.

At age 4, dePaola announced to his family that he would one day grow up to write and draw, a dream he’s now lived out over the last five decades with best sellers like the Strega Nona series, which revolves around an elderly Italian witch and her helper Big Anthony, and 26 Fairmount Avenue, about his time growing up in Connecticut.

“It’s just something that I do, I have to do it,” dePaola said shortly before the book signing on Saturday.

He speaks fondly of writing, reading and art. At home, he’s revisiting the work of poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who once wrote “love your solitude.”

“The only people I know who love solitude are monks and nuns,” he joked, adding it took him some time to see Rilke’s sentiment as true.

“You have to do it by yourself. (Writers are) not actors who make their art in front of an audience,” dePaola said. “Now at 82, I really do love solitude.”

However, coming out in public and speaking to kids is also a treat, he said.

“It’s kind of enjoying the fruits of my labor, and I just love it with when kids come and have discovered books,” dePaola said.

And there were a lot of discoverers on Saturday. The line to meet the author was long for much of the morning, and extra copies of Strega Nona the bookstore stocked up on ahead of time sold out quickly.

“Whenever he’s here we try to get here,” said Cathy Girard, who was purchasing books for her grandchildren. “He keeps giving us new material and it’s always relevant, especially to children and to the adults. He’s very clear and the illustrations are always fun.”

Girard, who resides in Norwich, introduced her grandchildren to dePaola’s books, and said he writes at levels they all can enjoy, regardless of whether they’re 4 or 14.

“They all like them for different reasons. The illustrations capture their attention so you can get through the story,” she said.

Emily Blake and Marie D’Amato, of Wilder, took their 6-year-old daughter Tessie to see the author. It’s an annual tradition the family started a few years ago.

“Every year as part of her birthday present we get her the new books or the ones that we don’t have yet,” Blake said. “He’s one of the very few authors that we have, I think, just about everything he’s written.”

Blake remembers reading Strega Nona as a child, and said she’s happy to be able to pass down a love of the books. Tessie has a play set that includes the book’s characters, she said, and enjoys reenacting the scenes.

“We love all of his characters too. His animals are very compassionate and my family’s Italian and it get’s Tessie excited about Italy,” D’Amato said. “She also loves the Irish stories. We read them all with the different accents and she loves that.”

Also visiting the bookstore was Gregory Maguire, who owns a home in Strafford and authored Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, which was adapted into the Broadway musical.

He introduced dePaola’s books to all of his children, likely starting with Strega Nona, he said, “because in our house we like witches.”

“I remember when I was little I loved the books,” said Helen Maguire, 15. “They’re just amazing. They kind of inspire that feeling you can be whatever you want to be.”

To dePaola, those words are gold.

“That’s the hope, that your books don’t get stuck in a time warp,” he said. “There has to be something that’s universal in a children’s book that grabs a child, and then that stays with that person as they grow and they pass it on.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.