Tomie dePaola has long been one of my favorite authors and illustrators, not just as a teacher, but as a child. I remember having “Strega Nona” read to me many times, and as someone who could eat pasta every day of the week, I really wanted that magic pasta pot! There was also a special connection to this book as my great-grandfather was from Calabria, the same region of Italy as Strega Nona. I thought that was really, really cool as a kid.
I was truly sad to learn of his recent passing, and immediately went to my bookshelf to reread all of my favorite Tomie dePaola stories. I started with “Strega Nona” of course, and several of the other books in the series like “Big Anthony, His Story” and “Merry Christmas Strega Nona” even though it was March. I remembered how “Oliver Button is a Sissy” was a book I’d never even heard of until I read “Reading with Meaning” by Debbie Miller and then I just had to use Oliver Button to teach schema like she did. Eventually, when I was a reading specialist, “The Art Lesson” became my core text for model lessons on schema. I used it to teach the difference between surface level connections and deep connections.
While he’s primarily known for his original fiction, Tomie dePaola also retold many classic tales, not only from Italy, but from Ireland (the other half of his heritage, also like myself) and other parts of the world. His retelling of “Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story” was also one I enjoyed reading to my students, as part of a genre study of Cinderella stories from around the world.
There are so many ways in which Tomie dePaola’s books can be used in the classroom, and it is my hope that teachers will continue to do so. In this way, new generations of readers will be introduced to the world he created on the pages.