Tomie DePaola, introduces America's Children to Italian heritage.

For the last two generations Tomie De Paola (1934-) has been regarded as among the most favorite authors of children's books in this country. Born in 1934 in Meriden, Connecticut of an Irish American mother and an Italian American father and encouraged by his mother, an avid reader, he was inclined toward reading and drawing as a youngster, creating his own book for his sisters at age ten. From the outset the content of his books reflected both his Irish heritage and his Italian ancestry. It also bespoke of a strong devotion to the Catholic faith that is evidenced by the many murals he drew that adorn church walls and monasteries in New England. De Paola first received acknowledgement for his artistic talents when he won a $2,000 scholarship to study at highly regarded Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he graduated in 1956. After years of formal study in 1965 he combined his extraordinary ability as an illustrator with a desire to write for children in two physical science books. That was the beginning of a prolific career during which he has written and/or illustrated two to four books annually -a feat that has produced over two hundred books. The subject matter of these books is wide ranging from Pancakes for Breakfast to Jamie O'Rourke and the Pooka. Much of his material is based on his recollections of family life as a youngster including tales of Ireland recounted by his Irish grandfather and stories of Italian folklore from his Italian grandmother. Among the many stories that Tomie has published that were inspired by Italian culture are Tony's Bread: An Italian Folktale; Francis; the Poor Man of Assisi, The Clown of God; Watch Out for the Chicken Feet in Your Soup; and The Legend of the Old Befana. The best known of his works in this genre is the Strega Nona series that relate the tales of the wise and gleeful Italian witch in Calabria, Italy, and her sidekick Big Anthony who constantly gets into trouble. With a keen understanding of the timeless concern that children share and relating tales to recognizable incidents, De Paola describes the uncanny ability of the witch to extricate herself and her sidekick from difficulty by using a magic sauce produced by his own grandmother in Connecticut. Strega Nona is the central character in five of De Paola's books. His 1999 publication of 26 Fairmount Avenue is a highly acclaimed account of his growing up as told through the eyes of a youngster -his own -as he guides children through the world of the 1930s and 1940s while making connections to today.

De Paola has received practically every significant remembrance in his field including the Caldecott Honors for Strega Nona (1976) and the Golden Kite Award for Girogio's Kitchen (1982). Many of his books, considered classics in the realm of children's literature, are featured in language arts lessons-plans and are regularly listed as among the most important books for children to read. In addition to his writings De Paola teaches at New England College and gives lectures and exhibits of his drawings. He receives 100,000 fan letters a year and his books have sold over 5 million copies. It is not an exaggeration to say that for many children in the United States, Tomie De Paola's books serve as their introduction to Italian culture.

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