Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Tomie dePaola

Feb. 13, 2015

Tomie dePaola is one of today's most recognized names in the world of children's literature. His charming characters and distinctive artistic style make his picture books appealing to both children and adults. Tommy has published folktales, such as the successful STREGA NONA series, nursery rhymes, board books, religious books, chapter books, and more. Tommy has illustrated over 200 children's books. In 2011 dePaola received the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the U.S. children's librarians. In addition to the Laura Ingalls Wilder award, he has received many other awards and honorary degrees. 

KidLit411 is extremely excited to interview the amazing, TOMIE dePAOLA!!!

Welcome, Tomie!

You have been writing and illustrating children's books for decades, have changes in technology effected the way you write or illustrate?

Technology has had absolutely no impact on my writing or drawing. I never learned to type, and I write everything by hand. I feel that the art of drawing letters and writing is part of my process. All of my art work is created by me, I don't do anything on the computer except for scanning my drawing to post them on my blog or in an email. All of my artwork is created using paper, brushes, ink and erasers. The old fashioned way.

© Tomie dePaola

You have said that you write to the "architecture" of the book. What do you mean by that term?

Well, what I mean by that is that if you are creating a book about skyscrapers, you are going to visualize the book in an up and down, vertical manner. So the way you think about the book and the text all depends on the architecture of the book. A book that would be about the beach would be horizontal in it's architecture. It is very important to keep the shape of the book in mind when you are writing and drawing. 

What advice would you give aspiring writers and illustrators? What should they be spending their time doing?

Go to art school.




Don't copy.



Don't spend too much of your time not working. People often will spend time thinking about writing and drawing but spend very little time actually doing it. It takes courage and strength to be an artist. Don't be afraid. Just do it. Get moving.

You have a recognizable style that is simple and influenced by folk art. Has your style changed over the years? How does a new illustrator find his/her style?

Many years ago, my style found me, I don't think I ever looked for my style. So many people are obsessed with the growth process in art. If you want to learn how to draw cats, you'll have to draw 3 million cats before you can find out how to draw YOUR cat. 

© Tomie dePaola

If you want to know how to draw people, you'll have to draw 3 million of them first. As you go through the process, you will strip away parts of this and add a piece of that and at the end of the process you will find the style that is all your own. And by then your style will have found you. Stretch your own ability and never be satisfied!

Do you stories come first through words or pictures?

A word, a feeling, or an image, all of these things have come into my mind and have come out of as a rough draft. I like to sketch and doodle to see if it something works. When I am writing a book, I like to get the words down first, and then illuminate those words with my art. I like to use less words and tell the story visually. A quick, deep message is only half of the story, the rest of the story comes from the art. 

Thanks, Tomie!

Tomie dePaola was born on September 15, 1934 in Meriden, Connecticut. He grew up there with his father and mother, Joseph and Florence (Downey) dePaola, and his brother and sisters, Joseph, Judie and Maureen.
Tomie developed a love for books at an early age probably because his mother loved books and read to Tomie every day. At the age of four, Tomie told anyone who would listen that he wanted to write stories and draw pictures for books and to sing and tap dance on the stage when he grew up. (At age 76, Tomie can say he's done all of those things!)
Drawing and dancing continued to interest Tomie during his school years. Tomie and his dancing partner, Carol Morrissey, performed throughout Meriden and elsewhere during their years in school. Tomie continued to take art classes and create art for exhibitions, theater productions, posters and many other things.

When Tomie graduated from high school, he went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York where his twin cousins, Franny and Fuffy, had previously attended art school. In art school, he said he "spent four years learning how to draw everything - tin cans, dogs, cats, horses, trees - and I practiced and practiced."
Tomie didn't get a contract for his first book for several years after graduating from Pratt. When he did get a children's book job, it was to illustrate a science book called SOUND. A year or so later, he wrote and illustrated his first book, THE WONDERFUL DRAGON OF TIMLIN.

That was over 40 years ago when Tomie was asked to illustrate SOUND. Tomie has now illustrated nearly 250 books and written the stories for over 100 of those books. He works in a studio attached to a renovated 200-year-old barn in New London, New Hampshire.

Tomie's daily doodle posted Feb. 2, 2015

You can find out more about Tomie, visit his website,, or his blog where he posts a daily doodle:


  1. Dear Tomie dePaola, I grew up with your books on my shelf. Now I use those same books as mentor texts. Thank you for being a bright light in children's literature. All the best to you, Manju

  2. What a great way to enjoy my day-an interview with the gracious Tomie dePaola. Good to hear about his journey and appreciate his wisdom.

  3. Tomie, I loved the simplicity of your drawings. The warmth comes through with the colors. Your stories are simple with great meanings.
    Formidable illustrations! Hope to see more!!!

  4. Wonderful interview. Thank you for sharing and participating in the Illustrator Spotlight.

  5. What fun to have Tomie as a guest here! Wish I could have met him at the NYC conference. He has had such a fascinating life. Thanks, Elaine, for the terrific interview!

  6. Tomie, you helped me get published wayyy back in 2005. THANK YOU.

  7. Such a loved and respected artist! Thank you for the interview and for all you've done for illustrators, Tomie.

  8. What a great story and I love Tomie's advice. Especially the bit about Don't Copy!

  9. This was such a treat! I'm smiling as I ooh and aah! Thanks for the interview!