Tomie dePaola: Wilder Award Winner and Grand Poobah of Brunch

Elizabeth Bluemle - August 4, 2011

One small slice of the dePaola home magic.

It was everything you’d hope for from the home of an artist like Tomie dePaola: a bright, clean, beautiful, whimsical space, chock-full of colorful artwork and icons and tchotchke. A home populated with meaningful items yet somehow uncluttered, utterly restful to the eye. The group of bookish folks who had gathered there for brunch took in the artful home and the magnificent lawn and landscaping, and murmured to one another, “I think we’re living wrong.” We threatened to set up permanent camp—and that was even before we’d tasted the scrumptious brunch.

Tomie with Wilder Award committee members Andrew Medlar and Martha Vaughan Parravano.

We were in New Hampshire to celebrate the latest feather in the talented Tomie’s multiply bedecked cap: the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which, in the words of the sponsoring American Library Association, “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.” Only 18 children’s book authors and illustrators have won this prestigious lifetime achievement medal since its inception in 1954. (If you’re doing the math, you’ll quickly realize this is not an annual award. Initially, it was given out every five years, then every three. Currently, every two years, a new recipient joins the lofty fold.)
Tomie’s 200+ books certainly have made an inarguably substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children, from the endearing and enduring Tomie dePaola’s Mother Goose to the iconic Caldecott Honor recipient Strega Nona to the charming Newbery Honor book 26 Fairmount Avenue. Tomie dePaola’s legacy is so rich and well appreciated that one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder committee members present confided to me, “We were shocked he hadn’t already won this award!” One of the most pleasing aspects of the brunch, in fact, was the sheer delight radiated by the award committee members at having chosen such a worthy recipient.

Booksellers Suzy Staubach (r.) and friend add their beauty to the lawn.

I’ve never been to a book function quite like this one — it had the intimacy of a small gathering for close friends and family, yet had big book-bash flair. The guest list included booksellers, librarians, art gallery owners, local community members whose work brings them in contact with Tomie (for instance, a woman from a nearby theatre which serves as a venue for some of Tomie’s book events), a Concord journalist.


It was a wonderful gathering on a perfect, sunny New England summer day. As you might imagine from the joy and heart and warmth and beauty found in Tomie’s books, those elements ruled the brunch itself. We were abundantly fed, easily and graciously hosted. There were even four special cocktails created for the occasion (The Wilder Champagne Cocktail, for example, consisted of Proseco and Wild Blueberry, Raspberry, and Blackberry Puree) . Honestly, Martha Stewart could have taken lessons from the perfection of this occasion. Not a detail was left un-thought of; I have a hunch much of the credit here goes to Tomie’s impeccably organized assistant, Bob Hechtel.
Frankly, the only thing missing was a peacock sweeping its tail grandly along the lawn. For all I know, there was one, sleeping up in a Strega Nona tree….
Oh! And I am delighted to have learned that a new Strega Nona title will be coming out this October: Strega Nona’s Gift. Josie does most of the picture book buying for the store, so she had a chance to see this with our rep, but it was news to me.
Please feel free to chime in with your own congratulations to Tomie dePaola or any thoughts on books of his that have meant something special to you and yours.
I will leave you with a few more images from last weekend. (I took 129 photos in all; needless to say, I have had to restrain myself here.)

Love the colors and this portrait by Tomie.

Another alluring room.

Don't miss the high loft under the skylight, perfect for curling up with a book.

Impossible to do justice to this room and wall! Say, is that a flying pig in the top arch?

Note giant white candle (designed by Tomie) between benches.

Everywhere, miniature worlds in which to get lost.

So many Tomie creations all around....

Fell in love with these bluebirds.

Local candlemakers turn Tomie's art into fire.So pretty.

Must get outside!

Love tiny Stonehenge….

Guests in the gazebo.

Walkway up to the pool.

Restful gardens.

So many places to explore.

Tomie re-enacts waiting for the award phone call.

Smiling with our most congenial host. (Photo by Bob Hechtel)


10 thoughts on “Tomie dePaola: Wilder Award Winner and Grand Poobah of Brunch

  1. Katharine O'Moore-Klopf

    Mr. dePaola, every time I see a book of yours, my heart melts. I read so many of your wonderful titles to each of my children as bedtime stories. My oldest child is now 28 and a mother herself, and she still remembers Strega Nona and Big Anthony. Thank you for sharing your magic with the world.

  2. Margaret Utsey

    Dear Mr. dePaola,
    I am a retired librarian,but I still buy your books. I have read and loved your books for many many years! A good friend(also a librarian)and I wrote a unit on you and your books that we used with first graders. My children especially loved Tom and the chicken foot! You have made many people extremely happy over the years. Thank you for being you.

  3. Alex Genis

    Tomie, What a beautiful home. I’d seen other pictures before but these go above and beyond–they show a home as a work of art in and of itself and as an extension of an artist’s vision, color and harmony.
    Heartfelt congratulations on the Wilder Award and thank you always for your art and your work.

  4. Agy Wilson

    Oh Tomie congratulations on the much deserved awards, I’m introducing your books as we speak to our new generation, my grand son! Thank you and to Liz for sharing these wonderful photos, it looked to be quite the celebration. And your home beautifully reflects you, fun, quirky, colorful, joyful, full of life and love! Thanks again!

  5. jane patton

    The first and last time I met you in person was at the then National SCBWI conference in LA. I enjoyed hearing your family history, in some ways , similar to mine. That was sans the white beard.
    Probably my favorite book of yours is THE LEGEND of the POINSETTIAS. I was even able to “sneak ” it into my elementary school Social Studies units in TX classrooms for 20 years.
    Here’s to many more such miracles and congratulations on your Wilder award

  6. Laura

    Tomie, Congratulations on wining the Wilder award. I met you some years ago when you did a book presentation at Middlebury College and then at The Ilsley Public Library the next day. I was the lucky bookseller who sold your books and boy did we sell a lot of books! Your characters remind me of my Italian nonna and and I keep them in my heart. Again, congratulations and best wishes.

  7. Gem W Marston

    Congratulations Tomi dePaola on your award. Thank you for your dream of being an artist and making it come true. Your books fill lives with, color, hope, wonder and love. Of course they add humor and joy also. You have always put your “heart” into each page and it shows. You have given Meriden, Ct. a star; you. Best wishes to a very special man. Most sincerely.


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