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New York City Literacy Advocates Honor Tomie dePaola's Legacy

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

As a coalition of nonprofits and libraries working to advance equitable opportunities to literacy and quality education, and a love of reading for all children, we join people around the world in expressing our sorrow at the passing of the great Tomie dePaola. We use this occasion, however, to celebrate his legacy and lift up the joy his words and pictures have brought to generations of children across the globe. We are mobilizing as collective impact partners to launch a weeklong celebration of his life and legacy through short videos and read alouds featuring the best of Tomie. The celebration will launch on Friday April 3rd, under the hashtag #TheTomieLessons. Our hope is to amplify the magnitude of his impact but also to provide a platform for people to share how they have been influenced by his books and highlight the many lessons he left us.

Tomie dePaola clearly had a sense of humor. His most widely recognized character, Strega Nona, who was featured in nearly a dozen of his books, and her perpetually full pasta pot are proof of that. Like Tomie, Strega Nona’s solution to the dilemma caused when her pot overflows through the streets of the town was compassionate and patient, and demonstrates that conflicts can be resolved without aggression, hostility, or harsh words. Now, more than ever, as our communities worldwide struggle with the devastation of COVID-19, we can look to Tomie’s lesson as a way to emerge from this crisis stronger, kinder, and more connected.

Tomie dePaola’s art recently impacted NYC communities, as it played a star role in the “Read the City” public awareness campaign, under the auspices of the partners in the New York City Council early literacy initiative, City’s First Readers. His poster of a family enjoying breakfast - with bagels labeled “round,” toast marked as “triangles” and so forth - was overlaid with a message emphasizing the importance of talking with your little ones about the everyday world around them; it appeared at bus shelters and subway stations throughout all five boroughs, inspiring dialogue between kids and caregivers. Tomie’s art blanketed New York City streets with fun daily lessons to brighten families’ imagination and a love of reading and learning.

Editor and author Phyllis Grann engaged with Tomie to create “I Will Talk to You, Little One,” a book with a simple message: talking to your baby from birth will expand your child’s curiosity and set the stage for school. Tomie’s delightful illustrations depicted a wide range of families, reflecting the diversity of the book’s intended audience: New York City families. Many of the partners in this initiative were beneficiaries of the Grann/dePaola collaboration, distributing copies to parents of newborns or using them in our own programming. Partners in City’s First Readers and the Reads Initiative used these books with love as the first addition to families’ home libraries.

As we reflect on the man whose illustrations were first published in 1965, it is astounding to realize that he was involved in the production of 271 books - 141 of which he was both author and illustrator. His art, whether it depicted nursery toys, children, or animals, always conveyed a certain dignity and respect for his subjects. His faith was an essential part of his gentle message of kindness - a universal message that resonates particularly in today’s changing world. Tomie knew from childhood what he wanted to do. His New York Times obituary quotes him as saying: “Oh, I know what I’m going to be when I grow up. Yes, I’m going to be an artist, and I’m going to write stories and draw pictures for books, and I’m going to sing and tap dance on the stage. And,” he added, “I’ve managed to do all those things.”

In doing all those things, Tomie dePaola’s legacy has helped put books in the hands of children across the world, and has helped shape a world where reading - and reading together - is treasured. Thank you, Tomie dePaola.

City’s First Readers is a collaboration of nonprofits and libraries united to develop and deliver effective early childhood literacy programs across New York City to ensure that all children have a solid foundation to start school successfully, thrive academically, and have the opportunity to succeed beyond their school years.

The Reads Initiative is a neighborhood literacy effort for children and families in South Jamaica, Queens and East New York, Brooklyn. The ten Reads Initiative partner organizations in collaboration with schools, branch libraries and trusted community organizations provide a year-round continuum of childhood literacy programming accessible at home, at school, and in the community.

Shari Levine Executive Director Literacy Inc.

Emily Marches Executive Director Reach Out and Read of Greater New York

Rachel Payne Coordinator, Early Childhood Services Brooklyn Public Library Danielle Guindo Executive Director Read Alliance

Allison Hoyle Program Director, New York Reading Partners

Gillian E.W. Miller Coordinator of Early Learning Services


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