Monday, September 26, 2011

I Met Tomie dePaola...and Oliver Button!

On Saturday afternoon, I spent two and a half hours waiting in line at the National Book Festival to meet the one and only Tomie dePaola. Spending the afternoon in line probably doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to most people, but it was actually one of the most memorable experiences I've had in a while. By the end of the two and a half hours, I felt a strong bond with the women near me in line--even if only for that one afternoon--over our mutual adoration for children's books.

One of the women was a first grade teacher, another a reading specialist. Several librarians, a middle school teacher, and a fellow writer surrounded me as well. Our conversations covered adult authors, children's authors, childhood memories of school and books, and the state of the education system in the United States today. And of course, there was Tomie dePaola.

Strega Nona is probably one of dePaola's best known books, but he has written or illustrated more than 200 others. The Art Lesson, Pancakes for Breakfast, and The Knight and the Dragon are just a few that I saw in the hands of people in line on Saturday. His newest book, Strega Nona's Gift, will be released next month.

Another of dePaola's books, which actually has a dance theme in it, is Oliver Button Is a Sissy. According to the information on the book's jacket, the problems Oliver Button faces in the story are not unfamiliar to dePaola himself.

The boys at school think Oliver is a sissy, and he doesn't like to do the things the other boys like to do. Even though his father wishes that he was good at playing ball, Oliver would rather be reading books, drawing pictures, playing with paper dolls, or dancing.

When Oliver's mother enrolls him in dancing school, Oliver gets a shiny new pair of tap shoes. The boys at school keep calling him a sissy, but Oliver keeps practicing and practicing his tapping. And when his dance teacher asks him if he would like to participate in the local talent show, Oliver practices even more. When the big day finally arrives, Oliver taps with pizazz. It's not enough to win the talent show, but Oliver wins something even more important to him--the respect of the other boys in town. Oliver's no longer a sissy in their eyes. Now he's a star!

Once I got to the front of the line to meet dePaola, I was as nervous as a little girl meeting her kindergarten teacher for the first time. I think I blabbered something about what an honor it was to meet him and about how I wished I had a copy of Oliver Button Is a Sissy with me for him to sign. I also remember one of his handlers telling me that a new video interview with dePaola will be posted on Reading Rockets soon. (You can read an older interview with him here, and I'll post the new one on my Facebook page once it becomes available.)

I actually had a camera with me at the festival but didn't think to take it out of my bag. Luckily, one of the festival volunteers asked if I would like a picture with dePaola, and one of my new friends snapped a quick photo of us with her camera. (Thanks, Famin!) The perfect ending to a perfect afternoon...


  1. Sounds awesome, Kerry! I love spending the day with other readers and writers - so inspiring! We've finally read Elephants Can't Dance and my son loves it - enough to want to read it himself. So, thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Hi, Brooke. Oh, good. I'm glad he liked it! Maybe he'll like the other Elephant & Piggie books, too. Some of them are so funny. I actually thought of you when I wrote this post about Oliver Button Is a Sissy...since it could be considered a boy dance book, too :)

  3. I have not seen Oliver Button is a Sissy - I will have to check it out. I went with my daughter to listen to Tomie DePaola speak at the National Book Festival too - it was so fun to listen to him!

  4. Big Depaolo fan. I reviewed his version of Queen Esther a while back, which was fine, but Front Porch Tales and North Country Whoppers is a thing of perfection.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Camille and Jonathan. Nice to know some other dePaola fans. Jonathan, I will have to look up Front Porch Tales and North Country Whoppers. The title alone is very intriguing!

  6. Hi Kerry,

    It looks like you dropped into my blog at Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s Blog ( I'm glad you did because it led me to your informative and fun blog.

    As a teacher, I loved Tomie DePaolo's books. So did my 1st and/or 3rd graders. As a book reviewer, I hold his books up as great examples of children's literature.

    I can understand your excitement at meeting him. I had the fun fortune of having drinks with Tomie DePaolo a few years back at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC at the SCBWI winter conference with my friend Paula Danziger. Paula was a great friend of Tomie's. He is such a gracious man. I like to think of him as a teddy bear. Paula was a great writer, too. She passed away in July 2004. I miss her still.

    Did you know that it was Tomie who was responsible for the “I” at the end of SCBWI. He had Lin Oliver add it many years ago to include illustrators in this wonderful children’s writing/illustrating group.

    I hope you will take a peek at my book review column, called Teacher's Pets at Scroll down and click on the frog or click on Teacher's Pets in the left sidebar, or click here Teacher’s Pets. (

    I also include a book review section on my blog, called Teacher’s Pets: Book Reviews. ( The title is not very creative – but it says what it is. There are only a few reviews there now. I am in the process of migrating them over (

    I look forward to poring over your blog. It looks great.

    Happy New Year!

    All best,


    Donna O'Donnell Figurski
    Donna's Website:
    Book Reviewer:
    Donna's Blog:

  7. Hi, Donna. I'm so glad you were able to leave a comment, and it's been great being in touch with you through email, too! I was just looking at some of your book reviews, and I was wondering if you had heard of Perfect Picture Book Fridays--a new weekly feature on the blog of children's author Susanna Leonard Hill. You can contribute picture book reviews (using a specific format) for picture books accompanied by activities that go with them. I think you might like it!

  8. Hi Kerry,

    I can't remember if I ever reviewed a picture book about dance. I would have to search my archives.

    Thanks for sending me to Susanna Hill's blog. It's a great site too.

    Love picture books! I have a personal library of more than 2,500 books.

  9. So glad to have found this blog via the lovely Zoe @ PlayByTheBook. We're currently running a read it theme featuring books all about dance and movement but we've got a lot of catching up to do. Some utterly astonishing books here, and I really need to investigate "Oliver Button is a Sissy" as that's exactly the sort of book I was hoping to find when searching for dance and movement books.

    Awesome stuff, great to have found you!


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