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...