Biography of Tomie dePaola, Children's Author

Illustrator of More Than 200 Books for Children

Children's author Tomie dePaola at a book signing event.

Jonathan Fickies / Stringer / Getty Images

Tomie dePaola (b. 1934) is acclaimed as an award-winning children's author and illustrator, with more than 200 books to his credit. In addition to illustrating all of these books, dePaola is also the author of more than a quarter of them. In his art, his stories, and his interviews, Tomie dePaola comes across as a man filled with a love of humanity and joie de vivre.

Fast Facts

Known For: Writing and illustrating children's books

Born: September 15, 1934

Education: Pratt Institute, California College of Arts & Crafts

Awards and Honors: Caldecott Honor Book Award (1976), New Hampshire Governor's Arts Award (1999 Living Treasure), Kerlan Award

Early Life

By the age of four, Tomie dePaola knew he wanted to be an artist. At the age of 31, dePaola illustrated his first picture book. Since 1965, he has published at least one book a year, and generally four to six books annually.

Much of what we know about Tomie dePaola's early life comes from the author's own books. In fact, his series of beginning chapter books are based on his childhood. Known as 26 Fairmount Avenue books, they include "26 Fairmount Avenue" (which received a 2000 Newbery Honor Award), "Here We All Are," and "On My Way."

Tomie came from a loving family of Irish and Italian backgrounds. He had an older brother and two younger sisters. His grandmothers were an important part of his life. Tomie's parents supported his desire to be an artist and to perform on stage.

Education and Training

When Tomie expressed an interest in taking dance lessons, he was immediately enrolled, even though it was unusual for a young boy to take dance lessons at that time. In his picture book "Oliver Button is a Sissy," dePaola uses the bullying that he experienced because of the lessons as the basis for the story. The emphasis in Tomie's family was on enjoying home, school, family, and friends, and embracing personal interests and talents.

DePaola received a BFA from Pratt Institute and an MFA from the California College of Arts & Crafts. Between college and graduate school, he spent a brief time in a Benedictine monastery. DePaola taught art and/or theater design at the college level from 1962 through 1978 before devoting himself full-time to children's literature.

Literary Awards and Accomplishments

Tomie dePaola's work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a 1976 Caldecott Honor Book Award for his picture book "Strega Nona." The title character, whose name means "Grandma Witch" is apparently very loosely based on Tomie's Italian grandmother. DePaola received the New Hampshire Governor's Arts Award as the 1999 Living Treasure for the entire body of his work. A number of American colleges have awarded dePaola honorary degrees. He has also received several awards from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the Kerlan Award from the University of Minnesota, and awards from the Catholic Library Association and the Smithsonian Institution, among others. His books are frequently used in the classroom.

Writing Influences

DePaola's picture books cover a number of themes and topics. Some of these include his own life, Christmas, other holidays (religious and secular), folktales, Bible stories, Mother Goose rhymes, and books about Strega Nona. Tomie dePaola has also written a number of informational books like ​"Charlie Needs a Cloak," which is the story of the creation of a wool cloak from shearing a sheep to spinning the wool, weaving the cloth, and sewing the garment.

DePaola's collections include Mother Goose rhymes, scary stories, seasonal stories, and nursery tales. He is also the author of "Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland." His books are characterized by humor and light-hearted illustrations, many in a folk art style. DePaola creates his artwork in a combination of watercolor, tempera, and acrylic paints.

A Full and Accomplished Life 

Today, Tomie dePaola lives in New Hampshire. His art studio is in a large barn. He travels to events and makes personal appearances regularly. DePaola continues to write books based on his own life and interests, as well as illustrating books for other authors. To learn more about this extraordinary man, read "Tomie dePaola: His Art and His Stories," written by Barbara Elleman.


"Books." Tomie DePaola, Whitebird Inc.

Elleman, Barbara. "Tomie dePaola: His Art and His Stories." Hardcover, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, October 25, 1999.

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Your Citation
Kennedy, Elizabeth. "Biography of Tomie dePaola, Children's Author." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Kennedy, Elizabeth. (2021, February 16). Biography of Tomie dePaola, Children's Author. Retrieved from Kennedy, Elizabeth. "Biography of Tomie dePaola, Children's Author." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).