Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the story of Tomie and us

Tomie's newest Strega Nona book is now on bookshelves.

In the summer of 2006, I started dating a girl who captured my heart. (SPOILER ALERT: She’s now my wife.) In the first few weeks of our dating life, Gina and I didn’t talk about work. We didn’t allow our vocations to define who we were to one another. But when Gina made me dinner one night and I told her that I was a children’s book author and illustrator, she sprang up and ran to her room. She emerged with her childhood copy of Strega Nona. The book was her childhood favorite and she had brought her dog-eared copy with her on every single move since leaving home for college. “Have you met this guy?” she asked. “No,” I responded. “I’ve never met Tomie dePaola.”

Just a few months later, I found myself in Los Angeles at the SCBWI annual conference as a faculty member alongside Tomie himself. What were the odds? What an honor to teach alongside a man whose work and career I admired so deeply. And more importantly—with someone who held such a special place in my girlfriend’s heart. Strega Nona represented Gina’s childhood. Over the course of the conference, Tomie and I became fast friends. He's an easy person to laugh uproariously with—a trait I find paramount. One day, Gina was having an incredibly difficult day at work, so I asked Tomie to leave her a voicemail. He obliged and Gina held on to that voicemail for years. At the end of the conference, there was an autographing party. I bought Tomie’s art book, Tomie dePaola: His Art & His Stories. It’s a hefty volume. At that point, I knew that this girl back home was the one. And when I asked Tomie to sign it, I asked him to sign it to “Gina and Jarrett”. I know, a big commitment. Even my friends looked at me sideways. I did just start dating this girl.

But by December of that year, I proposed marriage and Gina and I bought a house in Northampton. The first piece of art that I bought for our home was a piece by Tomie—a scene from a Strega Nona book. I presented Gina with the artwork on Valentine’s Day.

Since then, Tomie has become such a dear, dear friend to our family. He has welcomed us into his home and we have welcomed him into ours. We’ve enjoyed many dinners out with he and his assistant, Bob, where we continue to laugh uproariously. And of course, we were there to cheer him on at the Carle Museum of Picture Book Art when they mounted a massive showing of his work.

A few months back, Tomie presented us with the newest Strega Nona book, Strega Nona’s Gift. It’s a Christmas book and Gina loves Christmas. I mean loves the holiday. Every February, she looks at me as though I’m the Grinch when I pull out the red and green storage bins. Tomie sides with Gina on this. And when Tomie helped us celebrate Gina’s birthday, he showered her with Christmas decorations. (Either to make her happy or to spite me, not sure...) So anyhow—we were so excited to see a Strega Nona Christmas book. Then we opened the book.

And wow! Imagine how astronomically amazing it was for us to see our names in the book. To have any book by Tomie dedicated to us would be an honor. But a Strega Nona book? There are no words!

So thank you, Tomie! Thank you for being our dear friend. Thank you for laughing uproariously. And thank you for the book dedication!

And of course, thank you for this:

 Listen in to a thank you Zoe sent to Tomie when we received the book:


Kelly Light said...

You guys could all be in a romantic comedy, like a Nora Ephron movie "You've got Tomie dePaola!" - Such a great story.

Lisa Yee said...

Oh, soooo wonderful!!! And I especially loved hearing Zoe!