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At 79, Tomie dePaola still writing his iconic children's books

NEW LONDON, New Hampshire--Children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola tackled a big stack of his books on the table. A longtime fan plunked them down at the book signing — just a sampling of the nearly 250 he's worked on.

“It's like watching my life go by,” he said with a chuckle as he signed book after book for Katherine Pixley, a retired schoolteacher who recently brought her daughter and grandchildren to Morgan Hill Bookstore in New London, New Hampshire, the town dePaola's called home for the last three decades.

In the pile was “Strega Nona Does it Again,” the newest and 12th book in his children's book series about a kindly old witch in Italy who offers villagers advice, along with potions to cure their warts and help find spouses. In this episode, Strega Nona comes up with a plan to deal with a high-maintenance houseguest.

Like Strega Nona, dePaola, at 79, has endured — more than 15 million copies of his books have sold worldwide and have been translated into about 25 languages. He's still busy: He recently finished illustrating a poetry book for babies and toddlers and is working on “Jack” for next fall, which he describes as “a little takeoff almost on Chicken Little.”

“He is just timeless,” Pixley, 59, of Middleton, said of his books, which she first read to her children when they were little; now her grandchildren enjoy them. She said she's drawn to their themes emphasizing love and family.

As he nears a birthday milestone, dePaola also is using the time to teach. He has an exhibit called “Then,” featuring his work from childhood through his years at the Pratt Institute and early career. It's on display at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, where he was designer and technical director in speech and theater. Next year, people will be able to see “Now,” his contemporary work.

DePaola feels it's important that people see the story of an artist's evolution, from the book he wrote and illustrated in junior high school for his sister about the mermaid Glimera to his art school figure drawings, self-portraits and images of the sacred. He learned the classics and eventually developed his own style that includes a liberal use of color and folk art touches.

“I told people when I was 4 years old I was going to be an artist when I grew up,” he said. “Not that I wanted to be an artist — I was going to be.” And he was lovingly encouraged by his family, seen in a collection of slideshow photos at the exhibit.

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Children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola poses in his studio with artwork from his new book “Jack” in New London, New Hampshire on Dec. 1. As he nears his 80th birthday, dePaola is still working on new books for children.


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