This year, the Leslie Riedel Memorial Lecture brought beloved author and illustrator Tomie dePaola, whose career in children’s book spans fifty years, to the Concord Free Public Library on Saturday. In attendance were a handful of children and rows of adults. The adults may have had more fun.
DePaola is the kind of guest you hope for at dinner parties. With an impish grin, a ready laugh, and impeccable delivery, he had us in stitches the entire evening. From his perch on a plump leather swivel chair, dePaola regaled us with sassy unfiltered anecdotes from his life. Topics of conversation ranged from what theater and picture books have in common, to how he got his start as an author, to his most infuriating picture book pet peeves.
Below are some memorable moments from the event:
- according to dePaola, the best picture books are ones that have been read to children who cannot read yet, but who hear the story once, and can tell it from beginning to end.
- on color: “I live with color. I understand Matisse, and how as he got older he understood how color needed to be in his life more and more.”
- on his creative process: “You always have to start with the script….just like in theater. I try not to think about illustrations until the story is practically done.”
- fun fact: Strega Nona cast herself. She knocked on his door and demanded to be seen.
- pet peeve about picture books: illustrators who put the most important part of the pictures in the gutter (the spine) of the book.
- bonus pet peeve: “Can I talk about the awful thing that folks at Scholastic do? They get the rights to reprints and print them on toilet paper with inks that were used at the First Thanksgiving!”
- on how his first manuscript came to be: one day, an editor took dePaola out to lunch, something that happened to frequently to writers but never illustrators. They got a window seat at the Park Plaza, a restaurant dePaola would never have stepped foot into alone. The editor ordered a drink. “I followed suit,” quipped dePaola. “I don’t remember lunch, but four very dry martinis later…” dePaola woke up the next morning with no recollection of how he spent the evening. “But on my drawing table,” he said, “I had started my first manuscript.” It looked as thick as Gone with the Wind.
- what he learned about editing: “I had to leave room for pictures–my pictures–and that was the best lesson I ever learned.”