If the struggles imposed by COVID-19 weren’t enough, readers around the world were knocked down again when legendary children’s book author Tomie dePaola passed away following a fall. His beloved books have charmed and brought comfort to the masses since the first book he illustrated, Sound by Lisa Miller, and even more so with The Wonderful Dragon of Timlin, the first book he both wrote and illustrated. With a career that spanned so many decades, dePaola produced some excellent work. Now, we are left with that work and the spirit he instilled in each page. In celebration of dePaola’s life and career, here are the five best Tomie Paola books according to Goodreads.
A quick caveat—Goodreads is imperfect and, as such, I took a bit of editorial liberty in curating this list. Anything with fewer than 300 ratings was ignored for the sake of more accurate data.
5 of the Best Tomie dePaola Books According to Goodreads
Now One Foot, Now the Other by Tomie dePaola
In a tender story that spans generations, Bobby learns to walk with the help of Grandpa Bob. It’s not long before Bobby is returning the favor after Grandpa Bob suffers a stroke. As the family members work together, Bobby must also come to terms with the fact that Grandpa Bob’s stroke affected not just his physical being, but his mental one, too, meaning despite their close relationship, Grandpa Bob may not even fully remember Bobby. One Goodreads reviewer noted, “It’s one of the greatest picture books I have encountered in terms of its emotional profundity, setting a powerful scene in a way I’ve never seen from Tomie dePaola.”
Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola
With one generation upstairs, and one generation downstairs, Tommy is lucky to be close with great-grandmother and grandmother and visits them regularly at their home. But Tommy is about to learn a difficult lesson when his great-grandmother passes away. As he learns how to say a final goodbye to a loved one, readers are blanketed in a cozy metaphor where “upstairs” ultimately means life after death. Reviewers describe this one as “touching” and “sentimental.”
Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Bringing in one of his most beloved characters to a story of Christmas, dePaola depicts Strega Nona preparing for the holidays with her assistant and the local baker’s daughter. Strega Nona’s generosity and spirit is met with a special gift just for her from her assistant. Charming and paired with dePaola’s signature illustration style, this seasonal picture book is a favorite of many. Check out this book one reviewer called, “the most heartwarming of all the Strega Nona stories.”
The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola
A young boy inspired by the art world, Tommy is determined to take formal art classes and is thrilled when he meets the opportunity at school. Until he learns that before he can create art instinctually, he must learn the rules. Now discouraged, Tommy turns to his art teacher, who guides him on artistic freedom within the “rules” of creating art. A “fantastic story based on Tomie dePaola’s life,” this favorite brings a bit of insight to dePaola’s earlier years and strikes several nostalgic notes, including a nod to the highly coveted 64 pack of Crayola crayons.
Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
“I love this book,” says it all. This picture book introduces readers to one of the most highly regarded characters in children’s literature and Tomie dePaola books, the title character, Strega Nona. When Strega Nona brings in Big Anthony as her assistant, she expects him to exhibit responsibility and integrity. But when she leaves her magic pot unattended, Big Anthony is determined to prove that it works to those who have laughed at him. Before long, Big Anthony’s got the town covered in pasta and Strega Nona must save her community. This fun and imaginative book kicked off an unforgettable series that is still popular today.
Itching to expand your reading of picture books? We have you covered!