Tomie dePaola understands what children want to read.

He’s proven that during a 40-plus year career as a children’s author and illustrator. His more than 200 books, which include the popular titles “Strega Nona,” “26 Fairmount Avenue” and “The Art Lesson,” have sold more than 15 million copies. His latest, “Strega Nona’s Gift,” is due to be released Oct. 18.

But dePaola also understands that he has not achieved this success completely alone. In an era when so much printed information is available electronically at the click of a mouse, he never forgets to thank booksellers.

So when he won the American Library Association’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award this year for his contribution to children’s literature, dePaola had a party at his home in New London, N.H. And he invited bookstore owners from all over New England.

“There aren’t as many local independent booksellers as there used to be, and we need them. We need all the bookstores,” dePaola, 77, said from his New Hampshire home. “That’s how I met the ladies from Kennebooks.”

DePaola is referring to a bookstore in Kennebunk. He agreed to give a reading and talk at the store, but because of his popularity, Kennebooks’ management decided to move the event to the Nonantum Resort in nearby Kennebunkport.

The event will focus on “Strega Nona’s Gift,” and will begin at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 21. It’s free, but reservations are suggested. 

Q: What prompted this latest “Strega Nona” book?

A: The character sort of got a new lease on life when the pop-up book came out a few years ago. This book was inspired by a food writer, Carol Field, who spent a year in Italy visiting all these villages on important feast days. You can go to villages five miles apart, and the food is different on the same feast day.

Jan. 6 is a day when all the animals are supposed to be able to talk about their owners. So people cook for their animals. And Strega Nona gives a gift to the people of the village, but I don’t want to give away what it is. 

Q: Strega Nona clearly has some sort of magic. What is she, and where did you get the idea for her?

A: Strega Nona is a good witch. “Nona” means “grandmother,” but nobody in their right mind would call their own grandmother “Strega Nona.” Some of the ideas came from my Italian grandmother. If neighbors had a headache, my grandmother had this special bowl with warm water and a few drops of olive oil, and she’d say a prayer, and she’d dip a hairpin in it to make the headache go away. 

Q: A lot of your books are about your childhood, like “Tom” or “The Baby Sister.” Why do you think you remember your childhood so vividly?

A: In my case, families were different then, and I never ate a meal without my entire family, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sunday, the noontime meal was a very big deal, and my mom and dad would tell us stories; stories about what we did when we were younger. And my dad had a movie camera, and so I have all these home movies of myself as a child.

As you grow older, you find your memory is very good about certain things. Like I have vivid memories about how I felt at certain times. I feel like I’ve been blessed with memories, and I really trust that, and quite often that’s the spark for a book idea. 

Q: What are some of the components that make a good children’s book?

A: If I knew that, I’d be a billionaire. I’d say if somebody wants to be an illustrator, go to art school to learn about techniques and colors.

If you want to be a writer, my first question would be, “Do you like to read?” Because nobody can be a writer if they don’t love reading. Try to find your own voice and be as honest as possible. Write about things you know or you feel deeply about. 

Q: Do you have a favorite of all the books you’ve written?

A: “Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs,” because that was the first time I tried anything truly autobiographical, and it really got me noticed. As a child (in Meriden, Conn.), my Irish grandmother and my Irish great-grandmother lived in the same house, and my great-grandmother was bedridden, so she was always upstairs. As I child, I had to put everything in these neat little boxes, so I had a grandmother upstairs and a grandmother downstairs.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]