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Moment 8: Tomie DePaola and The Role Model Effect (2013)

10 Great Moments in DBF History
Moment 8: Tomie DePaola and The Role Model Effect (2013)

Tomie DePaola and the Role Model Effect

Diane Capriola currently serves as the AJC DBF Manager of Children and Teen Programming. She is co-owner of Little Shop of Stories, an award-winning, independent bookstore for children in Decatur. She is also “that girl from ‘You’ve Got Mail'”. She grew up on Long Island but has called Decatur her home for over 20 years and lives there with her three children and two dogs, Jem and Scout Finch. Diane serves on the American Booksellers Association (ABA) advisory board as well as the advisory board of the ABA’s ABC Children’s Group.

I love kids, and I love books. It’s a dream come true for me when I can be a part of bringing the two together.

Over the past ten years of the DBF, there have been countless times that I’ve witnessed what it is like when young readers get the chance to meet a favorite or beloved author. I’ve seen middle schoolers cry when they’ve met Avi, the 70 year old author of classic chapter books like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Poppy, and Crispin: The Cross of Lead. I’ve talked in the hot Georgia sun with Skippyjon Jones fans as they patiently waited in line for over two hours to meet Judy Shachner, creator of the iconic picture books about a little kitty with a big imagination. And I’ve watched as popular author and champion of boys and their reading lives, Jon Sciezska, spoke earnestly and intimately with a small group of ten-year-old boys about the books in their lives.

There are many more memories like this, but one in particular really stands out for me.

In 2013, our DBF kidnote speaker was beloved picture book creator, Tomie DePaola. In 1975, his illustrated character of Strega Nona entered the canon of children’s literature, and she remains a beloved heroine to this day. Mr. DePaola was at the DBF to launch his newest picture book about this kind and wise Grandma Witch called Strega Nona Does It Again, and given the enduring love for this character across generations, we thought it would be fun to invite three young readers to interview him on stage, with me serving as moderator.

At the time, Mr. DePaola was a very young, soon to be 79 years old, and my interviewers, all aged nine, were wise beyond their years. The three kids climbed the stairs to the stage, questions in hand, and nervously sat beside him, ready to begin. There was no need for me to moderate. The conversation quickly became an easy banter between Mr. DePaola and Gavin, Meyrick, and Nora, with Mr. DePaola occasionally stopping to direct a story to the audience about his many years of creating children’s picture books. To see the three transfixed by Mr. DePaola as he spoke of his time growing up and all the things that influenced both his writing and illustrating throughout his illustrious career was wonderful. To hear the three interject with thoughtful questions and observations about what they heard made it all perfect.

As I indicated that we would be wrapping up the conversation, sweet, moppet haired Gavin, began fidgeting with his microphone and searching his paper for one more question to ask Mr. DePaola, even though he had asked all of his questions. He began mumbling to himself, unaware that he had the microphone in his hand. The audience could hear him whispering, “I don’t want this to end!” Like Gavin, I didn’t want it to end either. It was one of the best nights of my life.

The world is filled with role models. Some of them deserve the respect and admiration they receive. For others, it is debatable. Throughout my years with the DBF, it has been an honor to connect young readers with true role models.

I definitely have the best job.

—Diane Capriola