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In Memoriam: Tomie DePaola, Icon of Illustration

By Henry Handley

Artist and children’s book author/illustrator Tomie DePaola died March 30 at the age of 85.

Beloved for books such as Strega Nona, which won the coveted Randolph Caldecott Medal for best picture book in 1976, DePaola wrote and illustrated more than 200 books, some of which focus on saints and other religious topics. The Night of Las Posadas, for example, tells a story of the mysterious appearance of two strangers in biblical attire who arrive in time to save a town’s traditional procession reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn in Bethlehem; they turn out to be figures from a work of art who came alive for the evening when the original actors chosen for the roles were stranded in a snowstorm.

DePaola was raised Catholic and even spent six months in a Benedictine priory after college, according to this Washington Post obituary

The University Libraries collections contain many Tomie DePaola books, and some feature Marian themes. The Clown of God is part of the Curriculum Materials Center collection in Fitz Hall. The Marian Library’s juvenile collection contains DePaola’s Mary: The Mother of Jesus, The Lady of Guadalupe and several Christmas books.

Since the upcoming At the Manger exhibit will feature the medieval tale of Our Lady’s Juggler — the basis for The Clown of God — Marian Library director Sarah Cahalan had thought of DePaola immediately when exhibit planning began in 2019.

“He would do storytimes at the bookstore I worked in every summer (in and after college), and he was always so sweet with the kids and parents,” she said of DePaola. “Surely he didn't need to do readings and signings at that point in his career but seemed to really love interacting with everyone.”

Although the Marian Library is presently closed in compliance with the Ohio governor’s COVID-19 guidance, we’ve included a gallery of photos of these books and an original DePaola watercolor in our collection to share our appreciation for DePaola’s depictions of Our Lady. 

— Henry Handley is a collections librarian and assistant professor in the Marian Library.

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