Focusing on the works of one author is a great way to boost reading comprehension. As students hear a variety of books by one writer, they often begin to notice similarities in the stories, which help them make better predictions and inferences when reading other works by the same author. For example, once you have read one or two of the books in Tomie dePaola’s “Strega Nona” series, you can be pretty sure that at some point Big Anthony will not listen to Strega Nona’s instructions and find himself in the middle of a mess of some kind. Learning to make these meaningful connections helps children develop a better understanding of the books the read.
Before you begin your study, tell your students a little about the life of Tomie dePaola. They may be surprised to find that many of the people and events his life make appearances in his picture books. Here are just a few facts you might want to share with your students.
- He was born in Meridian, Connecticut in 1934.
- He grew up living with his parents and his brother, Joseph, and sisters, Judie and Maureen.
- He wanted to write and illustrate books from the time he was 4.
- He was also interested in singing and dancing.
- He took art classes as a child and attended art school after high school.
- He has written and illustrated over 100 children's books in the last 40 years.
You won't be able to read over 100 books in your author's study, but to give your students a taste of the different types of books that Tomie dePaola has written. Choose a few books from each category to introduce your students to.
Many of dePaola's works come from his childhood experiences. "Tom," "The Baby Sister," "Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs" and "My Mother is So Smart" are all based on family members. "The Art Lesson," "Stagestruck" and "Oliver Button is a Sissy" are a few more books that are somewhat autobiographical.
Even though your students may already be fans of the "Strega Nona" series, a Tomie dePaola author study wouldn't be complete without including one or two of the books. Start with the original, "Strega Nona," and then chose one or two more, like "Big Anthony and the Magic Ring," "Strega Nona Meets Her Match" or "Strega Nona's Magic Lessons." You may find your students begging for a whole literature unit based on the Strega Nona books.
Legends and Retellings
Tomie dePaola has a knack for retelling and illustrating old legends. As a born and bred Texan, I'm partial to "The Legend of the Bluebonnet," but there are several good choices, including "The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush," "The Legend of the Poinsettia" and "The Legend of the Old Befana." Young children are also sure to love "Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato" and "Jamie O'Rourke and the Pooka," two books based on popular Irish folktales about the laziest man Ireland.
Informational texts aren't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this author, but he has written several well-loved works of nonfiction. Two notable ones are "The Cloud Book," which will teach children everything they ever wanted to know about clouds, and "The Popcorn Book," which is full of facts about the popular snack.
Writing Lesson Plan
Because so many of Tomie dePaola's books draw on his own childhood experiences, they make great examples for encouraging young children to write about their own lives. This mini-lesson will help students focus on the events in their everyday lives that they can write about.
"The Art Lesson"
Chart paper and markers
Read the book "The Art Lesson" to the class. When you are finished, ask the children how they think Tomie dePaola came up with the idea for the story. Tell them that like many of his books, this one is based on his life. He really did have twin cousins who went to art school and he did love to draw and take art lessons.
Talk with the children about how when they write stories during writer's workshop, they can be like Tomie dePaola and write about experiences that they have had. Then model how to make a list of things you might write about. Include big events, like your wedding or a special vacation, as well as smaller events like the time your dog got out the front door and you had chase him all over the neighborhood or the day you dropped your bag of groceries in the rain.
Then give each a paper to make his own list. As you walk around, look for children who are having trouble thinking of ideas. Ask them questions to prompt them. What activities do you like to do after school? Who are the important people in your life? What things are you good at?
Once the lists are complete, have the children place them in their writing folders and choose one of the items on the list to write about that day.
Look at the students writing. Are they choosing autobiographical topics to write about? Encourage those who aren't to consider writing about what they know best: themselves.
Revisit the topic of writing autobiographical stories throughout the year, using other books by Tomie dePaola as well those by other writers, like Patricia Polacco.
Using these ideas will make your author study on Tomie dePaola a favorite with your students.
Author's classroom experience
About Tomie, https://www.tomie.com/about_tomie/index.html