Roxie Munro
Roxie Munro talks about her new book, Rodent Rascals.

Common Core State Standards
I Like to Read Books
Holiday House eBooks

Tomie dePaola

Tomie, please tell us about your new book, LOOK AND BE GRATEFUL.
I meditate every day, and one morning while meditating the whole book came to me, bingo, complete. I went immediately to my drawing table and began working on it. I had no contract and didn’t tell anyone about it. The book just began flowing out. It was the first time in fifty years that a book began like that. It was clear to me what the book had to be and I didn’t hesitate.

After I finished the book, I sent it to Mary Cash, Editor-in-Chief at Holiday House. The next thing I knew, Mary was on the phone and said she wanted to publish the book.

I’m still amazed every time I look at LOOK AND BE GRATEFUL. There’s a freshness to it, and after writing and illustrating children’s books for so long, it was kind of a culmination of everything.

Throughout your fifty-year career writing and illustrating children’s books, you’ve published more than 250 titles. What makes LOOK AND BE GRATEFUL different from the rest?
There’s a spontaneity to the book that separates it from the others. I just sat down and did it, and that was an amazing experience. I don’t know how to classify it in a genre. I’ve done books about saints and about things that are spiritual. LOOK AND BE GRATEFUL is very different, but I’m not analyzing it or questioning it. It’s not that I’m afraid to analyze it, but I don’t need to. It has a freshness to it that isn’t always possible for a working artist to keep up.

Tell us about what it feels like to be back with Holiday House after a 20+ year absence?
I’m so thrilled. It’s like coming back to my home. Mary Cash visited me in my studio many months ago when I was working on some abstract drawings and paintings. I had some in a little pile, and she zeroed in on them. She asked me what they were and when I told her she gave me that look of hers, where she kind of zeroes right into your soul, and she asked, “Is there a book in this?”

So when I did LOOK AND BE GRATEFUL, I just felt I had to show it to Mary.

What are some things in your life, big or small, that you find yourself most grateful for?
I am grateful for my profession and that it’s been a long profession. Writing and illustrating children’s books is what I’ve wanted to do since I was four. It wasn’t that I wanted to do it; it’s that I knew I was going to do it. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to do this for so many years. I’ve made so many great friendships and relationships along the way, and I’m thankful every day for being where I am.

Tell us about your process of writing and illustrating. When you first get inspiration for a story, what is your first step? How has this process changed over the years?
Twenty-five years ago, I was working with three publishers: Holiday House, Putnam and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I had a different process with each of the editors and art directors. Then when I signed an exclusive with Putnam, my process was set, in a way, for many years. I’m looking forward to working with other houses again because each house is distinct and each editor brings out something different in me.

When I start a book, sometimes the idea is well thought out, and sometimes it’s a little niggling idea in my head that I have to develop into a full idea. I usually start with the words of the story and don’t even allow myself to think about the pictures until the story is together and at least in the second draft.

When I’m setting up the idea of the story, that’s when I really need the editor. I love that relationship I have with my editors, and each editor I’ve worked with is like working with a brand new person. There’s no set way we work together, but it’s like a duet. Working with Mary has been a revelation for me because she almost brings out the ideas in my head before I can bring them out myself.

Writing and illustrating books doesn’t get any easier as the years go on. I always have to start from scratch and every book sets its own style and vision. I always try to hold on to that and don’t allow my style to take over. Of course, it’s going to look like my illustrations, but I try to keep the style unique.

What are some of your earliest memories of writing and illustrating? When did you know this would be your career?
As a child, I felt like writing and illustrating was my job, and not in a bad sense. I felt like it was my vocation from very early on. I don’t think young people these days think in terms of a vocation. When I went to art school we all knew our vocations or found them. I found I was very good at painting, but I wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator.

When I was younger I used to work long, long hours. But now my body won’t let me sit as long as I need to. I’ve suffered from tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and more. Fellow artists would say the same. I’ve never had to do anything for a living than making my art, and it’s been a great blessing.

How does your spirituality influence your work? How did it influence the creating of LOOK AND BE GRATEFUL?
I was brought up in the Catholic tradition and moved away from that years ago, but I find great advantage in meditating regularly. I do it first thing in the morning, and it centers me and gets me set up for the day and for my work. I’m not afraid to express my spirituality. I don’t proselytize and preach. I’m not out being a missionary and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m pushing an agenda, because I’m not. Spiritual practices are important in my life and help me in my day-to-day life and with my friendships.

The thing that interests me the most is that in children, there’s an innate spirituality. Years ago I was at a conference with Madeleine L’Engle, and she told me of a young boy who said to his newborn sister, “Tell me about heaven, because I’m beginning to forget.” So how do we know little babies haven’t forgotten eternity?

I think children will get this book right off the bat and you won’t have to explain it to them. I try to keep the things from my childhood fresh in my mind, because, if I’m going to write and illustrate for the service of children, I have to be really faithful to it. I feel the responsibility to keep my audience in mind.

If you could give advice to young authors and illustrators, what would it be?
I always give the advice my twin cousins gave me: “Practice, practice, practice and don’t copy.” I would also ask aspiring writers/illustrators to be honest with themselves in answering, “Why do you want to do this?” If you come up lacking in your answer, you may want to do something else.

Tomie dePaola lives in New Hampshire. For more on Tomie and his books, visit Tomie online at

Books by Tomie dePaola

The Good Samaritan and Other Parables: Gift Edition , Reinforced
Look and Be Grateful, Trade Binding
The Night Before Christmas, Board Book
PATRICK: Patron Saint Of Ireland, Paperback
THE CLOUD BOOK, Reinforced