Tomie dePaola, 1934-2020

Bonjour, Mr. Satie – Tomie dePaola, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1991

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Tomie dePaola, one of the most artistically gifted and humane authors and illustrators for children, died last month.  Of course, as a children’s literature blogger, I have written about his work before (see here and here and here and here and here and here).  Instead of attempting to sum up his incredible legacy, I would like to bring attention to just one of his beautiful books.  Think of Bonjour, Mr. Satie, as an homage to modernism, a Midnight in Paris for kids, a chance meeting Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and a handsomely dressed cat and mouse.

When Rosalie and Conrad receive an elegantly reproduced postcard from their uncle, Mr. Satie, they are thrilled, but perhaps not fully prepared for what he will bring them.  A recipe from Alice and Gertrude, and an many fascinating anecdotes about his friends in the artistic vanguard of Paris and the world.  Each picture features these provocative but affectionate friends. Never one to patronize children, Tomie includes a key to the cast on the flyleaf, although it is limited to first name and initial; in addition to Gertrude, Alice, and Pablo, readers will meet Josephine Baker, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Isadora Duncan.  There is a spirited argument about the relative value of Picasso’s work and the paintings of Henri Matisse.  Fortunately, Mr. Satie and his mouse friend, Ffortusque Ffollet agree to judge the contest.

While this particular dePaola gem may be more geared towards adults than some of his other books, it presents a wonderful opportunity to introduce works of art to young readers. They can judge the magnificent paintings hanging on the wall, or they can just enjoy them, with some helpful context provided by adults reading the book to or with their kids.  The signature artistic style of Tomie’s characters, with faces drawn from medieval art, comic books, and Tomie’s inimitable image of humanity, is easily recognizable.  Equally familiar is his moral, in the words of Mr. Satie:

I have concluded that to compare Henri’s paintings of Nice with Pablo’s paintings  of newspapers, guitars, and faces from all different sides would be to compare     apples with oranges.  Both are delicious but taste totally different.

The book ends with a return to Rosalie and Conrad’s home, less sophisticated than Paris, but warm and inviting.  Their uncle has brought them a gift of paint sets, and the greater gift of an intergenerational bond, as they uncle, niece, and nephew create their own visions.  Au revoir, Tomie.

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