When March 17th rolls around, teachers, librarians, and parents scan the bookshelves in search of good books to share for Ireland's big day. And Tomie's books are among the best: Fin M'Coul, The Giant of Knockmany Hill (Holiday House, 1981) is a rip-snorting example of Irish folklore and witty storytelling. His Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland (Holiday House, 1994) gives a wonderful history of the man behind the holiday, blending Irish superstition with Catholic tradition. Also not to be missed are Tomie's stories from his grandfather, the adorable Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1997) as well as Jamie O'Rourke and the Pooka (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2002).
Question: What inspired you to tap your Irish roots and write Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland, the Jamie O'Rourke books, and Fin M'Coul?
Irish folktales that are suitable for younger children are literally few and far between. There tends to be a lot of whiskey involved, especially in the tales I researched. (Yeats collected many such folktales.)
I found the stories of Fin M'Coul to be the most child friendly. But doing what a good storyteller is supposed to do, I was able to find funny incidents in a handful of other tales. I then created a typical Irish character directly stolen from my Irish grandfather's stories that he loved to tell me when I was a child. (My English/Irish grandmother referred to these stories as "your" grandfather's lies.)
Hence, the Jamie O'Rourke stories. I can still hear my grandfather's voice saying, "Jamie O'Rourke was the laziest man in all of Ireland."St. Patrick was a no brainer. I was already doing the lives of saints that I found interesting, and Patrick was a prime candidate.
Q: While your Italian and Irish heritage is clear in your writing, you have also tapped into other cultures and traditions in many other books – from Adelita, A Mexican Cinderella Story to The Legend of Bluebonnet. What do you hope to accomplish with the books you write? And what do you hope young readers take away from your books?
The only thing I hope to accomplish with my books is to "grab" children's interest, inspire them to be excited about things, to laugh and maybe even cry. In short, to truly touch their lives.
Q: One hundred years from now when readers talk about your books, what do you hope is said about you?
TDP: I just hope 100 years from now, there are books, and mine are among them, and people, especially children, like them.