The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Tomie dePaola’s story ideas,
like sourdough, must be fed

Rachael Conlin Levy

Illustration from “Tony’s Bread” by Tomie dePaola.

“I have a trick,” said the prolific, beloved children’s writer and illustrator Tomie dePaola. “I always try to come up with a new project before I finish the one I’m working on. Sort of like sourdough bread–you take a little dough to start your new batch.”

Just like old leaven inoculates new dough with wild yeast, dePaola safeguard’s himself against writer’s block with a germ of new project. The story seed is sown before the current one is finished.



dePaola combined the two in “Tony’s Bread,” the 1989 story inspired by the popular Italian Christmas bread, panettone. And he shares his affinity for bread with the poet Linda Pastan, who wrote that “bread is always rising/and falling, being broken/and eaten, in my poems.” And he recognizes that a dough’s proofing–like the adman James Webb Young’s mental digestion– is a critical step in both bread and idea formation.


Book critic Barbara Elleman’s 1999 retrospective on the artist-author’ will be republished in 2020.

“Whenever an idea or character is ready to jump out, I’d better be ready to grab it,” he said in “Tomie dePaola: His Art and His Stories” by children’s book criticBarbara Elleman. “Then it’s just good, old-fashioned hard work to take the idea and make it work. No magic involved, just hard work, some luck, a good editor, and a lot of love on my part.”


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