DePalma, Mary Newell 1961–

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DePalma, Mary Newell 1961–


Born August 20, 1961, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of Francis and Joan Newell; married Alphonse DePalma III; children: Kepley Therese, Alphonse IV. Education: Rochester Institute of Technology, B.F.A. (medical illustration), 1983. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, knitting, reading.


Home and office—Boston, MA. E-mail—[email protected].


Freelance illustrator, Boston, MA, beginning 1984. Has worked as an interpreter for the deaf, a calligrapher, and a hand-knitter of designer sweaters. Exhibitions: Work included in Society of Illustrators Annual Exhibition 42, 2000; Original Art Exhibition, 2001; Huntington House Museum, Windsor, CT, 2002; Concord Museum, Concord, MA, 2002; Chemer's Gallery, Tustin, CA, 2004; and Elizabeth Stone Gallery, Alexandria, VA, 2007. Work included in permanent collection at Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books, Findlay, OH.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.



The Strange Egg, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.

A Grand Old Tree, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2005.

The Nutcracker Doll, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2007.

Author's work has been translated into French and Korean.


Ilona Kemeny Stashko and Carol Whiting Bowen, retellers, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Come Alive Publications (Concord, MA), 1992.

Miriam Aroner, Giraffes Aren't Half as Fat, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1995.

Matt Curtis, Six Empty Pockets, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Patricia Hubbell, Black Earth, Gold Sun (poems), Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 2001.

Susan Blackaby, Rembrandt's Hat, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

Marc Harshman, Roads, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 2002.

Betsy James, My Chair, Arthur A. Levine (New York, NY), 2004.

Eileen Spinelli, Now It Is Winter, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2004.

Jan Wahl, Knock! Knock!, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2004.

Jill Esbaum, Estelle Takes a Bath, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2006.

Margaret Read MacDonald, The Squeaky Door, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 2006.

Susan Milord, Happy School Year!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2008.


Mary Newell DePalma was not always an author and illustrator for young children. Discussing her less-than-traditional career path with Elaine Magliaro in the Wild Rose Reader Blog Spot, DePalma went on to describe some of her previous occupations: knitting sweaters, addressing envelopes and creating signs using calligraphy, interpreting for the deaf in classrooms, and brain-

storming ideas for scented stickers. When she decided she wanted to be an illustrator, DePalma worked in a number of fields, from advertising to textbook illustration, before becoming a children's book illustrator. "I had never even given it a thought because I was kind of in awe of children's book illustration, I guess. I imagined that some separate species of illustrator—geniuses—illustrated children's books," she told Magliaro.

DePalma's brightly colored, unusual illustrations first began appearing in books written by others. One of her early titles, Rembrandt's Hat by Susan Blackaby, is a story about a bear who loses his hat. While Rembrandt's Hat would make a fine choice for read-aloud time, according to Robin L. Gibson in School Library Journal, "children will want to take a closer look, as the illustrations deserve careful inspection." A contributor to Publishers Weekly concluded that, "all in all," the book is "simply fedorable." In Roads, Marc Harshman's story of a family road trip, DePalma's illustrations were noted for their realism. According to Roxanne Burg, they "have a two-dimensional look to them, almost like still photographs." Noting the growing number of children that populate the illustrations in My Chair from first page to last, a Kirkus Reviews contributor predicted that "young viewers will pore over the actively posed figures and sometimes-surprising details" illustrating Betsy James' story.

Accompanying Jan Wahl's spooky folk-tale picture book Knock! Knock!, DePalma's "illustrations are filled with creepy details and atmospheric shadows," wrote Susan Weitz in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that, "with their exaggerated perspectives and spooky shadows," DePalma's characters "seal the deal." Margaret Read Macdonald's retelling of a traditional tale in The Squeaky Door features animals in pajamas as a grandmother tries to comfort her grandson in his new bed. DePalma's artwork, "diminutive and detailed, envision[s] a cozy home and loving grandma," wrote Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the "full-color illustrations highlight the hilarity." Equally silly pictures adorn Estelle Takes a Bath, as Estelle interrupts her bubble bath to chase a mouse around her house. Calling the illustrations for Jill Esbaum's story "lighthearted," Blair Christolon noted in School Library Journal that the pictures are "filled with humor as bubbles, steam, and an assortment of strategically placed household objects" preserve the young girl's modesty.

Featuring the combination of a naive bird and a wise little monkey, DePalma's first self-illustrated children's book, The Strange Egg, focuses on the joy of new friends and the value in sharing dreams and ideas. "These are the ingredients for many wonderful adventures," DePalma once told SATA. With few words and short sentences, the book describes the antics of a small black bird that finds a round, orange object and tries to determine what it is. Finally, deciding that the object must be an egg, the bird sits on it, to the great amusement of a monkey, who shows the bird how to peel and eat the orange. They enjoy the fruit and the bird returns the favor by teaching the monkey how to plant the orange's seeds. Soon, the two are friends, and they enjoy many oranges together.

A contributor to Kirkus Reviews dubbed The Strange Egg "an odd little tale of fruit and friendship," and Susan Marie Pitard pointed out in School Library Journal

that the story "underlines issues important to children: cooperation, friendship, using your individual talents," and others. Both reviewers noted that the exuberance of DePalma's mixed-media illustrations provide much of the humor and fun of the story. "There is real humor in the illustrations," the Kirkus Reviews critic observed, while a contributor to Publishers Weekly credited much of the book's success to the author/illustrator's "quirky" and "postmodern" illustrations. "This offbeat riff on the joys of the unexpected as well as the give-and-take of friendship is eggs-actly right," the critic concluded.

DePalma's self-illustrated A Grand Old Tree is the story of a tree's life cycle. The illustrations show the many creatures that live in the tree while it is alive and healthy, as well as those living there after it has died. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, commented that DePalma's "well-chosen words … are poetic in the economy of their expression and the precision of their imagery." Maura Bresnahan, reviewing the book for School Library Journal, wrote that the "art superbly complements the writing." Noting the variety of collage materials that accompany DePalma's watercolors, a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the illustrations "winningly simple," adding that "her big-eyed animals are sweetly comical." Also favorably reviewing A Grand Old Tree, a Publishers Weekly critic felt that "the styl- ized shapes of the watercolor and torn-paper art emanate a carefree, childlike feel."

The inspiration for The Nutcracker Doll, DePalma's third original story, was found close to home: "My daughter Kepley and everyone involved with Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker," as she explained to an online interviewer for Book Page. The tale is based on Kepley's experiences as part of the Boston Ballet's production of The Nutcracker as a third grader. Both text and illustrations "incorporate the details that authenticate the story and make readers feel like insiders," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. In Horn Book, Jennifer M. Brabander concluded that The Nutcracker Doll is "a book that's as sweet and delectable as a Christmas cookie."

When asked by Magliaro on the Wild Rose Reader Web log whether she prefers illustrating original stories or the texts by other authors, DePalma admitted to enjoying both for different reasons. "I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of writing my own text. Sometimes the story evolves in surprising ways and I'm free to follow my ideas and change my text if I want to. Illustrating other writers' works helps me to stretch out of my comfort zone and has helped me to learn new things."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 2002, Kay Weisman, review of Rembrandt's Hat, p. 1405; October 15, 2002, Helen Rosenberg, review of Roads, p. 412; September 15, 2004, Karin Snelson, review of My Chair, p. 250 October 15, 2004, Julie Cummins, review of Now It Is Winter, p. 411; December 1, 2004, Karin Snelson, review of Knock! Knock!, p. 664; November 15, 2005, review of A Grand Old Tree, p. 51; December 1, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Squeaky Door, p. 54; January 1, 2007, Janice Del Negro, review of Estelle Takes a Bath, p. 114.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of My Chair, p. 23, and Timnah Card, review of Knock! Knock!, p. 43; March, 2006, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Squeaky Door, p. 319.

Horn Book, November-December, 2007, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of The Nutcracker Doll, p. 628.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2001, review of The Strange Egg, p. 406; June 15, 2004, review of My Chair, p. 577; July 15, 2004, review of Knock! Knock!, p. 695; August 15, 2004, review of Now It Is Winter, p. 813; November 1, 2005, review of A Grand Old Tree, p. 1183; December 15, 2005, review of The Squeaky Door, p. 1325; September 15, 2006, review of Estelle Takes a Bath, p. 952.

Library Media Connection, February, 2006, Barbara B. Freehrer, review of A Grand Old Tree, p. 82.

Publishers Weekly, February 19, 2001, review of The Strange Egg, p. 90; January 14, 2002, review of Rembrandt's Hat, p. 59; December 19, 2005, review of A Grand Old Tree, p. 62; January 16, 2006, review of The Squeaky Door, p. 63; October 22, 2007, review of The Nutcracker Doll, p. 53.

School Library Journal, April, 1995, Lisa Wu Stowe, review of Giraffes Aren't Half as Fat, p. 121; May, 2001, Susan Marie Pitard, review of The Strange Egg, p. 114; November, 2001, Nina Lindsay, review of Black Earth, Gold Sun, p. 146; July, 2002, Robin L. Gibson, review of Rembrandt's Hat, p. 83; September, 2002, Roxanne Burg, review of Roads, p. 193; July, 2004, Marianne Saccardi, review of My Chair, p. 78; August, 2004, Susan Weitz, review of Knock! Knock!, p. 97; September, 2004, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Now It Is Winter, p. 181; December, 2005, Maura Bresnahan, review of A Grand Old Tree, p. 126; January, 2006, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of The Squeaky Door, p. 108; November, 2006, Blair Christolon, review of Estelle Takes a Bath, p. 92.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 13, 2007, Maria Pontillas, review of The Squeaky Door, p. 6.


Mary Newell DePalma Home Page, (December 3, 2007).

Book Page Web site, (July 12, 2007), "Mary Newell DePalma."

Scholastic Web site, (December 3, 2007), profile of DePalma.

Wild Rose Reader Web log, (November 15, 2007), interview with DePalma.

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DePalma, Mary Newell 1961–

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