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Tomie dePaola (1934–2020), children’s author who wrote “Strega Nona”

by Linnea Crowther

Tomie dePaola was a children’s book author and illustrator whose hundreds of books included the Caldecott Honor-winning “Strega Nona.”

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Died: March 30, 2020 (Who else died on March 30?)

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Details of death: Died at a hospital in Lebanon, New Hampshire of complications of surgery after a fall at the age of 85.


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Drawing on his heritage and his life: The Irish-Italian dePaola found inspiration for his work in his heritage and in things that happened to him in his life. His 1975 classic, “Strega Nona,” told the story of a friendly Italian witch and her bumbling helper, who accidentally used a magical pasta pot to flood the town with pasta. DiPaola revisited Strega Nona – meaning “Grandma Witch” – in nine other books in the series. He retold folk tales and fables including the Irish “Fin M’Coul,” the Aesop-inspired “The Wind and the Sun,” and “Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story.” He created picture books for young readers, board books for the youngest, and chapter books for readers advancing past his picture books. Among dePaola’s chapter books was the Newbery Honor-winning “26 Fairmount Avenue,” a memoir of a time when his family moved to a new home. Throughout the more than 260 books dePaola created was his simple, charming drawing style, relying on uncomplicated line drawings that were colored using a variety of materials. DiPaola was honored with the Children’s Literature Legacy Award in 2011 for his lifetime of creating books for young readers.

DiPaola on his artistic style: “I try to be as clear and simple as I can in my illustrations, so that the child can tell what is going on and what the emotions are.” —from an interview with the Globe

What people said about him: “Today we lost the adored children’s book creator Tomie dePaola who passed away from a head injury. Forever joyful, he was a creator of beauty and a beloved friend. RIP you genius imp.” —author Lin Oliver

“When ‘This Is Not My Hat’ won the Caldecott, Tomie dePaola, who I’d only met once briefly, sent me a long handwritten letter of congratulations/welcome & it was almost more crazy than winning the damn thing. I’ll miss waving at him sheepishly across rooms.” —author Jon Klassen

“Today, New Hampshire lost acclaimed author Tomie dePaola — a man who brought a smile to thousands of Granite State children who read his books, cherishing them for their brilliant illustrations. Rest in peace, Tomie. You will be missed by all.” —New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu

Full obituary: The Washington Post

Related lives:

  • Anna Dewdney (1965 – 2016), children’s author known for “Llama Llama” series
  • Maurice Sendak (1928 – 2012), author of “Where the Wild Things Are”
  • Madeleine L’Engle (1918 – 2007), author of “A Wrinkle in Time”

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