‘Strega Nona’ Author Tomie dePaola Dies at 85

Tomie dePaola

Getty Beloved children's book author Tomie dePaola died March 30, 2020. He was best-known for writing the "Strega Nona" series.

Beloved children’s book author Tomie dePaola died in New Hampshire on Monday, the Associated Press reported. According to his literary agent, Doug Whiteman, dePaola was badly injured in a fall last week and died of complications following surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. The 85-year-old author was best known for writing the Strega Nona series and 26 Fairmount Avenue.

“It’s so hard to say goodbye to the one, the only, Tomie dePaola. He was a legendary storyteller and a brilliant artist. We will miss him, but we’re thankful that his stories will live on in the hearts of readers everywhere,” tweeted his publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Born into a family of Irish and Italian heritage, dePaola was originally from Meriden, Connecticut. He later moved to New Hampshire, where he lived in a refurbished 200-year-old barn. In 2014, he told New Hampshire Home magazine the barn was a “dream come true.”

He earned an MFA from the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, California, and a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, his biography on Penguin Random House says. Throughout his 30-year career, the beloved children’s book author wrote and illustrated nearly 250 books in more than a dozen different countries. He sold almost 15 million books.

He received numerous awards throughout his career, including a Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal. He was honored for his “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.” He was also awarded the Smithsonian Institution’s Smithson Medal and granted honorary doctoral degrees from Georgetown University, University of Connecticut and Pratt Institute.


DePaola Never Wanted to Retire

Most people look forward to retiring, but not dePaola. He truly loved what he did. “I love what I do, and I love going to bed at night knowing I’ve accomplished something that will be important to young people. I want them to see color and imagery, and fall in love with the pictures,” he told New Hampshire Home. “When I wake up, I can’t wait to go to work.”

DePaola loved reading because of how much a person could learn from it. “Reading is important because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything,” he once said, according to Good Reads.

“A picture book is a small door to the enormous world of the visual arts, and they’re often the first art a young person sees,” dePaola said.

When it came to illustrations, dePaola was known for his distinctive style, and there was a purpose behind it. “I try to be as clear and simple as I can be in my illustrations so that the child can tell what is going on and what the emotions are,” he said.

DePaola had a great childhood, and it used to make him feel guilty, he said. “I remember feeling guilty that I had a good childhood,” he said, according to Brainy Quote. I thought everybody who is famous has to have a desperate childhood and work his way out of it, but I had a great one.”


Popcorn Was His Favorite Food

In a Q&A on his website, dePaola answered some popular questions. In one of them, he emphatically said popcorn was his favorite food and white was his favorite color.

He was regularly asked about his favorite book, which he would always say was the newest book he was working on. But “when the new full-color, redrawn edition of Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs was published, I realized that Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs was my favorite book of my own,” he said.

At the time of his death, he didn’t have any pets, but he had several cats and dogs throughout his lifetime. “Some of my cats were named Satie, Foshay, Token, Kahlo, Rosalie, Conrad and Bomba,” dePaola said. “Some of my dogs were named Bingley, Madison, Markus, Morgan, Moffat, and Bronte.”

Christmas was his favorite holiday, aside from his birthday, and other than writing he also liked to travel, garden, watch movies read and shop, according to his website.

DePaola said he signed his books with a heart because it was his symbol. “The heart has become a sort of symbol for me. I also use it as shorthand, or an abbreviation, for ‘love,'” he said.


Fans Mourned His Death on Twitter

Upon hearing about dePaola’s death, fans took to Twitter to mourn the writer. Some people shared pictures of their favorite children’s books by dePaola.  

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