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Beloved Children's Author And Illustrator Tomie DePaola Dies At 85


We got sad news yesterday that children's author Tomie DePaola had died. DePaola won the Caldecott Honor Award in 1976 for the book "Strega Nona," which was a tale of a witch, her assistant and a magic pot. His bubbly, gentle illustrations charmed generations of children and were truly a reflection of the man himself. NPR Books editor Petra Mayer has this appreciation.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: If you were a little kid in the 1980s, you knew Strega Nona, the crafty Italian grandmother who could cure warts and brew love potions and had a pot that cooked up endless dinner and endless problems for dopey Big Anthony, who didn't realize you had to stop the pot by blowing it kisses. Instead, he ended up nearly burying the town in wiggly, squiggly threads of pasta. Here's the actress Mary Steenburgen reading from the book for Storyline Online.


MARY STEENBURGEN: (Reading) The pasta had all but filled little house. Out of the windows and through the doors came the pasta. And the pot kept right on bubbling.

MAYER: Tomie DePaola was almost as productive as that magic pot. By his own count, he wrote or illustrated or both more than 270 books, several of which starred Strega Nona. He won a Newbery Honor in 2000 for "26 Fairmount Avenue," the first in a series of autobiographical books about his own childhood home in Connecticut. Here he is talking to NPR's Linda Wertheimer in 1998 about what he liked to read as a kid.


TOMIE DEPAOLA: I loved the Greek myths and legends. I didn't like fairy tales that much, like "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty." Those were OK. I much preferred folk tales, which, you know, are more of the folk, more earthy. And I loved the legends of, like, how things came to be.

MAYER: DePaola preferred stories with their feet on the ground. But his work did sometimes have spiritual overtones. He often wrote about Christmas. And if you look closely at his books, you'll see white doves scattered across many of his pages. Let's not get into how many times "The Clown Of God," about a poor juggler who makes one last offering to a statue of the Christ child, made me very, very sad as a kid.

Tomie DePaola lived in a big sunny house in New Hampshire, packed with Mexican folk art and shelves of doodads that he called his household gods of inspiration. And he never stopped working. His most recent books included "Cats And Kittens," full of facts for the budding cat person, and "Quiet," an appreciation of the joys of being quiet, still and mindful. He spoke to Morning Edition's Rachel Martin about that book in 2018.


DEPAOLA: If you live in a country like I do, there is the time of the day when everything does just become still. The squirrels stop looking for nuts (laughter). The crows stop fighting the squirrels. You know, the trees stop rustling.

MAYER: In that moment, an old man invites his grandchildren to sit on a bench and just be still for a moment. Everything slows down. The little girl says, I can think when I'm quiet. The boy says, I can see when I'm still. DePaola had a great appreciation for kids and what they saw and thought.


DEPAOLA: As a grown-up, I want to give children the credit for everything I can - their courage, their humor, their love, their creative abilities, their abilities to be fair, their abilities to be unfair. And I do wish that we grown-ups would give children, really, lots of credit for these, you know, ephemeral kind of qualities that they have.

MAYER: Tomie DePaola died Monday in a New Hampshire hospital from complications of surgery following a fall. He was 85.

Petra Mayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOW MEADOW'S "BOY IN A WATER GLOBE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Petra Mayer died on November 13, 2021. She has been remembered by friends and colleagues, including all of us at NPR. The Petra Mayer Memorial Fund for Internships has been created in her honor.

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