Children’s Author Tomie dePaola, Writer and Illustrator of Strega Nona, Dead at 85

Photo: Jonathan Fickies/Getty Images for Jumpstart for Children

Children’s author Tomie dePaola, the writer and illustrator of the classic picture book Strega Nona, has died at the age of 85. According to Time, his literary agent, Doug Whiteman, confirmed dePaola passed away Monday at Lebanon, New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hancock Medical Center after taking a serious fall last week and suffering complications from a subsequent surgery.

Born Thomas Anthony dePaola, the author is probably best known for the soft colors, mystical grandma and uncontrollable pasta pot that plagues Big Anthony in 1975’s Strega Nona. Based in Calabria, the place of dePaola’s grandparent’s birth, the titular Nona went on to have further adventures in the series’ ten other volumes.

The author also wrote and illustrated dozens of other books, from fairytales like Adelita: A Mexican Cinderella Story, to the adventures of The Barkers’ titular dog family, to Christian saint stories like The Song of Francis. 1973’s Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, which explains the concept of death through the passing of a child’s grandparents, was one of numerous semi-autobiographical books that drew from dePaola’s childhood.

“I think it’s because she’s like everybody’s grandmother,” the author told the Associated Press in 2013 when asked about Strega Nona’s enduring popularity. “She’s cute, she’s not pretty, she’s kind of funny-looking, but she’s sweet, she’s understanding. And she’s a little saucy; she gets a little irritated every once in a while.” DePaola won the Children’s Literature Legacy Award for his oeuvre in 2011.

Author Tomie dePaola, Writer of Strega Nona, Dead at 85