BooksForKidsBlog

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Tomie DePaola: A Loving Literary Legacy

Tomie DePaola died Monday at age 85.

A multiple award-winning author-illustrator of more than 270 books for children, his gentle humor and loving lessons in humanity are his legacy.

As a school librarian I was lucky enough to get to sit with a circle of third graders around me and read his Caldecott-winning Strega Nona (loosely based on the folktale of The Sorcerer's Apprentice) in my best Italian accent and watch their faces reflect the humor and insight into human nature in this wise little tale. Strega Nona is the good witch, a kind, grandmotherly figure who helps everyone in her small village in Calabria, but whose new helper, Big Anthony, is the quintessential "noodlehead" character who overhears the magic words to make her magic pot fill with pasta-- without thinking to learn how to make it stop. And one day when Strega Nona is away, he tries it out, releasing a tsunami of spaghetti over the whole town. Strega Nona returns just in time, Big Anthony learns his lesson, and the village joins in a jolly all-night pasta party. DePaola's gentle story never failed to delight and was a joy to read aloud.

In all his books for children, Tomie DePaola was a literary Strega Nona, the wielder of good magic, whose warm stories bubbled from his own love for children's literature that nourished their souls while giving them laughs and little lessons in living.

With his several stories of Strega Nona, The Legend of the Blue Bonnet, The Clown of God, Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, The Knight and the Dragon, his Newbery-winning series of autobiographical books about growing up in a large Irish-Italian family, 26 Fairmont Avenue, and his last book in 2019, Cats and Kittens, Tomie DePaola leaves 55 years of beautifully illustrated and well-told tales that led kids to love to read. As DePaola said,

"Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything."

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