Children's author Tomie dePaola dead at age 85

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CONCORD, N.H.— Tomie dePaola, the prolific children's author and illustrator who delighted generations with tales of Strega Nona, the kindly and helpful old witch in Italy, died Monday at age 85.DePaola died at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., according to his literary agent, Doug Whiteman. He was badly injured in a fall last week and died of complications following surgery.

He worked on over 270 books in more than half a century of publishing, and nearly 25 million copies have been sold worldwide and his books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Author Lin Oliver mourned his loss, tweeting that "He was a creator of beauty and a beloved friend." New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu issued a statement, praising dePaola as "a man who brought a smile to thousands of Granite State children who read his books, cherishing them for their brilliant illustrations."

Strega Nona, his most endearing character, originated as a doodle at a dull faculty meeting at Colby Sawyer College in New London, N.H., where dePaola was a member of the theater department. The first tale was based on one of his favorite stories as a child, about a pot that keeps producing porridge. "Strega Nona: An Original Tale," which came out in 1975, was a Caldecott finalist for best illustrated work. Other books in the series include "Strega Nona's Magic Lessons" and "Strega Nona Meets Her Match."

Reflecting on her popularity, dePaola told The Associated Press in 2013, "I think it's because she's like everybody's grandmother. 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 said he put Strega Nona in Calabria, in southern Italy, because that's where his grandparents came from.

He said over the years, the visualization of Strega Nona — who grew out of his drawing of Punch from the commedia dell'arte — became more refined. But his liberal use of color and folk art influences in her stories were a constant. After saving her village from being flooded with pasta from a magic pot by her assistant, Big Anthony, Strega Nona went on to star or play a supporting role in about a dozen more books.

In 2011, dePaola received a lifetime achievement award from the American Library Association.

Many of his books bring to life folktales, legends, and spirituality — he often incorporated images of a white dove among the pages. Christmas, his favorite holiday, was a popular subject of many of his works exploring traditions of the season, and offered some storylines for Strega Nona.

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