Tomie dePaola, the prolific children’s author and illustrator who delighted generations with tales of Strega Nona, died in New Hampshire on Monday aged 85.
Mr dePaola’s death came following complications from surgery after he was badly injured in a fall last week.
He worked on over 270 books in more than half a century of publishing, selling nearly 25 million copies worldwide.
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 Mr 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: An Original Tale, which came out in 1975, was based on one of his favourite stories as a child, about a pot that keeps producing porridge.
Other books in the series include Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons and Strega Nona Meets Her Match.
Reflecting on her popularity, Mr 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.”
In 2011, he 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 favourite holiday, was a popular subject of many of his works exploring traditions of the season, and offered some storylines for Strega Nona.
Mr dePaola received many letters through the years from children with questions about his life and books, and he often took the time to chat with them at book signings and other events.
It was always important to him to keep that voice active.
“I just keep the inner critic,” he said in an interview.
“Don’t let the little four-year-old get jaded. I listen to him. He stands beside me and says, ‘No, I don’t like that.’”