• It’s the birth date of James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), The Last of the Mohicans.
  • In 1835, Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle reach the Galápagos Islands. Read “Galápagos” Means “Tortoises” by Ruth Heller.
  • On this day in 1963, the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, kills four little girls. Read The Watsons Go To Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis and Birmingham, 1963 by Carol Boston Weatherford.
  • It’s Make a Hat Day. Reread The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss and A Three Hat Day by Laura Geringer, illustrated by Arnold Lobel.

On September 15, 1934, in Meriden, Connecticut, a boy who would become one of the world’s best storytellers was born. Tomie dePaola always credited his Irish and Italian family for providing him with the material for many of his sagas. I don’t know if he came out of the womb spinning tales, but he claims that at age four he knew he wanted to draw pictures for books and “sing and tap-dance on the stage.” Tomie sharpened his artistic talents at Pratt—where he did dance the Charleston for benefits—and then the California College of Arts and Crafts. For a time he studied in a Benedictine monastery, but silence did not seem the best path for this ebullient young man. But by the time I met him in the early seventies, Tomie could weave a web of words as well as any creative person in the field—both in writing books and while speaking to an audience.

Although any of Tomie’s 250 titles could be featured on the Almanac, my favorite remains his Caldecott Honor book, Strega Nona, published thirty-five years ago. Drawing on the magic cooking pot theme in folklore, Strega Nona features a grandmother with a magic touch. But when her assistant Big Anthony tries to duplicate her pasta-making spell, he overwhelms the town with a flood of spaghetti. Fortunately, Strega Nona returns in time—and then dishes out an appropriate punishment for Big Anthony. Executed in acrylic paints and colored pencil, with dark brown outlines, the art captures dePaolo’s characteristic playfulness and silliness—just right for this story.

In general our humorists get fewer major awards than their more serious counterparts. Such has been the case with Tomie. But recently the American Library Association presented Tomie with the Wilder Award for the body of his work—and as would be expected, he kept the audience enthralled.

Happy birthday Tomie. You have kept children laughing and adults equally amused for four decades. Even more important, you have reminded us not to take ourselves so seriously—but still pay great attention to what we put into the hands of children.

Here’s a page from Strega Nona:


Originally posted September 15, 2011. Updated for 2019.

Tags: Award Winning, Caldecott, Food, Humor, Magic
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Strega Nona


  1. What a beautiful post. Tomie dePaola is actually going to be at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, later this month, and I’m planning to stand in line for however long I have to to meet him. I’m still pretty new to the world of children’s writing and have enjoyed getting to know Tomie’s work over the past few years. We love Strega Nona, too!

  2. Anita says:

    Kerry: It will be worth the wait to talk to Tomie. Glad to hear both of you will be at the National Book Festival, one of the best events on the book calendar.

  3. Thanks, Anita, for the nice surprise. Several people sent me the link. I’m glad to know about your almanac. Love and three kisses, Tomie

  4. Anita says:

    Tomie: Hope you get a lot of wonderful birthday wishes!

  5. G.Perry says:

    I’ve seen this book and thought it was mighty fine. The art is awesome.

    And I want to know all about any children’s author who has published, and I certainly want to know about Tomie.

    I want to see at least 30 more years of writing from you. Maybe 50!

    The world needs you. I need need people like you and Anita, out there somewhere.

    Happy Birthday Tomie!!!

    My, my. Such special souls out walking and creating on this planet.

    Good thing too.


  6. Brandie Mayes says:

    I always loved this story, and the illustrations were definitely a major part of the enjoyment. I have to admit, and am embarrassed by this actually, that I have not read anything else by dePaola. I guess I have 250 books to choose from now. Happy Birthday to Tomie!

  7. Brita says:

    Brandie, you have so much to look forward to! I loved Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, and my family still reads Merry Christmas, Strega Nona every Christmas Eve.

  8. Mary D says:

    He also wrote a book about St. Patrick! It is a delightful book, so I bought a copy for each of my own part-Irish granddaughters.

  9. Maia Hajj says:

    I remember reading this book when I was in elementary school and it was one of my favorites. Thanks for posting about this book and reminding me of it. I will have to re-read it now, as well as Tomie dePaola’s other books. Happy Belated Birthday to a great storyteller and congratulations on receiving the Wilder Award.

  10. Maria says:

    I had the opportunity to hear Tomie DePaola speak last year. He was just as warm, genuine, and humorous as one might expect from reading his myriad of children’s books. Happy birthday to a man who continues to bless the world of children’s literature.

  11. I love this book! And I’ve always been a fan of his art work. It is so warm and inviting. I also read his book 26 Fairmount Avenue for the first time last year, and through getting a glimpse into his own pastt, really gained a new appreciation for him as an author.

  12. Evelyn Wall says:

    TomiedePaola will be the Massachusetts Reading Association’s recipient of MRA’s 2013 Literature Award. He will be the afternoon keynote speaker at MRA’s conference on April 4, 2013 at The Boston Marriott Quincy. http://www.massreading.org.

  13. Chelsea DeTorres says:

    I love this book!! The story style and the drawing inspired me to read and enjoy dePaola’s other works but I still enjoy the overflow of spaghetti as the best concept of all. As a kid, I even hoped that one day I’d find a pot like this and eat spaghetti forever.

  14. Suzanne says:

    For anyone in the Boston area, Tomie dePaola is coming to the Boston Book Festival on October 19, 2013! http://www.bostonbookfest.org/

  15. Anita says:

    Suzanne: Thanks for alerting everyone in the Boston, or New England area. He is one of the great speakers in children’s books.

  16. Whitney says:

    Yes, the very first thing I did after looking up this year’s Boston Book Festival was send everyone the text that I would get to see Tomie dePaola! In all of his books that I’ve seen there is such a wonderful element of care-not caution, or seriousness, or anything even slightly opposed to fun, but the clear notion that people should sincerely care about what they are doing. We should put care into our cloaks, and our creativity, and even into our eavesdropping! Strega Nona remains a very dear and strong character.

  17. Tish Dersnah says:

    I love all of Tomie’s books but my favorite is his Christmas book which describes his journey through adulthood and how he decorates at Christmas. It is such a treat and I reread it every holiday. Thanks, Tomie and happy, happy birthday!!

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