Three kisses for Tomie dePaola

If you’ve read Tomie dePaola’s book Strega Nona, you know about the elderly lady’s pasta pot. She sings a magical song, and her pot fills with delicious pasta.

Bubble, bubble, pasta pot.
Boil me some pasta, nice and hot.
I’m hungry and it’s time to sup,
Boil enough pasta to fill me up.

When the bumbling Big Anthony disobeys Strega Nona and tries his hand at the pasta pot while she’s away, he cooks enough pasta for the whole town. But when he tries to stop the pot, he can’t. He doesn’t realize that he has to blow three kisses to end the magic. He ends up with a pasta pot that gets out of control, making way too much pasta until Strega Nona returns home and saves the day.

Today I’m thinking of Strega Nona and the author who created her. DePaola passed away yesterday, leaving a legacy of books full of memorable illustrations and relatable characters who have delighted numerous children and adults for decades.

Through his art and storytelling, he has introduced us to very human characters who live simple lives with purpose and joy. They’re flawed and real, and we laugh at them as children—and then later with them as adults, as we realize how much we are like them ourselves.

We are Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in Ireland who wastes an encounter with a leprechaun and ends up with the biggest potato in the world. We are Tony, who feels he has little to offer beyond an unusual recipe for a bread he bakes in a flowerpot. We are Big Anthony, who thinks he can control a magic pasta pot and makes a mess of the whole situation.

There’s so much humanity and so much hope in DePaola’s works.

DePaola considered a vocation to religious life when he was younger, and his saint stories are so wonderful in the very human way they bring saints to life. Christopher: The Holy Giant is one of my favorites for the way dePaola invites us to walk across those waters with St. Christopher, feeling the enormous weight of carrying the Child Jesus on our shoulders.

Whatever the topic, DePaola brought such a beautiful touch to his tellings and retellings of stories we knew or thought we knew—stories that I’ve had the chance to discover with our children over the years.

Enough, enough, pasta pot,
I have my pasta, nice and hot,
So simmer down my pot of clay,
Until I’m hungry another day.

We could never get enough of Tomie dePaola’s illustrations and stories. But what he has left behind for us will have to be enough to read over and over again. This much-loved author is writing a new chapter and surely experiencing incomparable colors and characters now that St. Peter has welcomed him home.

Thank you, Tomie, for making us smile and warming our hearts with your creative eye and ear for so many years. Well done, good and faithful servant. Today, we are sending three sad but very grateful kisses to you in heaven.

Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner

Rita Buettner is a wife, working mother and author of the Catholic Review's Open Window blog. She and her husband adopted their two sons from China, and Rita often writes about topics concerning adoption, family and faith.

Rita also writes The Domestic Church, a featured column in the Catholic Review. Her writing has been honored by the Catholic Press Association, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Associated Church Press.