Strega Nona, Her Story – as told to Tomie dePaola

I read a couple of children’s books today–most were disappointing. Really good kidlit is HARD to write. At least it’s hard to get it right. Tomie dePaola does. He’s as reliable as the pasta that bubbles out of Strega Nona’s magic spaghetti pot. Strega Nona, Her Story as told to Tomie dePaola features some of the homeliest females (infant to crone) and the simplest, most benign description of witches anywhere. It’s a very matter-of-fact tale of commonplace magic and how satisfying that can be.

When Nona is born, her Grandma Concetta declares the baby will be a witch. Straw from the old broom or something. Grandma is the village witch and, as Nona grows, they take walks to gather herbs and weeds for lotions and potions. Concetta treats everything from baldness (rosemary) to headaches (wild garlic) to warts and worries. She serves Nona and her friend Amelia, a material girl in strega training, steaming bowls of pasta from a big black cauldron. And she promises to teach Nona the secret of the pot one day.

Nona becomes a witch and is ever after known as Strega Nona. Her empathy and natural curiosity deepen her skills and understanding but, for a long time, Grandma Concetta smiles and keeps her secrets about the pasta pot.

Lovely book about females in a traditional culture who have their own life path to travel, even as the community supports them. The art is vivid and childlike–dePaola’s witches all have major honkers and ready smiles. Extremely non-threatening witches, important healers in their villages and towns. Everyone has a place in this story, even the goat.

Strega Nona: Her Story   Tomie dePaola | G. P. Putnam’s Sons   1998

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