Since I’ve been on a Canadian kick recently I decided to switch it up and review an Italian American classic for those of you unfortunates who have never read Strega Nona. Tomie dePaola, the writer and illustrator of Strega Nona as well as a huge and hugely fantastic body of work, has been called: “… one of the most popular children’s book illustrators of our time.” Strega Nona was published by Simon and Schuster Books For Young People in 1975. dePaola, now 80, is still working today and the newest book of the Strega Nona series, Strega Nona’s Gift, came out in 2011.In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant “Grandmother Witch.” Strega Nona has the magic touch. All the townspeople go see Strega Nona for headaches, warts, and even matters of the heart. Strega Nona cures all but since she’s getting old she needs a little help of her own with housekeeping and gardening. Strega Nona puts up a sign in the town square and soon enough she hires Big Anthony. One day, as big Anthony works in the garden he hears Strega Nona singing in the kitchen:
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.
Like magic, big Antony sees pasta start to boil and bubble up from the bottom of the pasta pot. When the pot is full Strega Nona sings:
Enough, enough, pasta pot, I have my pasta, nice and hot, So simmer down my pot of clay, Until I’m hungry another day.
Then Strega Nona called Big Antony in for dinner. Unfortunately for Big Antony he turns his back before he sees Strega Nona blow three kisses to her magic pasta pot. The next day, in town, Big Antony tells all his friends about the magic pasta pot and everyone laughs at him. Angry, Big Antony hopes for an opportunity to prove them wrong. What do you think happens next? Strega Nona is a beautiful book. The text is straight forward, occasionally embellished with Italian vocabulary. Subtly melodic, dePaola has crafted a text that flows as seamlessly as the time passes in Strega Nona’s small town and is wordily populated by the lives of the characters who live in it. The illustrations capture the rustic feel of a small town in southern Italy. dePaolo lovingly includes details that make these illustrations great: doves in the town square, shingles on Strega Nona’s roof, herbs hanging upside down to dry, and the steam rising from the pasta pot. Strega Nona is considered the masterpiece of dePaola’s body of work. If you haven’t yet, go read it as well as some of his other 200 plus books!!! And yes, in case you were wondering, this book will make you want to eat lots and lots of spaghetti.