My post for today is a celebration of both Mother’s Day and our current theme on food, Makan! Let’s Eat! Kain Tayo! Although the books featured here are not Asian-themed, the main character is one of the most loved in children’s literature.
Strega Nona was the first book by Tomie de Paola that I have read. Originally published in 1975, Strega Nona fell into my hands about three years ago. The copy that I borrowed from the Wooster library has a misprint on the title. It said “an old tale” instead of “an original tale” written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola. This helpful website provides a spotlight on Tomie de Paola and his books. If you visit the link that says “Spotlight On…” you should be able to read up on how Strega Nona came about.
The name Strega Nona means “Grandma Witch” in English. The story is set in the town of Calabria, a region in southern Italy which forms the “toe” of the Italian Peninsula. Strega Nona is some kind of female witch doctor whom people in town run to if they need potions, cures, or simply comfort. For who she is and what she does for the Calabrian folk, I think that Strega Nona is aptly named.
The character profile of Strega Nona was patterned after a popular Italian puppet show character named Punchinello. Max Lucado’s inspirational series features Punchinello and I have written about those books in one of my Monday Reading posts. Like Punchinello, Strega Nona has a big nose and a big chin. Without realizing it, Tomie de Paola had drawn a headscarf while doodling one day, and the image stuck. Her smiling mouth, chubby body, and skirt and apron were the finishing touches on her character.
In Strega Nona, readers are introduced to the Grandma Witch’s character for the first time. The book tells of how Strega Nona could cure a headache, with oil and water and a hairpin. She made special potions for the girls who wanted husbands. And she was very good at getting rid of warts. There was, however, no special potion for aging. Strega Nona needed a helper, and it is in this first Strega Nona book that readers are introduced to Big Anthony. (Trivia: Tomie de Paola’s middle name is Anthony.)
This first Strega Nona story involves pasta, a magic pot, and one very curious helper. If you’re familiar with the book, then you know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you get a copy and add it to your reading list. It is an endearing tale about a charming woman, her magic, and a lesson that applies to everyone, not just to the Big Anthonys in this world. In addition, the book has also received numerous book awards and recognition such as the Caldecott Honor, ALA Notable Children’s Book, Kirkus Choice, Horn Book Honor List, and the Nakamori Prize. It was also cited for the Brooklyn Museum & Public Library Art Books for Children.
The Wooster library has a copy of another Strega Nona book. Strega Nona’s Harvest was published in 2009, thirty-four years after the first story was created. Prior to that, there were eight other Strega Nona and Big Anthony books that had been published.
The plot of Strega Nona’s Harvest is somewhat similar to the storyline of Strega Nona. The former also involves magic and one of Strega Nona’s many incantations. In the book, readers are introduced to a second helper, a female named Bambolona. The main story involves Strega Nona, Big Anthony, and Bambolona planting seeds for Strega Nona’s vegetable garden.
Although the text in Strega Nona’s Harvest is shorter than Strega Nona, Tomie de Paola’s illustrations remain as vivid as ever. The bright colors used by de Paola in his paintings are a reflection of the loving and jovial personality of Strega Nona. Moreover, I always find it a pleasure seeing Strega Nona work her magic and teach Big Anthony a lesson.
I also noted, upon reading Strega Nona’s Harvest, that Tomie de Paola had incorporated more Italian phrases, followed by an English translation. It’s a wonderful language tool for young readers.
Tomie de Paola is one of the world’s most popular author-illustrators for children. I find his stories—the Strega Nona series, in particular—enjoyable to read because of the humor and warmth he incorporated in them. Strega Nona is such a sweet and loving character, and I think parents and educators should introduce children to her.
Online Links and Resources for Strega Nona
Here are a few of the online links and resources that I found in relation to the popular children’s book. I hope that you would find them useful.
1. Scholastic provides a Lesson Extension that encourages students to create a podcast about Strega Nona. A podcast is a digital audio file that can be created and made available online. Visit the link for specific guidelines.
2. The folks at TeacherVision provide a lesson plan that is designed to establish “predicting” as a strategy for primary students. Interestingly, this activity involves a large cooking pot.
3. Rachel Hodges from peacecenter.org created an extensive Strega Nona lesson plan. By extensive, I mean four (4) pages filled with valuable activities and discussion guide about the book. The pdf file of said lesson plan is available for download online.
4. Amanda and Kim from The Educators’ Spin On It: Parenting With Purpose blogged about the fun they had with the Strega Nona books. It includes an animated video, dress up activity, and writing about and drawing Strega Nona. They also provided additional resources for Strega Nona activities.
EXTRA TREAT: A Pasta Recipe!
To celebrate Mother’s Day, my boyfriend and I decided to cook dinner last Sunday. I found a simple recipe online for Shrimp and Mushroom Linguini With Creamy Cheese Herb Sauce, and Daniel was in charge of cooking. We used fettuccine for our pasta and added scallops because seafood is love, love, love. Home-cooked meals are the best, and this was one of the most delicious pasta dish we’ve ever tasted (or prepared, for that matter).
Shrimp and Mushroom Pasta with Creamy Cheese Herb Sauce
- 1 (8 0z) pkg of pasta of your choice (long pasta is preferred)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (3 oz) pkg of cream cheese
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 3/4 tsp dried basil
- 2/3 cup boiling water
- 1/2 lb cooked shrimp
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook and stir until tender. Transfer to a plate.
- In the same pan, melt 1/2 cup butter with the minced garlic. Stir in the cream cheese, breaking it up with a spoon as it melts. Stir in the parsley and basil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Mix in boiling water until sauce is smooth. Stir in cooked shrimp and mushrooms; heat sauce through.
- Toss pasta with shrimp sauce and serve.
NOTE: We bought 1/2 lb of medium scallops and cut each into 6 smaller pieces. We marinated it for about 20 minutes before pan-frying it for 1-2 minutes on each side. We did this prior to step #3. You have the option to add other seafood items or to just stick to the shrimp. It’s up to you. This recipe serves 4-6 people.