Childrens Book Review of Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, Number One in the Series

by DerdriuMarriner

Grandmotherly witches have special skills. But they hire like any other employer, through “Help Wanted” ads. That is why Big Anthony has a job with “Strega Nona.”

The Italian language sometimes assumes different word orders than English. For example, the name Strega Nona becomes Grandma Witch in English. The word for the mother of a child’s mother generally articulates two main spellings:
• Nona emerges as the informal endearment “Grandma”;
• Nonna exists as the formal designation “Grandmother.”

The regional variant definitely communicates the appreciation of southern Italian townspeople for Calabria’s accomplished, cooperative Strega Nona. That affection inspires the overworked Grandma Witch to hire instead of retire. It is not a guarantee that she will get the most qualified candidate for the job. It instead means that the townspeople will defer to her disciplinary actions when the least qualified applicant expectedly becomes problematic for “Strega Nona.”




Tomie dePaola sets his Strega Nona series in Calabria, the region located scenically in the toe of the Italian peninsula.

Valle del fiume Amato, near Adami, Calabria, southern Italy
Valle del fiume Amato, near Adami, Calabria, southern Italy


Strega Nona attracts a solid, steady clientele through:

  • Cures for headaches and warts;
  • Potions for husband-seeking girls.

She becomes too busy to tend her property. Big, inattentive Anthony convinces Strega Nona of his ability to:

  • Feed and milk the goat;
  • Fetch water;
  • Harvest vegetables;
  • Sweep the house;
  • Wash dishes;
  • Weed the garden.

Strega Nona demands that Big Anthony never touch her valuable pasta-making pot. But Big Anthony does not feel compelled to follow household rules when Strega Nona goes to Strega Amelia’s nearby mountain town home. He does not lunch on the cupboard’s bread and cheese which Strega Nona leaves as part of his contract of:

  • Complete daily board;
  • Separate lodgings near the goat shed;
  • Three coins.


In Tomie dePaola's first installment of his Strega Nona series, an out-of-control pasta pot keeps generating record amounts of pasta.

happy pasta
happy pasta


The pot boils pasta when Big Anthony sings Strega Nona’s mealtime song. It cooks enough for all the townspeople to have repeat servings. But it does not stop when Big Anthony sings Strega Nona’s simmer-down song. The pot’s contents end up filling:

  • Strega Nona’s house and lawn:
  • The town’s road and square … until Strega Nona’s return.

The grandmotherly witch figures out what the problem and the solution are. She knows that the pot must receive three air-blown kisses after the meal-end song. The townspeople make it clear that Big Anthony needs to be punished. Strega Nona opts for Big Anthony devouring all the pasta. She retires while Big Anthony tosses and turns with an over-full stomach.  


Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola stories



Strega Nona’s adventures exist thanks to Thomas Anthony dePaola’s familiarity with:

  • The big-chinned, big-nosed commedia dell’arte ([masked] craft comedy) character Punchinello;
  • The Italian folkloric, public-domain story, The Porridge Pot.

Strega Nona’s readers indeed find cultural enrichment and educational entertainment, what with inputs from:

  • Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers as publisher;
  • Tomie dePaola as illustrator and storyteller.

Printed in Hong Kong and published in 1975, the classic story gets categorized by educators and librarians as suitable for:

  • Ages 3 – 8+ years and upward;
  • Grades preschool through third grade and onward.

But the beautifully illustrated, clearly written publication welcomes parents, readers, and teachers beyond the above-mentioned confines to enjoy:

  • Culinary adventures;
  • Italian language-learning;
  • Literary analysis;
  • Local color.



Strega Nona: read by author-illustrator Tomie dePaola

Published on YouTube on July 2, 2013 by Matt Gomez ~ URL:



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Tomie dePaola was recognized as one of two worthy runners-up for Caldecott Honors in 1976 for "Strega Nona," the first installment in his Strega Nona series.

obverse of Caldecott Medal
obverse of Caldecott Medal

Sources Consulted


dePaola. "Spotlight On ... Strega Nona. Retrieved December 23, 2014.

  • Available at:

dePaola, Tomie. 1975. Strega Nona. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Italy watercolor map: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

Tomie dePaola sets his Strega Nona series in Italy, in Calabria in the toe of the Italian Peninsula.
Italy Watercolor Map
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 12/29/2014, DerdriuMarriner
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