Childrens Book Review of Strega Nona's Gift by Tomie dePaola, Number Eleven in the Series

by DerdriuMarriner

Grandma Witch Nona follows the old ways. She therefore has to think of month-long gift-giving every December to January. Her villagers always look forward to “Strega Nona’s Gift.”

Italy’s Christmas season typically goes from the beginning of December in one year through the beginning of January in the next year. It has many opportunities for celebrating because every day honors saints. Six weeks will be devoted to preparing for Christmas Eve and Day on Dec. 24 – 25 and Epiphany Eve and Day on Jan. 5 – 6.

In the transition from one month to another, there is ample opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day on:
• Dec. 31;
• Jan. 1.
Villagers in peninsular Italy’s hilly, southwestern, sunny, tradition-bound Calabria know that all of the above-mentioned dates will host cultural and religious festivities. They always look forward to their beloved, industrious “Strega Nona’s Gift.”




Tomie daPaola sets his Strega Nona series in Calabria, located in the "toe" of the Italian Peninsula, where villages maintain traditions which contribute to Italy's colorful history.

panorama of Conflenti, Catanzaro Province, south central Calabria, southern Italy
panorama of Conflenti, Catanzaro Province, south central Calabria, southern Italy


Christmas holidays throughout Italy’s islands and peninsula abound with festivities. Some celebrations center upon food-making for:

  • December 24’s Christmas Eve dinner;
  • December 25’s Christmas Day lunch;
  • December 26’s Saint Stephen’s (died A.D. 36) lunch;
  • December 31’s Saint Sylvester’s (died A.D. 335) feast;
  • January 5’s Epiphany Eve feast for animals (who get to talk);
  • January 6’s Epiphany lunch.

Other festivities focus upon gift-giving on:

  • December 5 – 6, as Italy’s role model for Santa Claus on Saint Nicholas’s Eve and Day;
  • December 13, as Saint Lucy’s (died A.D. 304) Day;
  • December 24 – 25, thanks to Babbo Natale (Father Christmas);
  • January 5 – 6, through Old Befana.

It means that Strega Nona is busy and Big Anthony is up to mischief.


In "Strega Nona's Gift," Big Anthony's misadventures are balanced by his finding the desirable fava bean in his portion of the Epiphany cake.

Broad beans, shelled and lightly cooked.
Broad beans, shelled and lightly cooked.


Big Anthony appears to be unable to resist edibles. Christmas holidays therefore constitute Strega Nona’s clumsy, inattentive assistant’s favorite season. Despite six weeks of foods (including dried cod and smelts on Christmas Eve) and gifts, Big Anthony goes into Epiphany Eve fixated upon meals. Strega Nona’s noodles have far less appeal for him than the goat’s servings from the evening’s feast for the animals. Big Anthony is quick to eat the goat’s turnips. The goat is equally quick to eat Big Anthony’s blanket. Cold and sleepless, Big Anthony loses out on Strega Nona’s feast for dream-filled villagers. But for finding the Epiphany cake’s fava bean, he receives as gifts befitting Epiphany’s king for the day:

  • Blanket;
  • Turnips.


Strega Nona's Gift by Tomie dePaola

In Strega Nona's village, the holiday season is a time of celebrations - and nothing says celebration like a feast! All the kitchens are bustling from the Feast of San Nicola to Feast of Epiphany.
Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona series



Calabria’s beloved Grandma Witch Nona always finds ways to embellish and enliven her village customers’ lives. Her Christmas season gift of a dream-come-true feast gives beautifully perfect evidence of her sensitive generosity. The bold, Christmas-inspired, folkloric coloration in Tomie dePaola’s acrylic and watercolor illustrations is humorously inviting in communicating the culinary glories of:

  • Lasagna coverings;
  • Mozzarella and ricotta walls;
  • Sausage posts.

The dream feast lets Calabrian villagers enjoy holiday food and fun … without clean-up duties. Characters, dialogue, plot, and setting merge throughout the story even though the above-mentioned feast serves as the most endearing high-point in this 2011 release through Nancy Paulsen Books’ annually exclusive 12 – 15 publications for:

  • Picture book readers;
  • Middle graders;
  • Young adults.


In 2011, the year of publication for "Strega Nona's Gift," Tomie dePaola was awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in recognition of his significant and lasting contributions to children's literature.

Scholastic CD ~ Newbery/Caldecott/Laura Ingalls Wilder Award: 2011 Acceptance Speeches
Scholastic CD ~ Newbery/Caldecott/Laura Ingalls Wilder Award: 2011 Acceptance Speeches



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Sources Consulted


dePaola, Tomie. 2011. Strega Nona's Gift. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books.

"Tomie's Books: New Releases." Retrieved December 24, 2014.

  • Available at:


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: 08/02/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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