Ah, Parent Visitation Day. As a kid I loved it; as a new teacher I feared it. I learned to enjoy it as the years passed, eventually enjoying the chance to share my world of literacy with parents. I’ll never forget the day I read Strega Nona during parent visitation for my first grade class. The parents were transfixed by the story! I could have heard a pin drop. (And miraculously not a single parent checked their phone!) Several parents thanked me for such a fantastic read aloud experience. It had little to do with me, and all to do with the power of author Tomie dePaola as a storyteller!
Each Thursday I’ll be featuring a book that my parents *could* have read to me as a child (spoiler alert: I’m no spring chicken), so we will go with a publication date of 1988 or earlier; all books must still be in print as of my writing.
Title/author: Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Copyright date: 1975
Plot in a Sentence (or two): Strega Nona (which means “Grandma Witch”) needs some help around her cottage, so she hires Big Anthony; while showing him his chores, she cautions him to never touch her pasta pot. Spying through the window later, he learns that her pasta pot is magical, cooking pasta all on its own when the magic words are sung; a few days later Big Anthony tests out the magic pasta pot and learns a lesson when he nearly overtakes the town with pasta, unaware of Strega Nona’s secret “off-switch” (blowing kisses at the pot!).
Why It’s Timeless: Strega Nona has the feel of a folktale (although the title page reminds us that it is indeed an original tale), and the Caldecott Honor illustrations add to the enduring, vintage feel of the tale. Although we clocked our reading at 8 minutes, which is a bit longer than many of our books at Preschool Bookworm’s stage, the pace of the story moves along well. The plot keeps the reader wondering, “What’s going to happen next?” Will Big Anthony listen to Strega Nona or will he touch the pot? Will he get it to work? Will he be a hero like he dreamed? Will he ever figure out how to get it to stop? Will the pasta overrun the cottage? The town? What will happen to Big Anthony?! Read more tips about making predictions during reading here (scroll to the While You’re Reading section).
While You’re Reading: The dialogue in this story makes for a great chance to put on your storyteller’s hat and have fun with voices and inflection. Speak sternly when Strega Nona cautions Big Anthony (I like to wave my finger, and Bookworm usually mimics me); speak in an innocent/sweet voice when Big Anthony agrees to his chores; speak angrily when the townspeople turn on Big Anthony for almost ruining their town. And have fun with the song to make the pasta boil– perhaps it’ll even get lodged in your brain the next time you make pasta for your family! That’s never happened in the Bookworm home. 😉
Just for Fun: There are many other tales featuring Strega Nona. My library students loved them all. My Preschool Bookworm, however, always says, “Read Strega Nona, mama, the pasta pot one.” I think the original is the top of the charts, but the characters are endearing in them all! Tomie dePaola is a fabulous author and has written over 200 books! If you and your bookworm like Strega Nona, there are TONS of opportunities to do an author study of his work.
Strega Nona should be readily available at your local library, or at the Amazon affiliate link provided.