Strego Nona, or Grandma Witch, is an original story by Tomie de Paola that has the feeling of a folktale. In the story, Strega Nona is a witch who helps the people of her town with things like getting rid of headaches and warts, and she makes love potions “for the girls who wanted husbands.” She needs help looking after her home and gardens she hires Big Anthony to help.
Big Anthony sees Strega Nona using her magic pasta pot. He even memorizes the incantations she uses to make the pot create pasta. But he doesn’t see hr blow three kisses to the magic pot, which is an essential part of the spell — the way to stop the pot from making more pasta.
Strega Nona leaves town to visit a friend, telling Big Anthony not to touch the pasta pot. But Big Anthony, who has told the villagers about the pot and gotten angry because they didn’t believe him, starts up the pasta pot and invites all the people of the town to command eat the pasta.
Since he doesn’t know the secret of making the magic pot stop, it keeps on making pasta, and the pasta threatens to cover the town as Mt. Vesuvius covered Pompei.
Fortunately, Strega Nona arrives, stops the magic pot, and makes Big Anthony eat up the extra noodles so the town is saved from disaster.
In addition to the original book de Paola has written several more adventures of Strega Nona:
- Strega Nona and Her Tomatoes
- Strega Nona Meets Her Match
- Strega Nona’s Harvest
- Strega Nona Takes a Vacation
- Merry Christmas, Strega Nona
- Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons
- Strega Nona’s Magic Ring
- Strega Nona Does It Again
- Strega Nona and the Twins
- Strega Nona’s Gift
The Magical World of Strega Nona: a Treasury includes six of the Strega Nona stories: Strega Nona, Strega Nona Meets Her Match, Strega Nona: Her Story, Strega Nona Takes a Vacation, Strega Nona’s Harvest, and Strega Nona’s Gift. This collection also includes a map of her town, recipes, and an original lullaby with sheet music and a CD.
There is also Big Anthony: His Story, which tells the tale of Big Anthony, Strega Nona’s helper.
The stories are charming and simple. Some are like folktales and some are not. Strega Nona and Her Tomatoes is a counting book, and Big Anthony: His Story includes quite a few words of Italian. Younger children will just enjoy the stories, but they provide an opportunity for older students to compare the structure of a folktale with other kinds of stories.
Point out that we have folktales, like Paul Bunyan and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which behave like folklore by now, even though they were definitely written. Both those stories were written as marketing materials. Does that make them less real as folktales? Could Strega Nona become a folktale over time if people begin to treat it like folklore?
Strega Nona is a bestselling book, and one of the classic stories that millions of children love. It’s a Caldecott Honor Book and was voted one of the Top Picture Books of All Time by librarians. But it has also been banned. The book has been challenged because it presents witches and magic in a sympathetic light.
- Learn more about banned books, with printables to download.
- Read about the reasons people have objected to Strega Nona.
Discuss the idea of banning books. Are there books your students think should not be in the school library? Are there books their par3nts do not allow them to read?
- Scholastic has a Strega Nona lesson plan on cause and effect.
- Reading Is Fundamental has resources that promote critical reading of the book.
- Better Lesson has a printable sequencing exercise.
- Teacher Vision has a lesson focused on predicting as we read.
- SAG-AFTRA has a lesson involving a discussion of Big Anthony’s punishment. Is it fair?
- Take that topic further with the Prindle Institute‘s philosophical discussion lesson.
- Check out our Pasta Lessons for cross-curricular connections.
- Join us for our trip to Rome. Rome is in the north of Italy and Calabria is in the south, but it may inspire your discussion of Italy.