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Tomie dePaola, a Fulfilled Life

December 29, 2021

"Pasta pot, pasta pot, boil me some pasta nice and hot!" When Strega Nona works her magic, she gets what she asks for, and she knows how to manage the magic. Anthony, her helper and apprentice, only sees the results of the magic words and wants this power for himself. He decides to throw a big pasta party for everyone in the town. People will thank him for the party, and they will think him clever; he will be popular. Anthony gets his chance when Strega Nona is called away one day. He invites everyone to the party and then works his magic. People are impressed. He experiences success but then he cannot turn off the magic; he doesn't know how to make the pasta pot stop. Strega Nona arrives just in time to prevent the pasta from completely burying the town. 

This story appears in several cultures and forms. One of the best known is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" but my favorite version is Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona. Strega Nona is the wise woman of Calabria. In the mountains she would be known as a "granny woman," but in Italy she is "Grandma Witch." Strega Nona is well-loved by everyone in the village. She helps them with advice and with her knowledge of medicinal herbs. Anthony admires her abilities and the respect that this seems to bring her. He wants this for himself so he learns just enough to get him into trouble; however, it is often lessons learned the hard way that produce the best results.

Strega Nona and Anthony were among dePaola's favorites. He wrote and illustrated ten books featuring them either alone or together. Strega Nona is the perfect person: the experienced, the wise, the beloved. Anthony is imperfect, inexperienced, foolish, and the object of ridicule. He has much to learn about life and about self-acceptance. Big Anthony is ambitious, overly zealous, and doesn't listen to instruction; he takes too many shortcuts. Most of us have been Anthony at one time or another and have learned the hard way to take responsibility for our actions and accept the consequences. We who have learned from our mistakes have become capable and wise.

The very capable and wise Tomie dePaola passed away last year at the age of 85. As early as age four he knew that he wanted to write and draw stories. His awards and recognitions for his significant contributions to children's literature stand as a tribute to his artistic and creative abilities. With over 270 books to his credit, he left a legacy of a life fulfilled. With 150 listings that he either wrote or illustrated (or both) in the children's collection, you and your family are sure to find a favorite. Check it out!


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Donna Reagan has served as Children's Specialist at the Bellevue Branch Library since 2002. She produces My Storytime Place, a local TV show for young children. The ALA's Every Child Ready to Read initiative forms the foundation of her early childhood programming.