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Strega Nona Paperback – September 3, 1979
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Eric Carle is the creator, author, and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and many other children’s books. Tomie dePaola is the author and illustrator of Strega Nona: Her Story and countless other books. They recently had a conversation about their careers as picture book authors.
Tomie dePaola: When I was only four years old, I announced to my family in particular and to the world in general that I was going to become an artist, and write stories and draw pictures for books. I never swayed from that early declaration. I’ve always been curious to know, what inspired you to become a creator and illustrator of picture books?
Eric Carle: My career began as a graphic designer and for a number of years I worked as an art director for an advertising agency in New York. In the mid 1960's Bill Martin, Jr. saw an ad of a red lobster that I had designed and asked me to illustrate his Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Well, I was set on fire! I was so inspired by this book, and the opportunity to illustrate it changed my life. After that, I started to create my own books, both words and pictures, and really it was then that I had found my true course in life.
Now, I have a question for you, Tomie. How would you describe your artistic style, and has it changed over time?
Tomie dePaola: My illustration style is heavily influenced by folk art--strong simple shapes, bold lines, color, color, color and a deceptive simplicity. My style began to develop early in art school, and through the years, it hasn’t changed very much, but it has refined itself. How would you describe yours?
Eric Carle: My aim with my work is to simplify and refine, be logical and harmonious. I like to use simple shapes, bright colors and a lot of white space. I write for the child inside of me. That is always where I begin.
Tomie dePaola: I do, as well. The only audience I keep in mind is that four-year-old in me. People sometimes ask me what advice I would give to young artists. I always think of the wonderful advice I received from my twin cousins when they were in art school in the late '30s. They told me, “Practice, practice, practice and don’t copy.”
Eric Carle: I often tell people about the four magic letters: DO IT. I want to be encouraging but I can only offer the example of my own experience, which is just one approach. There are many wonderful artists to learn about, which is important. But you must use your own imagination. You have to just do it.
Tomie dePaola: How do you feel knowing that a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is sold every 30 seconds, somewhere in the world?
Eric Carle: It is hard for me, maybe for others too, to grasp this concept. But I am truly honored that my story is enjoyed by so many and that it is now being shared by a generation of parents who grew up with my book. How about your Strega Nona. She is one of your most popular characters. Can you share how she came to be?
Tomie dePaola: In the ‘70s when I was teaching at a college, we were required to attend faculty meetings. I always sat in the back with a yellow legal pad. Everyone thought I was taking notes. At one meeting a doodle appeared of a little lady with a big nose and a big chin. I named her Strega Nona, and the rest is history. Speaking of history, how will you be celebrating the third annual Very Hungry Caterpillar Day this year?
Eric Carle: On The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day, March 20th, I will probably be at home with my wife, Bobbie (I am a bit of a hermit, actually). But I will be saying a little toast to the caterpillar for whom I have a special place in my heart. And speaking of holidays, isn’t your favorite holiday Christmas. Do you have a special Christmas memory?
Tomie dePaola: Christmas is my favorite holiday. My favorite Christmas was the one when I received tons and tons of art supplies: everything from an easel to paints, pads and pads of paper, and “how to draw” books.
Top Customer Reviews
Strega Nona lives by her lonesome in a small cottage in Calabria, Italy. A witch by trade, she cures the townspeople of their ailments, warts, and headaches. When Big Anthony is hired on as Strega Nona's servant she gives him very strict instructions on what he is required to do, and what he is forbidden to do. Quoth Strega Nona, "The one thing you must never do is touch the pasta pot". You can probably guess where this is headed. After seeing the witch conjur delicious cooked pasta fully formed from the pot, Anthony is eager to prove this miracle to the people of the town. When Strega Nona leaves on a trip, Anthony speaks her spell and feeds everyone in the vicinity delicious piping hot pasta. Unfortunately, Anthony didn't quite catch the way to make the pasta stop flowing. As the villagers attempt to prevent the growing pasta from destroying their town, Strega Nona arrives just in time to put everything right again. Anthony receives a just comeuppance and all is well in the world.
I can't pinpoint what exactly it is about this book that touches me so deeply. Maybe it's the imagery in the illustrations. Strega Nona has a prominent recognizable nose and a babuska's kerchief about her head. She is constantly surrounded by large rabbits and peacocks, setting the tone of the life she leads. Tomie de Paola's illustrations always contain an element of spirituality in them, and in this case it comes in the form of the priest and nuns living in the town. I also am greatly attached to the book's choice of words. There's not a syllable out of place in this tale. Not a wasted consonant or a superfluous adjective. It is a perfectly told tale with illustrations that verge on the sublime. All in all, a great book for kids and adults alike.
To help other parents apply this advice, as a parent of four I consulted an expert, our youngest child, and asked her to share with me her favorite books that were read to her as a young child. Strega Nona was one of her picks.
This is an engaging tale of an elderly woman everyone called Grandma Witch, or Strega Nona. She helped everyone with their troubles, even the priest and the sisters in the convent. She could cure headaches, help girls get husbands, and get rid of warts.
Because she was old, she hired Big Anthony to help her with the indoor and outdoor chores. Big Anthony was told not to touch the pasta pot, and he agreed. But one day he saw that she could turn it into a magic pasta pot by singing to it. Unfortunately, Big Anthony did not see all of the magic spell she used.
One day when Strega Nona went to visit her friend Strega Amelia, Big Anthony saw his chance!
Using the magic pasta pot by invoking the magic words, soon Big Anthony has enough pasta for everyone in town. People are very impressed and eat with him. Then he says the magic words to make it stop, and it continues (because he hadn't seen Strega Nona blow three kisses as part of the spell). Soon the pasta is coming out the door and threatens the town!
Fortunately, Strega Nona returns and saves the day. But she wants to sleep in her bed that night. So she tells Big Anthony to start eating pasta to make room for her!
The illustrations are very colorful and beautiful to behold. They are in a simple style that is appealing to young children. I would have enjoyed the book personally, just for the illustrations.
The story is told in a friendly, humorous way rather than a frightening way. You can compare this story to Walt Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice and this one is definitely lighter and more appealing for young children.
My daughter loved to read this story to me, as well as having me read it to her. She loved to laugh at the sight of all that pasta!
The story has won a Caldecott award, which is well deserved.
Overcome your stalled thinking that children don't enjoy stories about witches! In fact, love of this book may be behind the interest in Harry Potter!
I grew up with Strega Nona's tale and love the simplicity and straightforwardness of the tale, I think what keeps it relevant and still readable after all this time is that it's got an old world feel to it (the artwork, while somewhat flat, the muted colors give it a feel of age and old world charm). The story itself while a moral tale about what happens when you don't do as you're told, is told with humor and pasta...who doesn't love pasta (well, maybe not Big Anthony after Strega Nona is done with him...he, he)!
This is a classic that keeps on going with good reason! I give it an A+, even after all these years!