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Tomie dePaola and Strega Nona

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

Tomie dePaola and Strega Nona

Strega Nona first published in 1975.

Yesterday, the world lost a great storyteller-illustrator-artist, Tomie dePaola, who was 85. He died due to complications from a fall. I have probably read about a dozen of his books to my children when they were little, but that's just a small portion of his life's work.
"His writing career spanned over 50 years during which he worked on more than 270 books. Close to 25 million copies of his books were sold worldwide, and were translated into over 20 languages." Source. 
Over the years, I have thinned out my books, so I went from owning about five of dePaolo's books to owning just one: the first Strega Nona book, published in 1975. He went on to write ten more books that feature this wise, ageful, Italian grandmother. 
He situated her in the city of Calabria, which is where his paternal grandparents originated. The word "Nona" is a variation of the Italian word for "grandmother," and "Strega" means witch. So her name means "grandmother witch." 
She isn't an ugly, vengeful woman. She conveys a lot of maternal energy--caring, nurturing, wise, and skilled. Carl Jung would describe her as an archetypical crone--which is the third stage of womanhood after maiden and mother.  
However, Strega Nona does have a bit of magic, which she loans to those around her. This 1975 book is a tale that relies on older stories: "Sweet Porridge" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." I enjoy dePaolo's retelling because it implies that younger people should recognize the hard-won wisdom of older adults. 
I observed a 21st Century version of this moral (respect your elders' skill level). I witnessed this at a church social. I attended a banquet to celebrate the birthday of the women's organization (Relief Society) of my church. A younger woman had been bragging during the week leading up to the banquet, declaring that her rolls were fabulous. However, at the banquet itself, she was crestfallen because her rolls did not turn out.  
Our mutual friend, Theresa, came a little bit late, but she brought two large pans of dinner rolls with her. Theresa was in her late forties, and she had been baking bread for at least two decades. She baked several times a week as a way to economize for feeding her eight children--seven boys and a girl. She regularly baked everything from bread to hot dog buns. She was renown in our county for her cinnamon rolls. 
Theresa's rolls were, as usual, perfection. I should have let Theresa's rolls speak for themselves, but I leaned over and said to the younger woman, "Theresa has spent years learning how to tame the beast that is yeast. I've been trying to do so for the last five years, and I'm still not anywhere near her level of mastery." 
Because we live in the Information Era, it's tempting to think that we can learn all that we know by doing a simple search on the Internet. I am guilty of relying on "disembodied knowledge stores"  myself. However, dePaola's character, Strega Nona, exemplifies the knowledge that comes from "embodied" experience. 
I thank him for that character and for many other powerful tales that he brought to life through his books, which he illustrated himself. 
Children of all ages have something to gain by picking up a copy of one of his books. 
Visit Goodreads for more information about Tomi dePaolo's books. 
You can order a book online and have it shipped to you. Support your local, independent bookseller. If you want a recommendation, you can order from Watermark Books, located in Wichita, KS. They are doing online orders during this era of COVID-19. 
Kitchen Wisdom: An Elder Tale from Japan
Head-to-Toe Risks for Falls
Transcending Age with Wisdom

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