On Monday Tomie dePaola, the writer and illustrator of the classic Strega Nona series, died at the age of 85, Time confirmed.
Growing up I treasured my copy of the first Strega Nona book, originally published in 1975. Like other little girls who wished their life more resembled Kiki’s Delivery Service or an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch I loved any book about a witch, but no literary witches came close to Strega. She was a kindly, old Calabrian granny, and more importantly she had a magic pasta pot. I can’t think of anything dreamier than using your magical powers to heal your fellow neighbors, matchmake, and produce mountains of cacio e pepe whenever you want. Don’t you hate waiting for water to boil too?
I mean, that was always the draw of Strega Nona, right? Seeing all of those intricately drawn noodles spill out all over town due to Big Anthony’s idiocy? I’m pretty sure no two books made me hungrier as a child than Strega Nona and Eric Carle’s Pancakes, Pancakes!, the latter of which feels like a delicate trap for any parent who doesn’t want to be forced to whip out some batter every day, but that’s another blog.
You could argue that Strega Nona is actually a book about male entitlement, if I want to get real galaxy brain about it. Big Anthony was hired to do elderly Strega Nona’s chores, but being a man incapable of performing household labor adequately he gets too distracted by the shiny magical pot. He then causes it to overflow all because he wants a lil spaghetti and because he wasn’t paying enough attention to Nona’s magic. Not to mention the book is sort of about the destruction of corporal punishment, since the townspeople want to murder Big Anthony and Strega Nona is like, no, just let him eat all the pasta.
Strega Nona’s legacy as a healer and magical pasta maker, who keeps to herself but will you help you desperate losers if you need it, is an enviable lifestyle goal going strong for over four decades now. And I’ll also take this time to tell you my simplest pleasure, which is wrapping a dish towel around the head of a dog like a babushka, so that they look like Strega Nona. If you have a dog please do it today, in dePaola’s honor.