Strega Nona Meets Her Match: A Dangerous and Inappropriate Children’s Book

Strega Nona Meets Her Match by Tomie dePaola

Wherein Strega Nona defeats her business competition by sending in a saboteur.

I was researching books that I might give to my niece and I came across this gem.

Strega Nona is a traditional healer in a little town in Calabria. Her friend Strega Amelia is a healer from over the mountain. Strega Amelia comes for a visit and sees what a good business Strega Nona has in the town and decides to compete with her. Strega Amelia’s Helpful ServicesStrega Amelia says, “I see she still uses the old-fashioned ways too. Hmm, I’ll have to think about this.” Strega Amelia goes home and returns a week later, setting up her shop. She offers modern, effective remedies and “free sweets and coffee with every visit.”

Strega Amelia is an instant hit! After a few weeks, everyone in the town has realized that Strega Amelia supplies better products and services than Strega Nona and Stella Nona’s tired old business has dried up completely.

SBig Anthony in Chargeo what does Strega Nona do? She gets her helper, Big Anthony to infiltrate Strega Amelia’s company. Then, when Amelia is away on business, Big Anthony finds his moment and sabotages Amelia’s corporate image. At the height of his attack, he “forgets” how to operate the headache relieving machinerun out of town and almost kills the mayor.

Strega Amelia returns the next day only to be run out of town. Strega Nona works her magic one last time and makes sure her fingerprints aren’t on the crime.

And everyone lives happily ever after. (?!?!?!) Yes, it really plays out like that. This book sends a very bad message.

In the next Strega Nona book she gets even with her mean neighbor by framing her for a felony. Then Strega Nona orders a hit on the mayor. Hilarity ensues!

12 Comments

  1. Strega Carlotta says:

    Strega Amelia finds her so-called friend, Nona has a lot of customers. Strega Amelia comes to town, steals all her “friend’s” customers, and hires Nona’s historically-known as a “screw-up helper” Big Anthony. In the other two books he uses magic to mess up the town. Eventually he messes up Amelia’s business, because he is a goofball. Nona simply lets Amelia come in, steal her helper and steal her business. It is Amelia’s own mistake that she employs Big Anthony. In my book, friends don’t come to town and steal your livelihood. Nona simply lets everything run its course and in the end the friendship remains. BTW, Anthony infiltrated nothing (that was reading between the lines). Everybody in town already knew he is a goofball.

  2. Lee says:

    Just the fact that there is some degree of underhanded social engineering to be found “between the lines” is reason enough to question whether it’s a good children’s book. Doubly so when we see the good and not so good consequences that come of those dealings.

  3. She disagrees...still says:

    Let’s not discuss this anymore. I promise I won’t check it out again. IS little Red Riding hood a warning to the girl or a warning to the wolf?

  4. Phil says:

    If you had any prior knowledge about the Strega Nona series or Tomie dePaola’s work, you would have already known that Big Anthony is a good natured, yet bumbling assistant. So when Strega Amelia comes to town, Big Anthony goes of his own accord to her shop and she is the one who ultimately makes the decision to hire him. Strega Nona did nothing to instigate this series of events, nor did she “infiltrate” her rival’s business. Strega Amelia should have known better than to leave a novice in charge of her budding business. Big Anthony did not “sabotage” anything. As for almost “killing” the mayor, that’s a stretch. He wasn’t able to cure the headache, he just made it worse, far from fatal. Strega Amelia was not run out of town either, she was politely told that the villagers of Calabria prefer the tried and true older methods which Strega Nona employs. Simply a preference, which is the beauty of having a choice.

  5. Lee says:

    Phil…

    she is the one who ultimately makes the decision to hire him. Strega Nona did nothing to instigate this series of events, nor did she “infiltrate” her rival’s business.

    So everyone knows Big Anthony is a bumbler. But no one had the kindness to tell Strega Amelia that Big Anthony was a poor choice to be on his own. After Big Anthony messed things up, no one had the kindness to understand that the reason things went poorly was that Big Anthony was on his own.

    Big Anthony did not “sabotage” anything. As for almost “killing” the mayor, that’s a stretch.

    If I recall correctly, the image of the mayor in the headache machine depicts a comical form of electrocution where the mayor comes out quite frazzled. And it’s directly because of this mistake that people want Amelia to leave town.

    she was politely told that the villagers of Calabria prefer the tried and true older methods which Strega Nona employs.

    She was politely run out on her ass. This is my whole point. People preferred Amelia. They stopped going to Nona. BA injured the mayor in Amelia’s employee and Amelia was blamed… even though everyone knows BA is a bumbler and it was his fault!

    Simply a preference, which is the beauty of having a choice.

    Yes, groupthink and reactionary mass hysteria is “a choice”. A very very BAD choice.

    Update to this comment: I tried emailing Phil notifying him of this comment but the email address he gave me was fake.

  6. Yumi says:

    I remember reading this book when I was 6, and I think describing it as “dangerous and inappropriate” is a bit much. Nothing awful came of my reading it, nor of the nineteen other students in my class. “Reactionary Mass Hysteria” is putting it too seriously, it’s only a picture book that isn’t looked into too deeply, especially by its younger readers. And if small children ask if it’s okay to sabotage your rivals, then it’d make a good opportunity for a morality lesson. Don’t overreact to a bit of humor, children’s television today is much more violent than Strega Nona.

  7. Amelia says:

    I remember reading this. I’m part Calabrese although there is zero Stregheria tradition per se in my family (although they did believe in the evil eye and such) so the books were still exotic. I remember thinking that ol’ Nona was playing a little dirty, and I was rooting for Amelia a little (‘specially cause she has my name, with Italian pronunciation and all!), but I also remembering thinking that Amelia was playing a little dirty herself but moving in on Nona’s turf. All in all it was a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge thing that worked out happily for everybody. I always figured that Amelia would run a brisk trade somewhere else. Nona needs her customer base in her hometown. She has nowhere else. And they’re already reactionary (hell, if Amelia wants modern, she shouldn’t be in Calabria, for goodness’ sake. Where is “over the mountain” anyway?). In any case, while I feel you, you’re goin’ way overboard with the “dangerous and inappropriate” thing. The Strega Nona books are classic.

  8. lee (not the lee.org Lee) says:

    what part of calabria is witchcraft practiced???

  9. Maria says:

    While you’re entitled to your own opinions about the content of the book, I find your closing statement “Strega Nona orders a hit on the mayor!” to be extremely offensive to me as an Italian.
    Are you implying that because Strega Nona is Italian she orders hits on people? are you implying that all Italians are crafty little mafiosos out to sabotage their competitors and murder anyone in their way?
    I get the feeling that if this book were set in say, America, or France, or some far away fantasy land, you wouldn’t have thought to include your PRECIOUS little comment.
    But no, it is a book representing an Italian woman, thus Italians order HITS on people.
    Please be more sensitive, and also maybe consider next time how you perceive my culture.

  10. lee says:

    Maria, did you read my post? Did you read the book? Please do so before commenting again.

    I believe this book is “dangerous and inappropriate” for exactly the reason you state. In the book Anthony really does almost kill the mayor, and he really was sent there by Strega Nona, who really sent him there to sabotage Strega Amelia’s business. It is no stretch to accuse Strega Nona of attempted murder, though she would be acquitted because of the circumstances.

    Your beef is with the book, not me.

  11. Alyse says:

    Lee,
    A little about Italian witchcraft, where and how it’s practiced and its history: http://www.stregheria.com/what.htm.

    My children loved Strega Nona; your comments have no faith in children.

  12. lee says:

    Alyse, thank you for the link to Italian witchcraft. It is quite interesting.

    >My children loved Strega Nona; your comments have no faith in children.

    I have faith that children learn the values and behaviors we demonstrate to them. And this book demonstrates poor values.

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