As we celebrate the art and life of Tomie dePaola, who died Monday at the age of 85, let’s discuss why one of his most famous books is also a frequently banned book in the U.S. Strega Nona is the main character in this popular series. Literally, her name translates from Italian to mean “Grandma Witch.” In the first book, Strega Nona practices white—or good—witchcraft. She helps the townspeople in Calabria, Italy. Strega Nona is a hero we still need.
The book is an Italian American folktale written and illustrated by Tomie, who was of Italian American descent. Tomie based his main character on his grandmother, Concetta. In the book, the aging Strega Nona employs Big Anthony to help her with her chores. Big Anthony watches Strega Nona cast spells. One day, Big Anthony attempts to cast a spell; however, unbeknownst to him, he forgot one critical part. No worries! Strega Nona saves the day.
Strega Nona is banned because of the use of magic and witchcraft. Unfortunately, the people who call for the ban are short-sighted in their “wisdom.” The book emphasizes that everything is magic. It sends a positive message to children. These people also ignore Tomie’s deep religious beliefs. Raised Catholic, Tomie are “infused with the sense of spiritual” (https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/10/09/tomie-depaolas-books-help-us-find-sacred-stories-service-and-stillness).
Look at his artistic style in his books. Author Kerry Weber suggests that these are stained glass imagery, harkening to the religious iconography in most Catholic churches.
By banning these types of books, people are restricting children’s imaginations. To survive in life requires imagination. And Strega Nona is a book to make us feel good with humanity.