By Tomie dePaola
Strega Nona is a witch who helps her fellow villagers with their troubles. But, since she is getting old, she employs the assistance of a young man named Big Anthony to help her with her chores. One day, he observes her singing a spell to a magic pasta pot to produce large amounts of cooked pasta; unfortunately, he fails to notice that she blows kisses to the pot three times to stop the pasta production. One day, when Strega Nona leaves her house to visit a friend far away, Big Anthony decides to use the magic pasta pot to feed the villagers. Unfortunately, a great flood of pasta begins to overflow the entire town because Big Anthony doesn’t know how to stop the pot. Upon Strega Nona’s arrival, she blows three kisses and saves the town. For punishment, Strega Nona hands a fork to Big Anthony and commands him to eat all the pasta.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By AJ Van Zoeren and Anna McGinn
Punishment is a clear theme found within this book, and a great place to begin the discussion. Philosophers have cited a variety of reasons for the justification of punishment, such as retribution, rehabilitation, and deterrence. However, to distill this information for young philosophers, discussion leaders could begin with a simple question: Why did Strega Nona punish Big Anthony, and was this punishment justified? Students’ answers can vary, touching on a variety of reasons for the validity of punishment; perhaps the person has done something wrong or they need to learn a lesson. Following this, we can begin a deeper discussion of punishment and its merits and downfalls: when is it good to punish people? What good things come from punishment? When is punishment unfair? Discussion leaders can engage each individual student by asking them about their personal experiences with punishment, as well.
The discussion of authority naturally follows the discussion of punishment, because many children may be wondering “Who should decide these punishments?” Younger students have already been exposed to the idea of authority and that they must respect and follow the orders of people, namely their parents, teachers, and babysitters. Many might be wondering, however, “what makes these people worthy of obeying?” This is a good concept to explore, and discussion leaders can begin by asking: why is Strega Nona the one to determine Big Anthony’s punishment? Is it good that he listened to her? Why? Shifting to a more generic discussion of authority and its relationship to punishment, discussion leaders can ask, “what are the characteristics of those who punish you?”, referring to the children’s parents or teachers. This sets up the question posed earlier in this paragraph: who should decide a punishment?
Trust is a more subtle theme found in the book, but also warrants a good discussion. Strega Nona trusted Big Anthony when she left her home in his care, and demanded that he not touch her magic pasta pot. Should she have done this? Additionally, in each relationship that the children have, a certain amount of trust exists. Discussion leaders can ask the students some general questions pertaining to their own relationships and trust for important people in their lives, such as: who are some people that you trust? Why do you trust them? Do you trust everyone you meet? Why? Why not?
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
""The punishment must fit the crime...""
""In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant ‘Grandma Witch…'""
""The one thing you must never do... is touch the pasta pot...""