Sunday, September 13, 2009

Strega Nona's Harvest

Ah yes, Strega Nona! A beloved character from children book author and illustrator - Tomie dePaola. Tomie's tenth book in the Strega Nona series, Strega Nona's Harvest, is another huge hit with fans young and old. I had the pleasure of attending a book signing recently where I had the opportunity to meet Tomie dePaola. He is exactly how you might expect him to be with a twinkle in his eye and a smile that reveals slight dimples. Tomie shared a bit about how this story came to be...His editor suggested a book about Thanksgiving. After giving this topic much thought, not a single idea came to him. He was discussing his writing struggles with his art director when she looked at him and said, of course you can't write about Thanksgiving. You hate Thanksgiving! She was right! He hates turkey. He liked it as a kid, but now all that food just makes him feel miserable. With this thought came this realization - how can he write about something that he does not care about. I thought this was such an important message!!! Especially since much of the writing done in today's schools is focused on writing to a prompt and not individual writing choice. Well, Tomie still had to hustle to come up with an idea for a book that could be published in the Fall. As was her way, Strega Nona whispered in his ear...write about me and the harvest. Tomie came across a Martha Stewart Living magazine and was intrigued by the center photo which was an aerial view of Martha Stewart's vegetable garden. He had never seen anything like it before. It was huge and beautifully arranged. A-ha, Tomie thought, Strega Nona taught Martha how to plant a garden! With this idea in mind, Tomie began researching the folklore behind planting fruits and vegetables such as the idea of scheduling the planting according to the phases of the moon. He also liked the idea of promoting sustainable agriculture and buying fresh food grown by local farmers. And so he set about writing a story showing how Strega Nona creates her annual garden using her magic touch and how Big Anthony tries to make a garden as well, but ends up with a jungle on his hands. Strega Nona's Harvest accomplishes both of these ideas. It is a perfect story to share for Thanksgiving as it ends with an amazing Harvest Feast. This book is certainly going to become a favorite in our house. Emmy enjoys watching both gardens grow and laughs when Big Anthony piles his vegetables outside of Strega Nona's door. We now enjoy blowing three kisses, Strega Nona's signature move, to the moon which, along with her song, is her secret ingredient to a successful garden.

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