DePaola’s latest holiday contribution describes the eight traditional feast days of the Christmas season in Calabria, home of the consummate cook, Strega Nona, and her ever-hungry sidekick, Big Anthony.
The foods, traditions and legend for each feast day are worked into the text as the villagers celebrate each event together. On the eve of the Feast of the Three Kings, Strega Nona follows tradition and cooks delicious dishes for each of her pets, but poor Big Anthony gets only a plate of plain pasta. He gets in trouble when he helps himself to the goat’s turnips, and the goat retaliates by eating Anthony’s blanket. When Big Anthony is chosen as the king of the Feast of Epiphany, he chooses a new blanket as his gift from Strega Nona and a big dish of turnips that he gives to the goat as a peace offering. Strega Nona’s larger gift is sending a marvelous dream of magical food to each of the villagers, with walls turning to cheese and bedsheets into sheets of lasagna. (Readers will probably want to know more about those delectable dreams.)
The information conveyed about the feast days is interesting, but Strega Nona and Big Anthony aren’t at their top form in this effort, with little of the rich magical humor they are known for. (author’s note) (Picture book/religion. 4-7)