Thursday, January 30, 2014

Love Potion Number Mine!: Strega Nona Does It Again by Tomie dePaola

Dear Cousin Strega Nona,

As you know, our oldest daughter Angelina has grown into quite a beauty, which is wonderful and terrible all at once. All the young men leave flowers and gifts and sing love songs--a nuisance! All except Hugo. Angelina claims she is in love with him, but he doesn't even seem to notice. I think the only solution for her is to leave our village until she forgets Hugo.

Duke Andre di Limone and Wife

P.S. I want to warn you that Angelina is a handful!

Angelina shows up with mountains of luggage and the expectation of being catered to every moment. Strega Nona gives up her tidy little room to Angelina, but the girl is not pleased.

"I don't like this room.

My room at home is blue with pink flowers!"

Strega Nona tries to be hospitable to her visiting cousin, but it's not easy. Angelina commandeers her helpers so that Strega Nona finds herself stuck with all the chores. Bambalona, the baker's daughter, considers herself practically an artisan, at the least an independent contractor, and is miffed to find herself declared chamber maid, doing Angelina's hair and dressing her in assorted finery. Big Anthony, appointed footman, discovers that that means he fetches and carries, which he is used to, but also discovers that he has to wear a fancy uniform and silly hat all day to do it. Angelina orders both of them to paint Strega Nona's bedroom blue with giant pink flowers, and then instructs Bambalona to construct a shrine for Hugo outside, a mirror surrounded by fresh flowers arranged daily.

Bored, Angelina summons Bambalona and Big Anthony to escort her to pay social calls on everyone in the village. As her retinue approaches the town, she commands a small boy to run ahead and announce her arrival in the public square. She is overbearing and rude to everyone, even the sisters in the convent. The imperious Angelina can't leave too soon for the residents of the rustic little village.

"Povre mei!" (Poor me!), moans Strega Nona.

But as always, Strega Nona has a plan. She writes her cousin the Duke to come for Angelina and by any means to be sure to bring Hugo along. Then, in her office as good witch of the village, she brews up a love potion which she promises will work and advises Angelina to drink it just before Hugo is shown to his shrine.

Hugo gazes at his magnificent reflection, with Angelina by his side, and suddenly gets the picture.

"You understand me!" he says. "Will you marry me?"

With sighs of relief and happy cries of "Arrivaderci, Angelina!" at last, Strega Nona, Bambalona, and Big Anthony watch the diLimones and Hugo depart together to prepare for the wedding.

"They deserve each other!" said Strega Nona.

"They are both in love with themselves."

Tomie dePaola does it again in his latest wise and witty tale of his kindly but shrewd character, Strega Nona Does It Again (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013), a series begun in 1973 with his Caldecott Honor Book, Strega Nona. DePaola's watercolor and acrylic illustrations are as humorous and vivid as ever, and Strega Nona, homely but wise in the ways of the world, is an unforgettable character. Love is always in season, and this is a fine little parable for Valentine's Day or any time. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "A wryly funny story of love and entitlement, with all the homey charm that dePaola’s fans expect and love."

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