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Strega Nona

by Tomie dePaola


Strega Nona is a story about punishment, authority, and trust.

Strega Nona is a witch who helps villagers with their troubles. She employs 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. When Strega Nona leaves her house to visit a friend, Big Anthony uses 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.

Read aloud video by StorylineOnline

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

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. 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.

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? 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…

  1. Why did Strega Nona punish Big Anthony?
  2. Was Big Anthony’s punishment justified? Why or why not?
  3. When is it good to punish people? What good things come from punishment?
  4. Have you ever been punished when you deserved to be? When you didn’t deserve to be? What was the difference?
  5. When is punishment unfair?


In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant “Grandma Witch…”

  1. Why is Strega Nona the one to determine Big Anthony’s punishment? Is it good that he listened to her? Why?
  2. What are the characteristics of the people who punish you? Teachers, parents, etc… Are they similar to Strega Nona? In what ways?
  3. Why do you obey your parents and teachers?
  4. Who should decide a punishment?


The one thing you must never do… is touch the pasta pot…

  1. Was it wrong for Strega Nona to trust Big Anthony?
  2. Who are some people that you trust?
  3. Why do you trust these people?
  4. Do you trust everyone you meet? Why, or why not?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by AJ Van Zoeren and Anna McGinn. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola featuring an old woman holding a large pot outside of her house. She looks at a tree with a peacock in it. A rabbit sits behind her and a bird sits on the house's terracotta roof. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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