A lot of you are probably not familiar with the Strega Nona books. They are picture books for kids written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola which have very strong Italian tones. That’s probably why most of you haven’t heard of them; my family, or at least my dad’s side of the family, is very very proud and sorta obsessed with their Italian roots.
When you’re a kid, your heritage isn’t really a big deal, especially as Americans. We’re all a half of this, a quarter of that, a 16th of this. But I grew up knowing that I was Italian. Well, a fourth italian. But that still counts. My great grandparents on my dad’s side immigrated to America from southern Italy in the early 1900s, I believe. So I’m sorta third generation?
This book didn’t really change my life, per say, but it definitely played a huge part in it. I grew up with Strega Nona and Dr. Suess, essentially. We had more pop-culturally books with popular cartoon characters and TV shows, but we stuck with the classics as staples.
I loved my early childhood. I loved that my parents read to me so often; that’s probably why I’m such a big reader now. I know kids who don’t get read to and who don’t like being read to, and that makes me sad. I’ll post a blog further discussing that next week sometime. Maybe the week after. Dunno.
Really, though, the reason I included this book this week is pretty simple. I miss how it was when we used to read Strega Nona. I miss my childhood. And I miss my family.
“But you still have a family. You haven’t moved to college yet!” Well, that’s not exactly true. I have family, but I don’t have A family. It’s been splintered and changed in ways I haven’t fully accepted yet. Hopefully I will soon, but for now, I’ll admit it. I’m not happy.
Strega Nona makes me remember my dad. And that’s probably the reason I’m crying right now, right in the middle of Border’s cafe. Because I don’t know if I want to remember my dad like that. I don’t want to remember all the good times. All the funny voices. All the bonding. Our relationship is going to be completely different now, and remembering how great it was before just makes me resist this new “family”.
But Tomie dePaola will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope someday my kids can grow up to him instead of Dora the Explorer. I think there’s a quality in the non-computer-generated images that you can’t capture anymore. Maybe I’m old fashioned and a little bit change-resistant, but it works for me.