Friday, October 31, 2008


Just in time for Halloween, our favorite witch gets a spectacular makeover!

BRAVA, STREGA NONA!: A HEARTWARMING POP-UP BOOK by Tomie de Paola, paper engineering by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart (Putnam) Holy moly, sometimes a book comes along that I desperately want to wrap in a ribbon and give to every single person that I know and love, and this is that book. Many book mavens know Strega Nona, the gentle grandmother witch who can cure headaches, remove warts and mix a mean love potion, and who rescued poor Big Anthony from the pasta pot that ran amok. The recognizable simplicity and clarity of DePaola's style is put through Reinhart and Subuda's mighty magical pop-up machine, and what we have is an absolutely inspired and explosive tribute to an iconographic character in children's literature. After a brief introduction into the life of Strega Nona ( a mini pop-up book on the first page states: "I am delivered! / I learn the secrets of nature./ Grandma Concetta gives me her book of magic!/ And now the wise words!") we are treated to, basically, a self-help book of sorts. Short paragraphs underscore what is important in a Strega's life: family, friends, food, patience, celebration and love. Not a bad plan, and made all the better by breathtaking paper engineering that allows a full grape arbor to spring from the page, a fountain to spin and sparkle amidst a busy piazza, Big Anthony's infamous pasta overload to spill from the pages, and oh so sweetly, Strega Nona's own magic pot runneth over with hearts on the last page, a true Valentine to all who love Strega Nona...and to all who love reading.

The other thing that makes this book extraordinary is the artistic progression it represents for creators Reinhart and Sabuda, whose innovations into the pop-up have shaken the very possibilities of what a book can be. Sabuda deserved a Caldecott for his Herculean linocut-meets-pop-up masterpiece THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, though people I suppose at that juncture still considered pop-ups too "gimmicky." He persevered with Reinhart, and I thought the latest contribution to the Encyclopedia Mythologica: FAIRIES AND MAGICAL CREATURES was a new pinnacle, with lovely maids evolving into purple trolls, jeering pixies and swirling djinns peeking out from page insets, entire golden castles rising from the pages like some magnificent feat of paper architecture. Every time I see work with Sabuda's name on it, I think, how can this possibly be topped? But these books are all very complex and text-rich, and in a way, this cooperative effort with DePaola is the best yet because of all of these books, this is the one that best remembers its intended audience: the children. This collaboration of talents and genius between these several very gifted men embodies the expression "your art helps my art." Inspired, brave, lovely and fun, I hope it marks the beginning of more innovative connection and experimentation between creative spirits in the publishing world. Brava is right! (5 and up)

Also of interest:
More books that go bump on Halloween night (and beyond)!

THE MONSTER WHO ATE DARKNESS by Joyce Dunbar, illustrated by Jimmy Liao (Candlewick) Hey, fans of Mercer Mayer's THERE'S A MONSTER IN MY CLOSET, there's a new creature in town! Like a drop of black ink, the tiny speck of a monster grows and grows, insatiable in its appetite even as he drains all the darkness from the caves and forests and deepest volcanoes ("He especially liked darkness soup, which he made out of the darkness at the bottom of wells"). Eventually, the monster wraps his darkness around an overtired little boy, snoozing himself and letting drain away his darkness into the rest of the world like a warm blanket. Original and beguiling, the monster's hunger gives the story a good, monster-y edge, but the comfort of the ending will make this a good bedtime pick long after the Halloween candy...and the last corner of the darkest eaten. (4 and up)

VUNCE UPON A TIME by J. Otto Seibold and Siobhan Vivian (Chronicle) The talent behind the modern holiday favorite OLIVE, THE OTHER REINDEER now turns his attention to the season of black and orange, delivering the trials and tribulations of a rather timid and vegetarian vampire. Snazzy computer-generated art has a style all its own. (5 and up)

And have you been to a Halloween parade yet today? You can march vicariously with your favorite costumed book characters thanks to the excellent "Halloween Costume Contest" post at Collecting Children's Books. Be sure also to check out the post relating to my favorite Halloween poem, "What Was I Scared Of?" at Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Likes, from Dr. Seuss's THE SNEETCHES AND OTHER STORIES (my favorite Dr. Seuss book, also including poems like "Too Many Daves" and "The Zax"; by any chance, do you know a Zax stuck in his or her tracks this election season? ;-) I love to recite this poem and pull out an actual pair of pale green pants after reaching into an imaginary snide bush! EEEEEeeee! When you hear the sound of gleeful screams, you know it's Halloween.

On a personal note:

Thanks to teacher extraordinaire Ms. Barlock at Baker Elementary for inviting me to deliver a storytime (IN A DARK, DARK WOOD by David A. Carter, THE REVENGE OF THE MAGIC CHICKEN by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger, and THE LITTLEST PUMPKIN by R.A. Herman and Betina Ogden) in her kindergarten class on this high holiday. It was a joy to visit with the children, and all of my friends at Baker! Thank you to the Burley Book Club, a warm and wonderful group who used the Bookroom venue for their thoughtful grown-up discussion of Linda Sue Park's middle grade novel A SINGLE SHARD. Truly, Burley is the gem of literacy best practices in the Chicago Public School system; they make every book a celebration! Last but not least, thank you also to Nancy Berggren at North Park University for the lovely lunch on campus, and a chance to meet with some of the staff in the education department. So many people all around the city doing such wonderful work!

All right, off to the spider-web bedecked Bookroom to frost cupcakes with black icing and sprinkle with eye of newt. Trick or treat!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at


Deanna H. said...

Did you dress up, and will we get to see what you were?
Thanks for all the great links!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree about the new pop-up Strega Nona! I saw it at an author signing last night and had to have one for myself and immediately starting listing in my head all the people who need the book as well!

Lindsay said...

I'd like to see that Strega Nona, and The Monster Who Ate Darkness too!

Christine said...

OOOh- pop up book and Strega Nona. This is a match made in heaven for my eight year old daughter who loves both. I can't wait to share it with her!

Mary Lee said...

My favorite page in Strega Nona was the family tree. But the whole thing was amazing!

Anonymous said...

You should check out Adventurebox. They are great for Kids aged 6-9 and have a Word Alliteration competition on this month!

Kim Baise said...

I LOVE Strega Nona and I like her Life Plan....words to live by! I'll have to get this book too :)

Oolalume said...

Sabuda and Reinhart are incredible geniuses. I have Sabuda's Alice in Wonderland, and Reinhart's Mommy? and my son and i LOVE reading them. He's also a huge fan of Strega Nona an even bigger fan of Big Anthony, so he'll be getting Brava, Strega Nona for his birthday next month. I'm so glad you alerted me to this book! Thanks!

Oolalume said...

Sabuda and Reinhart are incredible geniuses. I have Sabuda's Alice in Wonderland, and Reinhart's Mommy? and my son and i LOVE reading them. He's also a huge fan of Strega Nona an even bigger fan of Big Anthony, so he'll be getting Brava, Strega Nona for his birthday next month. I'm so glad you alerted me to this book! Thanks!


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