Strega Nona

I remember imagining as a child what it might be like to climb a mountain of Jell-O, live in giant fruit, or swim in a pool of noodles. My imagination was sparked by children’s books like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, James and the Giant Peach, and, this meeting’s selection, Strega Nona. So when I added Strega Nona to this year’s reading list, I knew that I wanted to bring at least one of these odd childhood food fantasies to life, so to speak, for the kids in our group!

Almost all of the parents in the group shared that their kids loved this classic tale by Tomie dePaola. The book is the story of a young man who goes to work for the town “witch” in Calabria, Italy. He ignores her instructions not to touch her magic pasta pot and ends up nearly covering the entire town in pasta. This was one of the longer stories that we’ve attempted to read as a group and although almost all of the children enjoyed reading it at home one-on-one, some did better than others sitting through this as a group. Some of the children sat quietly listening throughout the entire story, while others were engaged more sporadically.

After we finished reading, our “pasta pot” bubbled over with a tub FULL of cooked spaghetti (mixed with a little cooking oil to prevent it from sticking together). We didn’t have to ask most of the kids twice if they wanted to play (although a few were a little uncertain about the slimy experience)! We threw in a few containers, strainers, and utensils and many of the kids kept playing until we dragged them away for snack time! I know there are mixed opinions about whether kids should play with food since it’s food that could be used to nourish someone who goes without. We certainly understand those concerns which is why we donate food through our Book Club Pals program each month and donated spaghetti this month as well. There are many benefits, however, to using food for sensory experiences such as this one. Not the least of which, is that the materials are entirely edible and non-toxic which is important with kids who are still mouthing (or just generally curious). Some of our younger sibling members are now at that “mouthing” stage, so this provided an activity that could span multiple developmental stages safely. You may notice in the photos that the kids eventually got INTO the tub of pasta. If the idea of kids eating pasta that has been stepped in grosses you out, know that we kept a little separate for the members who were putting it in their mouths and the 3-year olds were too busy playing to even try to eat it.

We did, of course, give the kids some spaghetti to eat! We made a separate batch of whole wheat spaghetti (topped with olive oil and a little parmesan cheese) for a slightly more nutritious snack (than white spaghetti).

Check back soon for our meeting about another classic food-themed book, Blueberries for Sal, that we are sharing with our local Macaroni Kid readers!

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