Exploring Characterization with Strega Nona and Big Anthony

Tomie dePaola is a favorite among children's book authors and for good reason. His book characters are unique and crazy funny. Kids love that oaf  Big Anthony, and who doesn't enjoy the thought of magic. Strega Nona works her magic...on our kids! (and there are certainly memorable characters in Tomie's other books as well). Today, I'd like to share ways you can study characterization with the Strega Nona collection as well as Tomie's other books too.


This printable character traits chart is part of a blog post featuring Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. Check out the post for lesson ideas you can use for modeling.
There are many ways to introduce a skill to our students. You might connect characterization to the personalities we see in our communities. You can have your kids turn and talk about ways a character can be kind, generous, supportive, annoying, and even foolish. You could also use this same idea, but have your kids make graffiti posters in teams. Because I'm wanting to work in a study of Strega Nona, I'd begin by sharing a character traits chart like this one. Some words may be unfamiliar to third through fifth graders, so reading the list and discussing them would be wise prior to using your chosen Strega Nona book.

This organizer is included with a blog post using the book, Strega Nona, as a mentor text.  For ideas you can use for characterization, be sure to check out the post for teaching ideas and resources.Once your students are familiar with what traits are, the next step is to use one of the Strega Nona choices for modeling. When sharing a mentor text, I mark specific stopping points for discussion as well as important questions I plan to share. This organizer could be used with your students for recording their ideas for this book as well as other books with strong characters.



To focus on characterization, we need to look at and analyze the character's words, thoughts, and actions. Here are guiding questions you can use at the end of each scene from Strega Nona.

The Villagers Come to Visit Her:

❓ How does Strega Nona show kindness to the villagers?
❓ What do the villagers think of Strega Nona?

Big Anthony is Hired to Help Strega Nona:

What types of chores does Strega Nona give to Big Anthony? How does he feel about them?
Why does Strega Nona warn him to stay away from her pasta pot? Do you think he will listen?

Big Anthony spies on Strega Nona as she cooks:

How does Big Anthony show that he's curious?
How does the author hint that Anthony might be in trouble?
What did Big Anthony miss? What did he do wrong?

Strega Nona leaves to see Strega Amelia:

What was Big Anthony thinking when Strega Nona left for her trip?
Was Anthony wise or foolish for using the pasta pot? Explain.
The villagers laugh at Big Anthony. Why do you think this is? 

The Pasta Keeps Coming:

The villagers run and pray that the pasta stop coming. What does this show?
Strega Nona insists that Big Anthony eat all of the pasta. What does this show?


Because there is a large collection of Strega Nona books (7-8 in all), students can compare across texts how Tomie dePaola establishes through his characters' words, actions, and thoughts traits that fit each. Additionally, you can find common characters in other book series he's written including the Jamie O'Rourke books and the Bill and Pete series. To look at multiple texts, I would recommend column notes like the organizer below. 
This freebie features the Strega Nona series by Tomie dePaola. In this blog post, you will find suggestions for teaching characterization as well as several free resources to help you.

He truly is a master at characterization, but his books can be used for so many other skills too. This week, I revised my Strega Nona bundle as well as a few other Tomie dePaola units in my store. Eventually, they will all be bundled in a large Tomie dePaola Author Study (which is LONG overdue). In the meantime, it is now available in my store for $10.00 and includes a pretty extensive list of comprehension skill options. I would recommend that students close read these books with several different purposes. You can work on fluency and deepen understanding in this way. Plus, with each book companion, there is a writing prompt for a class book meaning that you can use the books as a mentor for reading and writing.  

I hope you love the Strega Nona books as much as I do and found these suggestions helpful. If you'd like to come back to this post later, certainly you can pin any of the images I've shared or the one below. 

Have an excellent weekend, and cross one lesson plan off your list!

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Pin for Later:

Explore characterization with Tomie dePaola's series, Strega Nona. Includes free resources and teaching ideas.

1 comment

  1. Thanks for this great lesson! I plan on keeping this to use next year since characterization was a skill my students struggled with a bit this year. Thanks! ~Melissa


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