Margie is a school librarian in Michigan and blogs at Librarian's Quest. She is currently reading Path of Beasts by Lian Tanner, Return to the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (I highly recommend this one, and I have Return to the Willows on my TBR pile!) She just finished the picture book, A Perfect Day by Carin Berger and highly recommends for all ages Rocket Writes a Story written and illustrated by Tad Hills. If you want to laugh until your sides ache read Kel Gilligan's Daredevil Stunt Show by Michael Buckley with illustrations by Dan Santat. If you love dogs like I do read Dog Gone! by Leeza Hernandaz or Boot & Shoe by Marla Frazee. If you want a book to steal your heart, a labor of love read hello! hello! by Matthew Cordell or Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Dan Yaccarino. As I would hope a librarian does, Margie knows her books! Today, Margie is posting about one of the few Tomie de Paola Christmas books that I haven't read yet (though with this review, I know I'm going to have to find a copy!), The Clown of God.
In 1983 an author/illustrator visited an elementary school in the small community of Holt located outside of Lansing, Michigan. Wilcox Elementary School was honored to host this already notable figure in the world of children’s literature. Agatha Myers, the school librarian at the time, is my mother. (She will celebrate her 93rd birthday next month.) The author/illustrator was Tomie dePaola.
Within a couple years of this visit, after thirteen years as a school librarian, and a deep desire to become a storyteller, I found myself walking into classrooms wearing the face of a clown, first reading, and then later telling The Clown of God: an old story told and illustrated by Tomie dePaola (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978). A yearly tradition was born. But the importance, the closeness to my heart, of this story was never more apparent than on December 24, 2006.
On this particular Christmas Eve the minister in our little church became ill. At the last minute, having done the children’s sermons before, I was asked speak at the 11:00 PM Candle Lighting Service. That evening in the dimly lit sanctuary I stepped down from the pulpit after the reading from Luke 2: 15-20, my well-worn copy of The Clown of God in my hands. I set it down on the steps and not by heart (but nearly after so many years) told Tomie dePaola’s powerful tale of a Christmas miracle. Finished I looked around at all the people assembled, noticing that most had tears in their eyes, as I did.
Tomie dePaola’s retelling of the French legend of the gifted juggler begins:
Many, many years ago, in Sorrento…
there lived a small boy named Giovanni
who had no mother and no father.
Despite being an orphan, having rags for clothes and living on the streets, this young boy has happy. He had a gift, the gift of juggling. Each day he would go to the fruit and vegetable stand owned by Signor and Signora Baptista, juggling a variety of fruits and vegetables to entertain and invite the customers. In exchange he would receive a bowl of hot soup. This worked well for all of them.
One day a group of traveling performers came to the village. From that day forward, this boy’s life changed. At first the Maestro scoffed at the idea of this raggedy child being a part of his company until Giovanni juggled. Leaving Sorrento, the boy was soon wearing a costume, his face painted as if he were a clown.
For every performance his routine was the same, juggling a variety of items but finishing with the juggling of a red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet ball creating a rainbow. Then he would shout—
“And now for the Sun in the Heavens!”
throwing a golden ball into the mix. Giovanni became so famous, making the crowds laugh and cheer, he went out on his own.
Over the years his costume became more elaborate, performing not just for people in the villages but for a duke and even a prince. He was careful to keep his act the same and he always wore his clown face. A chance meeting with two monks one afternoon reveals not only to Giovanni but to readers the importance of bringing happiness to others.
You can’t stop the clock, time passed and Giovanni became an old man. The crowds no longer laughed and cheered. One day amid jeers Giovanni does something he has never done…he drops the golden ball. Fearing for his life, running from the things being thrown at him, Giovanni stops at a stream removing his clown face makeup. His juggling days are over.
Destitute he travels on foot to the town of his youth, Sorrento. Arriving at night he takes refuge in the church, awakened in the morning to a room filled with people celebrating Christmas morning, walking to the altar placing gifts at the base of the statue of the Lady and the Child. Seeing the face of the Child unsmiling, Giovanni has an idea.
Giovanni does what he has done best for his entire life. Giovanni shares his gift more beautifully than at any other time. The poignant ending shows readers how this gift and the transformative power of love creates an unbelievable miracle.
Even after all the readings of this story, the combination of artwork and text by Tomie dePaola, is perfection. His pacing, perspective, and color palette are reflective of an old story passed on from generation to generation. The last sixteen pages within the church are some of my favorites in children’s literature for Christmas.
I can’t begin to thank you enough Tomie dePaola for this book; how I have loved sharing your story of The Clown of God. I am wishing all readers everywhere a very Merry Christmas this year and for all the years to come.
Thank you, Margie. Merry Christmas, everyone!