The Greatest Gift at Christmas is Still the Gift of Self!
“The Clown of God” by Tomie de Paola
Picture book author/artist Tomie de Paola is unmatched in his wide-ranging ability through his picture books, to tap into the heart of a child.
Winner of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award given by the American Library Association, the Regina Medal, a Caldecott Honor designation, and so many other professional and private accolades, that he is well beloved in the picture book community.
He is able to hold both the heart and hand of a child in thrall through his picture book narratives, some of which are based on his own experiences, some that stem from legends or lives of saints and faith-based, and still others that are folk tales, such as the famous “Strega Nona” of pasta pot fame that is soon to be made into a movie
If by some strange twist of literary picture book loss, his books have escaped your radar for young readers, I urge you, during this gift-giving time of the year, to buy one of his many titles for a child.
His stories are wide ranging in interest and intensity, but it is always at Christmas that my mind wanders back to a wondrous title of his, published in 1978, called “The Clown of God”. Here is but one review of the book:
“In this retelling of the old French legend, a juggler offers to the Christ Child the only Christmas gift he has.The full-color pictures with subtle tonal modulations are an integral part of the design of the luminous pages full of movement and vitality. The Italianate aspects of the setting are beautifully realized.”–The Horn Book
I just ordered a copy of this legend by Anatole France called “Our Lady’s Juggler” on which “The Clown Of God” may be based.
In Tomie de Paola’s poignant and heart tugging version, the young traveling Italian juggler named Giovanni is a young apprentice, traveling with a touring circus. He is on the very edge of fame and prominence in the world of entertainment.
He becomes its star with his famous act called the “Sun in the Heavens” which features as its finale, a gleaming golden ball. He tosses this final ball higher and higher amidst the jumble of juggled orbs. His fame is renowned.
Time passes, and fame with it. An aging Giovanni can no longer perform at the peak level of his youth…and he is mocked cruelly by his former adoring crowds.
On a blustery cold winter’s eve in the Christmas season, he travels back to his home.. old, tired and alone.
He hears music from the church as the people process in pageantry to give the Newborn King rich gifts. Giovanni has nothing to give…except himself and his talent.
In a vacant church, he tries to reenact the “Sun in the Heavens,” his most well known and difficult juggling feat. He offers it in the deserted church, after the crowds have departed, in front of a statue of the Infant King in his mother’s arms.
Though ragged and aged, he succeeds, as he has not managed to do for years, with both the unexpected expertise of his youth and an unbridled happiness.
What happens next, transmits to the reader emotions of joy, sorrow and wonder, and all within mere moments of one another….and the unforgettable miracle that brings Tomie de Paola’s “The Clown of God” to an emotional and miraculous close.
My forty something daughter still recalls the impact of this picture book with tears, having read it as a child. And this is a book she read more than thirty years ago. Now, that is a picture book!
Giovanni provides to the Newborn King, the most perfect of selfless gifts; richer than all the ones that have processed to the altar before him in splendor and pomp.
It is the gift of self. That gift is always unmatched and finds its reward in the form of a smiling miracle.
Please share with a young reader, this glorious version of “Our Lady’s Juggler,” re-imagined in picture book version by Tomie de Paola’s, in his setting, called “The Clown of God.”
It is a gift worth sharing this Christmas as a gift, or any time, with young readers that you may know.
Heck, even I fell in love with the arc of a single life and the pageantry of its depiction…in all its humanity.
It is memorable and a reminder that love can make miracles happen in a world where self holds sway.
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