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The Clown of God (1978)

by Tomie dePaola

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,6052111,206 (4.22)11
A once-famous Italian juggler, now old and a beggar, gives one final performance before a statue of Our Lady and the Holy Child.
  1. 00
    The Little Juggler by Barbara Cooney (AbigailAdams26)
    AbigailAdams26: If you enjoyed Tomie dePaola's retelling of this tale, you might also enjoy Barbara Cooney's telling of the French original.
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» See also 11 mentions

English (20)  French (1)  All languages (21)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Celebrated children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola retells the medieval French legend of The Little Juggler in this beautiful picture book, changing the setting from France to Italy, and adding a poignant, bittersweet ending not found in the original. Orphaned Giovanni has but one skill in this tale: that os juggling. Becoming a traveling performer, he wins acclaim and juggles in front and dukes and princes. But when he grows old and can no longer perform, he finds himself ridiculed by the public, and driven away with sharp words and stones. Putting away his juggling, he heads home to his native town of Sorrento, where he seeks shelter one Christmas Eve in a monastery. Here, ashamed that he has nothing to offer the Virgin Mary and Christ Child, he makes his last performance: giving his all, his very life, in a marvelous show which leads to a miracle...

I grew up with The Clown of God, which was one of my favorite picture books as a child, and I never fail to be moved by its story of a man of talent who, growing old and finding the world a hard place, comes home to God by offering all that he has—both his performance and his life—as a gift. In the original, as I have learned, there is no death involved in this miracle, and while I am normally on the side of retelling traditional tales in their original form, here the changes made by dePaola create a truly moving story. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Tomie dePaola some years ago, when this 2018 reprint was published and I was managing a children's bookstore, and in the course of our conversation he told me that this new edition was a better representation, visually, of his original intention for the book, than the first edition from the 1970s. Apparently that first edition didn't get the colors quite right. He also told me that, of all his books, this was his favorite, something I was so delighted to learn, as it is also mine. The artwork is beautiful of course, in that vintage dePaola style, but it is the storytelling which is truly captivating, capturing the poignancy of growing old and of feeling cast aside and worthless, and the joy of discovering one has something still to give. Recommended to dePaola fans, and to picture book readers looking for miraculous stories touching on issues of aging, faith and bringing the best that one has to God. It would pair very nicely with Barbara Cooney's retelling of the original French version of the story, The Little Juggler. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | May 12, 2024 |
This is a French legend originally told by the master storyteller Anatole France. This is a story of a mother and fatherless child whose name was Giovanni. Roaming throughout the countryside, he learned to juggle. Sharing his talent brough him a lot of joy.
He helped a local man, Signor Baptista, sell his fruit and vegetables by juggling the oranges, apples, and lemons, and the eggplants and zucchini vegtables. In return, he was given a large bowl of soup at the end of the day.

As he grew older, Giovanni traveled more territory and used more items to juggle, including brightly colored balls. The brightest was a beautiful golden ball. As he grew older, he made mistakes. One day he dropped the rainbow of colored balls. He no longer was important and thus people threw vegtables, fruits and vegtetales . Running for his life, the old man walked back to Sorrento, the area where he began.

Cold and weary, he found a monestery church. He crept inside the church and found an area where he could sleep. Beautiful music awoke him and Giovannie found the church overwhelming in beauty.

Seeing a beautiful statue of the Lady and the Child. The child seemed so stern and sad. Giovannie wondered what gift he could give the mother and child, and then put his white makeup on his face, opened the bag containing his old items used to juggle,including sticks, plates, clubs and rings and multicolored balls that looked like a rainbow. Suddenly, at the end of his performance, he died.

The next day, the priest discovered the statue of the mother and child with the child smiling as he held the golden ball in his lap ( )
  Whisper1 | Mar 15, 2024 |
Italian tale of a juggler. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
This would be a great book to read to your class during a renaissance lesson unit. It speaks of a beggar that learns the art of juggling and travels the world performing for people and princes. He juggles for the love of making people laugh and smile. The story comes full circle when one day his audience throws tomatoes at him and he becomes a beggar once more. He learns of Jesus, except the book amazingly hints at religion because he does not say Jesus or Mary. On Christmas, he has no gifts to give to the Savior so he once again juggles his best act yet/, dies, and baby Jesus is holding one of his juggling balls. He was a selfless man, performing for people and in the end, he gave his life to the Lord. It is a very huge concept that the author subtly introduces to his readers.

Religion based questions:
What gifts can we give to God?
What gifts did God give to us?

Non-religion based question:
How can we be more selfless towards others? ( )
  mskathyphan | Oct 8, 2018 |
A young boy travels around Italy and pleases crowds with his juggling. As the boy ages he learns that his juggling is a way to give glory to God.

The key element of this book are the illustrations. They vividly show how Giovanni ages throughout his journey and the different audiences/advisers he encounters. The rainbow colored balls, that Giovanni juggled, showed the consistency of his life, the joy he brought others, and the wonderful skill he had mastered. This book has an underlying message about religion, which some students may not understand or pick up on. However, I feel the larger message in this story is to value the skills you have and use them to share joy with those around you. This book can be used during a multicultural unit about Italy, folktales, or religion. ( )
  Tori.Okosun | Apr 21, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tomie dePaolaprimary authorall editionscalculated
France, Anatolesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gripe, Camillasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saue, Gerd GrønvoldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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for Norine Odland
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Many, many years ago, in Sorrento...
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A once-famous Italian juggler, now old and a beggar, gives one final performance before a statue of Our Lady and the Holy Child.

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Haiku summary
Old clown in life's dusk
gives one last show for Christ child
shows true self-giving
(sullijo)

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