Yesterday, children’s author Tomie dePaola died at age 85. To honor his life, here are some of our family’s favorites among his books:

STREGA NONA: A Charming series of stories about “Grandma Witch,” a wise old woman and magic-worker in an Italian village. The first story is inspired by a traditional folk-tale, but they all have an “old soul.”

NOW ONE FOOT, NOW THE OTHER: The story of a young boy whose dearly-loved grandfather suffers a stroke and moves in with the boy’s family. The grandfather is unresponsive for some time, then begins a slow recovery as his grandson cheers him on. A great way to introduce kids to the frightening uncertainty of illness. Also a great reminder that sometimes kids––who after all are used to not understanding what happens around them––often take big changes in stride quite well.

TOMIE DePAOLA’S MOTHER GOOSE: I found this at our library’s used book sale this year, and it immediately became my favorite Mother Goose volume. It has hundreds of traditional rhymes, including many I had never heard before. DePaola was not afraid to include irreverent rhymes, like this one that makes my kids and me laugh:

THE CLOWN OF GOD: This was perhaps Beth’s favorite, and one that I made a point to read to the kids in the days before Beth died. It tells the story of the rise and fall of a juggling clown named Giovanni. Midway through the story he meets two Franciscan brothers:

As the three men ate, the two Little Brothers told Giovanni how they went from town to town, begging their food and spreading the joy of God.

“Our founder, Brother Francis, says that everything sings of the glory of God. Why, even your juggling,” said one of the brothers.

“That’s well and good for men like you, but I only juggle to make people laugh and applaud,” Giovanni said.

“It’s the same thing,” the brothers said. “If you give happiness to people, you give glory to God as well.”

“If you say so!” said Giovanni, laughing. “But now I must be off to the next town. Arrivederci, good brothers––and good luck!”

Beth loved to comment on how thoroughly Catholic this book is, not just because Franciscan monks show up, but because it blurs the lines between what is secular and what is holy in a very Catholic way. The book ends with the juggler, now an old man, visiting a church, in a scene that is somehow joyful, sad, and whimsical all at the same time. The book will not fit everyone’s spirituality, but it is undeniably beautiful.

Perhaps Tomie dePaola would not mind if we were all to wish him what the Franciscans wish Giovanni: Arrivederci, good brother––and good luck!

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