Tomie dePaola is a beloved author and illustrator for good reason, and in addition to his dozens of charming and lovely books about Strega Nona and Big Anthony, he published many Catholic books, including books on the saints, Bible stories, and other religious works. Ignatius Press with Magnificat has recently been reprinting some of these in hardcover. I got to review four of them, and they’ve given me four to give away to you! The titles:
Brother Francis of Assisi
Noah and the Ark
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Enter by using the form at the end of the post.
If you don’t win, or if you just want to order some or all of the books, I also have a 25% off code for these four books.
Use the coupon code STOMIE25 when you order any of these four books from Ignatius and get a 25% discount starting today and ending Saturday, Nov. 21 at midnight.
And now for the books!
Queen Esther (first published 1986) A simple and dignified telling of the story of Esther, the Jewish woman who was chosen for her beauty by the Persian king, and who risked her own life to protect her people.
Esther is rendered in blues and grays, very elegant but rather severe and sad, which seems right to me. She didn’t ask to be put in that position, but she did what had to be done once she was there.
A good true “princess” story about a girl chosen for her beauty, who musters up courage and strength for her people.
The story is somewhat simplified, good for young kids, and is nicely dramatic
The final page notes that her story is commemorated on the Jewish feast Purim. “On Purim, Jews give gifts to the poor and one another. This spring holiday often falls during Lent, when Catholics recall the courageous faith of Queen Esther.” I didn’t realize this was so, but he’s right! The Mass readings during Lent tell her story, paired with an exhortation to ask God for what we want and trust he will give it to us.
Brother Francis of Assisi (first published 1982)
I had this one when it was first published, and as a result, I’ve always been a little afraid of St. Francis, as is appropriate. He is most certainly not the fuzzy wuzzy pal to our furry friends that pop culture has turned him into, but was an intense, passionate, singleminded man.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a scary or graphic book, but it doesn’t shy away from how hard Francis was on himself.
I had a hard time getting through the Pope’s dream where Francis holds up the crumbling walls of the Church. Oh boy. Give yourself time to compose yourself if you’re reading this one aloud.
It does include favorite stories, like Francis preaching to the birds, and dealing with the wolf of Gubbio,
and also has some lesser known stories, like Francis allowing himself to indulge in some honey almond cakes made for him by a patroness,
and a story about Francis recreating a manger scene and being visited by a real holy child who smiles at Francis and strokes his beard.
And here — get ready — here is Francis receiving the stigmata
This is one of de Paola’s longer books at 47 pages, and it includes the Canticle of the Sun and a timeline of Francis’ life, including his and Clare’s feast days. Good stories about Clare and her sisters, as well. The illustrations were painstakingly researched on site, and you get a real sense of place, as well as a sense of who Francis really was. Excellent.
Noah and the Ark (first published 1983) I struggle with children’s books about Noah’s ark! I know it has animals and a rainbow, but it’s not really a children’s story, and it bothers me when it’s portrayed as cutesy or rollicking. DePaola’s version avoids this, and is told very simply and has a sort of mythical air to it, which works well.
God is shown as a powerful, bright hand emerging mystically from the heavens, and the animals are animals, not cartoonish sidekicks
DePaola’s mastery of color is on full display here. There are two pages with no text, just the flood waters:
and then the next page pulls back a bit and shows the ark still being tossed on the waves, but with the threatening clouds receding.
A solid rendition, bright and dignified. 32 pages, for children ages 5 and up.
And now for the crown jewel of these new editions!
Mary, the Mother of Jesus (first published 1995) 33 pages, and there is a LOT in here. An astonishing book, luminous, illuminating. If you’re looking for a religious book to give a child for Christmas, this is the one.
It covers the whole life of Mary, from before her conception to her assumption and coronation, and it draws on scripture and also on pious legend, including things like the child Mary climbing the steps to the temple by herself,
and the staff of Joseph miraculously flowering. It also, to my surprise, describes Mary as gently dying and being laid in a tomb, with Thomas meeting an angel who has him roll the stone away and find her winding sheets left behind. My kids were a little dismayed, having been taught (by me!) that Mary didn’t die, but was assumed into heaven body and soul without dying first. It turns out there’s no actual dogma definitively saying whether she died or not. In any case, the illustration of her assumption got me right in the kishkes:
Reading the whole thing from start to finish helped me remember what a straight up good story it is, and how many angels came to this family.
All the illustrations are striking, and the expressions on the (clearly middle eastern) faces are subtle and thought-provoking. Here is Mary proud but protective as the wise men appear to visit her little son
Here are the parents angry, dismayed, and confused to find Jesus in the temple:
Here is Mary calmly and knowingly, with a glimmer of a smile, telling the stewards at Cana to do whatever Jesus tells them
and look at this angel, busting through into the room of this young girl with her long braid
Extraordinary. It says ages 7 and up, and honestly I would give this book to an adult convert to introduce him to Mary. It’s so lovely and heartfelt. Each section is introduced with a short excerpt from the liturgy of the hours. So good.
That’s it! Good luck! You have until Friday the 20th to enter.
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P.S., Did I ever tell you my Tomie dePaola story? It’s not a very good story, but it’s what I’ve got. In second grade, I won a Young Author’s contest (The Day It Rained Piano Keys, by Simmy Prever. No copies extant) and dePaola presented the awards, and each winner got a kiss on the cheek. I’d been reading his books steadily my whole life, and almost forty years later, I finally got up my nerve to ask him for an interview, because he lived in NH. I wanted to know what his favorite book was, and what his relationship was with the Church, and how hard it was to paint the face of Jesus. And if he knew someone like Bambalona. So I put in my request and I waited with bated breath for his response, and then two weeks later, he died.
That’s my story. I don’t think I actually killed him, but if you want to talk to someone, my advice is to do it now, not later. SIGH.