Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Tomie DePaola Book List

My Tomie DePaola Book List


Good Books You Might Want to Read to Your Young Children if You are a Catholic Parent, or Any Other Kind of Parent, Who Thinks It's Important to Read Good Books to your Children

artwork from "The Clown of God" by Tomie DePaola

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a school project we did, wherein we wrote to one of our favorite authors, Tomie DePaola. (No reply yet!)  And I've had it on my brain to write about What's So Great About Tomie DePaola Anyway.  If you're a person who trolls Catholic mom blogs then his name has come up.  Over. And over. And over. Is it just because he's written a few saint biographies for children?  Or a book of Children's Bible Stories?   Or a sticker calendar for celebrating the 50 days of Easter?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But I think there's more to it.

Not only is his work enjoyable and beautiful, Many of  DePaola's books are valuable tools for Catholic parents... even if  not at first glance.  Here are some of the things that ran though my head when I had discovered my first DePaola books a few years ago:
* Do you want to read stories in which relationships with immediate and extended family members are valued and nurtured?  You've come to the right author.
* Are you a Catholic parent who desires the Faith to be an integral and natural part of the rhythm of your life and day, not just "we're Catholic when it's time for Catechism lesson?"  Yep, Tomie writes it.
* Do you want your children to feel the stirrings of the Faith while reading a picture book, because you're pretty sure they might tune you out if you say, "let's talk about Jesus." ???  Tomie's got your back.  

Much of Tomie DePaola's work is overtly Catholic.  His biographies of St. Patrick, St. Pascual Baylon, St. Francis, and Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego immediately come to mind.  He has illustrated  (though not authored) children's books on Sts. Benedict and Scholastica and St. Joseph Cuppertino.  He has also written a book about the legend of St. Christopher.  It's difficult for me to describe what makes these books different from other saint biographies for children, but I think it's that they are presented as true Once Upon A Time stories, instead of reading like a list of dates and happenings.  Imagine when you were a little kid and you'd say to your parents or grandparents at bedtime, "Tell me a true story."  These books are like Tomie's answer to that question.

Tomie's collections of Bible Stories, Miracles of Jesus, Parables of Jesus, and the life of Our Lady stand out for me because the text is pulled almost entirely from Scripture.  They aren't a "re-telling" for kids that is condescending or dumbed down.  His other books revolving around Christian themes are lovely and engaging stories that can be used as springboards for discussing the significance of prayer, conversion, offering our best for God.  (The Night of Las Posadas, The Clown of God, The Legend of the Poinsettia)

A lot of Tomie DePaola's books are just plain fun - stories that are timeless and enjoyable to read at almost any age.  (The Knight and the Dragon, Fin M'Coul)  Some of the most enjoyable are his autobiographical works - picture books and chapter books based on his childhood.  These are delightful glimpses into his close-knit family and innocent childhood shenanigans. (Tom, The Art Lesson)  The stories are sweet and funny, the characters are familiar and endearing.  Tomie's portrayal of family life is always cheerful and touching- rejoicing at the birth of a new baby, memorable weekends spent with his grandparents, the loss of his beloved great-grandmother.

Finally - and this is my favorite - much of Tomie's work portrays the practice of the Catholic Faith and Tradition as a natural and integral part of daily life.  In his books the practice of Catholicism doesn't need fanfare, introduction, or explanation.  He doesn't apologize for it or make excuses for it.  It just is.  Just as we (as Catholic parents) want the practice of the faith to be as natural as breathing and as integral in our children's lives as eating and sleeping, so it is for Tomie's characters.  They sprinkle holy water during a storm, they go to Mass, they light Advent candles, they pray in the town square, they speak of the Sacraments, they have crucifixes and pictures of Our Lady in their homes, priests and religious not only exist, but they wear habits and clerical collars.  All that stuff I just mentioned... NOT from the overtly Catholic books.  It's all just seamlessly a part of his appealing-to-the-general-public story books.  You don't have to go to a tiny musty smelling Catholic book store to find this good stuff, people!   Don't tell the public library, but this stuff is on the plain old shelves in the juvenile section.  (On my book list, I refer to this as "covert" Catholicism, for lack of a better term.  Maybe I'll switch it "Catholic. Naturally."  because again, it's not hidden or disguised, it just is.)

This whole idea of Faith and family in literature is only one of the things I love about Tomie DePaola.  As for his artwork, it is unique.  I think it's wonderful, though a friend of mine has said (and I paraphrase) "I can't look at Strega Nona because she'll give me nightmares."  And I say, stick with it!  You may come to appreciate his folksy style, but if you don't you may be willing to overlook it.  After all, if you completely discount Strega Nona on account of her looks you will never know that there is more to her than "headaches and husbands and warts."  My favorite Strega Nona moment is in Merry Christmas, Strega Nona.  It is Christmas Eve.  She comes down into the village with a heavy heart.  After the vigil Mass she approaches the Creche to worship the newborn King and she shares her sorrows and loneliness with him as she prays.  You just don't get that in your run-of-the-mill secular Christmas books.  But you do here.  Give her a chance... and also check out the other wonderful books Tomie DePaola has to offer!

Click here for a somewhat conversational list of my favorite Tomie DePaola books.  They are my personal recommendations.  I'd love to hear about your favorites too!


  1. Great your blog!! I agree with you on Tomie...we especially love The Holy Twins....keep writing.
    Lisa P.

  2. Yes, keep writing!! I just figured out (finally) how to post a blog-comment (yay!). I am going to your recommende Tomie dePaola list now!
    Keep up the good blogging work!

  3. I just ordered about 30 T.dP. books from the library, thanks to you! I can't wait!

    1. I can't wait to hear about what you got (and to chat about them!)

  4. I love your enthusiasm for his books. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work now! We have a few in our collection but I had no idea his work was so vast! I think maybe I should teach John Paul to use the library website because then I MAY have a chance at actually getting around to ordering books! (Looks like I may have to wait until Janelle's done ;)

  5. Hello - The First Christmas is a beautiful De Paola pop-up book that's no longer in print, but if you can find a good used copy it's one I think your whole family would love!
    Blessings -


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