HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Clown of God
Author and Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, 1978
ISBN-13: 978-0808526858 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0808526855 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0156181921 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0156181924 Paperback
Related website: http://www.hmhbooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 4 – 8
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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dePaola, Tomie. The Clown of God (published in 1978 by Voyager Books, an imprint of Harcourt Brace and Company, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Ave. S, New York City, NY 10003). Many, many years ago in Sorrento, Italy, there was a small boy named Giovanni. He had no mother or father, wore rags, begged for his food, and slept in doorways. But he could juggle and every day juggled fruit and vegetables at Signor Baptista’s produce stall for a cup of hot soup in return for drawing customers. He was so good that he eventually joined a group of traveling players, and when he became famous he set out on his own, traveled up and down Italy, and even performed for dukes and princes. But when he became old and people no longer stopped to watch him, what could he do? Where might he go? And what would happen to him?
Based on an old French legend set at the beginning of the Renaissance, this book is recommended as part of “Five in a Row” (FIAR), a literature-based homeschool curriculum developed by Claire and Steve Lambert. Several years ago, I saw a discussion of it on a homeschool e-mail list. Based on the description of it as “a fictional story using the birth of Christ as a setting,” someone was concerned about combining fiction with a true Bible story. Another responded, “The setting is not the birth of Christ, but a traveling theater troupe in Renaissance Italy….My kids seemed to understand easily that this is a make-believe story.” It appears that some people really like the book, while others do not care for it.
One reviewer said, “The message of the story seems to be that it is not what you can offer the Lord, but the spirit in which you offer it, that really matters….Five stars isn’t enough for this beautifully illustrated and deeply moving story.” However, another wrote, “When my now 17 and 15 year old boys were little, I read it to them. I remember them finding it hard to sit still for. It is a little bit lengthier than other picture books. I’ve also read it to my 5 year old daughter. She made it very plain to me that she did, and I quote, ‘NOT LIKE IT AT ALL.’” The ending may be a little too heavy for some especially sensitive children, so each family will have to make its own decision about age appropriateness, but I found it to be a very touching account.