Name of Book: The Clown of God
Author: Tomie dePaola
Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Publisher: Voyager Books (Harcourt Brace & Co)
Intended Audience: Ages 4-8 (I have used this book with a group of adults, all of whom were retired.)
Summary: Tomie dePaola retells an old tale of Giovanni, the juggler. Giovanni was an orphan who begged for food and slept in doorways. But he could juggle. He juggled fruits and vegetables in front of the fruit and vegetable seller’s stall in return for a bowl of hot soup. One day a group of traveling players comes to town, and Giovanni decides to leave with them. He becomes the opening act, juggling a variety of objects. He ended with juggling brightly colored balls so that he appeared to be juggling a rainbow. The last ball was a golden ball that he called the sun in the heavens.
As a young man, Giovanni goes out on his own, juggling for the entertainment of the crowds. Although his clothes became finer, he always performs with his white clown makeup. Once he meets two Franciscan brothers who share his food and tell him that his juggling sings to the glory of God. He laughs at them and continues on his way.
Eventually Giovanni becomes old and no longer can juggle to amaze and entertain crowds. He is reduced again to begging. He finds himself back in his hometown and creeps into the cathedral to sleep. He is awakened by a great crowd of people coming into the cathedral. Asking the reason, he learns that it is Christmas Day and that people are bringing their gifts to the Christ Child. When the crowd leaves, Giovanni notices that the statues of the Mother and Child look stern and sad. He tells them that he used to make people laugh, and he begins to do his juggling act. A monk sees him and runs off to report the sacrilege. Giovanni has never juggled so well. Finally he juggles the rainbow of balls. Just as he juggles the golden ball, his heart stops and he dies. Two monks run up. After checking the poor old clown, one notices that the statue of the Christ Child is now holding the golden ball and is smiling.
Literary Elements at work in the story: This story is a fable combining the unadorned simplicity of the words with the soft glow of the illustrations. dePaolo’s illustrations are full of details that give added life to the story.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: Giovanni is a poor orphan who achieves fame and fortune through his skill of juggling. Two Franciscan monks tell the amused Giovanni that everything—including his juggling—sings of the glory of God. Although he counters that he only juggles to entertain people and make them laugh, the monks insist that “If you give happiness to people, you give glory to God as well.”
Scripture: I Corinthians 7:7, James 1:17, I Peter 4:10, Romans 12:6-8, I Corinthians 12:4
Theology: Using one’s gifts to the glory of God
Faith Talk Questions:
- What are your gifts or talents? How can these gifts sing to the glory of God?
- Giovanni thought that talk of gifts singing of the glory of God was talk just for monks. Why do you think he said that? Where do you see the glory of God in everyday life?
- What caused the statue of the Child to smile at the end of the story?
- Christina Rossetti wrote: What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him – give my heart.
- What can you give? Your work? Your play? Your relationships? How would that look?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Mary Anne Welch