Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy

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Overview

In this elegant tale, Tomie dePaola imagines how the Days of the Blackbird in northern Italy came to be. Gemma and her father, the Duke of Gennaro, live in a house with a courtyard that fills with birds of all colors through the spring and summer. When the Duke falls ill at the end of summer, Gemma begs the birds to stay to raise his spirits with their song. However, as snow and fierce winds begin to swirl down on the village, the birds must fly south to stay warm, and ...

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Overview

In this elegant tale, Tomie dePaola imagines how the Days of the Blackbird in northern Italy came to be. Gemma and her father, the Duke of Gennaro, live in a house with a courtyard that fills with birds of all colors through the spring and summer. When the Duke falls ill at the end of summer, Gemma begs the birds to stay to raise his spirits with their song. However, as snow and fierce winds begin to swirl down on the village, the birds must fly south to stay warm, and eventually only one loyal bird remains.

At the request of a kind duke's loving daughter, La Colomba, a pure white bird, braves the bitter winter of the northern Italian mountains to sing for the gravely ill man.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In Northern Italy, legend has it that the weather is so cold during the last three days of January that the white doves that take shelter in the chimney tops emerge black from soot. The Italians call this time of year "Le Giornate della Merla" (the Days of the Blackbird), and thereby hangs a tale-or, at least, it has inspired dePaola to create this well-seasoned offering. As he explains in an afterword, his story is a sort of Italian "Emperor's Nightingale," featuring a duke, his devoted daughter and a particularly beautiful white dove whose sweet song sustains the nobleman through a long winter of illness. DePaola spins the tale with panache, imbuing it with a folktale-like timelessness, and artistically it's clear he was delighted to return once again to his beloved Italy for visual cues. The pages radiate warmth, from the picturesque late medieval setting and the terra cotta or blue-green houses with their tiled roofs, to the jewel-colored birds and flowers of the duke's garden. A sprinkling of Italian words and phrases adds an authentic flavor. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)
Publishers Weekly
For this Italian Emperor's Nightingale, "dePaola spins the tale with panache, imbuing it with a folktale-like timelessness," according to PW. Ages 5-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Dr. Judy Rowen
In northern Italy, the "days of the blackbird" are considered the three coldest days of the winter. The author provides a fanciful tale to explain the origin of this term. A great duke falls ill, and his adoring daughter does all she can to keep the birds singing outside his window to cheer him. As winter deepens, the birds fly off, except one beautiful white dove. To keep warm, the dove roosts in the chimney and the soot on her feathers changes her appearance. The layout is pleasing, with text and colorful illustrations set in panels resembling the windows in the Duke's palace.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4An original folktale with roots in a winter legend from northern Italy. A wise, benevolent Duke lives with his daughter, Gemma, in a house in the middle of town. The two spend much time in their courtyard listening to the exuberant songs of birds of many colors. When the Duke is stricken with a life-threatening illness, a pure white bird, La Colomba, remains through the harsh winter, singing outside the man's window. Seeking brief respite from the cold in chimney tops turns its feathers solid black. La Colomba is never again pure white, but the Duke regains his health, declaring the coldest days of January the "Days of the Blackbird." The moving story is elegantly, yet simply, told. The artist combines his recognizable style with visual elements reminiscent of Italian frescoes. Watercolor background washes create a marbleized effect. Color choices portray the warmth and serenity the story suggests. A successful and satisfying union of narration and illustration.Heide Piehler, Shorewood Public Library, WI
Kirkus Reviews
The indefatigable dePaola (Strega Nona, p. 1160, etc.) weighs in with another of his entertaining historical interpretations.

The bitingly bitter last three days of January are called Le Giornate della Merla, or Days of the Blackbird, in northern Italy. An author's note offers the origins of the story: White doves, taking harbor in warm chimneys during frigid nights, emerged covered in soot, permanently. DePaola embellishes the story by adding a generous and kind duke, his daughter, Gemma, and a faithful dove. The duke loves birdsong and is never happier than when listening to it with his daughter. One autumn the duke falls ill, and as winter rolls in, many of the birds fly south; the white dove tarries, and its song is all that keeps the duke from death, even through the cold days of January. Fresco-style artwork—the colors washed and clean—accompanies this testament to friendship, fidelity, and generosity; fittingly, the story radiates warmth.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142402719
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2005
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 350,412
  • Age range: 3 - 5 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 10.76 (h) x 0.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola
Best known for his award-winning picture book Strega Nona and for the 26 Fairmount Avenue series of chapter books, Tomie dePaola is one of the most prolific -- and beloved -- author/illustrators in the field of children's literature.

Biography

Born in 1934 into a large extended Irish/Italian family, Tomie dePaola received his art education at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute and the California College of Arts & Crafts. Although he always wanted to create children's books, he spent several years applying his talents to the fields of education, theater, and graphic design. In the mid-1960s, he received his first commission to illustrate a children's science book. A year later, he published his first original picture book, The Wonderful Dragon of Timlin. Today, he is one of the most prolific -- and beloved -- author/illustrators in children's literature.

In addition to illustrating stories by other writers, DePaola has created artwork for collections of poetry, nursery rhymes, holiday traditions, and folk and religious tales. But, he is most famous for books of his own creation, especially Strega Nona ("Grandma Witch"), the beloved story of an old woman who uses her magical powers to help the people of her small Italian village. Written in 1975, this Caldecott Honor winner is still delighting children today.

DePaola admits that there are strong autobiographical elements in many of his books (Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs, The Art Lesson, Stagestruck), but nowhere is this more evident than in 26 Fairmount Avenue, a series of charming chapter books based on his Connecticut childhood. Taking its name from the address of his family home, the series captures the experiences and emotions of a young boy growing up in the late 1930s and early '40s in the shadow of World War II. The first book in the series received a 1999 Newbery Honor Award.

DePaola and his work have been recognized with many honors, including the Smithsonian Medal, the Kerlan Award for "singular attainment in children's literature," the Catholic Library Association's Regina Medal, and several awards from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. In 1999, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts bestowed on dePaola the Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Award for the body of his work.

Good To Know

  • Tomie dePaola's name is pronounced Tommy de POW-la.

  • Between college and graduate school, dePaola spent a short time in a Benedictine monastery before determining that religious life was not for him.

  • Using a combination of watercolor, tempera, and acrylic, dePaola's artistic style is best described as folk-traditional.

  • DePaola's favorite painters and strongest artistic influences are Matisse, Giotto, and Ben Shahn.
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