The Legend of Old Befana

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Overview

The celebration of Befana, who flies across the sky on Twelfth Night, leaving cakes and cookies for children as they sleep, is a beloved story in Europe. It is timeworn only by its many versions, and Tomie dePaola's retelling is unique in its resplendent settings and carefully researched detail. His story also broadens the character of the eccentric old recluse of the small Italian village, who is always sweeping. While Befana is sometimes called a witch, Tomie dePaola gives his readers a chance to make their own...
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Overview

The celebration of Befana, who flies across the sky on Twelfth Night, leaving cakes and cookies for children as they sleep, is a beloved story in Europe. It is timeworn only by its many versions, and Tomie dePaola's retelling is unique in its resplendent settings and carefully researched detail. His story also broadens the character of the eccentric old recluse of the small Italian village, who is always sweeping. While Befana is sometimes called a witch, Tomie dePaola gives his readers a chance to make their own decisions, imbuing Old Befana with more humanity than most have offered the lonely old woman in her endless search for the Christ Child.

Because Befana's household chores kept her from finding the Baby King, she searches to this day, leaving gifts for children on the Feast of the Three Kings.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780833503824
  • Publisher: Turtleback Books: A Division of Sanval
  • Publication date: 9/28/1980
  • Pages: 32
  • Product dimensions: 8.22 (w) x 10.18 (h) x 0.36 (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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    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 5
    ( 4 )
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    Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
    • Posted April 13, 2009

      Italian Christmas Tradition and a Wonderful Book for American Children/Parents!

      Although Santa Claus has grown in popularity in recent years in Italy, traditionally, Italian children were visited by La Befana for the Christmas season. In Tomie dePaola's wonderful book, the story of La Befana (which is a bit more closely tied to the religious meaning of Christmas than is Santa Claus) is told in a fun, fast-moving, and engaging way.

      If you want to teach your children about Christmas traditions from around the world, The Legend of Old Befana is for you. If you are of Italian descent, and want your children to become a bit more familiar with a holiday tradition from their own heritage, The Legend of Old Befana is for you. If you are a fan of Tomie dePaola, The Legend of Old Befana is for you. And if you are just looking for a great book for your kids, The Legend of Old Befana is for you.

      Also, be assured that The Legend of Old Befana is a broad enough story to be read outside of the Christmas season, so this is not a book that you would need to put away when the Tree comes down each year.

      Finally, as with all of dePaola's books, the drawings are appealing to both children and adults. The illustrations work quite nicely if you are just glancing at the pages, but they are even more beautiful and rewarding if you take the time to look at each page carefully. If you aren't familiar with Tomie dePaola, he's one of the best children's book authors and illustrators working today, ranking right along with talents like Eric Carle, Robert Sabuda and other popular artist-authors.

      Enjoy!

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted March 22, 2013

      more from this reviewer

      We've already read The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie DePaola sev

      We've already read The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie DePaola several times in our home. In Italian folklore, La Befana is an old woman (in some regions, a friendly "witch") who visits children on the night before Epiphany, leaving candy and/or small gifts. Befana represents all people who are seeking Jesus.

      The stories about La Befana vary greatly from region to region, but Tomie DePaola's version comes closest to the one I learned as a child.

      La Befana is a poor, old woman who is a bit of a hermit and always, always sweeping her house. As the Three Kings make their way to Bethlehem, they pass through her village. She is invited to join them, to make the journey to see the Christ Child, but she refuses. She is too busy; she needs to sweep. She soon regrets her decision and changes her mind. She stays up all night baking. She gathers these homemade cookies and cakes as gifts, and brings along her broom so she can sweep for the new mother. However, she learns she is too late; the Kings' procession has already moved on. She tried her best to catch up, but never did. It is said that even today, she is still searching for the baby Jesus. Each Epiphany Eve she sets off on her journey, leaving gifts to all children along her way, in the hopes that one of them will be the Christ Child.

      My 3-year-old is enthralled with DePaola's book, as am I. The illustrations are soft on the eyes, but full of color and interest. The text is easy to understand without being dumbed down. The story is worded beautifully, making it just as wonderful a experience for the adult reading the story aloud as it is for the child listening. One can practically hear the procession of the Three Kings approaching her town, the bells tinkling through a light wind. Readers are quickly pulled in to Befana's world; her tendency to be a bit misanthropic and always too busy to put her household duties aside (can't many of us relate?); her realization that she'd made a poor decision; her regret; her determination and perseverance when she changes her mind; her kindness while preparing gifts for the baby; her thoughtfulness in remembering the needs of a new mother.

      This is a lovely story, albeit somewhat bittersweet, filled with hope and symbolism. There aren't many English-language books telling Befana's story, but thankfully, DePaola's The Legend of Old Befana is a treasure.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted January 26, 2012

      Great Book

      Have the caroler of Befana and wanted the book so I could read it to my grandchildren. Well written and easy for children to understand.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 25, 2010

      No text was provided for this review.

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