Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Clown of God: More Than A Christmas Story

"The Clown of God", a Five in a Row book, introduced me to Tomie dePaola and made me an avid collector of his books. Mr. dePaola, a Catholic, often infuses his work with the religion's traditions and beliefs in such charming manner that it doesn't come out as preachy. Just engaging and fun.

Drawings in the image above are from Mr Tomie dePaola's website

"The Clown of God" is the touching story of Giovanni, an orphan who juggles for food. He gains fame and fortune when he joins a traveling circus, but then becomes poor again as he reaches old age. Homeless and unwanted by the crowds that used to admire him, Giovanni finds shelter in a church and ends up giving the performance of his life.

Often considered a Christmas story, the ending transcends the label and speaks about each person's gifts that can be used to glorify God. We've read the story for the past two Christmases already. Given the busyness of the season however, we were not able to dig deep into it, until now.

I share below how we used the elements in the story of "The Clown of God" to learn about diverse things: geography, math, social studies. This is how we usually enjoy our books!


The story is set in a town called Sorrento in Italy. Though Giovanni travels all over Italy, the places he has been to is not mentioned in the story.

So, to know more about the country, we read another book set in Italy by Tomie dePaola called Big Anthony: His Story. We colored a map of Italy, wrote the cities featured in the story using an atlas as a guide, and then went on a journey from north to south Italy using simple signs around the house. Oh, and we practiced saying Italian words too!


Giovanni is an orphan boy who begs for his food or juggles for bread. We talked about how it would be like to be an orphan. It helped that Little T is currently OBSESSED with "The Boxcar Children," a classic series of children's books about four orphans having adventures on their own.

Though we pretended to beg for food like Giovanni and recited the opening line of a declamation piece I remember from school ("Alms, alms, alms, spare me a piece of bread, spare me your mercy!"), we focused on how Giovanni overcomes the challenges of being a poor orphan... see next item!


Giovanni uses his talent in juggling to get himself out of poverty. One of my goals in homeschooling my children is to help them find their passion and discover what they are good at. Using an old book called "You Are One of a Kind" by Joy Wilt as a guide, we talked about our strengths and weaknesses and the different things that make us unique and different from each other. Little T answered the questions in the book covering physical characteristics, personality, and personal situation. Examples are:

  • How many teeth do you have?
  • What color is your hair?
  • What are you good at doing?
  • What are you not good at doing?
  • Do you do things quickly or do you do things slowly?
  • What are the names of your grandmother?


Giovanni is a good juggler, so we tried our hand at juggling. My children threw and caught small bean bags one at a time - a great hand-eye coordination activity! We spent most of our time bent over and picking them up from the floor though!

"The Clown  of God" illustration by Tomie dePaola. Just beautiful!


Giovanni juggles different sets of items to entertain crowds. We counted eggplants, oranges, plates, torches, balls, etc. We practiced simple addition using a game from Confessions of a Homeschooler. It's a fun game worth printing and laminating - just get your printer ink ready!

Photo from Confessions of a Homeschooler

I hope this glimpse of our studies makes you look at picture books not only as a source of entertainment but also as an inspiration from which to learn different things. It really gets easier to make learning fun and engaging as you go along!

If you've read "The Clown of God" with your children, how else did you enjoy it? I would love to know!

Make magic!

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Racquel said...

Why didn't I know about "Five In A Row" when our girls were younger?!! :)

TrulyRichMom/TeacherMamaTina said...

We LOVE The Clown of God! :) 

Chris Amador said...

we haven't rowed this book yet... :)

Mariel @ The Learning Basket said...

We'll find you a copy so you can enjoy it too! :)

Mariel @ The Learning Basket said...


Mariel @ The Learning Basket said...

Hi Racquel! I was really just so fortunate to have stumbled onto it early in my curriculum exploration! I was actually looking at Sonlight, which is also literature-based, but FIAR just seemed so magical for kids!

TrulyRichMom/TeacherMamaTina said...

Another idea, which we haven't tried ourselves, is to dress up as clowns and pretend to be in a circus! :) Hehe! Also, for Religion/Values Education, you could talk about what we could offer to the Christ Child as a gift, just like what Giovanni offered to Him. :) For homeschool groups/co-ops, maybe you could also do a procession of gifts for the Child Jesus, like the procession featured in the book. :) You could also use The Small Miracle or books about Franciscan monks/St. Francis as go-along books, since there are monks in the book. :)

Mariel @ The Learning Basket said...

Thanks Tina! I actually thought of putting on clown make up but we sang "I Am a Clown" (I am a clown and I hop and I hop, and I hop and I hop and then I stop!") instead. We also talked about what Little T offered to God during Christmas time, which was singing during New Year's Eve in church! And then we also read The Small Miracle that you gave us exactly because of the Franciscan monks! Let's try the procession in December! :D My journaling is incomplete haha but it's all in my "lesson plans" :D