Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Remembered by Tomie dePaola

58. Christmas Remembered
by Tomie dePaola
nonfiction, 2006
second reading
finished, 12/4/09

I discovered Tomie dePaola when my children were little. We spent wonderful hours reading together and I marveled over both his stories and his artistic genius, but what struck me most in each of his books was his heart. The man has a heart as big as the sky and it comes through in his characters, his stories, and his illustrations.

It just so happens that Tom's parents live in the same town as Mr. dePaola, and are acquaintances. One year they went together on a group tour to Provence. That same year, Tom's parents gave us his then new book, Christmas Remembered.

Christmas Remembered gives the reader a deeper, more grown-up appreciation of Tomie dePaola. The concept is fascinating, and one I've not read before: he reminisces about various Christmases in his 'seventy-plus years.' Each chapter covers a different Christmas season. One of my early favorites is the year he got art supplies. He was eleven, and had been saying since he was four that he was going to be an artist when he grew up. 'Everyone had believed me.'

I loved reading about Tomie dePaola's childhood in Meriden, Connecticut. He grew up in a happy family with a brother and two sisters. I had a feeling of a time gone forever as I read the stories of his young life. There was a local candy store where he worked one Christmas season. There was a 'Christmas sing' at the high school. The school chorus went caroling around the city. His parents, Flossie and Joe had an 'open house' every Christmas Eve.

All the neighbors came, as well as my parents' friends and family from all over Meriden and Wallingford. The drinks were served in the half of the basement my father had fixed up with booths and a genuine bar. "Just like a real nightclub, Floss and Joe," everyone said.

One Christmas he writes about was the first one they had a television set, and all the people they knew, and many they didn't, showed up to watch the Joe Lewis/Jersey Joe Walcott fight, live from Madison Square Garden.

His first Christmas away from home, he went shopping in New York City, and got his mother a handmade silver heart pin.

I guess that was the very beginning of my love of the heart as a personal trademark.

If you look carefully, you'll most often find a small one in each of his paintings.

I don't really have a favorite among all his Christmas memories, but I do love one that he spent at Weston Priory in Vermont. At twenty-two years old, he was a Benedictine novice, and was part of a little miracle that happened there.

His Christmas in New Mexico was very different from anything I've ever known, and so, so lovely with poinsettias everywhere, and its tradition of Las Posadas, a walk around the Plaza in Santa Fe in which Mary and Joseph look for a place 'where the Child could be born.'

This is a really special book, and has become one of my Christmas favorites. I've said it is more for adults than children, but the author says at the start:

I have tried to be as honest as I could with everything in this book, including the holiday eating and drinking in my family, but if you want to read this to your children, grandchildren, or your classes, feel free to "edit" or omit the drinking spots.
Coming from an Irish-Italian family, we always had "spirits' in our hearts, our life, and in our glasses.
As Hilaire Belloc said, "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There's always laughter and good red wine. At least I've always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!"


  1. I read so many of Tomie de Paola books to the class. In fact, one of my parents even gave me several ornaments created by de Paola when they went for a trip out to the Southwest.

  2. OMG, Nan! I grew up in Wallingford and spent hours and hours in Meriden. I never realized Tomie was from my neck of the woods! I'm hitting the library this week to see if they can track this down for me. Thank you!!!

  3. I have loved him since my children were little also. I never realized he was that old. For some reason I pictured him being much younger. My cousin lived in Meridan at one point.

  4. I've not read this dePaola book but I have loved reading Strega Nona outloud to my boys with the accent...he's a very talented writer and illustrator. How very wonderful for you to get an autographed copy!!!

  5. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention. As a children's librarian in New Hampshire, I always loved Tomie dePaola's books, and so did everyone else I knew who read them.

    Now that we are in New Mexico, we hope to be able to observe a Las Posadas procession.

    I plan to add this book to my Christmas reading list, thanks to you, Nan. May you and your family have a lovely and peaceful Christmas.

  6. I'd never heard of this book until by chance I picked it up from the children's shelves in our local library last Saturday... I read a little and found it very interesting and thought perhaps it was a little old (interest wise) for it's shelf. We all love various of his books especially "An Early American Christmas" we faithfully borrow it each year!

  7. Oh, this sounds like a wonderful book to own or give as a gift! Thanks for the lovely review, Nan!

  8. Kay, that's wonderful and I bet the kids loved the books. How very lucky for you to have the ornaments! Thoughtful parents.

    Sprite, that is so great! You will love this book in a more personal way.

    Hip Chick, his blog is on my sidebar, if you'd like to take a look. He doesn't write it, but it is about his life.

    Staci, it is one of my treasures! And I love Strega Nona, and Nana Upstairs, and so many others.

    Clair, that is so exciting. I hope you will post about it. NM sounded like a dream to me. I know you will love this book, with both its NH and NM connections. And I wish you the same!

    Val, I'm amazed that you saw it just before I wrote about it! And you know what? I was going to include An Early American Christmas as part of this book report, and then decided not to. Tom's mother gave that one to our kids in 1987, and wrote in it!

    Les, absolutely worth owning. It is in paperback now, but I'm glad I have the hardcover. He has a gift for enjoying life!

  9. I am a big fan of depaola, but I have news that is slightly to the side. I am having a giveaway and there is still time to visit and leave a comment. You might win Right Rose Right Place by Peter Schneider - and 2 dozen CowPots for spring seed starting. The drawing is Sat. am, Dec. 12. The book is beautiful with lovely photos, an enjoyable and knowlegeable text and tons of inspiration, even if you are not a 'rose gardener'. We all need a rose or two in our life.

  10. You always write such enthusiastic postings - I love them; thank you.

  11. Commonweeder, aren't you nice to let me know. Thank you. I'll be over.

    Scriptor Senex, what a very nice thing to say. Thank you so much.

  12. I love Tomie de Paola! I need to read this one.

  13. Then I'm sure you will love this, Tara.

  14. What a treasure an autographed copy of a book by Tomie is! What, that is not grammatical, but I hope you know what I mean. He seems such a special person, although I never was able to meet him. His heart just shines through his works.

  15. Dolce Bellezza, you would love this book. His descriptions of family life and the various places are really excellent.


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