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Assessing Children’s Books By Tomie Depaola

Throughout the children’s literature class I have learned how to appropriately analyze and comprehend children’s books. Learning these skills will help me immensely as future educator choosing which books to integrate into lessons and how I can integrate a variety of topics, including multicultural topics. My inquiry research paper will discuss the personal and social values of Italian culture and influence within six books wrote by Tomie dePaola. I choose to focus on this aspect of his work because as teachers we influence our students and having the ability to teach cultural competence in a multicultural world is critical.

I also choose to focus on this author after being intrigued by his work through a group project I am working on. I believe it is important to expose our students to new cultures and ways of thinking. It is important for them to understand each country is different in their own unique way but that we are all equal. This will also allow students to be open to potential immigrants within a classroom setting or of students of varying races or beliefs. The books I analyzed contained Italian cultural aspects ranging from language, to geography and famous landmarks, to foods and an Italian Christmas story.

It is important to not shield our students from new cultures and ideas that are different than their own. With dePaola’s quirky humor and distinctive bright illustrations, his stories are sure to capture children’s imagination while introducing them to Italian cultural ideas. The age group for all of his books ranges from first through third grade. The first book I analyzed was Strega Nona which was a Caldecott Honor book. Although this is an older tale, it contains much Italian influence. The story takes place within the Italian town of Calabria and contains many Italian words and food.

This story is about Strega Nona, an older woman who made natural medicines and potions, but required additional help. Big Anthony decided to help her. This story follows Big Anthony taking a job helping Strega Nona. As the story progresses it humorously depicts Big Anthony making too much spaghetti. Throughout the story the readers can follow the illustrations easily through the depiction of Strega Nona’s big nose to Big Anthony’s evident facial expressions and tousled-hair. This is a funny story to capture the attention of elementary students as well as exhibit Italian culture.

Throughout this story through food and vocabulary the Italian culture and influence become evident. Some Italian words that are within this book are “grazia” and “si. ” Italian foods that are within this book includes spaghetti and pasta. Exposing students to words of other languages will broaden their vocabulary and competence of differing languages. Allowing students to learn some new words in a different language as well as potentially know some Italian foods can create a dialogue and allow them to learn of a new culture.

The second book I analyzed was Big Anthony: His Story. This was an interesting read as the main character, Big Anthony, is contained within various Tomie dePaola books such as Strega Nona. The setting begins in the northern hills of Italy but his journey takes him throughout Italy and shows real-life landmarks. The many characters have Italian influenced names such as “Nonna Emilio” the grandfather and “professore” the teacher. This story also introduces another aspect of common Italian heritage, the Roman Catholic Church.

For example, at the beginning of the book Anthony is a baby. Big Anthony as a baby is christened with holy water poured over him. This an example of an Italian social value present within the story. The story continues watching him grow up with his many adventures. At the end of the story many readers have the opportunity to connect Strega Nona because she appears on the last page while the last sentence is the “rest is history. ” Throughout this book real Italian architecture is present with the farmhouse and church as well as landmarks that are well-known throughout the world.

As the story progresses Big Anthony leaves the farm to supplement his income. He ends up in the Italian town of Pisa to which he humorously believes he made the Leaning Tower of Pisa crooked and tries to fix it. Then, he arrives in Roma where he is met with the common Catholic Church with the altar boys and priests, followed by the cardinal. Then, he arrives in Napoli and sees Mount Vesuvius, the volcano, erupt. The book ends in Southern Italy in Calabria. This story teaches real-life geography and landmarks.

This allows students to grasp many of Italy’s most famous landmarks and provides them with a knowledge of these famous structures allowing them to further geographical abilities. In addition, I could not help but think how fun it would be to have a google lit trip with this book! The third book I examined was Tony’s Bread. This story follows an aspiring chef on the road to becoming the most famous baker in all of northern Italy. When his daughter Serafino meets a wealthy nobleman from Milano, it appears both of their dreams come true. This book focuses on the topic of Italian food.

For example, a type of bread, panettone, is prepared throughout the book and the first page even contains the ingredients. The intriguing part for students may be the actual ingredients within the bread, but may also be the fact that this tale is a story of the creation of this bread! The story introduces many personal influences of Italian culture such as foods and the vocabulary of foods such as “torta” for cake and “biscotti” for cookies. It introduces a topic from the middle ages of history, of the father choosing who his daughter will marry.

This is mentioned in the book and having his daughter wait makes both of their dreams come true as Angelo the wealthy noblesman states, “And so, Signor Antonio, I would be most pleased if you and your lovely daughter would to Milano as my guests. And if you like our city, I would be proud to set you up in a fine bakery of your own near the Piazza del Duomo- the cathedral square. Your fame would be assured. ” (dePaola, 1989, p. 15). At the end of the book Serafino has a wedding to which all the crowds are cheering for Tony’s bread and that is how the bread of Milano came to be.

This story would allow reader’s to question their own family recipes and traditions as well as that of Italy. The fourth book I analyzed was The Legend of Old Befana. This story exposes children is an Italian Christmas story. For students who are unfamiliar with other Christmas stories from other cultures this is a great chance to expose them to a multicultural holiday. It is a story that follows a grumpy old woman, Befana, who lives in the outskirts of a small village in Italy.

She visits all the children of Italy and leaves them candies, cookies and gifts as she is searching for the Christ child. Old Bafana never caught up, alas. She never found the Child in Bethlehem. But she is searching still, to this day. Every year on the Feast of the Three Kings, January the sixth, Old Befana runs across the sky. ” (dePaola, 1980, p. 29) This story gives students insights into new traditions and culture of a common holiday. This allows students to compare and contrast their own personal holiday stories. This will allow them to grasp that not every country has a Santa or Jesus figure, but something similar that is contained within children’s literature!

This allows readers to grasp the variety of stories in the world and that every nation differs on customs and holiday traditions. The fifth book I analyzed was Bonjour, Mr. Satie. This is a story of a postcard from Uncle Mr. Satie traveling to Paris creating curiosity. Although this story takes place in France it is multicultural with artistic characters such as Pablo and Henri from Nice, France. In addition, it gives a view into an appreciation of art. This books follows throughout Paris and a museum within Paris.

This exposes children to various forms of art and may lead to discussion of multicultural art forms. Readers have the opportunity to compare various art styles within this book and within their own hometown. The sixth book I analyzed was Strega Nona Does It Again. This book was dedicated to his Italian family in the beginning which already gives a glimpse of the significant Italian influence present within the book. This story begins with a letter from Duke Andrea di Limone, to his cousin Strega Nona.

He tells her that his oldest daughter, Angelina, has grown into quite a beauty and that all the men in town are chasing her. The problem is that Angelina is unhappy and needs to forget Hugo therefore move away into Strega Nona’s place. For students who are informed on dePaola’s work they can find Big Anthony, once again, in this story. They welcome Angelina by greeting her in Italian, Benvenuto. This story follows the guest, Angelina as she is not an easy guest who is a picky eater, does not like to clean and is still in love with Hugo; even makes a shrine for her love.

The story concludes hysterically with the lovebirds getting married with the magic potion and Strega Nona saying the reason they married was due to the fact that they loved themselves. Italian influence was present throughout this story. For example, Angelina did not adhere to Strega Nona’s household culture. A common cultural aspect of Italian families is to eat pasta but Angelina did not like pasta, only fresh fruit. Another common Italian trait is for them to have family time as both Strega Nona and Big Anthony do.

Unfortunately, Angelina is too absorbed in herself and her love, Hugo to bond with her family. This story also contains a moral for its readers; being too self-absorbed won’t get you far! In conclusion, through this intense study of the many books wrote by Tomie dePaola, Italian influence has played a huge role on the many creative books he has both illustrated and wrote! It is important for our students to read books influenced by other cultures. This can inspire them to travel and to question the world around them.

I would use Tomie dePaola’s books to capture the attention of my elementary students while providing them with a basic overview of Italian culture through Italian language from geography and famous landmarks, to foods and a differing Christmas tale. Providing students with the knowledge that the world is an immense place that is multicultural will provide them a foundation for success in future endeavors. When a teacher can show their students the magnitude of the world around them, they can become globally aware. An appreciation of cultural diversity goes hand-in-hand with a just and equitable society.

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