Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tomie dePaola's Big Book of Favorite Legends

Collection Written By: Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola’s collection consists of four of his previously written legends.  The first tale, The Legend of the Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas, tells how the Texas state flower, bluebonnet, came to grow in the wild.   The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush: An Old Tale of Wyoming, is a similar tale to Bluebonnet; however, it is about how the red, orange, yellow, and pink Indian Paintbrush wildflowers that bloom throughout Wyoming.  The third tale, The Legend of the Poinsettia: An Old Tale of Mexico, is about how the beautiful red flowers, the poinsettias, became a symbol of Christmas.  Lastly, the fourth and most humorous tale, Tony’s Bread: An Old Tale of Italy, is about how the traditional Italian sweet bread, panettone, came to be.

dePaola includes an author’s note for each tale that provides some background information on each legend.  He mentions how he took the greatest liberties with Tony’s Bread because it is such a widely varied tale to begin with.  dePaola does not necessarily go into great detail about how he researched each tale.  He is not a cultural insider to the first three legends, but does mention how he heard of each one.  Due to the lack of “authentic” source notes, I cannot be entirely sure that dePaola’s stories accurately reflect the cultures they are derived from.  

The language and plot of each legend is simple and easy to understand.  dePaola does incorporate Spanish into the Legend of the Poinsettia and Italian into the tale, Tony’s Bread.  In both cases, not knowing the words either does not affect the understanding the meaning of the story or, the words are defined.  For example, in Tony’s Bread, Angelo states, “Who is that lovely creature sitting at that window?  Che bella donna!—What a beautiful woman!”  In another example in Legend of the Poinsettia, dePaola ends the legend with this, “And every Christmas to this day, the red stars shine on top of green branches in Mexico.  The people call the plants la Flor de Nochebuena—the Flower of the Holy Night—the poinsettia.”

dePaola has illustrated over 200 children’s book in his career.  In any illustrated book of his that I have read, his style remains relatively constant.  In the first three legends, his style leans towards expressionistic and representational.  The figures lack great detail, but they are drawn proportionately and can be easily identified as being realistic people.  In Tony’s Bread, his style is more that of expressionistic and naïve/folk artbecause the characters tend to lack proportion and are childlike.  I think his style helps remind readers that these legends are fictional.  The characters lack a lot of emotional depth, which prevent readers from connecting with the characters on a deeper level.    He tends to use a wide palette of color and varies between full-bleed illustrations completely saturated in color and framed illustrations surrounded by the white of the page. 

Overall, dePaola’s collection is sure to please any reader.  The legends are interesting and make you think, “Ahh, so that is why the state flower of Texas is the bluebonnet!”  My personal favorite in the collection is Tony’s Bread because it was light and humorous.  Also, my Italian grandmother serves panettone every Christmas, so it was interesting to read the story behind the bread! 

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