A Simple Gift of Love: A Review of ‘The Clown of God’

 “I am not capable of doing big things, but I want to do everything, even the smallest things, for the greater glory of God.” Saint Dominic Savio

Reading Level:  3.1 (according to Scholastic)

AR Reading Level:  3.7

Review and Comments:

The Clown of God is a story about Giovanni, a remarkable Italian juggler, who performed for royalty and became very famous.

Giovanni’s early life was definitely a harsh existence.  As a matter of fact, as a young boy Giovanni was an orphan who had to beg for food.  It was when he witnessed an ensemble of actors performing before an audience that a yearning began to grow in his heart.  He was begrudgingly given a chance to join the group after he demonstrated his amazing juggling skills.  He then added a bit of flare to his act by dressing as a clown.

Giovanni eventually became famous and left the players to go out on his own.  During this time in his life he performed for many high ranking people.  His act included all the tricks he had learned throughout his career and the Sun in the Heavens, a rainbow of colored balls plus one golden ball.  It was about this time that Giovanni met 3 Franciscans who taught him a lesson from St. Francis.  They explained that when Giovanni gives joy to people through his juggling he is also giving glory to God.  This was definitely a new idea and one he didn’t really think applied to him as a performer.

Giovanni spent years juggling and entertaining people throughout Italy.  As he grew older though he found that the life of an aging juggler was very difficult.  Audiences were not as enthusiastic about the same old clown performing the same acts.  Then one fateful day his old hands fumbled and he dropped the Sun in the Heavens! The reaction of the people was so cruel he decided to abandon juggling and his clown persona, and return to his home town.  He was once again very poor.

While traveling home, he took refuge in a monastery church. Giovanni approached a statue of the Blessed Mother and Jesus and examined it for awhile.  He noticed that there was no joy in Jesus’ expression.  He told the Blessed Mother that he, Giovanni, wanted to make Jesus happy.  So, he put on his costume and clown face once more and juggled with all his heart.  He ended with the Sun in the Heavens and said, “For You, sweet Child, for You!”

It was a short time later a priest and brother from the monastery found the dead body of Giovanni at the foot of the statue.  They were amazed that the child Jesus held the golden ball and was smiling.

Tomie dePaola’s stories always teach wonderful lessons and The Clown of God is no different.  The reader sees that Giovanni devotes his humble life to juggling and entertaining others. Then, his final gift of talent is simply and lovingly given to Jesus in a personal encounter meant only for the two of them.  Giovanni truly expresses with love what the psalm proclaims.  “…..My heart rejoices; with my song I praise him.”  [Psalm 28:7]

Possible Concerns:

Sensitive children may find the death of Giovanni difficult.

Further Discussion:

  • These vocabulary words should be defined before reading: ragamuffin, maestro, signor, signora, arrivederci, troupe
  • Locate Sorrento and Assisi, Italy on a world map.
  • [Giovanni juggles a rainbow of balls called the Sun in the Heaven.]
    • Review the colors of the rainbow. ROYGBIV: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
    • This site has 50+ Rainbow Crafts, Activities, Sensory Recipes and Science Experiments for Kids.

Catholic Resources:

  • “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” -Saint Therese of Lisieux
  • John Bosco learned to juggle in his youth. One day he saw some boys and girls fighting on the street, and was beaten himself when he tried to stop the fray. He wanted to show children there was a better way to have fun than fighting, and decided to emulate the acrobats and jugglers he saw in a marketplace show. He learned to juggle balls and plates, do acrobatics, walk a tightrope and perform magic tricks. He began doing shows, and used his performances to gather crowds of young boys or neglected street urchins. Half-way through his performance, he would stop to preach. He was a skilled showman and all of the crowd would stay to listen to his uplifting message and wait for the conclusion of his show.  He continued his variety performances as he grew up, and integrated it with his devotion to the Catholic faith.”
  • Martin of Tours is the patron saint of beggars. His feast day is November 11.
  • This is Catholic vocabulary that is included in the story.
    • MONASTARY: The place where religious dwell in seclusion. The term applies mainly to religious men or women who live a cloistered, contemplative life and recite the entire Divine Office in common.
    • PRIEST: An authorized mediator who offers a true sacrifice in acknowledgment of God’s supreme dominion over human beings and in expiation for their sins. A priest’s mediation is the reverse of that of a prophet, who communicates from God to the people. A priest mediates from the people to God.
    • BROTHERS: A generic name that originally referred to all members of a religious community, but is now generally used to identify those men religious who do not or will not receive holy orders. The term is also applied in some institutes to students for the priesthood who are not yet ordained.
    • SACRILEGE: The deliberate violation of sacred things. Sacred things are persons, places, and objects set aside publicly and by the Church’s authority for the worship of God. The violation implies that a sacred thing is desecrated precisely in its sacred character. It is a sin against the virtue of religion.
    • GLORIA: Second section of the Catholic Mass; a psalm or hymn of praise to God sung in Latin or vernacular on occasion; the opening word of the greater and lesser doxologies.
  • [A brother prayed over Giovanni after he died. He said, “May his soul rest in peace.”]

Prayer for the Dead:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.  Amen.