Monday, December 20, 2021

Review - The Legend of Old Befana: An Italian Christmas Story

The Legend of Old Befana: An Italian Christmas Story
by Tomie dePaola
Date: 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

In this beloved classic picture book, Tomie dePaola retells and illustrates an Italian Christmas folk tale, breathing warmth and humanity into the character of the lonely Old Befana and her endless search for the Christ Child.

Every morning and every afternoon, Old Befana sweeps with her broom. “Cranky old lady,” the children say. “She is always sweeping!” Sweep, sweep, sweep.

But when a brilliant star glows in the eastern sky one night, and Old Befana encounters the glorious procession of three kings on their way to Bethlehem, her little world will never be the same.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I first learned about La Befana when I did a presentation on her for school in grade six. That was a long time ago, and I'd forgotten much of what I'd learned back then. So the story in this book was fairly unfamiliar.

In Italy, there's a cranky old woman who does nothing but sweep all day and snark at the neighbours. One night, a bright star appears in the sky, a star so bright that she can't sleep. The next day, while she's sweeping, a grand procession comes through her town. She learns they are on their way to see the Baby King in Bethlehem and bring Him gifts. She lets the procession go on its way, but then thinks about it some more and decides to join it. So she bakes gifts for the Baby King: cakes and cookies and candies. Then she sets out. But she's seized by the urge to sweep, and by the time she's done, the procession is long gone. She never does find the Baby King; instead, she flies through the night and leaves her treats for little children.

The story is cute—and a nice change from the ubiquitous Christmas story we see so much of at this time of year—and dePaola's colourful illustrations are appealing to look at. I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I might. I'd recommend it to those looking for slightly different Christmas picture books about less well-known holiday traditions.

Premise: 4/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 4 out of 5

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