Right off the bat, this is not hyperbole. Tomie de Paola’s depictions of Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi are the best illustrations found in any saint book yet written. First published in 1982, de Paola explains that his paintings were inspired by frescoes found at the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi. Filled with bold lines and muted colors, de Paola tells all the important stories of the saint’s life. From his mystical encounter with Jesus on the San Damiano cross, to the famous taming of a wolf, and ultimately the climactic moment in which Francis receives the stigmata, the writer pulls story and paintings together with the master’s touch.
Here is his description of that moment in which St Francis received the wounds of Christ:
All of a sudden there was a dazzling light. There, in the light, was a fiery figure with six wings nailed to a cross of fire. The wounds in the hands and feet and side glowed like jewels…then streams of light shot from the wounds of the Lord and pierced the hands and feet and side of Francis. With a great cry of love, Brother Francis sank to the ground. He now carried the wounds of the Lord himself.
Last month I decided to write my next review on de Paola’s book. As I prepared to write the review, I learned that Tomie de Paola had died suddenly at the age of 85, having fallen in his art studio. A resident of New London, New Hampshire, he was well-known in the community for his generosity. While visiting my son and his family, I attended his parish church, Our Lady of Fatima. Prominently displayed in the sanctuary is a painting of the Blessed Mother, rendered by this iconic illustrator of children’s book. Tomie de Paola illustrated 200 books in his life time. His 1975 book Strega Nona was awarded a prestigious Caldecott Honor.
How fitting that Magnificat has chosen to reprint Francis : The Poor Man of Assisi, introducing his books to a new generation of young readers.