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The Legend of Old Befana Paperback – September 2, 1980

72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Tomie dePaola (pronounced Tommy da-POW-la) is best known for his books for children.

He's been published for over 40 years and has written and/or illustrated nearly 250 books, including Strega Nona, 26 Fairmount Avenue,The Art Lesson, and Christmas Remembered. Over 15 million copies of his books have sold worldwide.


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 6 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 4
  • Lexile Measure: 460L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; Reissue edition (September 2, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0152438173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0152438173
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.2 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Tomie dePaola was born in Meriden, Connecticut, in 1934 to a family of Irish and Italian background. By the time he could hold a pencil, he knew what his life's work would be. His determination to create books for children led to a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and an MFA from the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, California.
It drove him through the years of teaching, designing greeting cards and stage sets, and painting church murals until 1965, when he illustrated his first children's book, Sound, by Lisa Miller for Coward-McCann. Eventually, freed of other obligations, he plunged full time into both writing and illustrating children's books.
He names Fra Angelico and Giotto, Georges Rouault, and Ben Shahn as major influences on his work, but he soon found his own unique style. His particular way with color, line, detail, and design have earned him many of the most prestigious awards in his field, among them a Caldecott Honor Award for Strega Nona, the Smithsonian Medal from the Smithsonian Institution, the Kerlan Award from the University of Minnesota for his ""singular attainment in children's literature,"" the Catholic Library Association's Regina Medal for his ""continued distinguished contribution,"" and the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion. He was also the 1990 United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration.
Tomie dePaola has published almost 200 children's books in fifteen different countries. He remains one of the most popular creators of books for children, receiving more than 100,000 fan letters each year.
Tomie lives in an interesting house in New Hampshire with his four dogs. His studio is in a large renovated 200-year-old barn.
- He has been published for over 30 years.
- Over 5 million copies of his books have sold worldwide.
- His books have been published in over 15 different countries.
- He receives nearly 100,000 fan letters each year.
Tomie dePaola has received virtually every significant recognition for his books in the children's book world, including:
- Caldecott Honor Award from American Library Association
- Newbery Honor Award from American Library Association
- Smithson Medal from Smithsonian Institution
- USA nominee in illustration for Hans Christian Andersen Medal
- Regina Medal from Catholic Library Association


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 95 people found the following review helpful By slomamma on December 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
My husband is Italian, so Befana (who brings gifts to Italian children on Epiphany) is as much a part of our Christmas traditions as Santa Claus. To be honest, I prefer the story of Befana and find it a lot closer to the spirit of Christmas.
Befana is a somewhat grumpy and fussy old woman. One day Three Kings show up at her door, following a star, and looking for a miraculous baby. They urge Befana to come with them, but Befana is so busy with her household tasks she thinks she doesn't have time.
Little by little though, the idea of a baby who "comes for the poor" (like her) and yet attracts kings as well begins to move her and she decides to follow. She gathers up some goodies she has just baked and a few toys to bring as gifts for the new baby. But she has waited too long, and although she keeps following the star, she never finds the infant.
The lovely aspect of this story is that she begins leaving her gifts for other children, because she recognizes in them the spirit of that miraculous child that the Three Kings sought. I love the idea that children receive presents at Christmas because Jesus' spirit is in them.
This is an essential book for Italian-American families. I think it would also be a good book for teachers or parents of somewhat older children (past Santa Claus believing age) who are interested in Christmas traditions of different cultures. In Russia, the story of Babushka is very similar to the story of Befana (and there are several good picture books about her). And in Mexico, the Three Kings themselves bring presents (and Tomie dePaola has done a wonderful book about the story of the Three Kings that makes a perfect companion to this one).
Overall, a terrific Christmas book.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 27, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Tomie DePaola evoked memories of my childhood Christmas' in both visual and verbal splendor. I was taken back to my childhood and the story told to my sisters and myself about the Befana. Not only is this book written at a level that all children can understand and appreciate but it also keeps an adults interest. It beautifully illustrates another legend which inspires the wonderful message of the giving time we call Christmas. This has been accomplished noteably by Mr. DePaola's illustrations that although simple are rich in colour and meaning. As a person of Italian heritage I was elated to see such a wonderful legend captured in print in such a obviously well researched manner. The subtle yet awe inspiring symbolism contained in the book make it a pleasure for adults yet the simpleness and vibrant colours make it equally riveting for children. I would label this book a "must have" for all parents but especially those of Italian descent wanting to share some Italian culture with their children.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dawn De Lorenzo on November 10, 2009
Format: School & Library Binding Verified Purchase
I wish there were more books about La Befana in the US; thankfully, even if this is the only one you have ~ it is a WONDERFUL book telling the Italian legend of Befana. In many ways, the story of Befana reminds me of the biblical story of Mary and Martha (Lazarus' sisters). While a guest in thier home, Mary chose to spend time with Jesus while Martha is too busy with her household chores. In The Legend Of Old Befana we meet an old woman who is constantly sweeping. When the procession of kings pass through her town and tell her of the birth of the Child King she decides to follow. She bakes all day in order to have a gift to bring for the Child. She also plans to sweep knowing that the Child's mother will be tired.

However, rather than set off to find the baby Jesus, she tarries in order to sweep. Her decision to delay in favor of sweeping costs her a glimpse of the Child King. To this day, she searches for the Child, visiting children while they sleep, leaving them gifts from her basket.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to share this celebrated Italian legend! Another EXCELLENT resource is Ken Lonnquist's CD titled Old Befana: Old Befana. You can also download the entire album in MP3 format which is cheaper and faster. It has the story of La Befana and songs.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By first words...God's breath on January 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Written 30 years ago, this Christmas legend presents the story of an old grandma who meticulously takes care of her home and surroundings, as if that was all life had to offer her. Living in a small village in Italy, she kept to herself and seemed unfriendly. The children called her cranky; they remarked that she was always sweeping, starting with her house, her front step, the walkway to the street, and down to the road. Those who passed her house would notice sounds of a woman singing lullabies, and they would sense a delicious smell of freshly baked things, like bread and cookies, and cakes. Every day, the routine was the same, ending up with locking the door and shuttering the windows, climbing into bed, blowing out the lamp and falling asleep.

One night, she awakened to a bright light, right in the middle of the night. When she went to look out the window, she saw a brilliant star growing before her eyes. She mumbled, "How will I ever get my sleep when the dark has turned into day?" Without sleep, she remained in bed; the next morning, she was up, sweeping, just as she always had done. Now, as she swept the path down to the road, she heard bells ringing, birds singing, and she saw a glorious procession of animals and people walking down the road. Three men wearing crowns were dressed in beautiful robes, and when they approached her asking for the way to Bethlehem, she said she never heard of it. They told her they were searching for the Child. She told them that there were many children [in town], and she continued sweeping.

They told her this Child is a King, and would be guided by a bright star. All she could say was that that star kept her up all night, and that she had to get back to her work.
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