I love the unique style of Tomie dePaola, and I was so sad to hear that this iconic children’s illustrator passed away this year. I read Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola (Holiday House, 1992) two years when my daughter and I were learning Medieval history. In this biographic picture book, dePaola writes about this Catholic saint with a folkloric feeling, with an emphasis on Patrick’s traditional status in Ireland as a Christian hero.
Patrick lived in England during the time of the Holy Roman Empire, in the 400s AD, he is traditionally considered the main missionary who brought Christianity to the island of Ireland. I hadn’t known that he initially traveled to Ireland as a captured slave of the attacking Irish. His religiosity (fasting and prayer) prompted him to flee slavery and seek refuge in a return to England. It was only after he returned to England that he felt called to return to the Emerald Isles to preach Christianity.
Traditionally, Patrick’s spirituality helped him and his fellow travelers many times throughout his life, with miracles that ranged from wild boars appearing to feed them, lights springing from his fingertips to light the way, and his life being spared many times. Although these situations seem supernatural to the modern reader (and most likely miracles did not appear quite as tradition dictates), I loved the emphasis on faith as a driving factor of this unique man’s life, and the traditions dePaola captures sure help me see why St. Patrick is such a revered name in Irish tradition.
I’m Irish in heritage (along with a number of other heritages from Europe), so I enjoyed this glimpse into my heritage. dePaola likewise has an Irish heritage, and he mentions in the end matter that he wanted to be more Irish than Italian (which was his father’s heritage). I love that he seeks after the heritages that mean much to him. What a fun companion to dePaola’s Italian folktale, Strega Nona, for which he is probably better known! dePaola’s artistic style seems just perfect for these folkloric texts.