This beautifully illustrated book about monks in the Twelfth Century echoes the look of manuscripts they produced.
According to a Historical Note at the end of the book, this story was inspired by correspondence between Peter the Venerable of the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, and Prior Guigo of the Cistercian priory of La Grande Chartreuse. Peter wanted a loan to replace a book:
“… send to us, if it pleases you, the great volume of letters by the holy father Augustine, which contains his letters to Saint Jerome, and Saint Jerome’s to him. For it happens that the greater part of our volume was eaten by a bear.”
In this adaptation, Brother Hugo confesses to the Abbot that he cannot return the letters of St. Augustine to the library:
“‘Father Abbot,’ said Brother Hugo, ‘truly, the words of St. Augustine are as sweet as honeycomb to me. But I am afraid they were much the sweeter to the bear.”
Brother Hugo is sent to fetch another copy of St. Augustine from the brothers at the Grande Chartreuse, and assigned with copying the hand-written, illuminated, and bound volume. When he is done, he must return the one he borrowed. The story recounts his painstaking work, simultaneously teaching readers how these books were made.
The story continues with Brother Hugo setting out for the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse to return the original. But the bear, finding the words of St. Augustine irresistible, is following him also, adding both drama and humor to the story.
The only part that gave me pause was a picture of sheep next to Brother Caedmon providing a “fluffy sheepskin” to Brother Hugo. One would think this might bother some of the aged 5-9 recommended audience who might ask about or figure out the fate of those sweet-looking fluffy sheep.
The illustrations by S.D. Schindler are delightful, and quite apt. The capital letters of each paragraph, for example, are illuminated in gold-colored ink and wash and adorned with embellishments in the style reminiscent of actual medieval illuminators. The capital letters as well as the bright white background set off the muted tones of the pictures.
In addition to the Historical Note at the book’s end, there is also a glossary, an Author’s Note, and an Illustrator’s Note.
Evaluation: Overall a fun story and great way for children to learn about some aspects of medieval life.
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014