Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane

Is there such a thing as reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder? Because if there is, I haz it. With this cold snap, my brain and my motivation seem to be returning, finally. So let's ease back into things with a children's book review, shall we?

Out of all the books at the Minnesota Catholic Home Education Conference this year, The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane caught my eye with the unique style of its cover illustration (the artist uses a combination of papercutting, printing, and watercolor).

The story is one that any lover of the Middle Ages, bright colors, daydreaming, or inventiveness will assuredly delight in. Brother Theophane is an Irish monk who loves God, but gets rather bored with his work in the (monochromatic) scriptorium. He gazes out the window and doodles little verses on the edges of his work (the poems in the book are taken from actual medieval marginalia. Finally, his exasperated prior sends him to work outside.

In the woods, he again gets distracted by a particularly tempting patch of berries, which gives him a brilliant idea, and the monk's manuscripts are never the same again.

I could hardly love this book more. The Celtic details throughout the book, along with the little poems of the monks and the story itself combine to create an atmosphere that captures the not-at-all-dark exuberance and humor of the Middle Ages.

The story is fun enough to be appreciated by preschoolers, but would (along with the notes and bibliography) also be a great jumping-off point to study the art and history of period with older children. Whomever you're reading it with, I recommend having on hand one of the many Dover coloring books based upon manucript art, because you'll likely be inspired to add some color of your own. (UPDATE: Here are two pages that have some colorable versions of illuminated manuscripts.)

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