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Brother Juniper Hardcover – March 20, 2006
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From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 2 Father Francis of Assisi and his followers are famous for their piety and generosity. Brother Juniper, who is beloved because he is simple, is the most generous of all. He literally gives someone the robe off his back, even though he is naked underneath (the amusing illustrations include two images of rear nudity). One day, he is left alone at the church. When a poor man arrives asking for help, Brother Juniper gives him candlesticks. He offers the golden chalice to a hungry woman with eight children. By the time the brothers return, he has given away the entire church, from the furniture to the walls themselves. The others are so angry that he hides himself in shame. The following Sunday, however, as the friars congregate for prayers, they are amazed when a crowd appears and gathers around Brother Juniper to thank him. Father Francis arrives and says, Look, Brothers, at the fine church that Brother Juniper built. Filled with delicate details and gentle humor, the accomplished watercolor paintings add greatly to the book's appeal. The characters' faces are lively and expressive, and the palette of calm browns and grays and vivid greens perfectly reflects the setting. Gibfried describes her sources in an author's note. Children may not understand the symbolism without discussion, but this is an excellent choice to open discussion about generosity. Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
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"Fine detail, bright color and lively expression...children will giggle but understand [Brother Juniper's] fierce generosity." Kirkus Reviews
"Thought-provoking in our materialistic age...[The tale] should do as well in the world as in the cloister." Horn Book
"Light-hearted...So's delicate watercolors...render Juniper an artlessly simple man rather than a simpleton...reverent and merry." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Filled with delicate details and gentle humor...an excellent choice to open discussion about generosity." School Library Journal
"Gibfried fashions an original story of a simple man with an extravagant propensity for giving gifts to the needy." Horn Book Guide, Pointer
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Top customer reviews
Juniper is one of sever friars who lived with the renowned patron of animals, Father Francis (later, Saint Francis) of Assisi. ALl of them are pious and poor, but Brother Juniper seems different from the otehrs. While he's generous, good, and simple, some of his brothers:
"...thought he was silly." This was because Brother Juniper was often naked. IF somebody asked for his robe, Brother Juniper would gladly give it to him. Even if it was a cold day. Even if it was snowing."
Talented water colorist Meilo So, does her job and illustrates the naked Brother Juniper, exposing all of his backside with two curved lines. It's very vague, and from a distance, but there you have it. Grammar sticklers have undoubtedly already noticed that "If it was a cold day" should be "If it were a cold day." Don't say you weren't warned.
Generous to a Fault
ONe day Assisi and the friars leave Juniper alone, although they're worried about his extreme generosity. At first, Brother Juniper is quite occupied with a friar's many duties, including praying, polishing golden candlesticks, mending brocaded vestments, and scrubbing the stained glass windows. Soon, however, villagers arrive at the monastery, one after another, each with a tale of poverty, disease, or hunger. The ever-generous Brother finds a material solution for them, giving away valuable church artifacts to help them get by (and, he's naked again--the cleaning woman was cold...).
Many 'F's in a Row
When Francis and the friars return, the friars are furious. For example, Brother Bernard cries, "You have ruined our church." Brother Pietro, more thoughtfully, asks, "Where will we worship?" There's a hole where the church should be.
The Moral Lesson
Brother Juniper is so sad that he stays in hiding until Sunday, when he yells "DING, DING, DING" to call the villagers to church. (He had given away the bell.) When they come, the friars see that their Brother's generosity is more than repaid--in the size of the congregation, and the smiles on their faces. Father Francis is very pleased, observing that Brother Jumiper has actually built the church, not destroyed it.
Thoughts on the Book
Although the story has a religious base, it's interesting that the problems and solutions are so rooted in the material--in goods that can be exchanged for money. One may view this as refreshingly realistic. It also gets around any church-state separation issues that might bar this book from public schools. Other than Father Francis' implicit statement that one's service to others makes a church (not stones, stained glass, and gold), the focus is on money. "The Rainbow Fish" presents a similar possession-based stance, yet a surprising number of Amazon reviewers somehow view "Fish" as a Communist manifesto!
The book includes a brief afterwards about Saint Francis and the tales collected in "The Little Flowers of St. Francis." I enjoyed "Brother Juniper" for its originality, depiction of monastery life, and the expressive, open watercolors by Meilo So.
This is the story of a basic man with a basic heart, who does the right thing no matter the cost. In the end, the reward (which was never thought of by dear Brother Juniper) is greater than anything one could imagine.
My son saw me looking at the book, and got it for me for Christmas! I just unwrapped it a while ago.
Further, I don't know why Amazon is describing this as a baby/preschool book. I'd say it's perfect for kids starting around age 4 but continuing on into older elementary ages as well.