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The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane Hardcover – July 1, 2010
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From School Library Journal
Gr 2-5–In the mountains of medieval northern Ireland, holy men live, work, and pray in plain gray stone buildings. There the monks are seen inking brown words and designs onto parchment sheets. The poetic text, written mostly in rhymed even lines with some touches of humor, tells the story of young Theophane, who reacts to the sights and sounds of nature by noting what he sees on torn parchment pieces, which appear on the illustrated pages of this book. He is reprimanded by the eldest brother and assigned the task of making brown ink. When his supply of bark dwindles, he goes to the woods to find more, returning with berries, flowers, roots, and leaves from which he makes colorful inks that he applies to his own doodles using brushes made from donkey-tail hairs. And so, Theophane illuminates both the lives of his brothers and their calligraphy. His own inspiration comes from the lush plants and bright flowers in the garden that he tends, “But the best yields of all,/for Theophane's part,/were the peace in his mind/and the joy in his heart.” Wisnewski's exquisitely detailed illustrations consist of a framed, bordered rectangle of text resembling a stained-glass panel set into or facing a colorful print. An author's note speaks of the monks from whose poems Millen's story was adapted. Using her short list of books and websites, youngsters can read some medieval monks' poems and learn about illumination, how to make a writing quill, extract colors from plants and leaves, or make a book. This gentle tale is a real treasure to read and behold.Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
© Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In a small medieval Irish monastery, the monks quietly work side by side, copying and illuminating manuscripts in brown ink. Theophane, the youngest monk, is so easily distracted by the beauty of the world outside his window that he is given an outdoor task: boiling bark to make ink. Inspired by stains from blackberries, he begins to experiment, making colored inks from berries, leaves, roots, and twigs. Soon the monks are illuminating their manuscripts with the brilliant hues of nature. Words and pictures alike are infused with a sense of the monks’ joy in their faith and work as well as Theophane’s delight in the natural world. Written in rhythmic, rhyming, and near-rhyming verse, the simple story unfolds in a satisfying way, accompanied by short poems inspired by the writings of medieval Irish monks. The richly detailed illustrations were created by using a paper-cut design to print bold, black lines and brightening the pictures with watercolors. The book concludes with lists of recommended books and Internet sites as well as an author’s note related to her research on medieval monasteries. Grades 2-4. --Carolyn Phelan
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Based on actual practices of copying books during medieval times, this picture book has both a unique story and exuberant illustrations. It also presents an interesting economics lesson about how innovation can make people better off. Children will see how thinking in unconventional ways can lead to interesting outcomes even in unexpected places.
The book tells the story of young "Brother Theophane", a fictionalized conglomerate of the early monks and scribes who brought their plain brown writing to vivid life by adding colorful and intricately detailed illustrations. While the other monks diligently tend to their scribe work, young Theophane would daydream, feed the birds with leftover crumbs, and write of the beauty outside the scriptorium.
Eventually, the older monks give Theophane the task of mixing the brown ink. Although the task is hot and exhausting work, it turns into a godsend for Theophane as he experiments with leaves, rots and berries until he learns to make brightly colored ink in many hues. With these inks, Theophane is able to bring the colors of the outdoors to life on the written page. And soon the other monks also write and illustrate with the new "heavenly hues."
The final page is a brief explanation and history of monastery life in the Middle Ages. Millen tells us that when the monks were bored, they often doodled or scribbled short poems in the margins of their books or on spare scraps of parchment. These anonymous poems were translated by Thomas Kinsella and serve as the basis for the poems that appear in the book as "Theophane's" work.
While younger children might appreciate the bright bold colors, this book will probably appeal more to older children who might have some knowledge and understanding of monastic life in the Middle Ages.