Brother Hugo and the Bear


Brother Hugo can't return his library book -- the letters of St. Augustine -- because, it turns out, the precious book has been devoured by a bear! Instructed by the abbot to borrow another monastery's copy and create a replacement, the hapless monk painstakingly crafts a new book, copying it letter by letter and line by line. But when he sets off to return the borrowed copy, he finds himself trailed by his hungry new friend. Once a bear has a taste of letters, it appears, he's ...
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Brother Hugo can't return his library book -- the letters of St. Augustine -- because, it turns out, the precious book has been devoured by a bear! Instructed by the abbot to borrow another monastery's copy and create a replacement, the hapless monk painstakingly crafts a new book, copying it letter by letter and line by line. But when he sets off to return the borrowed copy, he finds himself trailed by his hungry new friend. Once a bear has a taste of letters, it appears, he's rarely satisfied!

Brother Hugo and the Bear is loosely based on a note found in a twelfth-century manuscript -- and largely on the creative imaginings of author Katy Beebe. Lavishly illustrated by S. D. Schindler in the style of medieval manuscripts, this humorous tale is sure to delight readers who have acquired their own taste for books.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Sarah Harrison Smith
…[an] interesting, wry and educational book set in the 11th century…Schindler's illustrations resemble manuscripts from the period: He invents wonderful decorated alphabet letters and draws precise but pretty pictures of the architecture of monasteries and cloisters…Older children who are interested in that period, in the mechanics of early book production or in calligraphy (the book is printed in a beautiful italic typeface) are likely to enjoy Brother Hugo and the Bear
Publishers Weekly
“It befell that on the first day of Lent, Brother Hugo could not return his library book.” In a medieval twist on the homework-eating dog, Brother Hugo confesses to his abbot that a bear has eaten his borrowed copy of St. Augustine’s letters. The abbot instructs Brother Hugo to retrieve a copy of the book from a neighboring monastery and create a new version—hand-written, illuminated, and bound. This process forms the heart of debut author Beebe’s how-it’s-done story as Hugo’s fellow monks aid in his efforts. The capital letters of each paragraph are meticulously illuminated in ink and wash by Schindler (Spike and Ike Take a Hike) with small vignettes and ornaments. Beebe’s period prose is believable and at times funny (Brother Hugo “knew that once a bear has a taste of letters, his love of books grows much the more”), and Schindler’s Bruegelesque landscapes deepen the medieval atmosphere. Depending on readers’ temperaments, they’ll either laugh or despair at the ending, in which all of Hugo’s hard work comes to naught. Ages 5–9. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
School Library Journal (STARRED review)
“Combines suspense, humor, and information in a handsome, entertaining package.”

New York Times
“Interesting, wry and educational.”

Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
When Brother Hugo explains to the librarian that he cannot return his library book because a bear ate it, Hugo is told to go to the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse, borrow their manuscript, and copy it as his Lenten penance. With the help of his fellow monks, Hugo completes the illuminated manuscript. He sets out to return t the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse and hears the snuffling sounds of a bear nearby. Hugo speeds up but so does the bear. How will Hugo explain to the librarian that the bear ate this manuscript? Based on a true incident, Beebe’s language and choice of words lend a medieval feeling to the text. The materials and process of creating a medieval manuscript are successfully woven into the story. Illuminated letters are seen throughout the book; they are done in shades of red, blue and gold (as mentioned in the text). The storyline is illustrated in earth tones. Schindler denotes the passage of time through story panels. Expressive faces and a strong sense of movement add further dimension to the story. Humorous endpapers feature Hugo, the bear, oak leaves, bee hives, pages, and books, providing a glimpse into this tale. Historical note, glossary, author and illustrator notes make this a good choice for introducing a unit on Medieval European history. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo; Ages 6 to 10.
School Library Journal
★ 05/01/2014
K-Gr 3—According to detailed back matter, the author learned of a documented incident involving a book-eating bear and the subsequent letter written by Peter the Venerable to a neighboring French monastery requesting St. Augustine's letters. That research inspired this story that combines suspense, humor, and information in a handsome, entertaining package. As the tale begins, Brother Hugo confesses his unfortunate loss to the abbot, who asks: "Pray tell, … how did a bear find our letters of St. Augustine?" Hugo replies ruefully, "They seemed to agree with him." His penance is to journey to Chartreuse to borrow the manuscript and copy it. Beebe's language creates an Old World flavor, as Hugo "sorely sighed and sorrowed in his heart" and "sped full mightily." When he begins to copy the borrowed book, the enormity of the task dawns on him, and the brothers offer assistance. Readers then obtain a clear overview of medieval bookmaking, from the stretching and scraping of sheepskin to the laborious copying and binding. Schindler's elegant compositions make full use of each spread. Text wraps around delicate ink and watercolor brooks and grazing sheep, while illuminated letters decorate and amuse. Arches and columns cleverly frame the monk, creating sequential panels to portray his painstaking progress on what becomes, alas, another "choice morsel" for the insatiable beast. Combine this with C. M. Millen's The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane (Charlesbridge, 2010) and Jan Pancheri's Brother William's Year (Frances Lincoln, 2010) for further insights into how monasteries nourish bodies and souls.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-02-19
Prepare to be charmed by a bear who loves words—or at least loves to eat them. Brother Hugo cannot return his book to the library of the monastery: A bear has consumed it. Enjoined to go to another priory to borrow a volume that he might copy to replace what the bear ate, he finds the bear follows him, snuffling hungrily. All his brother monks help him to prepare the parchment, make the inks, sew the pages and bind it shut. They even supply him with scraps of text to toss to the bear as Brother Hugo attempts to return the book he had copied. This does not work out, exactly. The rhythm of the text is antique but lucid and sweet, and the pictures, festooned with curlicues and decorated in shades of gold, gray and brown, echo the manuscript illuminations that inspired them. Rich backmatter gives all the historical background without detracting from the essential spark of the tale. The author, who holds a Ph.D. in medieval history, was inspired by a line from the 12th-century abbot Peter the Venerable about a precious volume eaten by a bear to make this lively story. This accurate (if abbreviated) delineation of the process of medieval manuscript bookmaking shines thanks to the fey twist of ursine longing for the written word. (glossary, author's note, illustrator's note) (Picture book. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802854070
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 4/4/2014
  • Pages: 28
  • Sales rank: 200,175
  • Age range: 5 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: NC1000L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 11.50 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Katy Beebe teaches history at University of Texas at Arlington and has a doctorate in Medieval History from the University of Oxford. She spent many years studying the kinds of medieval manuscripts that Brother Hugo might have made.

S.D. Schindler is an award-winning illustrator of many bestselling picture books, including Come to the Castle! (Flash Point), The Story of Salt (Putnam Juvenile), and Big Pumpkin (Aladdin). He lives in Pennsylvania.

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