Magic in the Margins: A Medieval Tale of Bookmaking

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Simon was an orphan, the son of peasants. He was keen-minded and quick and soon learned the ways of the scriptorium, of the illuminated manuscripts. In fact, he was such a fast learner, he felt ready to draw pictures of his own in his teacher’s books. But first, the monastery’s father tells him, he must learn how to capture mice.

Prolific author W. Nikola-Lisa and acclaimed illustrator Bonnie Christensen combine talents to create their own ...

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Overview

Simon was an orphan, the son of peasants. He was keen-minded and quick and soon learned the ways of the scriptorium, of the illuminated manuscripts. In fact, he was such a fast learner, he felt ready to draw pictures of his own in his teacher’s books. But first, the monastery’s father tells him, he must learn how to capture mice.

Prolific author W. Nikola-Lisa and acclaimed illustrator Bonnie Christensen combine talents to create their own illuminated story about patience, talent, and the imagination.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Many children . . . will be drawn in by the appealing story of a child's empowerment and the glimpse of the medieval world. Christensen extends the story with strong, clear scenes, bordered by botanical patterns and executed in ink and egg-tempura pigments, just like the monks used. A final word about the time period closes this solid title, which is sure to find a place in the classroom.
Booklist, ALA

"[A]uthor...and illustrator...combine talents to create their own illuminated story." MBR December 2007 Midwest Book Review

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz
Young Simon, a peasant's son, is studying the creation of manuscripts, writing and painting on parchment, with Brother William in a monastery in the Middle Ages. Instead of just practicing, Simon is eager to work with Father Anselm on illuminating pages. Father Anselm, however, tells Simon that to prove that beyond skill he has imagination, he must figure out how to capture the mice that are plaguing the monastery, "a puzzle indeed." Simon finally uses both his skill and his imagination after studying manuscript margins, and is allowed to begin to reveal the world of wonder with his art. Christensen uses inked lines and egg tempera to depict Simon's development and interactions with his teachers. The scenes have an innocence about them, suggesting evolving efforts. They are set in borders, most illuminated around with pictures of leaves, vines, people, insects, etc. Simon's drawings of the mice are naturalistic at first, then in much more imaginative situations. Compared with illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages the drawings here are raw, but they point the way with vitality and inventiveness. An "Afterword" discusses illuminated manuscripts in further detail, while the author offers a background preface.
School Library Journal

Gr 1-4
Simon is an apprentice to a master scribe in a medieval monastery. An orphan, he endears himself to his caregivers, preparing the parchment and grinding the pigments for the illuminated manuscripts, but he yearns to do more. While surveying Simon's sketches, Father Anselm encourages the boy to transcend the copying stage by using his imagination to "capture" the pesky mice. (There's one hidden in every spread.) After getting nowhere with a literal interpretation, Simon gradually understands the word's double meaning; his humorous drawings of a rodent illuminator and another challenging a fiery dragon win the abbot's approval. A preface explains Nikola-Lisa's inspiration, and Christensen's art, done in the ink and egg tempera, ties the mood of her marginalia to Simon's dawning comprehension. In the opening scenes, the borders consist of decorative scrollwork; later pages are laced with whimsical creatures in entertaining poses. The afterword explains the purpose and design conventions of illuminations, but the author presumes that readers will know why books were made by hand and what "illumination" in this context means. More information about these ideas, the tools of the trade, and the process would contribute to a child's understanding. Nevertheless, the message about using one's imagination and the unique subject matter make this title a valued find for educators.
—Wendy LukehartCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Inspired by a vignette in a medieval manuscript, Nikola-Lisa introduces Simon, a talented young scriptorium apprentice whose artistic awakening comes only after the Abbot tells him to capture the mice with which the monastery is afflicted. Wondering what that could have to do with art, Simon sets out to catch the elusive creatures-and though he fails to lay hands on any, in time he does come to realize that "capture" means observing them closely and, on an additional hint from the Abbot, using his imagination to draw them with life and humor. Herself using medieval styles and materials, Christensen decorates the margins surrounding the text and her large, simply painted illustrations with leafy vines and small human figures, as well as fanciful flora and fauna. It's salutary reading for budding artists, though those who want to know how manuscripts were actually produced and illuminated will find more detail in Bruce Robertson's Marguerite Makes a Book (1999), illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt, or Deborah Nourse Lattimore's Sailor Who Captured the Sea: A Story of the Book of Kells (1991). (afterword) (Picture book. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618496426
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/14/2007
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: NC830L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

W. Nikola-Lisa learned to sing and dance at a young age. He has written nearly twenty books for children, including BEIN' WITH YOU THIS WAY, which was named an honor book for the Jane Addams Peace Prize. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.
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