The monastery of St. Ambrose is situated on the Irish island of Morcarrick. Here, monks old and young live quiet lives spent in prayer and service. One day the Abbot decides that Brother Bede, their finest illuminator of manuscripts, will illustrate the Christmas story. It will be magnificent, praised throughout the world (as will St. Ambrose). Unfortunately, young Brother Cuthbert has been chosen to assist Brother Bede in this project. Cuthbert is impatient, lacks discipline, and even worse--is known for making ...
The monastery of St. Ambrose is situated on the Irish island of Morcarrick. Here, monks old and young live quiet lives spent in prayer and service. One day the Abbot decides that Brother Bede, their finest illuminator of manuscripts, will illustrate the Christmas story. It will be magnificent, praised throughout the world (as will St. Ambrose). Unfortunately, young Brother Cuthbert has been chosen to assist Brother Bede in this project. Cuthbert is impatient, lacks discipline, and even worse--is known for making mistakes. His nickname is "Smudge." How can someone so ill-suited assist in the creation of the greatest book of all? Award-winning author Gloria Whelan shows that sometimes, when given the right task, someone's greatest weakness can prove to be his greatest strength.
National Book Award–winner Whelan (Homeless Bird) writes a substantive story about the value of perseverance. It’s set in a medieval monastery, where the hard-of-hearing and vainglorious abbot mistakenly appoints young “Smudge,” so-called for his sloppiness and tendency to give up easily, to help Brother Gregory write and illuminate the Christmas story. Written with humor, empathy, and an eye toward human foibles, this story develops and resolves with charm, and its message goes down easy. Costanza (A Christmas Spider’s Miracle) paints full-page interiors in deep hues of red, green, and purple that convey both the darkness of the monastery and the illumination within its inhabitants. All ages. Agent: Liza Pulitzer-Voges, Eden Street Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Sept.)
- Joyce Rice
It was during a cold winter in Ireland in the Middle Ages that Cuthbert was sent to the monastery to live with the monks because his father could no longer tolerate his behavior of giving up. Cuthbert would not devote any time to practice of anything that he did not get right the first time. Cuthbert gave up on riding a horse because he fell off the first time he tried. He gave up on archery because on his first try his arrows missed the target. Cuthbert arrived at the monastery of St. Ambrose at the age of fifteen, a pale, skinny boy who was clumsy and ill-equipped to be of any help to the monks. However, the monks would not give up on him and they continued to find him a place in the kitchen or the choir or the sewing room. When they finally tried to provide Cuthbert a skill by putting him in the scriptorium where the lettering was done, Cuthbert was happy. He loved working with the letters and seeing the stories that letters could tell. Still, Cuthbert would not practice his letters and he was always getting smudges on the parchment. The monks began to call him Smudge. When the old Father Abbot decides to produce a manuscript of the Christmas story that would be praised far and wide because of the beautiful script and illustrations that the monks would provide, excitement abounds among the monks. The abbot has chosen the monastery's Brother Gregory to provide the illustrations but the script will be done by Cuthbert, due to the faulty hearing and stubborn nature of the abbot. Cuthbert will finally learn that mistakes are the only the beginning of great learning and accomplishments. This is a delightful story that will impress young children with the character of perseverance and emphasize the need for self-confidence. The setting of the Middle Ages also serves as an introduction to the period and practices for the middle level reader. Although the title suggests this is a Christmas book, the story and descriptions have a much wider scope. Reviewer: Joyce Rice
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—A talented but easily frustrated young man is transformed by the encouragement and belief of the right mentor. Like many boys, Cuthbert is impatient, lacks discipline, and doesn't like making mistakes. After his annoyed father sends him to a monastery, he ends up in the scriptorium, where he earns the name "Smudge" for his poor skills. When he is mistakenly assigned to do the lettering for the Christmas story, everyone is sent into a tizzy except for master illuminator Brother Bede, who sees some talent in the boy and takes the time to encourage him to practice. Eventually the two create a masterpiece. Whelan's prose makes the long blocks of text flow like water and includes fun details (like the monks taking their yearly bath in preparation for Easter). Costanza's illustrations have the look and feel of animated movie art, which adds humor to what is essentially an apprenticeship tale. A lengthy read-aloud for parent/child sharing, but one that could be inspirational for the right listener.—Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library
A 15-year-old boy finds his place in an Irish monastery during the Middle Ages in this long, beautifully illustrated story about illuminated manuscripts. Young Cuthbert is assigned to the scriptorium at the monastery, where he struggles to learn to be a scribe. He loves making the letters with a quill pen and ink, but his skills are rudimentary when precision is required, and due to his many mistakes, he earns the nickname of Smudge. In a convoluted, unlikely plot, Smudge is chosen to provide the lettering for a special edition of the Christmas story illustrated by the monastery's most talented artist. The project stretches over many months due to a lie the artist tells to the abbot of the monastery, and with the artist's kind tutelage, Smudge learns to be a scribe and completes the project. The story is too long to interest most children, and the book needs both an author's note to define the setting and time period and a glossary for the many terms that are inadequately defined in textual context. Costanza's well-researched paintings are the book's strongest feature, with appealing characters, evocative settings, and handsome borders and decorated letters. Younger fans of historical fiction, librarians and rare-book aficionados will enjoy this, but its appeal is limited, and the Christmas connection is minimal. (Picture book. 8-11)
National Book Award-winning author Gloria Whelan weaves rich historical detail into this compelling mystery. Ms. Whelan is the bestselling author of many novels for young readers, including Homeless Bird, winner of the National Book Award, Parade of Shadows, and Listening for Lions. She lives in northern Michigan.