The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane

( 1 )

Overview

Winner of the 2011 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

In a monastery in the mountains of Mourne during the Middle Ages, one young monk struggled to focus on his task: copying the Bible and other scholarly books with plain brown ink made from wood bark in plain brown books in his plain brown robe at his plain brown desk. Brother Theophane was soon transferred from the scribe’s room and assigned to make the ink that the brothers used. With his natural curiosity, Theophane ...

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Overview

Winner of the 2011 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

In a monastery in the mountains of Mourne during the Middle Ages, one young monk struggled to focus on his task: copying the Bible and other scholarly books with plain brown ink made from wood bark in plain brown books in his plain brown robe at his plain brown desk. Brother Theophane was soon transferred from the scribe’s room and assigned to make the ink that the brothers used. With his natural curiosity, Theophane discovered that inks could be made from other plants besides the wood bark. Berries and leaves produced other beautiful colors. And soon, the books the monks made were illuminated with colors and drawings.

C.M. Millen’s charming story of a young monk who defied the discipline of the monastery and found his own way to express the beauty of the world will inspire young readers to explore their own world and find their own voices.

Andrea Wisnewski’s illustrations, inspired by the illuminated letters that the medieval monks created in books like the Book of Kells, bring to life the colors and beauty that surrounded Brother Theophane amidst the plain world of the monastery.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wisnewski's (Little Red Riding Hood) intricate, woodblock-like portraits of Irish monastery life are this book's principal charm. She portrays with loving attention the plants and flowers young monk Theophane uses to create colored inks, and frames the text with illuminations of her own. Through Theophane, Millen (Blue Bowl Down) speculates about the origin of the inks used in illuminated Irish manuscripts like the Book of Kells ("Heavenly hues/ now covered their pages/ and filled their bright books/ with colorful phrases"). But Millen is also beguiled by the marginalia included by monks in those manuscripts, and includes several, attributing them to Theophane: "I render thanks for what is given--/ my claw is tired from all this scribbling!" Mostly pleasant hymns to nature, these verses don't move the story forward. The sound-rhymed verse ("He sliced and he slivered,/ he grated and chopped,/ preparing the plants/ to be boiled in pots") lacks crispness, and so does the story as a whole; the message about how distractible people (Theophane is rather scatterbrained) are open to new discoveries is lost amid the too-varied content. Ages 6-9. (July)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Millen's hero, a monk named Theophane, is representative of the monks of the Middle Ages who, as scribes, copied important texts onto parchment. But in that age of conformity, Theophane dares to be different. Carefully crafted verses, rich in imagery, tell how he relishes the outdoors and writes about his feelings instead of just copying. While at his task of cooking up brown ink from bark, he goes out to gather more. He discovers that there are many other colors available from nature's plants. He uses these for illuminating his writings. "Heavenly hues/ now covered their pages..." Theophane gives thanks to God for "...the peace in his mind/ and the joy in his heart" as he creates the illuminated manuscripts like those we appreciate today. The text is set in ornate pages surrounded with the complex designs and flowers we associate with such manuscripts. Also inside decorative frames are scenes of the monks at work, their lives, and the surrounding fields and gardens. The striking illustrations, created from papercut prints with added watercolors, resemble detailed wood or linoleum cuts. Don't miss the cat that creeps into almost every scene. The author has added information on the Irish monks of the Middle Ages and their work in the scriptorium of the monastery, as well as additional sources. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781580891790
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/1/2010
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 508,973
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 11.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

C. M. Millen is the author of BLUE BOWL DOWN: AN APPALACHIAN RHYME, THE LOW-DOWN LAUNDRY LINE BLUES, and A SYMPHONY FOR THE SHEEP. She lives in Toledo, Ohio.

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