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Across a Dark and Wild Sea
     

Across a Dark and Wild Sea

by Don Brown, Deborah Nadel (Contribution by)
 

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Columcille was born in a remote corner of Ireland in the year 521. Legend has it that as a child, he was fed a cake filled with the letters of the alphabet, and so learned to love writing. He grew up to become a monk and a scribe a thousand years before the invention of printing, when books had to be copied by hand.

There was one book, a beautiful volume of

Overview

Columcille was born in a remote corner of Ireland in the year 521. Legend has it that as a child, he was fed a cake filled with the letters of the alphabet, and so learned to love writing. He grew up to become a monk and a scribe a thousand years before the invention of printing, when books had to be copied by hand.

There was one book, a beautiful volume of psalms from distant Rome, that Columcille especially loved, and even though its owner refused him permission, Columcille secretly copied it. The copy was discovered, and a dispute arose over who it belonged to: Columcille, who made it, or the owner of the original. So better was the argument that a battle was fought between the two men's powerful friends; although Columcille's side won, the victory felt hollow to him. To punish himself, he set out in a tiny boat, vowing to leave Ireland forever.

A revered figure in Celtic history, Columcille (also known as Columbia) founded the famous monastery on the Scottish island of Iona and left a legacy of learning that illuminated a corner of the Dark Ages. History, drama, and a love of books and reading fill a story—told here in exquisite watercolors and deflty understated prose by noted author and artist Don Brown.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly

Brown's lyrical narrative chronicles the life of Columcille, born to an Irish king in 521, and his passionate commitment to words and ideas. Though he grew up during the Dark Ages, when the new rulers of Ireland had virtually extinguished education ("Reading and writing were like magic, and the people who knew their secrets as rare as wizards"), Columcille from early childhood loved writing, which he mastered as a student in a monastery. He went on to become a monk as well as a skilled scribe and poet, and founded many monasteries. Brown laces historical facts with anecdotes from legends in his portrayal of this remarkable man, who exiled himself from his homeland after his kinsmen crushed the army of a High King, in defense of a manuscript. Columcille had painstakingly hand-lettered a Psalter (book of Psalms) and the king had ruled that the copy belonged to the owner of the original manuscript. In penitence for the bloodshed, Columcille decided to exile himself from his homeland, and ended up on the Scottish island of Iona, and there founded a monastery. He and the other resident scribes there devoted themselves to transcribing manuscripts, creating books that were then "dispatched, like small boats on a dark and wild sea, to places where reading and writing had been forgotten or ignored." Like the work of his subject, Brown's account also sheds light on an intriguing individual of extraordinary accomplishment. The author's signature stark, muted watercolors seem especially well suited to this hero's life of piety and his historical setting.

Bulletin, Center for Children's Books

Both involving and credible. . . Brown captures the monastic infighting and clan warfare, spiritual dedication and passionate defense of learning that have shaped Columcille’s renown. Chill olive greens and khaki browns mistily tint watercolor scenes of monastery, battlefield, and swollen sea, softening to a more verdant hue for Columcille’s final settlement on the Scottish island of Iona.

Horn Book

Brown’s text is lilting, the sentences varied in length and intensity, making it suitable for reading aloud. But fine as it is, it has to take second place to the illustrations. They are almost dreamlike in quality—as if we were seeing the Dark Ages emerging from the mists. The watercolor medium is beautifully manipulated to achieve these effects; the page design is dramatic, particularly the double-page spread of Columcille’s coracle battling the wild seas.

Kirkus Reviews Starred Review

Brown (A Voice from the Wilderness, 2001, etc.) continues his series of picture-book biographies of lesser-known figures with a tale of the life of Saint Columcille, the sixth century prince and monk better known by the Latin form of his name, Columba. In Ireland in Columcille’s time, “Reading and writing were like magic, and the people who knew their secrets as rare as wizards. Columcille became one of them.” When a former teacher, Finnian, would not permit him to copy a book of psalms, he did so in secret. The high king Diarmait ruled that the copy, too, belonged to Finnian and a fierce battle erupted. Though Columcille got his book back, he was devastated at the bloodshed, and took a leather boat to Iona, off the coast of Scotland. The monastery he founded there, and its scriptorium, dispatched books “like small boats on a dark and wild sea.” Reading as magical and books worthy of being fought over are lovely lessons laid out in the powerful story. Brown’s usual tender watercolors take on a darker hue. Double-paged, wordless spreads of the battle and of the sea add to the depth of the images, as do lucid step-by-step pictures of the making of a manuscript book and the building of a coracle (leather boat). An alphabet of exquisite Irish uncial letters and an author’s note add to the richness. This works on many levels to delight and to inspire; as a stirring read-aloud, as a saint’s biography, and as a beautiful picture book.

Booklist Starred Review

Brown, creator of such picture-book biographies such as Alice Ramsey’s Grand Adventure (1997) and Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa (2000), here traces the life of Columcille. Better known as Saint Columba, Columcille was born a prince of a sixth-century Irish clan and became a monk and a scribe. When a dispute over ownership of a copied manuscript erupted into battle in which thousands died, Columcille left Ireland to found a monastery on the Scottish island of Iona. There, monks devoted themselves to copying manuscripts, and those copies were sent out into the world, where they lightened the intellectual darkness of the age. Setting the scene after the fall of the Roman Empire, when a great deal of knowledge had been lost and learning was little valued, Brown states “Reading and writing were like magic, and the people who knew their secrets are rare as wizards.” What a powerful idea for children working to master those skills today. This picture-book biography is gracefully written and illustrated with great delicacy and finesse. The illustrations, ink drawings with watercolor washes, feature muted greens, grays, and tans. An informative author’s note, a page demonstrating “hand lettering from the time of Columcille,” and a bibliography round out the presentation of this comely book on an unusual subject.

School Library Journal Starred Review

A lyrical picture-book biography of Columcille, or St.Columba, an Irish monk of the sixth century. In an age in which books were a rarity and few people were literate, Columcille was “Prince, scribe, monk, [and] bard.” Brown describes his subject’s fascination with a rare book of Bible psalms and his secret vow to make an illegal copy. The High King declared that the duplicate manuscript was the property of the owner of the original, and a terrible battle ensued. Although Columcille’s army won, the horror of the bloodshed that day caused him to vow to leave Ireland and cross the sea to Scotland. On the island of Iona, he and 12 followers established a monastery and set to work copying other books and illuminated manuscripts. This brief but fascinating story will appeal to bibliophiles and be useful for assignments on European saints and Celtic history. There is a helpful author’s note, a sample of Roman alphabet, and detailed sketches of bookmaking and a leather boat. The illustrations are soft double-page watercolors that create an impression of green countryside, wild waves, and the windswept shoreline. This is a lovely, intriguing book for special readers.

Publishers Weekly
Brown's (Uncommon Traveler) lyrical narrative chronicles the life of Columcille, born to an Irish king in 521, and his passionate commitment to words and ideas. Though he grew up during the Dark Ages, when the new rulers of Ireland had virtually extinguished education ("Reading and writing were like magic, and the people who knew their secrets as rare as wizards"), Columcille from early childhood loved writing, which he mastered as a student in a monastery. He went on to become a monk as well as a skilled scribe and poet, and founded many monasteries. Brown laces historical facts with anecdotes from legends in his portrayal of this remarkable man, who exiled himself from his homeland after his kinsmen crushed the army of a High King, in defense of a manuscript. Columcille had painstakingly hand-lettered a Psalter (book of Psalms) and the king had ruled that the copy belonged to the owner of the original manuscript. In penitence for the bloodshed, Columcille decided to exile himself from his homeland, and ended up on the Scottish island of Iona, and there founded a monastery. He and the other resident scribes there devoted themselves to transcribing manuscripts, creating books that were then "dispatched, like small boats on a dark and wild sea, to places where reading and writing had been forgotten or ignored." Like the work of his subject, Brown's account also sheds light on an intriguing individual of extraordinary accomplishment. The author's signature stark, muted watercolors seem especially well suited to this hero's life of piety and his historical setting. Ages 5-9. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
The life of Columcille, also known as St. Columba, is presented in picture book format. In a few well-chosen incidents, Brown is able to capture the importance of the man and his contribution to civilization. He also provides insight into the character of this sixth century monk. When Columcille makes a copy of a one-of-a-kind book owned by his former schoolmaster, Finnian, the schoolmaster demands he hand over the copy. The arguing continued until Diarmait, the great king of Ireland, decides in Finnian's favor. In a great battle, Columcille's followers defeat the king. Finding this to be an empty victory, Columcille leaves Ireland forever and sails to the island of Iona, Scotland where he gains a following that eventually builds a great monastery. Anyone interested in Irish history will learn a great deal here. In addition, the author's note at the end provides more details of this saint's life. A soft palette is used throughout the book. There is an intentional "fuzziness" to the pictures that works well with scenery but sometimes gives a peculiar look to the faces. There is a brief but clear description of the tools used in creating a medieval manuscript, and the uncial alphabet, widely used for "Christian manuscripts through the eighth century," is shown. The bibliography will be most useful for adults and older children. 2002, Roaring Book Press, $22.90 and $15.95. Ages 6 up. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-A lyrical picture-book biography of Columcille, or St. Columba, an Irish monk of the sixth century. In an age in which books were a rarity and few people were literate, Columcille was "Prince, scribe, monk, [and] bard." Brown describes his subject's fascination with a rare book of Bible psalms and his secret vow to make an illegal copy. The High King declared that the duplicate manuscript was the property of the owner of the original, and a terrible battle ensued. Although Columcille's army won, the horror of the bloodshed that day caused him to vow to leave Ireland and cross the sea to Scotland. On the island of Iona, he and 12 followers established a monastery and set to work copying other books and illuminated manuscripts. This brief but fascinating story will appeal to bibliophiles and be useful for assignments on European saints and Celtic history. There is a helpful author's note, a sample Roman alphabet, and detailed sketches of bookmaking and a leather boat. The illustrations are soft double-page watercolors that create an impression of green countryside, wild waves, and the windswept shoreline. This is a lovely, intriguing book for special readers.-Beth Tegart, Oneida City Schools, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Brown (A Voice from the Wilderness, 2001, etc.) continues his series of picture-book biographies of lesser-known figures with a tale of the life of Saint Columcille, the sixth-century prince and monk better known by the Latin form of his name, Columba. In Ireland in Columcille's time, "Reading and writing were like magic, and the people who knew their secrets as rare as wizards. Columcille became one of them." When a former teacher, Finnian, would not permit him to copy a book of psalms, he did so in secret. The high king Diarmait ruled that the copy, too, belonged to Finnian and a fierce battle erupted. Though Columcille got his book back, he was devastated at the bloodshed, and took a leather boat to Iona, off the coast of Scotland. The monastery he founded there, and its scriptorium, dispatched books "like small boats on a dark and wild sea." Reading as magical and books as worthy of being fought over are lovely lessons laid out in this powerful story. Brown's usual tender watercolors take on a darker hue. Double-paged, wordless spreads of the battle and of the sea add to the depth of the images, as do lucid step-by-step pictures of the making of a manuscript book and the building of a coracle (leather boat). An alphabet of exquisite Irish uncial letters and an author's note add to the richness. This works on many levels to delight and to inspire: as a stirring read-aloud, as a saint's biography, and as a beautiful picture book. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-10)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780761315346
Publisher:
Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
03/01/2002
Edition description:
REV
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
10.00(w) x 10.06(h) x 0.39(d)
Age Range:
5 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Don Brown's previous books include the "ingeniously staged and picture perfect" (Booklist, starred review) Mack Made Movies and the recently published Kid Blink Beats the World. He lives on Long Island, New York.

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