Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Lulu and the Brontosaurus. This week we’re reading Charlesbridge‘ The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane (age 6-9), by C.M. Millen and illustrated by Andrea Wisnewski. I have to thank Donna at Charlesbridge for my review copy.
Brother Theophane lives in a tall stone building in the mountains of Mourne with other holy men. They sit at their simple brown desks, quietly transcribing wise words on simple brown parchment using simple brown ink. But Brother Theophane isn’t like all the other monks. His distraction with the beauty of the world outside has him pulled from scribing duty to ink making. While gathering more bark for the monk’s brown ink, Brother Theophane discovers wild blackberries and the purple hue they leave on his fingers. Excited by this colourful discovery, Brother Theophane sets about the grounds looking for other plants: bright violet hues of billberries, orange from weld blooms, a strong shade of yellow from crocus. Soon the other monks aren’t sitting at their simple brown desks, quietly transcribing wise words on simple brown parchment using simple brown ink. Now their parchment is covered with heavenly hues, filling their bright books with colourful phrases.
I’ve always been fascinated by the old books and their ornate and colourful illustrations produced by these monks from the middle ages. This is a wonderful story about how colours were added to these books. According to the author’s note at the back of the book, the poem The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane is based on originally scribbles by medieval monks. Aside from the historical aspect of the story, the child-like character of Brother Theophane and his natural curiosity reminds me very much of kids in general. It’s a great illustration to kids that just because something has been done one way for many years, doesn’t mean it can never change. My two girls loved Brother Theophane’s character. My 3-year old loved his ability to talk to the birds and roll around in the grass. My 8-year old loved the story of the colours. I think her mind was conjuring up ways to try to get colour out of elements in our backyard.
The illustrations are more like etchings and add to the story, mimicking, in a way, the types of illustrations the Brothers were working on. The text was surrounded on each page by a detailed border. The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane is both a delight to read and look at. The book isn’t a Christmas story, however, the illustrations gave it a muted stained glass feel, which to me always have a Christmas feel. I wouldn’t classify The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane as a religious story either. Yes it talks about monks and the work they did, but if you appreciate books now, the story about the introduction of colour is one everyone can enjoy.
You can add a copy of The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane to your personal library by visiting your local bookstore or by visiting Charlesbridge. For other great book ideas for kids, checkout the past Write a Review Wednesday posts.