The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane
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.
Look Inside the Book:
Author & Illustrator Bios:C.M. Millen, author
C.M. Millen is the author of Blue Bowl Down: An Appalachian Rhyme (Candlewick), The
Low-Down Laundry Line Blues (Houghton Mifflin), and A Symphony for the Sheep (Houghton
Mifflin). She lives in Toledo, Ohio.
Read more about C.M.
Andrea Wisnewski, illustrator
Andrea Wisnewski is the author and illustrator of Little Red Riding Hood and A Cottage
Garden Alphabet (David Godine). She creates her astonishing papercut prints in Storrs,
Read more about Andrea.
Awards & Honors:
- Connecticut Book Award (Children's Illustrator category)
- Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
- Spirituality and Practice's Best Spiritual Books
In a small medieval Irish monastery, the monks quietly work side by side, copying and illuminating manuscripts in brown ink. Theophane, the youngest monk, is so easily distracted by the beauty of the world outside his window that he is given an outdoor task: boiling bark to make ink. Inspired by stains from blackberries, he begins to experiment, making colored inks from berries, leaves, roots, and twigs. Soon the monks are illuminating their manuscripts with the brilliant hues of nature. Words and pictures alike are infused with a sense of the monks’ joy in their faith and work as well as Theophane’s delight in the natural world. Written in rhythmic, rhyming, and near-rhyming verse, the simple story unfolds in a satisfying way, accompanied by short poems inspired by the writings of medieval Irish monks. The richly detailed illustrations were created by using a paper-cut design to print bold, black lines and brightening the pictures with watercolors. The book concludes with lists of recommended books and Internet sites as well as an author’s note related to her research on medieval monasteries. Grades 2-4. –Carolyn Phelan
Brother Theophane copies manuscripts in his monastery in “the mountains of Mourne,” but he also hides crumbs in his sleeve to sprinkle on the windowsill for the birds, and sometimes he gazes too long at the sun dancing on the pages before him. In simple rhyme, Millen conveys how, when woolgathering Theophane is banished to make ink, he finds berries, hazel wood, crocus and cabbage leaves to make many colors. The brown-garbed monks, turned from their brown inks to colors, renew their illuminations to reflect the many-hued world. The text includes a few verses in Theophane’s voice, which are based on scraps of poems written by Irish monks of the Middle Ages. Wisnewski’s gorgeous hand-colored prints are composed of strong black line and interlaced color and pattern. There are echoes of the Book of Kells and other Celtic illumination, but children will especially respond to the borders of apples and berries, the patterned stonework and the black-and-white cat that appears on almost every page. (author’s note, bibliography, websites) (Picture book. 6-9)
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Page count: 32
9 x 11