I am a dog. A dog who happens to like books. Crazy, I know. But there it is. I love the smell of books, the sound of pages turning, and the sound of the words coming from the voices of readers. (I used to enjoy the taste of books but I have grown beyond that now.) I am surrounded by books at my home. That’s because the people who live in my home love books as well. That’s where my book adventures began.
I have come to learn that there is more to a book than intriguing smells and tasty pages. A book is more than the words that it contains. There is a history behind each book and behind books as an object of reverence. My Mom Person has read books to me about that history and about the art and craft of bookmaking. Books like A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude by Nicholas A. Basbanes. and A Degree of Mastery by Annie Tremmel Wilcox. (For more about Ms Wilcox, please check out this post at Books on Books.)These books are BIG books with lots of words and lots of pages and are way beyond my canine brain’s capabilities of comprehension.
But now my Mom Person has found a book about book history that is just right for my small brain.
It begins ….
It befell that on the first day of Lent,
Brother Hugo could not return his library book.
Did you know that a way, way long time ago – way before there were printing presses and computers to print out all the pages of books and put those pages all together – books were hand made by monks? Monks are religious fellows who live together in monasteries and do religious things like praying and doing service things for God. One way that they did this way back when, was to pass on wisdom and knowledge by making copies of books. Completely by hand! They had to make the paper and the ink, then they had to write out each book, word by word and page by page – by hand. They not only wrote out the words, they also decorated the pages with beautiful illustrations and ornate lettering. They also used a lot of gold ink to reflect the light. These are called illuminated manuscripts. This is what they looked like.
And that’s what this little picture book is all about.
The story is loosely based on a real letter that the author found – a letter written in the twelfth century by a Benedictine monk, Peter the Venerable, to another monastery asking if he could borrow a book because his copy had been eaten by a bear!
In Ms Beebe’s version of the tale, Hugo the monk has lost his book to a bear and must borrow one from another monastery. He must walk to the other monastery and borrow the book, then copy the whole thing before Lent is over, and return the book to its rightful owners. On his journey, he must be wary of the book eating bear!
This book is about books, but it’s also about friendship. When Brother Hugo returns home he is faced with the unbelievable task of copying a whole book in a short amount of time. But he has many friends at the monastery and as Brother Aelred tells him, “Friends meet every misfortune joyfully and help to bear each other’s burdens.” So, one brother gives Hugo a fluffy sheepskin, another helps him turn that sheepskin into parchment sheets, another helps him draw lines on the sheets. Goose feathers are gathered for pens and ink is made from various elements. All through the process of creating his book, Hugo has to listen to the sounds of the bear outside his window! Aaaaakkkkk! How did he manage to keep a steady hand?! And what about returning the original copy to the other monastery with the bear in hot pursuit?!!! Aaaaaakkkkkk! what a tale of suspense! I will not give the ending away – You’ll have to check this one out and see for yourself.
And please do! Because it is a fabulous book! Mr Schindler illustrated the story much like the monks illustrated their books. Stunning! At the end of the book there is a glossary and historical notes. And both Ms Beebe and Mr Schindler give us a little history behind their part in this project. It is a perfect pairing and a perfect end result. This tome will have a special place on my bookshelf!
Ms Beebe has a great website with all kinds of resources for this book – and a great book trailer! Check it out HERE.
Here’s a quick history lesson about illuminated manuscripts —
Maybe you will now be inspired to try your own hand with this art form!!