cover image The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane

C.M. Millen, illus. by Andrea Wisnewski, Charlesbridge, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58089-179-0

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)