cover image Brother Sun, Sister Moon: The Life and Stories of St. Francis

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: The Life and Stories of St. Francis

Margaret Mayo. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-316-56466-3

Malone's (The Magic Flute) magnificently detailed illustrations are the highlight of this attractive volume, which tells of the perennially popular Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the son of a wealthy merchant who went on to take a vow of poverty and ascended to sainthood. Beginning with a sketchy biography, Mayo (How to Count Crocodiles) adds several legends about St. Francis. Unfortunately, the biographical section may raise more questions than it answers. For instance, most biographers agree that Francis's yearlong imprisonment was a time of epiphany, but Mayo's account is confusing (""After a long illness, Francis returned to his old life of luxury and pleasure. Illness and prison had changed him though, so that now he would sometimes walk alone in the hills, thinking and praying""). While the biographical section fails to capture the charisma of both Francis the indulged youth and Francis the convert, his magnetic qualities come through more clearly in the legends that follow (especially in ""How Francis Tamed a Ferocious Wolf"" and ""The Ox, the Ass and the Child of Bethlehem""). Supplied in abundance, Malone's exquisite vignettes and spot illustrations, inspired by Italian frescoes, do more than the text to characterize the saint. His Francis possesses an accessible yet otherworldly quality, whether singing beneath a crescent moon as a man born to affluence, riding off to war in his stately armor or praying in the ruined church of San Damiano. By the time readers find St. Francis's own ""Canticle of Brother Sun,"" included at the end, they'll know how to appreciate it. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)