Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Magic in the Margins: A Medieval Tale of Bookmaking

Magic in the Margins: A Medieval Tale of Bookmaking

W. Nikola-Lisa
Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2007   ISBN: 978-0618496426

Simon is an orphan who has been taken in by the monks in the monastery. Because he is clever and sharp the monks are educating Simon to become a scribe and he is being taught "the ways of the scriptorium." He is learning how to make parchment, how to make quill pens, how to make the paints that the scribes use, and how to write. Simon learns about the different kinds of books that the monks create and he is eager to draw the pictures for Father Anslem's manuscripts.

Simon's teacher, Brother William, explains that it takes time for an apprentice to learn how to illuminate well enough to be given such a job. Still, he agrees to ask Father Anslem to look at Simon's practice drawings.

Father Anslem likes Simon's work but he says that Simon must develop not just his talent but also his imagination as well. To see if Simon can do this Father Anslem sets Simon an unusual task. Simon must "capture" the mice that are overrunning the monastery.

In this unique and clever little tale the author not only shows his readers what it was like to be a scribe in the Middle Ages, but he also explores the nature of artistic impression. For Father Anslem it is not enough for Simon to be able to copy other people's pictures, he needs Simon to use his imagination to create unique illustrations of his own.

With clever little illustrations in the borders of many of the pages and a wonderful story, this is a book that will attract young readers who have an interest in history and art. The author includes a foreword about the inspiration for the story, and an afterword that is full of information about Medieval illuminated books and their creators.