Monday, November 7, 2011

Nonfiction Monday Book Review: Brother Sun, Sister Moon: Saint Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures, by Katherine Paterson (Chronicle Books, 2011)

Recommended for all ages.

I'm not Catholic, but I've always had an affinity for the gentle St. Francis, who gave up his life of wealth and privilege in medieval Italy to preach to the poor, taking care of the sick and the needy.  He's particularly known for his love of all animals, and his affinity for nature in all its splendor.  Renowned children's author Katherine Paterson reimagines his text, The Canticle of the Sun, in this exquisite new picture book illustrated by Pamela Dalton.  The text, written in free verse, sings the praise of the Creator, "who by your power and out of your love have/created all things and called them good."  The text thanks God for the sun, the moon and stars, the wind, water, fire, and earth, but also praises "courageous brothers and sisters/who offer their lives to the making of peace."  Even "Sister Death" is praised, for ushering us into God's loving presence.  At the conclusion, Paterson reproduces St. Francis' original text, translated from the Umbrian text of the Assisi codex.

Pamela Dalton's exquisite scherenschnitte, or paper cut illustrations, are created, according to her website, in the tradition of early American paper cutting popular in the Pennsylvania Dutch country in the early 19th century.  Each piece is first sketched freehand, and then cut by hand from a single piece of paper before being hand colored.  The delicacy and intricacy of her work is incredible, and merits many hours poring over her illustrations, which are set on a black background.  They capture the every day world of a by-gone era, with adorable children gathering the harvest surrounded by kindly animals, birds, leaves, and flowers.  Even the illustration of death is resplendent with life, with dozens of colorful butterflies erupting over the page. Take a look at the You Tube video below to learn more about Pamela's paper-cutting techniques:

I'm sure this gorgeous picture book will be getting a close look from the Caldecott committee. I highly recommend it to all lovers of picture books, and it would be a particularly lovely book to share with your family at Thanksgiving.

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