Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe, illustrations by S.D. Schindler from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

About the book: Brother Hugo can't return his library book -- the letters of St. Augustine -- because, it turns out, the precious book has been devoured by a bear! Instructed by the abbot to borrow another monastery's copy and create a replacement, the hapless monk painstakingly crafts a new book, copying it letter by letter and line by line. But when he sets off to return the borrowed copy, he finds himself trailed by his hungry new friend. Once a bear has a taste of letters, it appears, he’s rarely satisfied!

Brother Hugo and the Bear is loosely based on a note found in a twelfth-century manuscript -- and largely on the creative imaginings of author Katy Beebe. Lavishly illustrated by S. D. Schindler in the style of medieval manuscripts, this humorous tale is sure to delight readers who have acquired their own taste for books.

My thoughts: I just love when picture books introduce young children to a different historical world than that which they might normally. Going way back to medieval times is unusual for books to take a young child, but Brother Hugo and the Bear does just that. Drawing from a story that has made its way through the annals of time and was found through the research of the author, the story of Brother Hugo and his encounter with the bear that digested his book.

From this story by Katy Beebe and the delightfully and true-to-history illustrations by S.D.Schindler the young reader can....

  • See a form of illuminated illustration that was used in medieval books copied by monks
  • Learn that books were few and far between - pretty rare, indeed - and hand written or hand copied.
  • That books were written on animal skins and a little bit about the composition of ink used to write and draw
  • That when errors were made, the monks would scrap them off the skin
  • That a feather was used to write and draw - the tip being sharpened and dipped in the ink
  • That people were accountable for mistakes - even accidental such as when the bear ate the book

The words used in the story lend authenticity (and the kids will love the difference). Examples

  • "It befell that on the first day of Lent...."
  • "..truly, the words of St. Augustine are as sweet as honeycomb to me...."
  • "...return the book thither."
  • "...Brother Hugo thought he heard lipsmacking full close behind him. Then it must be said that he walked very quickly indeed."
This delightful story shows, also, that with the daunting task Brother Hugo has of re-writing the book, his companion monks pitch in to help. Great teamwork.

I highly recommend this delightful traipse into the medieval world for the young reader. Keep in mind, that the period and the people of the book would have been monks from a Catholic monastery, but that was, after all, what much of this period of history entailed.

The following review was written by the mother of 4 girls who are being home schooled and added here on March 25, 2016:

From the very first words of Brother Hugo and the Bear, the writer captures the attention of each reader.  You can't help but fall in love with a picture book that begins, "It befell that on the first day of Lent, Brother Hugo could not return his library book."   Our family loves the way the book is so beautifully worded, with a wonderful style and rhythm and a gentle current of humor woven throughout.  The illustrations are also delightful.  They are full of detail and perfectly express the emotions of each part of the story.  You will not want to miss the series of notes at the end of the book, as they deepen your understanding of the time period and story.  Brother Hugo and the Bear is a don't-miss Middle Ages tale of the plight of a monk and his library book and the bear that can't resist that book.  (review: B.Suiter)
DISLOSURE: I received a complimentary copy from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers to facilitate this review. Opinions are my own. I was not compensated for the review.


  1. Noting this one for our future studies of the Middle Ages! Thanks for being a part of Booknificent Thursday this week on Mommynificent.com! Always great to have you!

    1. Don't miss the other medieval book I reviewed for children Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village. Super fun & educational


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