Sunday, May 22, 2011

Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Paterson, illus by Pamela Dalton

I begin this review by stating that I am not now nor have I ever been Roman Catholic. Still, I have quite a soft spot for Saint Francis of Assisi, whom I'm used to seeing in statue forms in gardens. I've read a few of his prayers before, and find them to be the sort of thing I can get behind - a call for respect for all living creatures and peaceful coexistence with our natural world.

It was with complete delight that I opened a package that arrived yesterday from the kind folks at Chronicle Books to find a copy of the new picture book (which has been marked one of Kirkus Review's "Top 26 Books at BEA", along with my friend Linda Urban's forthcoming novel, Hound Dog True, which I can assure you is spectacular. But I digress.).

Saint Francis lived at the turn of the 13th century (1181-1226), and some of his writings include pieces written in Umbrian (a dialect related to Italian) rather than in church Latin, since Francis of Assisi wanted his words to be understood by everyone, not just the educated members of society who could parse Latin. One of those pieces, written during the final two years of his life, was his Laudes Creaturarum, or "Praise Song of the Creatures", which has become known over the centuries as The Canticle of the Sun.

Award-winning author Katherine Paterson has taken the text of The Canticle of the Sun and recast the words slightly in what is billed as a "reimagination" of Saint Francis's text. The whole of Saint Francis's prayer is included near the end of the book, in a translation done from the Umbrian text into English by Bill Barrett. Barrett's translation of the stanzas relating to "Brother Sun" and "Sister Moon" reads:

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day: and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars: in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Katherine Paterson has streamlined some of the language and elaborated on other parts:

We praise you for our Brother Sun,
who in his radiant dawning
every day reminds us that it was
you who brought forth light.

We praise you for Sister Moon and all
our Sister Stars, who clothe the night
with their beauty and, like you,
watch over us while we sleep.
Each of the stanzas has a double spread within the book, and is accompanied by incredible painted, cut-paper illustrations created by Pamela Dalton using the German "Scherenschnitte" technique. Most of the pages contain the sort of colors seen on the cover, with the exception of the spread devoted to "Sister Moon":

Is that not gorgeous?

The book is a work of art throughout, with its black backgrounds to showcase the cut-paper artwork, it's use of color and imagery, and, of course, the beautiful language of Paterson's interpretation of Saint Francis's words. I am especially glad for the full interpretation of The Canticle of the Creatures by Saint Francis of Assisi, as translated by Bill Barrett, and for the notes by Paterson and Dalton about their process and their feelings about working on this project.

I highly recommend this book for parents interested in exploring issues of faith and/or interconnectedness with their children (or for adult readers interested in this prayer and/or Saint Francis), for libraries, and for fans of cut-paper illustrations and/or Paterson's works. Truly one of the loveliest picture books I've seen so far this year.

If you'd like to see some more of the interior spreads AND learn how Pamela Dalton went about creating the art, I encourage you to watch this video:

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1 comment:

Jonessta said...

These illustrations are beautiful. I'm a paper cut artist myself and use the colour of the paper rather than watercolours, but I think that this is a great way to work and the book looks beautiful. I'll definitely look out for it.