A 15-year-old boy finds his place in an Irish monastery during the Middle Ages in this long, beautifully illustrated story about illuminated manuscripts.
Young Cuthbert is assigned to the scriptorium at the monastery, where he struggles to learn to be a scribe. He loves making the letters with a quill pen and ink, but his skills are rudimentary when precision is required, and due to his many mistakes, he earns the nickname of Smudge. In a convoluted, unlikely plot, Smudge is chosen to provide the lettering for a special edition of the Christmas story illustrated by the monastery’s most talented artist. The project stretches over many months due to a lie the artist tells to the abbot of the monastery, and with the artist’s kind tutelage, Smudge learns to be a scribe and completes the project. The story is too long to interest most children, and the book needs both an author’s note to define the setting and time period and a glossary for the many terms that are inadequately defined in textual context. Costanza’s well-researched paintings are the book’s strongest feature, with appealing characters, evocative settings, and handsome borders and decorated letters.
Younger fans of historical fiction, librarians and rare-book aficionados will enjoy this, but its appeal is limited, and the Christmas connection is minimal. (Picture book. 8-11)