An estimable work with two formidable competitors: Tomie dePaola's Francis: The Poor Man of Assisi (1982) and Margaret Hodges's Brother Francis and the Friendly Beasts (1991), illustrated by Ted Lewin. ""The Canticle of Brother Sun"" opens the book, and a recapitulation of the facts of Francis's life, with dates, closes it. The main body of Wildsmith's account makes no distinction between fact and legend; Hodges points out that the stories told about Francis include some of each. Such events as Francis's mission to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade and his reception of the stigmata will need more explanation than is provided here. But if dePaola's is the most detailed account, Wildsmith's easy-to-read, first-person narrative is the most succinct. He has painted the walled towns and wooded slopes of the Umbrian countryside before, in Goat's Trail (1986), and all of his wonderful Birds (1967) are here, each limned so precisely that its species is instantly recognizable. But the gilt-edged, stained-glass beauty of the pages is oddly out of keeping with the saint who called himself il poverello; the warm, down-to-earth humanity of Lewin's paintings suits his story better.