C.M. Millen, C. M. 2010. The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane. Ill. by Andrea Wisnewski. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. ISBN: 978-1-58089-179-0
Here is a Digital Trailer for THE INK GARDEN created by graduate student Wendy Wagner (in South Korea) and available at YouTube and here.
There are TWO Readers' Guides for THE INK GARDEN.
Here is a Readers' Guide for THE INK GARDEN created by graduate student Maura Grady.
Recommended Age Levels 4-8
Summary of Book
This book is as much a work of art as the illuminated manuscripts that it talks of thanks to the colorful and detailed art work of Andrea Winewski. In this English Language verse, by C. M. Millen, the tale of a bored monk, of northeastern Ireland who is sent from his scrivener’s desk by the teacher of novice monks to the kitchen to make dye. Up until this incident all colors in the life of the monks in the scriptorium were different shades of brown. The Brown of their robes, the hues of their ink, the color of the bread they eat and the shade of the parchment that books are copied on. Upon taking a trip into the woods to get more bark for the brown ink production Theophane takes a needed rest and eats some black berries only to find his hands our colored purple. He sets about to gather the different plants for experimentation. Then one evening he slips up to the scriptorium and produces some written pages in numerous colors. After this the other monks produced books with vibrant colors.
The poetic text, written mostly in rhymed even lines with some touches of humor, tells the story of young Theophane, who reacts to the sights and sounds of nature by noting what he sees on torn parchment pieces, which appear on the illustrated pages of this book. He is reprimanded by the eldest brother and assigned the task of making brown ink. When his supply of bark dwindles, he goes to the woods to find more, returning with berries, flowers, roots, and leaves from which he makes colorful inks that he applies to his own doodles using brushes made from donkey-tail hairs. And so, Theophane illuminates both the lives of his brothers and their calligraphy.
- School Library Journal
Words and pictures alike are infused with a sense of the monks’ joy in their faith and work as well as Theophane’s delight in the natural world. Written in rhythmic, rhyming, and near-rhyming verse, the simple story unfolds in a satisfying way, accompanied by short poems inspired by the writings of medieval Irish monks.
The text includes a few verses in Theophane's voice, which are based on scraps of poems written by Irish monks of the Middle Ages. Wisnewski's gorgeous hand-colored prints are composed of strong black line and interlaced color and pattern. There are echoes of the Book of Kells and other Celtic illumination, but children will especially respond to the borders of apples and berries, the patterned stonework and the black-and-white cat that appears on almost every page.
- Kirkus Reviews
In the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland, a young monk is given the task of making ink for the manuscripts that are laboriously hand-copied in the monastery. Inspired by nature, he experiments with making vibrant colors from plants and flowers in the forest, allowing the monks to cover their pages with "heavenly hues." The simple story is told in a verse style that reminded me of Ludwig Bemelmans' classic Madeline stories
*** Winner of the 2011 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
*** Spirituality and Practice's Best Spiritual Books 2010
Questions to Ask before Reading
Encourage students to discuss the following questions before reading The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane.
*** Before reading the book, have students examine the cover of the book. Ask them what they think the book is about? What is the job done by the man on the cover?
*** Can the students make any inferences about the man on the cover? Is he young? Is he a student?
*** Ask the students to look at the items on the front cover and identify the living things and non-living things.
*** Ask students if anyone knows what a monk is?
*** Ask students, what is a monastery?
*** Ask students to describe how they would write and make a book if they could not use a computer and printer?
Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
*** Read the first page of verse. Have the students look at the illustrations on the first and second pages, then ask them to identify the items in the verse
o Blue Berries
o Wood Glens
o Brown robes
o Brown Bread
*** Ask the young readers what the first page has told them about brother Theophane?
*** After reading the second page of the book have the students make predictions about the lives of the monks.
*** Pause at the end of the page when brother Theophane is asked to leave the copy room, ask the students if they would have removed Theophane from his duties in the room?
*** After reading the whole story, ask the students if they like brother Theophane?
*** After reading the entire book tell the students that this period in time was called the Dark Ages, Ask them why they would consider the time period in which Theophane lived the Dark Ages?
Follow Up Activities
(Grades 2 to 4)
*** Write a poem about your favorite colors. Consider the following pre-writing activities:
*** Prior to writing the poem have students sit still and close their eyes and think about their favorite colors. How do those colors make them feel?
*** Hold up large photos of primarily one color. Ask students to make a note of how each color makes them feel the first few moments they look at it. Have them keep their motes for reference while writing their poems.
*** Ask students how do you feel when you are surrounded by only one color no variety?
*** Have students summarize the poetic verse into the form of a news paper article. Ask them to break into small groups. They should think up a headline for their article, a brief description of why brother Theophane’s work was important and describe how the story ends.
(Grades 2 to 4)
*** Discuss the fact that there were no electronic calculators for doing math so an abacus was used. Demonstrate the use of an abacus and let the students try using on in small groups.
*** Find a simple recipe for making ink. Identify the ratios involved. Demonstrate to students the use of a ratio in taking a recipe for making say 100 ml of ink to extending the recipe to make 500 ml of ink.
(Grades 4 to 5)
*** As an activity have the students design a scale model of the scriptorium out of cardboard.
- Have students break up into small groups.
- Students can study the parts of verse and illustrations that describe the scriptorium where the monks copied texts.
- Students could estimate the following quantities:
o The number of monks to accommodate
o How many windows
o Have students turn off the electric light in the classroom and have them estimate how close the desks should be to the window. They can then measure the distance to the window. They can then measure the distance between desks and tables in their classroom for the passing of people between desks. Explain to them the concept of a scale model and have them select an appropriate scale such as 1 foot is 2 inches.
- Construct a floor plan to test the scale
- Once a good floor plan is established cut out cardboard to make boxes for representing the desks etc.
- Color can be added later.
*** Primary Colors: Red-Green-Blue (RGB) The objective is to teach students about the primary colors that all colors can be constructed from. This activity can be shared with the Art teacher.
1. red, green, blue food coloring
2. a can of white icing
3. paper plates (one for each student)
4. pretzel sticks
1. Put 3 spoonfuls of icing on each child's plate.
2. Put a drop of blue food coloring on one spoonful, a drop of red food coloring on one spoonful, and a drop of yellow food coloring on the last spoonful.
3. Give the children 3 pretzel sticks.
4. Allow them to experiment mixing the colors together with their pretzel sticks. You can even let them create and name new colors.
5. Of course they may get to sample the treat when they are finished.
(Grade 2 to 3)
*** After having read the book aloud get additional copies and have groups of students go through the books at a slower pace. They should make two lists. They should classify all of objects or things that are considered ” matter” as, “Living” or “Non-Living”. This includes items that appear as illustrations as well as words. Students can then classify the items of matter into three of the four accepted forms of matter. Those being solids, liquids, or gases. Do not discuss the fourth form of matter “Plasma” the text has only one example of this, that being the fire over which brother Theophane cooks the brown ink.
(Grades 1 to 2)
*** After reading the book have students make a list of all the items that Brother Theophane found to make ink. Have the students classify the items. First classify the items by whether they are “living” or “non-living “ things. Then ask the students to classify the items as animals or plants. Have students search online for images of the items.
(Grades 3 to 4)
*** Types of Resources: Discuss with a class that energy is the ability to do work. To move objects, to alter their physical properties and change their chemical properties.
*** After reading the entire book ask students to consider what it was like living in Brother Theophane’s time period? What sources of energy did the people living in the Dark ages have for use in making items or doing daily chores. Do not forget to discuss the use of passive solar energy with the students. Passive solar energy for drying objects, lighting desks by windows. Other forms of energy you should elicit from a class of young people are as follows:
o Manual energy, animal powered, human power. Threshing of wheat by hand.
o Gravitational Potential Energy: Such as water wheels. (Students need not remember or learn GPE as a name or term but should be guided to the idea that the force of gravity helps people do work.)
o Kinetic Energy (Energy of Motion) Wind energy.
o Passive Solar.
o Heat energy. Used for cooking and baking.
*** The science teacher should coordinate with the social studies teacher to discuss the type of occupations that people other than the monks practiced at this time such as being a “miller” grinding flour. What was flour like back in the dark ages, more or less a whole-wheat.
o A discussion on the “brown bread” the monks eat can be discussed. The teacher can inquire if the students have eaten “brown bread” samples can be brought in for the students to taste and examine under magnifying lenses for cross comparison with plain white bread. Collaboration can be instigated with the health/nutritional professional at the school for discussing the health benefits of Brown Bread. The teacher or librarian could also design a lesson plan on the topic.
(Grades 1 to 3)
*** Show the students a globe and ask them where they are? Then ask any of them if they can locate Ireland. Afterwards. Break the students into groups of 4 or 5 for a map exercise. Give each group a map of Ireland.
- Ask each group of students to locate the Mourne Mountains. Once every group has identified the Mourne Mountains discuss the physical features indicated by the map.
- Have students create their own maps of the Mourne Mountains with illustrations in the borders of the map of what they think the scenery of the area resembles.
(Grades 4 to 5)
*** Assign students a project that requires them to research the Mourne Mountains and the surrounding areas in Northern Ireland.
*** Explain to students that the monasteries of the Dark Ages preserved the knowledge of the civilizations that existed in previous times. These ideas and texts were transferred from the Arab civilizations of the time to Europe by travelers and merchants. Assign the students to research in the library or the internet one of the topics that the monks of the Middle Ages were known to have preserved from antiquity and have them write a report and print it by hand with the use of color pencils to create their own short illuminated manuscripts.
(Grades 1 to 4)
*** Students will be shown all the different kinds of pens and pencils of today and then see what they had to write with in the time of Brother Theophane. Discuss how different it was to write with an ink quill and ink well as opposed to a ball point pen and a pencil.
- Ink quills students will be given ink quills and food coloring to create their own illuminations.
(Grades 3 to 5)
*** Have students make their own inks and paints by using minerals, herbs, shrubs, berries and other natural powders mixed with sticky substances such as egg whites.
*** Show students pictures of stained glass from the Middle Ages and ask how the stained glass makes them feel. Tell students that stained glass was a very expensive and beautiful thing that most churches and people could not afford. Have students think for a design from the book to create to hang in the windows of the class.
- Students will create their own stained glass using black paper and cellophane.
*** Fonts: Show the students enlarged printouts of the different fonts. Then talk about the features of fonts such as san serif, or gothic. Then have the students design their own fonts have them consider what is legible and what could be written fast. Have them produce all the letters from A to Z in their font. Then try writing famous quotes in their font and display them on the bulletin board.
Related Web Sites
*** http://www.theteachersguide.com/poetrymonth.htm Accessed 09 July 2011
*** http://www.poetry4kids.com/ Accessed 09 July 2011
*** http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/poetry/ Accessed 09 July 2011
*** http://www.easyfunschool.com Accessed 07 July 2011
*** http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/activities/3205_vinland.html Accessed 07 July 2011
*** http://www.pioneerthinking.com Accessed 07 July 2011
*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_gall_ink Accessed 07 July 2011
Math in the Dark Ages
*** http://www.roma.unisa.edu.au/07305/medmm.htm Accessed 09 July 2011
*** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abacus Accessed 09 July 2011
*** Millen, C.M. 1996. A Symphony for the Sheep. Houghton Mifflin.
*** Millen, C.M. 2004. Blue Bowl Down: An Appalachian Rhyme. Candlewick.
*** Millen, C.M. 1999. The Low-Down Laundry Line Blues. Houghton Mifflin.
*** Preus, Margi, 2010. Heart of a Samurai. Amulet Books.
*** Sidman, Joyce 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Houghton Mifflin.
*** DeAngeli, Marguerite. 1998. The Door in the Wall. Laurel Leaf.
*** George Speare, Elizabeth. 1997. The Bronze Bow. Sandpiper
*** Richards, Jean. 2006. A Fruit is Suitcase for Seeds. First Avenue Editions.
*** Kudlinski, Kathleen. 2007. What Do Roots Do. Cooper Square Publishing Lic.
*** Gibbons, Gale. 2008. The Vegetables We Eat. Holiday House.
*** Winters, Kay. 2006. Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books. Aladdin
*** Moore, Jo Ellen. 1999. Writing Poetry With Children. Evan-Moor Educational Publishers.
*** Evans, Marylyn. 1999. Poetry Patterns and Themes. Evan-Moor Educational Publishers.
About the Author
C. M. Millen
When C. M. Millen was asked about the book The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane she wrote the following. “The opening four lines have been in my head for many years, and were actually part of a different poem at one point. Reviewing Thomas Kinsella’s translated poems from medieval Irish monks made me think about them and their working conditions, and then one thing led to another. The concept that the Irish monks saved many important Western writings, mixed with the commonplace troubles and frustrations with which those monks dealt, all melded together to form Theophane. I worked on it for over four years in fits and starts. It comes when it comes and I don’t have any control over that, really.”
Other children’s books written by C. M. Millen include A Symphony for Sheep illustrated by Mary Azarian, won the American Booksellers Pick of the List, and Parents’ Choice Award for Best Picture book in 1996, Northern Ireland Arts Council grant, and the Scientific American Best Children’s Books designation in 1997. The Low down Laundry Line Blues, Houghton Mifflin 1999, Blue Bowl Down: An Appalachian Rhyme, illustrated by Holly Meade, Candlewick Press, 2004., and other books written in Ireland.
About the Illustrator
Illustrator Andrea Wisnewski has illustrated three books for children. Two of the books, A Cottage Garden Alphabet and Little Red Riding Hood were created for David R. Godine, Publisher. The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C. M. Millen is her latest book. Ms. Winewski attended Portland School of Art in Portland, Maine and University of Connecticut where she received her B.F.A.
Here is a second Readers' Guide for THE INK GARDEN created by graduate student Armenda Elkins.
Summary of Book
Theophane, the youngest monk in a monastery nestled in the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland during the Middle Ages, was not like the other, older monks. They didn’t seem to mind or ever grow weary of “wearing simple brown robes, filling simple brown books, eating simple brown bread, and saying their prayers by their simple brown beds.” On the contrary, Theophane became bored with laboriously coping the manuscripts “at his simple brown desk, writing simple brown writing like all of the rest.” When observing nature outside his window he would “stop with his copying chore, to write about all of the beauty outdoors.” As punishment for not staying on task, Theophane was given the job of toiling all night, making the brown ink by boiling cauldrons of bark. When he heads out the next morning for more bark, he is inundated with the sights, sounds, and scents of nature. When he notices how blackberries turn his hands purple he experiments with other fruits from the forest, creating the vibrant colors of a rainbow and ultimately, allowing the monks to illuminate their pages with “heavenly hues.” In the end, Theophane “happily tends his field, harvesting plants for the colors they yield.”
Millen’s creative style alternates between the text of her narrative verse and brief poems by Theophane, based on the original works of Irish monks. While the narrative text appears to be written in framed, stained glass windows, Theophane’s poems appear to be written on antique-looking scraps of paper, both set on the backdrop of Wisnewski’s beautifully detailed, watercolor illustrations. The different typeface in which Theophane’s poems are set, help the reader to make a more personal connection to him, and reminds us that it’s ok to be different.
"Written in rhythmic, rhyming, and near-rhyming verse, the simple story unfolds in a satisfying way, accompanied by short poems inspired by the writings of medieval Irish monks. The richly detailed illustrations were created by using a paper-cut design to print bold, black lines and brightening the pictures with watercolors."
“Wisnewski's gorgeous hand-colored prints are composed of strong black line and interlaced color and pattern. There are echoes of the Book of Kells and other Celtic illumination, but children will especially respond to the borders of apples and berries, the patterned stonework and the black-and-white cat that appears on almost every page.”
"Wisnewski's (Little Red Riding Hood) intricate, woodblock-like portraits of Irish monastery life are this book's principal charm. She portrays with loving attention the plants and flowers young monk Theophane uses to create colored inks, and frames the text with illuminations.
• Publishers Weekly
Reviews & Awards
• Booklist 07/15/10
• Horn Book 05/01/11
• Kirkus Review 06/15/10
• School Library Journal 08/01/10
• Lee Bennett Hopkins Award 2011
Questions to Ask Before Reading
Invite children to discuss the following:
• What is the boy on the cover wearing? Why do you think he is dressed like that?
• What is a “monastery”? Look at the book’s cover and speculate about the book’s content and the meaning of the word “monastery.”
• What is meant by the “Middle Ages”? (After giving time for responses) Does anyone know another term describing this same time period?
• Did books in the Middle Ages look like The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane? In what ways do you think they may have looked different? Do you think the materials they were made with were different?
Suggestions for Reading the Poem Aloud
• Teacher reads the poem aloud to the class.
• Teacher reads the narrative verse and the students participate by chorally reading Theophane’s poems.
• Assign each student a part with the more advanced readers taking the narrative verse and the slower readers the shorter poems.
• Put students in pairs and let them take alternating turns reading the narrative text and the shorter poems.
Follow Up Activities
• Theophane loved nature and being outdoors. Read The Sun in Me: poems about the planet by Judith Nicholls, and have students write short poems describing something they love about nature. Later, their poems can be “illuminated” with the Ink they make during the math & science lesson.
• Write a Sense Poem. The sights, sounds, and scents of nature inundated Theophane when he went out the next morning to gather more bark. Have students visualize their household on a special day (Thanksgiving, “first day” events, birthday, day at a them park, etc.). Encourage them to use their five senses to experience the special day in their minds. Talk about the warmth and love they might feel at holidays or special get-togethers, and what they might smell. Brainstorm adjectives that might coincide with that scenario. Create a mind map of the five senses and what they each experience on their special day. Model how to choose a detail from each sense and turn it into a line for our poem. Give children a choice of two formats for writing their poem: I feel…, I see …, I hear…, I smell…, I touch… OR they may write a free verse poem.
Math & Science
• Make your own Medieval Ink (Use later for the Art Activity)
1⁄2 cup ripe berries (the color of your ink will depend on what berries you use. Blueberries will give you a beautiful purple ink).
1⁄2 teaspoon vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
You will need Wooden spoon, Strainer, Baby food jar, Bowl
1. Fill the strainer with the berries and hold it over a bowl.
2. Using the rounded back of a wooden spoon, crush the berries against the strainer so that the berry juice strains into the bowl.
3. Add the salt and vinegar to the berry juice. The vinegar helps the ink to retain its color and the salt keeps it from getting moldy.
4. If the berry ink is too thick, add a tablespoon of water.
5. Store in baby food jar.
6. Only make a small amount of berry ink at a time. When not in use, keep it tightly covered.
This recipe can be found at www.easyfunschool.com. Find recipes for other inks using natural ingredients at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/activities/3205_vinland.html and www.pioneerthinking.com.
• The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane takes place in the mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland. Show students a map of Ireland and ask them to locate the mountains. Assign students a research project to find out more about the area and its history.
• The story of Theophane took place during the Middle Ages. Have students research to find out more about “medieval” times.
• After reading the recommended related books, Magic in the Margins: A Medieval Tale of Bookmaking and Marguerite Makes a Book, make a class book from one of the writing activites above.
• While Brother Theophane was supposed to be copying books, he was distracted by the views outside his window. He was inspired by nature to embellish his work. Investigate this interactive website showing how illuminated manuscripts were made:
Then, choose one of Theophane’s poems to copy and “illuminate” (with the Medivial Ink you made earlier in the math & science lesson).
Related Web Sites
[To learn how to make your own hawthorn bark ink]
PBB – NOVA Teachers
[To experiment with extracting colors from plants]
[To learn how illuminated manuscripts were make]
The J. Paul Getty Museum
[Look here for Medieval Manuscripts]
The Walters Museum
[See a gallery with more than 900 illuminated manuscripts and 1,250 of the first printed books]
The Morgan Library & Museum
[Spanning some ten centuries of Western illumination, it includes more than eleven hundred manuscripts as well as papyri]
Amazing Rare Things
[Works from six remarkable and diverse groups of natural history drawings and watercolors]
Free Library of Philadelphia
[The Philadelphia area’s largest collection of Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts]
Bodleian Library: University of Oxford
[Images of manuscripts, arranged by century and country of origin from the 8th to the 19th century]
[A growing image database of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts]
Brown, Don. 2002. Across a Dark & Wild Sea. Brookfield, CT: Roaring Brook.
Kinsella, Thomas, ed. 1986. The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nicholls, Judith. 2008. The Sun in Me: Poems About the Planet. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books.
Nikola-Lisa, W. 2007. Magic in the Margins: A Medieval Tale of Bookmaking. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Robertson, Bruce. 1999. Marguerite Makes a Book. Los Angeles, CA: The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Aliki. 1980. A Medieval Feast. New York: Harper Collins.
Macdonald, Fiona. 2005. You Wouldn’t Want to Be in a Medieval Dungeon! Danbury, CT: The Salariya Book Company Ltd.
Osborne, Mary Pope. 1998. Viking Ships at Sunrise. New York: Random House.
About the Author
C. M. Millen Is a children’s book author, a poet, an artist, a teacher, mother, wife, and a woman of spiritual awareness and commitment. She has written Blue Bowl Down, The Low-Down Laundry Line Blues, and A Symphony for the Sheep. After visiting the ruins of a medieval monastery in Ireland, she asked herself, “Who walked on these stones? Who touched these walls?” and wondered what paths their lives ultimately took.
Visit this site to read an in depth interview with C. M. Millen
Watch Millen’s speech upon receiving the 2011 Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane
About the Illustrator
Andrea Wisnewski has taken the art of paper cutting to a new level. She makes unique paper cut prints combining paper cut art and traditional printing from a plate on press and individually paints each one by hand with watercolors. Her company, Running Rabbit Press, has produced numerous illustrations over the years for newspapers, magazines, and publishers.
Read more about Wisnewski on her website:
Watch a television interview with Wisnewski: