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Brother Sun, Sister Moon (2011)

Reimagined by Katherine Paterson

Illustrated by Pamela Dalton

Cut paper and watercolor.
God bless you!

Type set in Sonopa

Handprint Books

We come to sing a song of praise to you,
O God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth,
who by your power and out of your love have
created all things and called them good.

Arlo got this as a Christmas present last week from a friend. I had gotten it from the library myself a while back and meant to review it for the blog, but never did. Seeing it in his bag of Christmas Eve loot made me think the time was nigh.

  Most of the books I've reviewed on here will state on the title page that they are 'retold' by the author. This is the only one which is 'reimagined.' What Katherine Paterson has done is take the text of St. Francis' "Canticle of the Creatures' and rewritten it. It's not a new translation, it is, as the title page insists, a reimagining.

For example, the stanza I quoted above was originally:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all
blessing. To you, alone. Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

No one could confuse me with a God-fearin' man (God forbid), and I must say, phrases like, "No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name," bring to mind the recent images of weepy North Koreans wailing hysterical over the death of their former Master. It brings an ill taste, and I'm glad Paterson has jettisoned it. I think, if I'm reading her note at the back of the book correctly, that she was trying to reimagine the text as less of a worshipful comment on the divine supremacy of a magical man living in the sky, and more of a comment on the connection humans have with the natural world.

"It was such a wonderful exercise to see myself as close kin to all the rest of the natural world," she writes. "Sun, moon, stars, wind and weather - even to look death in the face and call her my sister."

I also noted that she excised a reference to, "Woe to those who die in mortal sin," completely. Good riddance!

The real show-stopper is the artwork, I must admit. Scherenschnitte it's called. Each illustration in the book was made from one continuous piece of paper which she painstakingly (I would imagine) cut and painted with watercolors. The harvest is represented during each season, every beet, every tomato, sheaves of wheat, new life and death, with detail which grows with each reading.

"For this life and the life to come, we sing our praise to you. I Lord, the Father and Mother of all creation," reads Paterson's version of the prayer, and I'm pretty sure St. Francis never explicitly stated the maternal aspect of God, but nevertheless, it is there, in this book, and in the nature which surrounds us. This is a beautiful book to own.

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