Cover image for Magic in the margins : a medieval tale of bookmaking
Magic in the margins : a medieval tale of bookmaking
Nikola-Lisa, W.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2007]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
At a medieval monastery, orphaned Simon, who is apprenticing in illumination, dreams of the day he can create his own pictures, but finds he must first complete a strange and unusual assignment that Father Anselm has given him.
Reading Level:
NC 830 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.9 0.5 115108.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 4.6 3 Quiz: 41796.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
J PIC BOOK Juvenile Fiction Childrens Area-Picture Books

On Order



Simon was an orphan, the son of peasants. He was keen-minded and quick and soon learned the ways of the scriptorium, of the illuminated manuscripts. In fact, he was such a fast learner, he felt ready to draw pictures of his own in his teacher's books. But first, the monastery's father tells him, he must learn how to capture mice.

Prolific author W. Nikola-Lisa and acclaimed illustrator Bonnie Christensen combine talents to create their own illuminated story about patience, talent, and the imagination.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Simon, a young orphan in the Middle Ages, is an apprentice in a monastery's scriptorium, where books are written. He learns to prepare parchment, grind pigments, and write, but he dreams of illustrating illuminated manuscripts. The monastery's Father instructs Simon to practice by capturing mice. Study them, get to know them . . and use your imagination. Simon begins by setting traps, but he eventually understands the figurative use of language, and his fanciful drawings of mice earn him a job in the scriptorium at last. Younger children may struggle with the play on the word capture and the messages about what an artist does. Many kids, though, will be drawn in by the appealing story of a child's empowerment and the glimpse of the medieval world. Christensen extends the story with strong, clear scenes, bordered by botanical patterns and executed in ink and egg-tempura pigments, just like the monks used. A final word about the time period closes this solid title, which is sure to find a place in the classroom. --Gillian Engberg Copyright 2007 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 1-4-Simon is an apprentice to a master scribe in a medieval monastery. An orphan, he endears himself to his caregivers, preparing the parchment and grinding the pigments for the illuminated manuscripts, but he yearns to do more. While surveying Simon's sketches, Father Anselm encourages the boy to transcend the copying stage by using his imagination to "capture" the pesky mice. (There's one hidden in every spread.) After getting nowhere with a literal interpretation, Simon gradually understands the word's double meaning; his humorous drawings of a rodent illuminator and another challenging a fiery dragon win the abbot's approval. A preface explains Nikola-Lisa's inspiration, and Christensen's art, done in the ink and egg tempera, ties the mood of her marginalia to Simon's dawning comprehension. In the opening scenes, the borders consist of decorative scrollwork; later pages are laced with whimsical creatures in entertaining poses. The afterword explains the purpose and design conventions of illuminations, but the author presumes that readers will know why books were made by hand and what "illumination" in this context means. More information about these ideas, the tools of the trade, and the process would contribute to a child's understanding. Nevertheless, the message about using one's imagination and the unique subject matter make this title a valued find for educators.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.