Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson (illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt)

Read: 29 November, 2008

I picked up this book because the concept struck me as such a wonderful idea that I didn’t want to pass up the chance and risk not being able to find it (or of forgetting about it) when I have someone age-appropriate in the house to share it with. I’m really glad I did!

The book is superb, from cover to cover. The art is gorgeous. For some reason, a lot of children’s books have awful squiggly line art, as though kids wanted to see drawings that were apartment made by people at their artistic level. Maybe that’s true for some children, but I never appreciated being talked down to – even artistically. In this book, the illustrations (mostly watercolour, with some shiny gold detailing) are absolutely enchanting. They feature plenty of pictures detailing the process of making a book in the Middle Ages, as well as city streets and even maps of Medieval Paris.

The story itself is quite good, though fairly standard. Marguerite’s father makes books, but he’s getting too old. The deadline for a new book is coming up, but he’s broken his glasses, so Marguerite has to finish the book on her own. She walks around Paris shopping for the ingredients and then goes home to work on the book. The deadline comes and she’s finished it and the book is very beautiful and everyone is happy and proud of her.

The book is quite educational: going through several Medieval trades (including tanner and herbalist) and explaining in fairly good detail what goes into making a book. There’s an explanation of how each colour is made, how the actual painting is done, what the “paper” is made out of, etc. And then there’s all the added information contained in the pictures themselves, such as what a Medieval street might have looked like, how people dressed (depending on class), and so forth.

If I had to pick something negative to say about the book, it would be Marguerite’s treatment of the tanner. It only lasts a page, but she just comes off as being rather rude. I suppose it’s historically accurate, but it just isn’t very nice. Then again, that just opens up a nice time to talk to kids about treating everyone with respect, even if their job makes them very stinky.

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