Title: The Man Who Loved Books
Author: Jean Fritz
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: 1981
Summary: “Long ago in Ireland there lived a man named Columba who loved books” but this was long before books were printed by a printing press; each book had to be copied by hand so there were very few of them. Ireland was a land with a tradition of storytelling by bards who traveled from town to town and Columba loved these old stories. He learned to read as a young boy, however, and then nothing could compare with a book. He grew to be a great, strong man with a voice that could be heard a mile away. With all his heart he loved books, Ireland, and the Church. He determined to read every book in Ireland and since most books were in monasteries, he walked from one to the other. A fight over a book that he copied resulted in the death of 3,000 people so Columba in repentance vowed to never see Ireland again. With 12 companions he sailed to the island of Iona, too far away to see Ireland. He was homesick but set to work and built a church; he traveled throughout Scotland preaching, and he copied the Bible, the most important book, so that others could read it. He made 300 copies in his own hand. He made one trip back to Ireland blindfolded to help settle a dispute, then returned to his work in Iona. He died while copying a Psalm.
Literary elements at work in the story: Columba was born in 521 and although there are a number of written records from which to draw, some of the material is certainly legend and Christian hagiography. Kerr makes this distinction on the last page of the book. She does draw a picture of a vital, intense, joyful human. The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from 800 CE, was probably begun on Iona and completed at the Irish monastery of Kells, perhaps being moved there to protect from Viking invasions. The illustrations in Kerr’s book are done in tones of brown that reflect the ornamentation of these manuscripts and add immensely to the story.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? This is a story about men in a male dominated church but the distance in time makes this less important.
Theological Conversation Partners: Columba made at least three major contributions to the Christian church: he evangelized Scotland and such tribes as the Picts; he established a community of learning that endured for several centuries; he and his monks preserved the Scriptures. Here are three activities in different forms that Christians are called to engage in today: Witnessing to Christ, educating disciples, and making the Bible available to others. Children can be helped to see how we are doing the same things as a church with examples from The Mission Year Book, Presbyterians Today, material from the American Bible Society or the Wycliffe Global Alliance and by learning about their own church’s activities.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Find Iona, Scotland, and Ireland on a map. There were very few Christians in Scotland when Columba first went to Iona.
- Columba was born in 521. How long ago was that? What would be some differences in life then and now? (One important difference would be the printing press.)
- How many books do you have at your house? Have you ever had to walk 30 miles just to see a book?
- You can find pictures of one of the most famous Bibles copied in the tradition of Columba’s church, on the internet. Look up the Book of Kells to see their art work. Such a Bible is called an illuminated manuscript.
- When it was so hard to copy the Bible why do you think the monks added the extra work of decoration?
- Try copying Genesis 1 by hand. Imagine doing this 300 times.
- In what ways was Columba a witness for Christ?
- What did he do that the church still does today? That your church still does today?
- What parts of the story do you think may be legends rather than real events?
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas and is the second in a six-part review of biographies for children and youth.
The Man Who Loved Books by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.