Title: Brother Sun, Sister Moon
Author: Katherine Paterson
Illustrator: Pamela Dalton
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Audience: Ages 4 and up
Summary: “The Canticle of the Creatures” or “The Canticle of the Sun” (13th Century) is one of the most familiar songs of praise in the world. Written by St. Francis of Assisi in the last few years of his life, it is possibly the earliest piece of written literature in the Italian language. “All Creatures of Our God and King,” written for a children’s choir festival c 1900, is the familiar paraphrase in most hymnbooks.
In Brother Sun, Sister Moon Pamela Dalton brings the text to life through Scherenschnitte (scissor cuts). With scissors, water colors, and a single sheet of paper for each page, Dalton fashions an amazing world of variety and beauty. The more daring enterprise is Katherine Patterson’s who re-imagines the text. Patterson has literary credentials to burn but this is a little like adding a few lines to the Mona Lisa! Still with her usual verbal clarity and grace, she enriches and illumines, almost a match for the illustrations. The cut shapes are set on a background of black; the text fits around, under, between the designs. The original prayer is printed at the end and Patterson and Dalton comment on their work.
Literary elements at work in the story: Francis wrote this song in Umbrian, the language of the people, and Patterson’s expansion of the text maintains this accessibility as well as the poetic quality. The art, however, dominates this book visually and spatially. It would be good to match this text with pictures of the natural world in another book.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Scherenschnitte is a 16th century German art form which may help to explain why the illustrations include only Caucasian children who seem to live on a European farm. Children of any other race or who live in any setting other than rural will not see themselves here. Patterson attempts to make our language about God inclusive speaking of Sister Earth “declaring God’s mother love” for us and praising God as the “Father and Mother” of all creation. Francis’ original text is translated Sister Mother Earth; this text speaks of Sister Earth; the current PCUSA hymnal sings of fertile earth. But the words that children who have grown up singing the 1900 paraphrase are “Dear Mother Earth.” so speaking of God as Mother may be confusing. In this case the point may be too minor to make but on the rocky road of inclusive language it is important to be sure we keep the distinction between God, the Creator, and earth, the creation, clear.
Theological Conversation Partners: Praise is the beginning and the end of the Christian life and Francis’s prayer is a marvelous vehicle for giving it voice. The created world, including death, is a cause for praise: Job 38-9, Psalms 8, 65, 104, 139:14. Human compassion, peacemaking, and suffering are occasions for praise: Phil 4:4-7; Matt 5:3-9. “In the beginning God created…” and the created world has been speaking of God’s love and power ever since. Ps.19, Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that we are part of this created world with a special relationship to God and a special responsibility in creation. The Canticle sings of our kinship with all created things. Jesus teaches us to look at the natural world to understand trust. Mt. 6:26-30. This book could be a guide to prayer for a family and a resource for any church school class. It has no age limits.
Faith Talk Questions and Activities For All Ages
- Look. Every detail in the illustrations helps us marvel at God’s creation. How many different things can you find on the cover? On the cover inside as you open the book? Don’t miss the caterpillar. O Lord, how many are your works! Ps104:24
- Most of these illustrations are of a farming community. What wonders of God’s creation do you see around you in your neighborhood?
- Talk about the gifts that sun, moon, wind, air, water, fire, and fertile earth give us.
- What impact would speaking of earth and water as sister and brother have on our treatment of our environment?
- Francis praises God for those who forgive and make peace. Is this as great a miracle or gift as air or water?
- Francis’s poem praises God for those who suffer sickness and trial in peace. The paraphrase asks for God’s comfort for them. Why did Francis praise rather than ask God for comfort? Is it possible to praise God for suffering?
- Paul speaks of Death as the last enemy to be overcome. 1 Cor. 15:26. Francis speaks of Sister Death who will usher us “into your loving presence.” Who is right? Paul wrestles with this question in Philippians 1:21-26.
- Draw or collect pictures of things in the world for which you praise God. Make a collage.
Review prepared by regular contributor Virginia Thomas