I recently received this book for review from the author and illustrator. Nikola and the Monk is Dessi's fourth book for children. I was looking forward to getting my hands on it not only because the author is a friend of mine but because I really need to keep my collection of these saints stories current. I need to have them all. Like I said in my previous post, I have a love/hate relationship with children's literature because there is so much out there that is purely awful to read with children but this one is a joy.
I always happily receive Dessi's books because they are always beautiful written in her warm, earthy style and the art is always delicate and beautiful but this one will always hold a special place in my heart. This particular book is about a little boy named Nikola who comes to the monk at his hermitage to work out his salvation. The book is in English but draws from Dessi's childhood back in Bulgaria and there are only a few words that should be reviewed before reading and which are found at the back. Nikola refers to the monk as Deda which means Grandfather and to his black robe as his raso and to the Mother of God, the Theotokos, as Borogodica. From the first time I read this book, I knew it will always be special to me because it reminds me of my son, John, whom we call Jack. This book could be called Jack and the Monk.
My children have the less common experience of growing up in a little mission served by a Brotherhood. Unless we are traveling, and often even when we are traveling, their experience of the Christian services is with monks at the helm. Jack often talks about wanting to be a monk so that he won't have to do the chores that we do at home and instead can pray and read and bake and talk to the bees. This is a lot like Nikola who comes to escape his chores of milking and fetching cucumbers from the garden. I don't think Jack and Nikola are alone in this, I think we all often forget just how much we seek the higher things not for the right reasons but so that we can avoid the lower things. In this book, Deda tells Nikola that, "...doing one's daily work is a prayer, and that each chore that we do and cover in prayer is like building a ladder to heaven." This is a lesson not just for our children, but for ourselves.
As always, the art in Quis Ut Deus books are beautiful and while I cannot say that I know the artist personally, I know a great deal about her from her art. Her art has a misty quality to it with details fading to allow the focus of each illustration to take point of place. It is as if she if wants to highlight a smile here, a wing here, and the eyes over here. My favorite illustrations are the smile on the monk when he plays with the cub, his eyes when the bird is resting on his shoulder, and the icon corner in the family home. I love looking at icon corners and because they are the heart of the home, the are readily familiar to children. I think that children will see the large family gathered around it and they will think of how it feels something like their own families.
That is actually something else to mention, there is a quick but nonetheless lovely mention of large families. I have eleven children and often stories with families with only a couple of children make me children feel as if no one ever has large families. Nikola has three sisters and two brothers while Deda has five brothers and two sisters. Dessi is the mother of six children so she knows what this is like.
I will be putting this book in my basket in the icon corner, but only after it has spent in week in my morning basket. I keep a basket of books and flash cards with which we start each day. I think it will be great way to talk to my younger children who are often "forgetful" about chores. I plan on reading it every day this week and asking my children how they are doing in building their own ladder to heaven and with what chores. I could see it being very useful this lent. If you are looking for ways to use it in your family and in a home school setting, you should head over to my friend, Jennifer's site Illuminated Learning and check out her post.
You can find Dessi's other books also illustrated by Lydia Grace Kadar-Kallen and published by Qui Ut Deus Press from major retailers and on their site including Roses in the Snow (about Roman Catholic saint Elizabeth of Hungary and with my favorite art of all three books) and Saint Felix and the Spider (about St Felix of Nola). You can find Dessi's book The Saint and His Bees (about Irish saint Modomnoc) which was illustrated by Clare Brandenburg on Amazon HERE. It is also available on Kindle for instant download. You might remember Clare's incredibly beautiful book, The Monk Who Grew Prayer. You can find her website HERE. You can read all posts with reviews by clicking HERE.