Sunday, July 07, 2013

Book Review: Anselm of Canterbury

A beautifully bound children's book arrived on our doorstep a few weeks ago. The boys were immediately captivated by the images and began thumbing through the pages before I could even sit down to read it with them! Soon we were all captivated by the story and spent one lovely, rainy afternoon learning about a most important figure in the history of the church.

Written by Simonetta Carr and illustrated by Matt Abraxas, Anselm of Canterbury is the first book we have read in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, but it will not be the last.

Anselm, a Benedictine monk and theologian who lived in the 11th century, is famous for his answer to the question: "Why did God become man?" Carr's biography deftly weaves Anselm's theological instruction into the fascinating story of his life in Europe in the early Middle Ages. He was much-loved as a teacher, and his popularity leads him to humbly gain positions of leadership in the church, finally accepting his highest honor as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The writing, execution, illustrations, and organization of this book are of excellent quality, and I know we will treasure this biography in our home library. Carr presents the narrative well: the chapters are just the right length for reading aloud, while also providing a thorough, interesting tale that will captivate even the adults. My children kept pleading with me to read "Just one more chapter, please!" The illustrations include maps, reproductions of illuminated manuscripts, original sketches, and photographs, which provide a rich background for the text and kept even my youngest child's attention. I especially appreciated their quality and tone as they fit the story well and refrained from being cartoonish.

Compared to some other books I have read recently that present history to young children (and even some for adults), this fares much better, as Carr refrains from talking down to young readers and gives great attention to providing the context and setting of Anselm's life. Carr not only describes the physical location of his birth, but also the cultural, religious, and social atmosphere surrounding the life of this great figure in church history. She also depicts the peculiarities of that time -- monasteries and the papal office and the disagreements between kings and church leadership-- and relates them to our own lives as Christians today.

In the "Did you know?" section at the end, Carr explains how Anselm and other teachers of his time believed that "we can understand God's Word better and better if we see how Christians of the past have explained it." That idea is exactly why we need books like this one which help us and our children understand the life and views of Christians throughout the ages, as we "stand on the shoulders of giants."

The timing could not be more perfect for our family, as we will be studying the Middle Ages this year in our homeschooling curriculum.  I plan to use this as a supplement, and will look for more books in this series that also fit with our timeline. I would recommend this to all parents as an excellent series to add to your collection.

We are grateful to Reformation Heritage Books for sending us a copy to review. The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own.