Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Children’s Bio of Gutenberg

Ink on His Fingers , Louise A. Vernon
(Herald Press, 1972, 2004), pb., 127 pp.

This biography of Johann Gutenberg is written similarly to Mrs. Vernon’s biography of Wycliffe reviewed previously. A young boy, Hans Dunne, is pursuing his desire to make copies of the Bible. He thinks of making handwritten copies, but stumbles upon the efforts of various people to make copies with movable type. Eventually he ends up working as an apprentice for Johann Gutenberg.

The story itself works well. There is an air of mystery as well as a strong sense of working against opposition. These aspects made it a compelling read for my boys. Mrs. Vernon highlights the fact that other people were working on movable type and the opposition Gutenberg faces. In fact it seemed to me that one point of the book was to highlight Gutenberg’s perseverance and the fact that those who seek to serve God do encounter difficulty. Thus, the book gives the reader a good sense of the hard work it took to produce movable type (for the production of Bibles) and encourages perseverance.

I have two main criticisms or requests. First (and the least of the two), a small glossary would be very helpful. A number of books we have read in historical fiction have provided a glossary for words from the era and this has been helpful. A glossary would add to this book as well. The more authentic the book seeks to be the more helpful a glossary is. Secondly, I really appreciate a note from the author describing at least briefly what he/she has created for the story and what is based on fact. This is very helpful since the distinction is not obvious. I have no problem with the fiction aspect of the book, but children often want to know what part is historical. In this book it seemed especially hard to distinguish. Fair enough, we do not have many details about Gutenberg’s life. However, I at first assumed the key ‘bad guy’ in the book Herr (Mr.) Fust was a fictional creation. After some searching of my own, though, I discovered that Fust was a historical person who did the basic things described in the book. Knowing this really added to the reading.

In summary, we enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others. It succeeds well in the basic goal of introducing children (and parents!) to Gutenberg and the labor to make printing a regular part of life.


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