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Monday, August 13, 2012

Martin de Porres, written by Gary D. Schmidt and illustrated by David Diaz. Clarion, Thomas Alllen & Son. 2012. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"Every day after Prime, Martin washed the floors of the brothers' cells. After Terce, he cut their tonsured hair. For the prayers at Nones, he opened the monastery doors so that the brothers might walk inside in silence. After Vespers, he swept the holy chapel. And whenever the brothers called, he came."

There has not yet been a book written by Gary Schmidt that I haven't loved...he keeps my admiration intact with the lovely picture book biography about a compassionate and noble man whose story I had never heard.

Martin de Porres was born to a beautiful woman in the barrios of Lima, Peru. His mother took him immediately to the cathedral; the priest was disturbed by the conditions of his birth:

"The baby's father was a royal conqueror. His mother was a slave."

His mother Anna loved him and wanted him baptized. The priest only frowned as he baptized him
'the son of an unknown father.' Anna would call him Martin. Their home in the barrios was impoverished:

"On rainy days, the River Rimac flooded its banks, so that cold water - and sometimes rats - poured into their house. Hunger lived in their home. Illness was their companion."

By now, your interest will be piqued, I am sure. It is a lovely story about a man whose concern and continuous care for others is evident in his every action. At 15, after many almost miraculous experiences, Martin presented himself at the monastery. Knowing that the circumstances of his birth were a detriment to his being accepted into the priesthood. Martin had no lofty ambitions:

" I will wash the dishes and tunics," he said. " I will clean the halls and baths. I will tend the gardens and mules."

He was a 'strange boy' to many; but he found his new life of servitude to the priests fulfilling and he brought his healing power to the animals, to the people of the barrios, to the priests themselves and eventually, to the Spanish royals. It took a while but soon everyone in Lima knew of Martin and they called him 'a rose in the desert', just as his mother had predicted so many years ago.
Gary Schmidt provides the story and David Diaz, as he has done so many times before, brings Martin and his world to those who read this truly inspirational book. His images are filled with bold color, calm and peaceful expressions, and a luminescent light that exemplifies the life he lived so well. Martin was the first black saint of the Americas and Pope John XXIII named him 'the patron saint of universal brotherhood.'

In a recent interview, Gary Schmidt said this about writing picture books:

"Picture books are very hard for me; that's why I've only done a handful. They are so lean, so tight, so sparing in their language and singular in their focus. This is wicked hard for me, since I love the novel form for its expansiveness, for the room to develop and consider. There is also the issue of illustration, since with the picture book the writer must leave room for the illustrator's investigations. I've worked with some terrific illustrators--most recently the amazing David Diaz--and it's been wonderful to see what they have done to bring two visions into a single artistic experience--even though it's hard for a guy with a lot of New England blood to release this much control. I think in the end, though, I'm more comfortable with the novel form."

I hope for Mr. Schmidt that seeing this exquisite book find an audience will give him pause to consider trying his hand at another illustrated book in the future. I would love to see it!

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