Beebe Spins History into Children’s Book

Beebe
Beebe

A recent children’s book by Assistant Professor Kathryne Beebe (History) is garnering rave reviews from kids and adults alike.

The book, “Brother Hugo and the Bear,” illustrated by S.D. Schindler, debuted in April 2014. It was featured in the New York Times and earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal. Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, the title also earned several accolades, including inclusion in the American Booksellers Association’s Best Books for Children Catalog, the Society of Illustrators’ “The Original Art” annual exhibition, and honorable mention on the Huffington Post’s “Best Picture Books of 2014” list.

“Brother Hugo” was inspired by an anecdote Beebe discovered while conducting graduate studies several years ago at the University of Oxford in England. In a letter from Peter the Venerable to Prior Guigo of the Grande Chartreuse monastery, the 12th-century theologian requested a manuscript copy of the letters of St. Augustine, claiming his monastery’s copy had been “eaten by a bear.” Beebe said she could find no other reference to this incident in other historical documents.

“There’s only that one line,” she said, “and it makes you wonder what could have happened. So I imagine what might have happened in the children’s book.”

"Brother Hugo and the Bear"
“Brother Hugo and the Bear”

“Brother Hugo” is an extension of Beebe’s research work on medieval history and digital humanities. It’s also one of two books she saw published last year; the other is a monograph that explores pilgrimage and religious reform in the late Middle Ages called “Pilgrim & Preacher: The Audiences and Observant Spirituality of Friar Felix Fabri (1437/8-1502)” (Oxford University Press). She said that her fascination with pilgrimage travel accounts led to the research behind the publication of her professional academic monograph.

“Usually people read these travel accounts as a how-to or what life was like back then,” Beebe said. “What I want people to get is the cultural context of when these accounts were written and a better look at the assumptions and beliefs that shaped the facts they used.”

Promotion surrounding “Brother Hugo” was bolstered by a book trailer – video shot by Communications major Laura Romo and edited by the book’s publisher. A release party was held in a Southlake bookstore, and Beebe said she was encouraged by seeing so many of her UT Arlington students and co-workers there.

Beebe said writing from two ends of the literary spectrum forced her to stay concise and focus on the heart of her stories.

“When you are writing a children’s book you have to condense everything down, like a poem,” she said. “If you’re writing a good monograph, you want to condense it down to the most honed, concise argument you can.”

The writer and historian is currently working on a new children’s book, “Nile Crossing,” about a boy’s first day of school in ancient Egypt, as well as an academic monograph on “virtual” or “spiritual” pilgrimage in the late Middle Ages.

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(Story by James Dunning/COLA Communications, jdunning@uta.edu)

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