Gabriel and the Hour Book
This book is in public domain and readily available for free in various ebook forms. Here are a few links to various versions:
Heritage History; Google Public Domain; Audio and other versions at Librivox; Gutenberg; Amazon Kindle and Paperback
You can find out about her life here, and read some of her seasonal poetry here.
She was from Indiana, which surprised me, because the book had a British feeling (though set in late medieval France).
Overview of the Book
This review at The Old Schoolhouse gives some information. The book is short and the final part takes place on Christmas, so it would make a great Advent reading. I think it is suitable for ages 6 to 12, but might have to be a read-aloud for the younger ages.
The story is gentle, heartfelt and sensitively written. Gabriel's development of character is well-shown, as are the spiritual trials of his mentor, Brother Stephen.
France in the late 15th century, specifically Normandy. There is a town of Saint Martin de Boscherville in Normandy; perhaps it is the inspiration for St Martin de Bouchage in the story, though the Abbey there is called St Georges rather than St Martin.
Anne of Brittany is a real historical character. She married Louis XII of France.
I don't think Brother Stephen and little Gabriel Viaud of St Martin's Abbey, the main characters in the story, are part of history, but they are certainly the kind of character who might have existed in those times. The author seems to have been very careful to present accurate historical details, like the process of illumination, the monastic life, and the workings of the class system in France of that time.
Notes for Further Study:
For more about Louis XII and Anne of Brittany in a more story-telling form than Wikipedia, check out Heritage History: the accession of Louis XII from The Story of Europe, The House of Valois from Peeps at History, about Anne of Brittany and her father from Story of Old France. These are probably all intermediate level reads.
The Book of Hours in the story seems to be fictional, but also appears to have been based on a real Book of Hours commissioned by Anne of Brittany, and it appears that Miss Stein used some of the details of that book, with its careful nature drawings etc, for Brother Stephen's Book of Hours. You can find out more about this book, and about Books of Hours in general, at this site.
There is an outline of the process of illumination here: Illuminated Manuscript and a more detailed look here: The Making of an Illuminated Manuscript. Also MetMuseum online exhibition and essay: The Art of the Book.
Here is a site describing the Daily Life of a Medieval Monk
There is a Thinkquest site on Life of a Medieval Peasant.
A non-Catholic but basically sympathetic narrative description of medieval monastic life from The Story of the Middle Ages by Samuel Harding. Harding also writes about the Life of the Medieval Peasant. These are intermediate reading level.
The laws of French feudalism are mentioned in this book as they affect young Gabriel and his family, and you could look at the French 1789 Decree Abolishing the Feudal System for some context.
Brother Stephen and little Gabriel were said to be in the order of the Brothers of St Martin. I am guessing that it would have to be St Martin of Tours, who did indeed found the first monastery in France (in 372), but couldn't find much information on his order.
Catholics, please note though Gabriel and the Book of Hours is basically faithful to the idea of the medieval monastic life, and respectful in tone, Miss Stein was (I am guessing) not a Catholic, and there are a couple of minor bits that you might want to pass over or discuss with your children -- here is a representative example from chapter 2:
he had been brought up to dread the ban of the Church more than anything else that could possibly happen to him, because he believed that this would make him unhappy, not only in this life, but in the life to comeThe idea of clergy being able to bind and loose is generally not accepted by non-Catholics, but is an enduring part of Catholic teaching. I am not sure how much authority an Abbot had to speak for the Church in this kind of thing, though I know Abbots could impose monastic censure. For context, you can find a bit from St Benedict's Rule on The Concern of the Abbot for the Excommunicated.
Further Resources and Activities
HomeschoolShare has a unit and lapbook folds for Marguerite Makes a Book, which is also about illumination in medieval France, and so many of the projects might be good for this book as well.
A few years ago we enjoyed reading Across a Dark and Wild Sea, about St Columcille, an Irish scribe of a much earlier day. I wrote a bit about Kieron trying out uncial script using soot-based ink here.
Here's a blog called Teacups in the Garden which describes an illuminated manuscript project.
If you know of any other resources, or have a post of your own on this topic, please share!