Publisher: Tricycle Press, 1999 (first published by Celestial Arts, 1982)

Editor: Orly Kelly

Art Director: Abigail Johnston

Animalia, by Barbara Helen Berger

Thirteen small tales of kindness between holy people and animals. Each is told on a double-page spread in calligraphy with art inspired by illuminated manuscripts.

Author’s comments:

Learning to do calligraphy, I fell in love with Medieval illuminated manuscripts. I wanted to try and make one for children of our own time. I was also exploring Buddhism and Christianity and found a great compassionate heart in both. In Buddhism, this big heart includes not only human beings, but all beings, even small insects. Any story of a kindness between a human being and an animal moved me. That’s what my book would be about!

So I started looking for more of those little stories. I found them in a variety of books: lives of the Christian saints, Chinese Taoist tales, the story of the Buddha’s life. I wanted a blend of East and West. And I learned that St. Francis was not the only Christian saint who loved animals, only the most famous one. I collected as many stories as I could find and then began retelling them in my own words.

This was my first book. Since I never thought I could write original stories, retelling was a good way for me to begin as a writer. I soon realized that even in retelling, we make our own imaginative choices. Some stories needed more changing than others, yet I tried to be true to the spirit of each old story.

It was the same with making an “illuminated manuscript.” All I could do was aim for the spirit of the glorious old tradition. I did my calligraphy and art separately, on two different kinds of paper. They were then put together when the book was printed. This wasn’t the Medieval way, but a modern way adapted for the printing press. Still, it gave me a taste of what it was like to create a book long ago, when every book was written and made by hand.

Scene from Animalia by Barbara Helen Berger

“In the stillness, Brother Benno began to feel very small.”

Reviews of ANIMALIA:

Seattle Weekly
Dec. 8-14, 1982
Section: Children’s Books For Christmas

Animalia, by Barbara Berger (Celestial Arts). Bainbridge Island artist Barbara Berger has compiled and retold 13 tales about people (call them sages, saints, or mystics) who had a special affinity for animals. In themselves, these tales are distinctively warm and gentle, but the illustrations transport this book to the plane of spiritually-informed art, serene, generous, expansive, and achingly beautiful, a modern descendant of the illuminated manuscript. The original art is on view at the Penryn Gallery through Dec. 11 [1982]

Publisher’s Weekly
December 24, 1982

… Berger’s creation is impossible to overpraise as an inducement to contemplation on the wonders of nature we are seldom conscious of. Marvelous paintings, vibrant with color, illustrate the author’s collection of stories based on annals of people remembered for living harmoniously with nature in its countless forms. “Breath, life, and soul were known as ‘anima’ in Latin,” the book’s introduction reminds us, and the word applies to animals and the life in humans as well as in plants of every kind. The illuminated paintings encompass tales about St. Francis whose love for all creatures led him to bestow blessings on a beetle, worm, a snail and a spider as well as on the higher animals. St. Francis and other real people are celebrated here and there are also legends and myths about gentle men, women and children recorded in the folklore of China, India and other countries. The book is a rare spiritual experience. (All ages)

Daily Hampshire Gazette
Northampton, Mass., December 1, 1982
“Some literary treasures to light up a child’s Christmas”
by Jane Yolen

… Barbara Berger, a young Washington state artist, has produced one of the most glowing books of this or any season. “Animalia” (Celestial Arts) is a modern illuminated manuscript containing 13 small tales gleaned from the wisdom of different cultures and religions around the world: saints and sages, gurus and princes dance across the pages of this special and beautiful book. Hand calligraphed, each story is set within a two-page full-color picture. The stories themselves, tiny parables, are gems rivaled by the illuminations in which they are set. Ostensibly this is a book for children, but it is really a book for all ages. …

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Where to Find My Books

Moonlet’s book from A Lot of Otters