Smudge and the Book of Mistakes

A Christmas Story

The monastery of St. Ambrose is situated on the Irish island of Morcarrick. Here, monks old and young live quiet lives spent in prayer and service. One day the Abbot decides that Brother Bede, their finest illuminator of manuscripts, will illustrate the Christmas story. It will be magnificent, praised throughout the world (as will St. Ambrose). Unfortunately, young Brother Cuthbert has been chosen to assist Brother Bede in this project. Cuthbert is impatient, lacks discipline, and even worse--is known for making mistakes. His nickname is "Smudge." How can someone so ill-suited assist in the creation of the greatest book of all? Award-winning author Gloria Whelan shows that sometimes, when given the right task, someone's greatest weakness can prove to be his greatest strength.

Format List Price Your Price Qty
$17.95 $17.95
$29.95 $29.95
Interest Level Grade 1 - Grade 4
Reading Level
Dewey FIC
ATOS Reading Level 4.9
Guided Reading Level
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585364831), PDF (9781627530996), Hosted ebook (9781627535298)
Copyright 2012, 2014
Number of Pages 48
Dimensions 9 x 11
Graphics Full-color illustrations
  • Alabama Camellia Award 4-5 Division, Short-listed, 2014

A Review of "Smudge and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story" in Booklist

Young Cuthbert, small for his age of 15, is sent to a monastery because his father thinks he would be hopeless as a warrior. But when he is sent to the scriptorium, Cuthbert couldn’t be happier. He loves forming letters, though he always smudges the ink, earning him the nickname of Smudge. By mistake, Smudge is chosen, rather than the greatest scribe in Ireland, to illuminate the Christmas story—a proud endeavor that will make the monastery famous. Can messy Smudge make it perfect? Under Brother Gregory’s tutelage, Smudge practices his letters over and over, but he makes a mistake in the letter B as he is about to finish the manuscript. Thankfully, Brother Gregory rescues the parchment by demonstrating how to make an opportunity of your mistake by drawing a flower inside the B. Meditative, earth-toned illustrations alternate between full-bleed and bordered pages resembling those of ornate Bibles. The tale is fictional, but the dual messages of practice makes perfect and we all make mistakes ring true.

A Review of "Smudge and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story" in School Library Journal

A talented but easily frustrated young man is transformed by the encouragement and belief of the right mentor. Like many boys, Cuthbert is impatient, lacks discipline, and doesn’t like making mistakes. After his annoyed father sends him to a monastery, he ends up in the scriptorium, where he earns the name “Smudge” for his poor skills. When he is mistakenly assigned to do the lettering for the Christmas story, everyone is sent into a tizzy except for master illuminator Brother Bede, who sees some talent in the boy and takes the time to encourage him to practice. Eventually the two create a masterpiece. Whelan’s prose makes the long blocks of text flow like water and includes fun details (like the monks taking their yearly bath in preparation for Easter). Costanza’s illustrations have the look and feel of animated movie art, which adds humor to what is essentially an apprenticeship tale. A lengthy read-aloud for parent/child sharing, but one that could be inspirational for the right listener. (Grades 2-5)

A Review of "Smudge and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story" in Publishers Weekly

National Book Award–winner Whelan (Homeless Bird) writes a substantive story about the value of perseverance. It’s set in a medieval monastery, where the hard-of-hearing and vainglorious abbot mistakenly appoints young “Smudge,” so-called for his sloppiness and tendency to give up easily, to help Brother Gregory write and illuminate the Christmas story. Written with humor, empathy, and an eye toward human foibles, this story develops and resolves with charm, and its message goes down easy. Costanza (A Christmas Spider’s Miracle) paints full-page interiors in deep hues of red, green, and purple that convey both the darkness of the monastery and the illumination within its inhabitants. All ages. Agent: Liza Pulitzer-Voges, Eden Street Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Sept.)

Author: Gloria Whelan

Gloria Whelan is a poet and the award-winning author of many children's books including Homeless Bird, for which she received the National Book Award. The Listeners is her third title in the Tales of Young Americans series. Her other picture books with Sleeping Bear Press include Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers (2008 Society of Illustrators Gold Medal winner); Yatandou (a Junior Library Guild selection); and Friend on Freedom River (a Jefferson Cup honor book). Ms. Whelan lives near Lake St. Clair in Michigan where you can often find her out walking.

Illustrator: Stephen Costanza

Stephen Costanza is the author and illustrator of several picture books for children, including A Christmas Spider’s Miracle. His latest book, King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin, received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, and went on to win the Golden Kite Award in 2022 for picture book illustration. For several years he played the piano professionally alongside a violinist, performing ragtime, jazz, and classical music. He lives and works in North Haven, an island in Maine.

Full-color illustrations