Anselm of Canterbury: Christian Biographies for Young Readers, by Simonetta Carr; with illustrations by Matt Abraxas. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2013, 63 pages, $18.00.
Anselm of Canterbury is one in a series of books written about distinguished characters from church history. It is a clearly and interestingly written, beautifully illustrated biography of one of the medieval church fathers for younger and older kids alike. It also provides a nice overview for adults. Unlike many of the other church history biographies available, the books in this series contain illustrations, pictures, and drawings on nearly every page. They are chock full of great information and appeal to the eye as well. Adults and kids of all ages will benefit from this book: it is a great read-aloud for young kids and a meaty study book for older kids.
This series of books, subtitled Christian Biographies for Young Readers, is written by Simonetta Carr. She is a mother of eight children who has homeschooled them as well. During her homeschooling, she noticed that there weren’t many books available about church history for children. Friends and family encouraged her to do something about it, so she tried her hand at filling the void, produced a book, and sent it to several publishing houses. It was eventually published by Reformation Heritage books from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The series now consists of seven books: Anselm of Canterbury, Lady Jane Grey, John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo, John Owen, Athanasius, and the most recent publication, John Knox. Carr has a contract with her publisher to produce a book every eight months. When asked how she decides on her subjects, she said she tries to choose “men and women who’ve had a major influence on Christian thought.” Her main goal is to teach kids “to know what they believe and why,” which has become a sort of slogan. Carr makes church heroes come to life.
Carr was born and brought up in Italy. She grew up Catholic, her father a monk. Interestingly, her father met her mother in a confessional booth, and they fell in love. Her mother helped him get out of the church without getting excommunicated. As she grew up, Simonetta started questioning the Bible. She came to the evangelical faith through an American missionary family who was visiting Italy. Eventually she married a Protestant. She describes her spiritual journey this way: “it took a very long time to understand fully.” Currently she resides in California and attends Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, California, where Michael Horton is pastor.
In the book Anselm of Canterbury, Carr tells us how Anselm pondered the question, “Why did God become man?” She tells about how God instilled in this man a passion for learning and a love for studying God’s Word. Early in life, he became a monk and eventually a teacher of other monks. He encouraged kindness in teaching as opposed to the harsh correction he had received as a student. He also enjoyed writing, and Carr includes brief summaries of his two books and excerpts from them in the back of her book. Writing in Anselm’s day was expensive and time consuming because they had no paper like we have today, so Anselm had to choose his words very carefully.
Anselm lived during the volatile times of William the Conqueror and was entangled in these political affairs. King William appointed Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury, despite Anselm’s protests. But King William did not prove to be an easy king for Anselm to work with, and the unhealthy intermarriage of church affairs with ungodly statesmen made Anselm’s job difficult. During Anselm’s time, there was also unrest in the papacy. Two men claimed to be pope: Urban, appointed by the church, and Clement, appointed by the emperor. Anselm got involved in the situation and took on the hard task of telling the emperor that it was not his place to appoint church leaders. Thankfully, as a result, the emperor agreed to recognize Urban as pope. In the midst of these issues and other turmoil with which he had to wrestle, Anselm had time for much thinking and contemplation and his few but important writings have had a lasting impact on church doctrine and theology.
Anselm of Canterbury, along with the other books in this series, are hardcover picture books made to look old-fashioned. The pages simulate parchment. On every page of the book, Carr includes illustrations painted by Matt Abraxas; maps; photographs of significant places (e.g., what is believed to be Anselm’s childhood home, still standing in France), statues, and other relevant artifacts (e.g., a Roman wax tablet, a portrait of Anselm). These illustrations and photographs allow Carr to include a host of information that would be tedious to include in the story itself. The main part of the book includes about sixty pages of a summary biography. At the end of the book, Carr includes supplemental information: a one-page timeline, a “Did You Know?” section which includes interesting and relevant facts, and finally a short section of the author’s writings. This format is the same in all the books in this series.
From my own experience as a homeschooling mother, I own few books that have similar content: Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History by Richard M. Hannula, Moscow, ID, Canon Press, 1999, is a 300-page book summarizing the lives of forty-six church mothers and fathers, and Reformation Heroes, by Diana Kleyn and Joel R. Beeke, Grand Rapids, MI, Reformation Heritage Books, 2007, is a 240-page book covering the lives of about thirty Reformers. A book more similar to Carr’s is a biography about Martin Luther called Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World by Paul Maier, St. Louis, MO, Concordia Publishing House, 2004. Could this last book have inspired Carr to write others like it?
In these well-researched, clearly-written, attractive books that educate children of all ages on church history from a reformed perspective, Simonetta Carr teaches us what we believe and why. You can find them on Amazon, Westminster Book Store, or other Reformed book stores.
 Carl Trueman’s interview with Simonetta Carr, http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/archive/201305.
Cynthia Rowland is member of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church, Manchester, New Hampshire.