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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Oh brother!

Local author recognized for children's book about a monk

Children’s book author Cindy Millen Roberts reads her book ‘The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane’ to Christ the King school students, from left to right, Clare Dillon, 6, fourth grader Hope Th ayer, Joe Dillon, 10, and Steve Dillon, 8, on Friday. Children’s book author Cindy Millen Roberts reads her book ‘The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane’ to Christ the King school students, from left to right, Clare Dillon, 6, fourth grader Hope Th ayer, Joe Dillon, 10, and Steve Dillon, 8, on Friday.
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When you spend a few minutes with Cindy Millen Roberts, you want to link arms with her and tell her that you want her as one of your best buddies -- forever.

The disarming unpretentious woman with the friendly face is a children's book author, a poet, an artist, a teacher, mother, wife, and a woman of spiritual awareness and commitment.

And now the seventh and eighth grade teacher at Christ the King School has something else to add to her list of intriguing qualities: The poetry in her fourth children's book that was published by Charlesbridge last year, The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane, has earned her the 2011 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. On April 29, she will receive this year's annual award from the Pennsylvania School Librarians' Association Conference in State College, Pa.

Mrs. Roberts has written other children's books: Blue Bowl Down, The Low-Down Laundry Line Blues, and A Symphony for the Sheep.

The Ink Garden, colorfully illustrated by Andrea Wisnewski, was named in honor of Sister Mary Theophane, who is 101-years-old and lives at the Ursuline Center on Indian Road. Theophane means "God with us" in Greek, Mrs. Roberts said.

The story of Brother Theophane is a delightful tale of a golden-haired young monk who doesn't quite fit in with the older brown-haired, balding monks.

"Each morning they went, after saying their prayers, after eating their bread, to the top of the stairs. They walked in a row, first left foot then right, one step at a time with footsteps so quiet. But Theophane always was last in the line, and sometimes he took two steps at a time," Mrs. Roberts wrote.

Thoroughly bored by his duties as a copyist -- "my claw is tired from all this scribbling!" -- Brother Theophane stares out the window for a break from his "simple brown parchment with simple brown quills, dipping simple ink brown in hollowed-out wells." Outside the window is the colorful beauty of nature in the story's setting, in a tall tower monastery in the Mourne Mountains in northeast Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Roberts -- who also draws and paints using watercolors -- and her husband, James Roberts, a local cardiologist, have five children: a daughter, 28, twin daughters, 26, and twin sons, 24. Mrs. Roberts visits her ancestral home of Ireland a couple of times a year. The poetry in The Ink Garden is based on poetry written by Ireland's medieval monks and adapted for today's readers, she said.

'The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane.'
'The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane.'
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Mrs. Roberts' teaching experience spans from elementary school to law school. She taught at the former Ladyfield School, at Owens Community College, and at the University of Toledo Law School. She says the middle-school level is her favorite.

"They are still children who need love and reassurance, and they are trying to be young men and women," she said.

"We talk a lot about faith. And I love giving them confidence to be themselves and who God made them to be."

In this fast-paced, high-tech society, where the majority of so many students' reading and writing is text messages, the art of writing and of reading is at risk of being lost, she said. But not students of Mrs. Roberts. Her classroom assignments make them tackle the slow process of reading a book and of writing a paper. Her class has just read The Count of Monte Cristo and To Kill a Mockingbird. A book report cannot look anything like the abbreviated versions of words commonly strung together in this computer world. They must be several pages and typed.

"They have to think through a process and build a paragraph," she said. "It's the difference between eating at McDonald's and going home to cook a meal from scratch."

A native Toledoan who graduated from Whitmer High School, Mrs. Roberts' curiosity about monks copying the Bible and other manuscripts piqued her interest in their lives. When they got bored, she learned, they wrote poetry with a humorous bent, about their hands hurting from so much copying, for example, and about the brother monk who didn't feed the monastery cat.

Her tale about the monks swirled around in her head for a couple of years before her thoughts were pulled together.

"I'd mess with a line and then another, and then it was ready," she said.

Though Mrs. Roberts says she doesn't know exactly from where her story ideas come, she believes that there is a divine influence.

"As a Catholic, as a Christian, I feel that it's somehow the way God talks to me, and when ideas come, they demand to be heard," she said.

"I cannot take credit for my writing, other than when I feel I have to write ideas down, I do."

Contact Rose Russell at rrussell@theblade.com or 419-724-6178

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