Sherman students get to look at ancient book

First grade through fourth grade students in Sherman ISD’s Challenge Program had a chance to view Austin College’s fine art copy of the 1,300-year-old “Book of Kells” Friday at Washington Elementary and Jefferson Elementary.

Librarians with Austin College’s Abell Library take turns presenting a lesson on the illustrated manuscript to SISD students every four years as part of the students’ lessons on the Middle Ages. Written and painted around the year 800, the original “Book of Kells” is on permanent exhibit at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Austin College’s facsimile edition copied every detail — all but two of its 680 pages are in full color — of the Latin manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament.

Washington Challenge Program teacher Missy McGowen had 13 students for the lesson Friday morning from AC librarian Samantha Fox. The afternoon session saw Fox presenting to 21 students from Jefferson and about 56 from Neblett Elementary.

“All of them are studying this, just different stages and levels and depths that they’ll go to,” McGowen said. “It’s such a privilege to see this. (The students) really have an appreciation for books, but to understand that there are books that are rare, and even a copy can be rare, that was something that was really hard for them to wrap their brains around.”

Austin College’s facsimile edition was valued at $18,000 when it was presented to the school more than 20 years ago. McGowen and Jefferson’s Challenge Program teacher, Cindy Petray, said the children really enjoyed getting to see the book up close.

“They loved it,” Petray said. “One of my students said, ‘It’s just like we are looking at history.’”

“They’re learning that the majority of the people who could read and write were the monks, and how our life is different from their’s and the opportunities we have,” McGowen said. “Just look at how books have changed over time — now we can read it on a tablet. In fact, now you can download an app to see the ‘Book of Kells.’ We wanted them to see the real thing and then next week we’re going to look at it on an app.”

Friday was Fox’s first opportunity to present the lesson to local students, who she found quite different from the college kids she teaches in bibliographic courses at AC.

“It’s just a totally different experience in this age group,” Fox said. “They’re just adorable and it’s really neat to see how enthusiastic they are. They want to raise their hand because they know something.”

McGowen said, next week students in the Challenge Program — which is the elementary level of the district’s gifted and talented program — will be making large, illuminated letters in the style of the ornate letters in the “Book of Kells.”