BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON. By Margaret Mayo. Illustrated by Peter Malone. Orion Children's Books pound;9.99. THE LIFE OF ST FRANCIS. Retold by Rachel Billington. Illustrated by James Mayhew. Hodder pound;10.99.
The life of St Francis is compelling for children of any faith, or no faith. A young man who loved in equal measure wine, women, song and spending vast amounts of money, Francis was so moved by the plight of the homeless and the sick that he eventually spurned his wealth and dedicated his life to God through service to the poor, the helpless and the lowly of every kind, including animals.
Francis chose to use his powers of love to talk to the birds, to tame wild beasts, to embrace lepers, living outside the city and society itself. His story embraces issues which many children respond to - animal rights, divisions in society and the extremes of wealth and poverty.
The earthquakes of 1997 which badly damaged the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi (which houses famous frescos by Giotto, the early Renaissance artist who depicted the life of the saint), brought St Francis of Assisi back into the public eye.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon presents his life story in short manageable excerpts concentrating on the most significant events - taming the wolf, re-staging Christ's birth, talking to the birds.
Mayo's simple but lyrical language is beautifully complemented by Malone's jewel-like illustrations, which draw on the rich traditions of medieval illumination and Mughal miniatures.
The Life of St Francis presents the story as a whole, and provides a more detailed psychological treatment. It is skilfully composed and well served by Mayhew's striking illustrations.
Surrounded by simple, yet decorative borders, these pictures draw on the style of Giotto, with references to English painters such as Blake and David Jones. The result is something altogether original, fresh and open.
Each of these books would make an excellent point of reference for topics that explore ethics and morality.