Friday, April 25, 2014

Hildegard's Gift, by Megan Hoyt (book review)

Hildegard's Gift, by Megan Hoyt,, illustrated by David Hill. Paraclete Press, 2014.
"Consider this: For how many saints can you say that you have a playlist of audio files? But with St. Hildegard, [Pope] Benedict has amped up the ranks of Church Doctors who can teach us about what sacred music at its best sounds like." ~~ Christopher S. Morrissey, "A Beginner's Guide to the Music of St. Hildegard of Bingen," Catholic World Report 

To quote the back cover of this picture book, this is "the story of a girl who God wanted to sing." Those who know something about Hildegard of Bingen or who have heard her music will know that she is a fascinating individual in many ways.  She is included in the less than a dozen Christian saints and notables who have a planet named after them.  She also lived during the time of the fictional detective Brother Cadfael, and with their shared interest in medicine I can imagine the two of them meeting up and spending a delightful afternoon comparing notes on plants and remedies.

Megan Hoyt has also used her writer's imagination to give us a picture of Hildegard as a child and then as an adult nun, struggling with the physical pain of migraines, but daring to use her many gifts in God's service.  Her words and David Hill's illustrations are equally colourful and simple.  On first looking at the book, I actually wondered if the illustrations were a bit too childish and simple; as an adult, I see Hildegard as a very complex woman, and the somewhat random whirls and swirls of her "visions" didn't seem to respect that complexity.  However, my youngest daughter disagreed; she enjoyed the bright illustrations.  The pictures also incorporate quotations from Hildegard's own writings, such as "I sparkle the waters, I burn in the sun, and the moon, and the stars."

The book is aimed at the 4 to 8-year-old age range both in style and in reading level, although some vocabulary (such as "pallet") miight have to be explained to younger ones. (One note: my daughter also wasn't sure, after one reading, if Hildegard was a real person; that might have to be clarified for some children.) It could be a good introduction to a study of Hildegard's music, although the music itself might be best enjoyed by students already beyond the scope of this book.

There are not many picture books about female saints.  There are not many about medieval writers and composers.  And there are not many children's books about people who discover that their gift is meant to be given away.  For those reasons, I think Hildegard's Gift will earn a place of its own on many bookshelves.

"These visions weren’t fabricated by my own imagination nor are they anyone else’s. I saw these when I was in the heavenly places. They are God’s mysteries. These are God’s secrets. I wrote them down because a heavenly voice kept saying to me, 'See and speak! Hear and write!'"  ~~ St. Hildegard of Bingen

Disclaimer:  I was provided with a free copy of this book for review purposes, but did not receive other compensation.  

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