It’s never too early to learn about this woman: A review of “Hildegard’s Gift”

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I was in college when I first heard of Hildegard of Bingen.  The album Vision had just been released, and the poster for it was on display in the funky little music shop in town.  You didn’t see many pictures of nuns on the wall of Rhino Records; that in itself made me file her name away for future study.

And though I still haven’t studied her life as closely as I’d like, I do know this: this twelfth-century German nun was a Renaissance woman several centuries before the Renaissance.  She was not just a composer; she was also a playwright, a theologian, an abbess, a pharmacist, and a mystic.   She was quite a gal, in other words, a great example of a woman who used her gifts to their fullest.

That’s why I’m delighted that she is the subject of a new picture book for kids:   Hildegard’s Gift, by Megan Hoyt and illustrated by David Hill.  It’s a lovely way to introduce kids to this fascinating woman, and to light the spark of their interest in strong spiritual women from the past.

The book starts in Hildegard’s childhood, describing her visionary “gift” — the ability to see unique images and pictures and put them on paper.  Her gift follows her into adulthood, and the author does not shy away from showing that this gift was not all rosy; Hildegard suffered from great headaches and at times struggled to know how best to use her unique ability for others.  But with the support of some key people in her life, she was able to embrace her gift and find ways to use it to draw others closer to God, the source of all creation.

Author Hoyt ends the book with an invitation to young readers to think about their own gifts — whether it’s drawing, dancing, sports, we all have something we’re good at, and that gift can enrich our own lives and the lives of others.  It’s a great way to bring Hildegard’s story back around to the lives of the book’s audience, making a tangible point of connection.

The illustrations are very inviting, too.  Young Hildegard looks like a real girl, not like a plaster saint, and the pictures of her visions practically pop with bright, happy colors.  I also like how quotations from Hildegard’s writings are worked into the pictures; it subtly weaves her own spiritual insights throughout the book’s pages.

All in all, this is a very appealing book which would be a great First Communion gift for a little girl.  It’s a vibrant and loving celebration of Hildegard’s unique gift, and  a terrific way to introduce kids to her story.   Why wait until adulthood  to learn about such a captivating woman?

I received a review copy of Hildegard’s Gift from the kind folks at Paraclete Press.   It’s available on their website, at BarnesandNoble.com, and on Amazon.com.

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