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The Secret World of Hildegard

Written by Jonah Winter

Illustrated by Jeanette Winter


A woman who dared to let her light shine

In a time when few women dared . . .

Hildegard was a scientist. She studied plants and made medicines.
Hildegard was a musician. She wrote hymns and sang harmonies.
Hildegard was a writer. She spoke to priests and popes and the people.

But before all that . . .

Hildegard was a girl with a secret world.
Flames danced.
Flowers blossomed.
God said, "Write what you see."

And she could only become all she was when she let her light shine.

This exquisite book from the creators of Diego honors a woman whose secret world still fascinates readers.


Reviews and Awards

A New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing

⋆ "Using heightened language that matches his mother’s exquisite, hieratic pictures, Jonah Winter limns the life of an extraordinary woman, the 12th-century Hildegard of Bingen. As a small girl, Hildegard knew things and could see things inside her head, visions and glories. Her frightened parents brought her to a monastery where a particular nun taught her to read, to sing and to study. Keeping her visions secret, however, caused her great pain, until she let them pour out of her in a luminous river of music, writing and natural history. The pope blessed her work, and people came to hear her. The design is in perfect harmony with the story, with pages that alternate long and shorter texts, and fonts reflecting her own words or those of the narrator. Hildegard described herself as “a feather on the breath of God,” and young readers will find themselves breathless with the power of her story and the long reach of her ideas." - Kirkus Reviews, starred review

⋆"In the Middle Ages, a time when girls were hardly seen and almost never heard, Hildegard was born in Germany. From the first, the things she saw in her head scared her and those around her. Her parents sent her away to stay with holy women, who placed her in a stone room with a nun who taught her to read, sing, and pray. Years later, she stepped out to become the mistress of the abbey. But the headaches she had since childhood continued. A world inside her was desperate to get out, and then God told her she must share her visions. So Hildegard obeyed, pouring out ideas, and music, and medical knowledge. Her writings influenced a pope and a king. She is celebrated as visionary, and as a woman beyond her times. The story of Hildegard is complicated, but the Winters, a talented mother-son team, do an amazing job of squeezing out its essence and bringing it to a child’s level without compromising on language. Narrated with elegant simplicity, the story also makes use of Hildegard’s own words. As usual, Jeanette Winter’s artistic style is deceptively simple. Her images feature plainly drawn characters, yet surrounding Hildegard are mystical Hebrew letters, halos filled with stars and thorns, comprehensible symbols of ecstacy, and other symbols of religious iconography. Children will be fascinated by this small jewel. An author’s note explains more." - Booklist, starred review

"The Winters set the scene perfectly for this picture-book biography of Hildegard von Bingen: out of the dark, gray world of the Middle Ages, when “men ruled over the earth,” shines the radiant light of visionary Hildegard. Story and pictures tell of a small girl who suffers debilitating headaches and is afraid to tell about the world she sees inside her head. The sickly child is taken to a monastery, grows up to become a beloved abbess, and finally reveals her visions, which are recorded in several books. “And every time she let her own light shine, the world was a little brighter, and her headaches went away.” The text describes these visions in biblically styled prose, while pictures framed like windows convey their glory in brilliant bursts of color; an author’s note gives further details of her life and work (she was also a scientist, composer, and preacher). There is no mention of the contemporary theory that Hildegard likely suffered from migraines, but whatever the source of her creativity, Hildegard’s accomplishments are near-miraculous for a woman in the twelfth century." - Horn Book

"[Winter's] direct writing style makes Hildegard's confusion, suffering and ultimate rejoicing palpable for young readers. Jeanette Winter uses bold graphic imagery, rich, earthy tones and distinct facial expressions in her elegantly composed, neatly framed paintings, conveying a sense of drama and reverence throughout. A concise profile and bibliography further illuminate Hildegard's many outstanding achievements." - Publishers Weekly

"The text, which incorporates snippets of von Bingen’s writings, has a formal quality of its own, with phrases such as 'and, lo' and 'it came to pass.' The stylized, intriguing acrylic-and-pen images recall illuminated manuscripts and include representations of three of her visions. The illustrations reward repeated viewings to discover motifs such as the recurring images of feathers and birds that reference the nun’s characterization of herself as 'a feather on the breath of God.'" School Library Journal


Purchase Options
Indiebound  Amazon • Barnes & Noble


Fall 2007
Non-fiction Picture Book
ISBN: 0-439-50739-1
Price: $16.99/$20.99
Trim Size: 7" x 8"
Page Count: 64
Foreign Rights: Scholastic
Translation Rights: Scholastic
Rights Available? yes


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