Book Reviews, Bookishness, Mamaishness

Hildegard von Bingen: Two Children’s Books

As we slowly ease ourselves into a Charlotte Mason-inspired education, I’ve been making a real effort to incorporate weekly composer and artist study into our homeschool time. For the sake of sanity, I decided we would begin by following the Ambleside Online artist and composer rotations, and then deviate from that plan as needed. Thus, our first composer this year has been Hildegard von Bingen, a cloistered nun from medieval Germany.

If you’re not familiar with her work – and I certainly wasn’t prior to this year – go ahead and click on the video below to listen while you read.

Otherworldly, right? Hildegard had religious visions from a young age, and eventually was inspired to record these visions and write music that shared the spirit of God with others. While remaining within the musical forms of her time, Hildegard also created a distinctive style. Listen to her compositions alongside other plainsong and medieval chants, and you’ll notice that you can identify her work fairly easily.

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While Charlotte Mason emphasized the music over the minutiae of its composer’s life, I became so fascinated with Hildegard that I did want to share a bit of her story with the girls. I found an excellent copy of Jonah & Jeanette Winter’s The Secret World of Hildegard (IndieBound/Amazon), and it does a magnificent job of explaining her life, the world in which she lived, and the reasons for her work.

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The illustrations are done in a manner reminiscent of illuminations, and the more mystic and spiritual aspects of her life and work are explained in ways that young children can begin to grasp. Here is just one example, of the Holy Spirit descending upon Hildegard as she dictates to her scribes. The book beautifully describes her achievements, placing them in the context of a time when women were not expected to read, write, or assert much authority. For a fascinating in-depth study of her life and work, visit this website, which is clearly a labor of love.

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Megan Hoyt and David Hill have also written and illustrated a newer book about Hildegard’s life. Hildegard’s Gift (IndieBound/Amazon) places its main focus on her musical accomplishments, and the role of her faith in making that work possible. The illustrations are in a more modern style, and this book might be preferable to some families. Also, it includes several quotes from Hildegard’s body of work in a way that allows them to strengthen the telling of the story.

My almost-three year old has been particularly taken with Hildegard, and asks to read the book frequently. We’ve also started a Hildegard Pandora channel, which makes for good background music throughout our day. I’m thrilled to have discovered this composer, and we are beginning to feel like she is an old friend.