Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Feathers & Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen

 March 16th Launch

What an exciting week it is! My publisher is hosting a launch party for my book this weekend, and I'm preparing a talk. Looking back over my 13-year journey with this story has been an amazing exercise. Most writers do not write in a vacuum. In re-living each stage of my manuscript, I've come to appreciate more deeply the mentors and colleagues who have guided me to each milestone. I've paid homage to Agnes, the character who walked onto the page and changed my writing.

Appearances and opportunities are starting to line up, and I hope young readers will soon meet the young medieval girl who developed into the 12th century's strongest female voice. Though I will never achieve Hildegard's fame, I am thinking how far I have come and am enjoying my little spotlight. Thank you, Vermont College of Fine Arts for preparing me for this journey!

I hope that Saint Hildegard is smiling.

Feathers & Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen, YA historical novel
Apprentice Shop Books, March 16, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


The Secret World of Hildegard
By Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Arthur Levine Books (Picture Book Biography), 2007

To celebrate the upcoming publication of of my YA novel about Hildegard of Bingen, I'm highlighting another book that tells the story of the recently named saint and Doctor of the Church. Mother and son team Jeanette and Jonah Winter have created a terrific picture book that introduces Hildegard to very young readers. As a Hildegard scholar, I love this book.

Let me tell you a bit about Hildegard first. Hildegard was a prophetic woman of many talents. She was a Benedictine nun and then an abbess who lived in the 12th century kingdom of Germany when women had no voice at all. After an unbelievable childhood of seclusion at a monastery, she dared to share visions she felt were from God at the risk of being named a heretic. But the pope blessed her visions, and Hildegard went on to become a writer, composer, artist, scientist, natural healer and preacher. Without the pope’s approval, she would have had no voice in that time and would have remained unknown. Her writings helped shape Christian doctrine; she founded the first independent woman’s monastery; she composed the largest body of 12th century music; and in 2012, Pope Benedict named her a Saint and a Doctor of the Church.

The Secret World of Hildegard is a clever and historically accurate telling of Hildegard’s story. Jonah Winter used snippets of biblical construction to frame Hildegard’s story for the youngest readers. Phrases like “And lo” and “Now it came to pass” repeat throughout the text, linking this story to the grand epic of the Bible. Echoes of the creation story in Genesis show up in this repeated sentence:

And there was grayness
and silence and sorrow,
though a light shone brightly inside her.

How appropriate for the story of a woman who devoted her life to serving God!

Throughout, the author presents Hildegard’s life and the concept of her visions in a very accessible manner. The subject matter is spiritual, but young children do have big questions about God. They will relate to this amazing historical figure because her story begins as a child – one who was sent away to a monastery where she would be safe and have the greatest chance for survival. One half of the book relates Hildegard’s unique childhood. The other half presents her adult life and her many accomplishments and contributions to her world and to ours.

Jeanette Winter’s illustrations are a visual feast. Her color palette is bold, and she designed the book in the style of a medieval illuminated manuscript. Each illustration is framed with an arched border. It seems we are looking through a window at Hildegard’s life. One of my favorite illustrations shows Hildegard emerging from seclusion. She carries her candle, symbolizing the light she will come to share with the world.

Another illustration interprets one of Hildegard’s visions of the universe surrounded with creative energy and Jesus at the center.

This book earned starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist. It is
a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing.

The Secret World of Hildegard is a gem and the perfect introduction to Hildegard for young readers. I hope as older readers they will one day want to read my fictional version of Hildegard’s story in Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen,coming this spring from Apprentice Shop Books.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gathering Books Award-Winning Books Challenge

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatramen
G.P. Putnam’s sons, 2008

If you’re looking for a strong heroine, fifteen-year-old Vidya meets the requirements. In British-occupied India during WW II, when Indian women were expected to marry and raise children, Vidya’s beloved father, her appa, promises her she can go to college. Her dreams for the future change in an instant when Appa is severely injured during a demonstration for Indian independence.

Vidya is forced to move from Bombay with her mother, her father and college-age brother Kitta to their uncle’s home in Madras. Here, relegated to hours of chores by her ungracious aunt, Vidya strains against the cultural rules and expectations regarding women. What will become of her dream? Will she still be able to go to college?

Vidya discovers her grandfather’s library in an upstairs room of her uncle’s home. But she has to defy tradition first.

The staircase stood silent and empty. But it was forbidding. The barrier between the two floors of the house was unbroken except at mealtimes, when the men descended into our realm. Only men used the stairs. If anyone caught me walking up them, what would Periamma do to me?

Vidya fights for her freedom as India fights for independence, and the author weaves together themes of freedom, war and violence vs. non-violence to create a wholly satisfying read.

Visit the book’s website for a wealth of background information and discussion guides.


Julia Ward Howe Boston Authors Club 2009 Award (young readers book of the year)
Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year
ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults 

Award Winning Non-fiction Picture Book

Eggs 1, 2, 3: Who Will the Babies Be?
By Janet Halfmann
Illustrated by Betsy Thompson
Blue Apple Books

Lupine Honor Book: Maine Library Association, 2013
Best 100 Children’s Books for Reading and Sharing: New York Public Library
Gold Best Book Award: Oppenheim Toy Portfolio

Who knew that platypus babies were called “puggles” or even that platypus moms laid eggs? Eggs 1, 2, 3: Who Will the Babies Be? examines eggs of all sizes. Ten different kinds of eggs are considered in this delightful counting picture book. Illustrator Betsy Thompson presents from one to ten eggs in a setting that holds a clue to each baby’s identity.

One egg, big and white,
snuggled on Papa’s feet in a land of ice and snow.

Who will the babies be?

Flip the page out or up and discover if you’ve guessed correctly!

1 penguin chick,
gray and fluffy, peeking out at me.

The book’s design and the artwork make it a charming book that young readers will ask to read again, delighted that they know the secrets now. The text is not overly rhymed but enriched with descriptive verbs and adjectives.

Young readers count the eggs of large and small birds, snakes, turtles, butterflies, fish, fireflies and frogs. When they’ve finished -

You’ve counted all the eggs from 1 – 10
Count the babies once again!