Books CORL (Check Off your Reading List) Challenge 2014 Fantasy and Paranormal GB Challenges Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Women of God in Nonfiction Picturebooks: “Mother Teresa” by Demi and Jonah Winter’s “The Secret World of Hildegard”

Myra here.


We are excited to join Kidlit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year. For November-December, we are featuring Paranormal Fantasies: Dragons and Unicorns, Vampires and Elves.

Many thanks, dear Iphigene, for this lovely widget. Truly beautiful.
Many thanks, dear Iphigene, for this lovely widget. Truly beautiful.

As such, we are also sharing picture book biographies of word weavers and fantasy makers.

While these two women technically did not create fantasy worlds – they were driven by a spiritual imperative to change the world through their vision and their actions that inspired millions of people from around the world to become better human beings, and more compassionate and caring individuals. Perfect for Christmas Eve, I thought.

IMG_7141Mother Teresa

Written and Illustrated byDemi
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2005
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I’ve always known about Mother Teresa, as I was born and raised a Catholic girl and I have attended an all-girls Catholic school for my primary and secondary years. However, I did not know the little details of her life, such as the fact that she was born of Albanian parentage in Yugoslav Macedonia, and that she attended school in Croatia. I just automatically assumed that she was from India.

I love the way that Mother Teresa’s life was told in blocks of text quite separate from the framed portrait-like paintings of Demi.


Inspired by letters written by Jesuit Father Antony Vizak, the young Agnes (Mother Teresa’s birth name) resolved to one day travel to India to spread God’s word. There are very few people with this kind of humanitarian spirit, with a vision so clear and pure that it illuminates all the dark and forgotten corners of the universe:


Demi’s luminous picturebook biography of this amazing woman who asked for nothing but simply acted out of faith and compassion is a testament to how little things can add up to a huge, unprecedented impact. Mother Teresa’s example borne out of a single-minded zeal to help as many people as she could, galvanized people into being a part of this overarching mission to deliver services to those who are in need, and to simply respond to the call for help, that is always out there in the world.


I especially liked how Demi has ingeniously integrated biblical passages with quotable quotes from Mother Teresa without interrupting the the solid flow of her portrait-paintings and her blocks of narrative text. The endpapers of this book are also a thing of beauty. Teachers would be happy to note that there is an extensive list of resources as well as detailed timeline of significant events in Mother Teresa’s life.

The Secret World of HildegardIMG_7132

Written by: Jonah Winter Illustrated by: Jeanette Winter
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007.
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

While I was a bit familiar with who Mother Teresa was, I did not know anything about Hildegard von Bingen, who apparently, had been the most important woman during her time. She was born during the Middle Ages, year 1098, in the kingdom of Germany. Hildegard had visions ever since she was a young girl. Her parents, unable to make sense of the strange world that lives inside her, decided that the best place for her to be in would be a Catholic monastery.


And there was grayness

and silence and sorrow,

though a light shone brightly inside her.

While HIldegard initially struggled with the notion that there must be something wrong with her which made her parents give her up and send her away, she was well taken cared of in the monastery filled with quiet and candles and haunting melodies, and most importantly, books. As she grew older and wiser, she earned the title of Mistress as she was beloved and respected by all.


Her visions, however, continued to haunt her. And the more that she silenced them, the more raging and painful her headaches became. Eventually, she trusted the people around her to listen. She had faith that God’s voice in her head will be heard. And such celestial visions they were. What was even more amazing was the fact that the Pope himself approved of her divine visions.


Hildegard was not only a visionary, she was also a scientist, a female naturalist at a time when this field was dominated exclusively by men. She was also a celebrated musical composer who wrote songs that were sung in church choirs. She was so prolific that she wrote books on animals, medicine, the alphabet, and even an entire language. Her books continue to influence alternative medicine in the modern world, which becomes even more amazing, given the fact that she had not really experienced any kind of formal education in a university or institution.

I also liked the fact that this picturebook tells her story in such an accessible manner. Yet at the same time, it manages to celebrate the poetry of her life, the colour of her visions, the majesty in the music that she listened to in her inner world and shared with the rest of humanity. I feel blessed knowing about her story and knowing that a woman like her existed, bringing colour and hope in what had been a largely gray and drab Middle Ages. There is also a significant back-matter that teachers can refer to for additional information.



Reading Challenge Update: 301-302 (25)


Nonfiction PictureBook Challenge: 66 (25)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Women of God in Nonfiction Picturebooks: “Mother Teresa” by Demi and Jonah Winter’s “The Secret World of Hildegard”

  1. I have heard of Hildegard, but had no idea there was a children’s picture book about her. She is definitely interesting and I think it is a challenge to find enou books about religion that work with kids.


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