The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman. February 20, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 160 p. ISBN: 9780544717138. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.7; Lexile: 1110.
Bugs, of all kinds, were considered to be “born of mud” and to be “beasts of the devil.” Why would anyone, let alone a girl, want to study and observe them?
One of the first naturalists to observe live insects directly, Maria Sibylla Merian was also one of the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. In this visual nonfiction biography, richly illustrated throughout with full-color original paintings by Merian herself, the Newbery Honor–winning author Joyce Sidman paints her own picture of one of the first female entomologists and a woman who flouted convention in the pursuit of knowledge and her passion for insects.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: None
Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. Considered by many to be the world’s first ecologist, Maria Merian broke ground through her meticulous observations of insects and beautiful depictions of them within their natural habitats. Born in seventeenth-century Germany, Maria was the daughter of famed engraver and printer Matthäus Merian and stepdaughter to a successful still-life painter, allowing her to study both art and nature from a young age. Sidman’s writing radiates Maria’s passion and curiosity for the natural world, and it is as absorbing as fiction. As Maria’s primary interest was in caterpillars—she worked diligently to discover their origins and connection to moths and butterflies, charmingly called “summer birds”—Sidman begins her book with a glossary of butterfly terminology and later reveals how Maria became the first person to discover and present the complete life cycle of these insects. Colored inserts give further historical and cultural context to Maria’s life, noting such things as the limitations placed on women during the seventeenth century and how the era’s curiosity cabinets lead to the creation of museums. A fantastic array of illustrations embellish the text with photos of butterflies, caterpillars, and chrysalises, and lovely images of Maria’s artwork and that of her father’s. Meanwhile, exceptional captions identify and establish each illustration’s relevance to Maria’s life. A vibrant, wonderfully rounded biography on a pioneering and prodigiously talented woman.
Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
Sidman introduces readers to Maria Merian, a seventeenth-century German naturalist whose illustrations of the life cycles of butterflies and moths included groundbreaking scientific details, such as the inclusion of eggs in the insect life cycle and the portrayal of the ecological interdependence of plants and animals. Excellent reproductions of the gorgeous botanical prints allow readers to appreciate their accurate scientific detail and artistry. Merian’s story, from childhood through her often unconventional and adventurous adult life, is told in twelve chapters, each titled with a stage in a butterfly’s life cycle; photographs illustrating each of the butterfly stages were taken by the author, who was inspired to raise the creatures herself. Merian was a prolific diarist, and the inclusion of numerous excerpts from her journals, along with historical illustrations and maps, gives the reader glimpses into this period of history and of the talented women who lived in it. A timeline, a glossary, sources, additional readings, and an informative author’s note are included. danielle j. ford
About the Author
The Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman is today’s foremost nature poet for children. Accolades for her books include two Caldecott Honors, a Lee Bennet Hopkins Award, winner of the Claudia Lews Award, and many stars and best of lists. For her award-winning body of work, she won the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. She lives in Wayzata, Minnesota.
Her website is www.joycesidman.com
Maria Merian Lesson Plan
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