Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Summary: Maria Merian faced some tough obstacles to studying science in the 17th century, not the least of which was the risk of being painfully executed for practicing witchcraft. Fortunately, she had a supportive family who was pretty tolerant of her obsession with insects. Her father was a printer and engraver; after he died, she had an artist stepfather. Both included her in the family business, and Maria used her artistic skills to capture what she observed in nature. She set about disproving the theory of spontaneous generation by studying the life cycles of as many moths and butterflies as she could. As an adult she produced books of her subjects, usually in their natural habitats, making connections between plants and animals that few of her contemporaries observed. In her 50’s, she traveled with her daughter to Suriname, where she was among the first European naturalists. Her final masterpiece, an illustrated guide to the insects and plants she observed there, was well-received throughout Europe and influenced John James Audubon and other naturalists more than a century later. Includes an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index. 160 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: A fascinating biography of a woman who was many centuries ahead of her time, balancing family and running a household with her art and science careers. Her paintings and engravings throughout the book are almost unbelievably detailed and realistic. Newbery poet Joyce Sidman named each chapter for a stage of a butterfly’s life and wrote an appropriate poem for each.
Cons: While the book seems like it could appeal to third and fourth graders (only 120 pages of text and lots of pictures), the subject matter makes it more appropriate for grades 5-8.