Sunday, August 26, 2018



ABOUT THE BOOK {from Goodreads}:

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR {from Goodreads}:
Joyce Sidman lives in Wayzata, Minnesota.

This is a beautifully-formatted and extensive biography of a pioneer in the fields of science and art. I recommend it as a read-aloud for lower middle-grade students and as independent reading for upper middle-graders.

Maria Merian was born in Frankfurt Germany in the mid-seventeenth century at a time when women were expected to be completely submissive to their fathers, brothers, and/or husbands. They were not permitted to function as independent thinkers with their own careers.

The subject of this biography broke many barriers during her lifetime in the fields of science, art, and business. Her art skills and curiosity about insects and plants astonished me! 

At the time, people believed "that all flying, creeping things are pests, born of filth and decay." {Introduction} Butterflies were called 'summer birds', and it was believed that they crept out from under the earth.

Maria was meticulous in her experiments on caterpillars and their metamorphosis into butterflies or moths. She raised her own specimens by hand and studied them carefully. She not only sketched and painted her specimens in their various stages of development, but she preserved her samples in glass boxes for others to enjoy.

When her friends and colleagues saw her sketches and sample boxes after she returned to the Netherlands from living in Surinam for almost two years, they encouraged her to publish her findings. She was one of the original indie publishers. 'Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium' {the metamorphosis of the insects of Surinam} was a 22" high volume filled with paintings illustrating the life cycle of the insects Maria had studied. The insects were posed on their home plants. The book was published in 1705 in Dutch and Latin editions. For example, one colored illustration showed a saturniid moth with its caterpillar, cocoon, and pupa on a banana flowers including young bananas. 

As was to be expected, many male scholars at the time discounted her work because Maria did not worry about the classification of her discoveries. They considered her a 'self-taught amateur'. Still others criticized her because she went to Surinam unaccompanied by a male escort. {She had divorced her husband a few years earlier}.

Her paintings of the animals and insects of Surinam in the early eighteenth century are thought to possibly be the only record of the metamorphoses of many Surinam species which are now extinct.

I was inspired by this woman's curiosity, passion, independence, and quest for accuracy in this new {at the time} area of science, natural science. She was a mentor to young women who wanted to work as artists, and she was a leader in every sense of the word.

Maria's artwork, which fills the pages of this biography, is absolutely stunning in my opinion. I love botanical prints and paintings of animals of all types so this book was a visual feast for me. I believe children will find it stimulating and interesting. Maria Merian was one talented lady who shared her gifts with the world. I believe she would be thrilled to learn young readers are still enjoying her artwork over three hundred years after her death.

There is an excellent 'Butterfly Glossary' preceding the Introduction to this book. Back matter includes an engaging 'Author's Note', a detailed Timeline, Quote Sources, Selected Bibliography, and Acknowledgments page. 

Highly-recommended for fans of women's studies, science history, seventeenth and eighteenth century European history, art, and botanical art. NOTE:  Please read my caveat about the content of this book in the following 'Content Caution' section before you read this book to or allow your middle-grade student to read this book independently.

I borrowed this book from the non-fiction Biography shelves in the Children's section of the local public library.

CONTENT CAUTION:  I want to mention that in the sidebar printed on page 90 there are three topics which you will want to be aware of before sharing this book with children. 1.) Slavery--the poor treatment of Amerindians and Africans in the Dutch colony of Surinam where Maria and her daughter lived and studied for almost two years. 2.) The fact that slaves used a particular seed to abort their children so these children would not have to live their lives in slavery. 3.) Suicide--Adult slaves killed themselves because of their religious beliefs about being born again into freedom in their native country. *It is noted that when Maria visited Surinam to conduct scientific research and document it with words and paintings she was 'shocked and appalled' at what she found there.

Find the links to read more great Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts from middle-grade authors and bloggers at Greg Pattridge's 'Always in the Middle' Blog.  

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--  Wednesday, August 29th:  Blog Tour for 'The Patriot Bride'. Post includes a book spotlight, excerpt, and giveaway. Tour organized by JustRead Publicity Tours.
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  1. Maria Merian was a woman scientist, artist and author way before her times. I love her passion! Stories like this are so important because youth today don't realize how restricted women were in earlier periods of history. Her story is truly inspiring.

    1. Hello, Patricia ~ I couldn't agree more with your comments. There were things about the rights of women in 17th Century Europe I was surprised to read about in this book. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us here. Best, June

  2. I'd never heard of this wonderful lady. What a great life she had doing what she loved to do. I'll be looking to share this one with teachers. Thanks for the insightful review.

    1. Welcome, Greg ~ I had not heard of Maria Merian before I saw this book in the library's catalog either. I found her to be an extremely inspiring individual who handled her gifts and talents with grace and great courage. You're welcome for the review; I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by my blog to share your thoughts. Sincerely, June

  3. I have seen this book and it is gorgeous. I think it's important to put your warning out about this book. A lot of people would find some of that objectionable. Thanks for your post.



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