Heavy Medal Finalist: THE GIRL WHO DREW BUTTERFLIES by Joyce Sidman
Maria Merian was born in the mid 1600s in Germany when women weren’t allowed in universities or professions (let alone allowed to paint with oils) and people still believed Aristotle’s theory of “spontaneous generation.” Insects supposedly sprung from mud or dead animals, and studying such “noxious animals” was seen as abnormal and ungodly and sometimes the provenance of witches.
Sidman takes us on Maria Merian’s fascinating journey, her transformation from a young girl helping in the family business to a published author of gorgeous books of scientific discovery.
Sidman organizes the book beautifully and information is easily accessible for the young reader. Presenting the glossary in the front of the book rather than the back makes the insect development terms clear and sets the reader up to comprehend the layout of the book. Each chapter is named for a stage in insect development, mirroring that stage in Meriam’s life. A poem about that stage introduces the chapter.
Up, up, up I clamber, searching for secrets, full to bursting, not even noticing I have outgrown my own skin again (p 28)
Here Sidman describes one of the instars of a caterpillar, elegantly linking it to Merian’s experience of continually outgrowing her own caterpillar skin, the constraints that society has put on women at that time. The poems guide the reader to more fully understand Merian’s metamorphosis from the “egg” of her birth and childhood through the “eclosure” from married woman to aspiring business woman to the laying of her own eggs—her legacy and the transformation of scientific discovery.
Sidman’s research was extensive, from observing her own caterpillars’ development (the insect photos in the book are mostly her own) to the use of primary sources–her bachelor’s degree in German allowed her to work from Meriam’s own notes.
Her historical sections on such topics as “Witch Hunts: The Dangers of Being Different” and “Curiosity Cabinets: The First Museums” gives the reader more background information and historical context.
Her expertise as a poet permeates the book. The alliteration in the forward (The Girl in the Garden) and afterward (The Woman in Her World) show us that her poet’s hand has touched even the small details.
Sidman does a masterful job at conveying the wonder of discovery. Her book continues Meriam’s legacy of fascination with the natural world and its cycles. May this book bring this excitement to many young readers!
Introduction by Susan N.
Readers are now invited to discuss this book, starting by focusing on positive aspects. Later today we will open up the discussion to include areas where the book may be lacking, along with the strong points.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at email@example.com.
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