From School Library Journal
Grade 1-4 In the Middle Ages, insects were thought to be evil, and to generate spontaneously in the mud. Born in the 1600s, 13-year-old Maria Merian had a passion for butterflies (and other insects), and she describes her study of their habits and their life cycle in this first-person narrative. Her activities are suspect and punishable. Fortunately, her artistic family provides her the training and time to study, collect, and paint insects and their habitats. Maria alludes to her adult life as she dreams of a future publishing a book and traveling the world. The flowing vines, jewel tones, and imaginary creatures in the illustrations all evoke artwork from the time. Occasional black backgrounds provide backdrops for her imagination. As an adult, Merian's groundbreaking work caught Carl Linnaeus's attention, and copies of her published prints are now housed in art museums around the world. A historical note shares some of the context of her life. Although a little slight on content, this fascinating glimpse of a woman far head of her time and unknown to most young readers offers a fresh perspective on the study of insects. Carol S. Surges, McKinley Elementary School, Wauwatosa, WI
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*Starred Review* Engle, who has set many of her award-winning titles in Cuba, turns her attention to seventeenth-century Germany in this luminous picture-book biography of a girl who disproved centuries of scientific belief through simple observation. Born in Frankfurt in 1647, Maria Sibylla Merian disagreed with the conventional wisdom, dating back to the Greeks, that “summer birds,” or butterflies, were “beasts of the devil” that sprang alive from the mud through spontaneous generation. Engle writes in the voice of Maria as a young teen, who carefully watches the slow transformation of caterpillars to winged adults, painting everything that she sees, always in secret: “Neighbors would accuse me of witchcraft if they knew.” In expertly pared-down language, the poetic lines deftly fold in basic science concepts about life cycles, along with biographical details that are further developed in an appended historical note. Paschkis’ brilliantly colored and patterned paintings are an exuberant counterpoint to the minimal words. Swirling with vibrantly colored creatures, the spreads include whimsical references to popular superstitions of the time: in one wild, subterranean image, for example, a dragonlike beast lurks in the mud and spews butterflies from its jaws. Joyous and inspiring, this beautiful introduction to a passionate young scientist who defied grown-ups and changed history will spark children’s own fascination with the natural world and its everyday dramas. Grades K-3. --Gillian Engberg