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Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian Hardcover – April 27, 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 5 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten - 3
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1 edition (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089370
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.3 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I discovered Maria Merian when looking for women botanists to share with my students. I was shocked to find out that Maria Merian was an amazing artist and scientist with a great story. This book captivated my students. Well written and illustrated.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
SUMMER BIRDS was nominated for the 2011 Rodda Book Award sponsored by the Church and Synagogue Library Association (CSLA), an international organization serving congregational libraries of all faiths. CSLA's Rodda Award is named for Dorothy Rodda Sargent, a lifetime member and one of the founders of the organization. This award recognizes a book which exhibits excellence in writing and has contributed significantly to congregational libraries through promotion of spiritual growth. The award is given to books for adults, young adults, and children on a three-year-rotational basis. The 2011 Rodda Award focuses on books for children and this year's award will be presented at the CSLA annual conference to be held at the Hilton Embassy Row Hotel in Washington,D.C., July 19-22. To learn more about CSLA and the Rodda Award go to [...].
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an outstanding book in every way. "The true story of a girl who broke new ground as a scientist and an artist!"

Margarita Engle's writing and the pictures by Julie Paschkis combine so well to tell the story of Maria Merian, who I learned was born in Germany (1647).

I studied and worked in education for 20 years and had the privilege of teaching students from the early childhood level to grandparents. In my opinion, this book will appeal to all. As I watch butterflies from now on, I will think of "Summer Birds." My mother was German, so I also felt a personal connection. Wonderful book!
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Format: Hardcover
Beautiful butterflies flitted from flower to flower sipping the nectar. Maria was thirteen-years-old and carefully watched them as they flew through the air and went about their work. People called them "summer birds" and felt they were "beasts of the devil" because they sprang from the muds of the earth. It was a sort of magic because in that day and age everyone believed in shape shifting and werewolves, but Maria knew differently. She carefully captured beetles, summer birds, and dragonflies so she could study them and learn their ways. It had to be a secret venture because she would be accused of witchcraft if anyone caught wind of what she was doing.

She kept them in boxes and jars, fed them, and watched them grow. It was a secret, but she would soon discover the secrets these so called "beasts of the devil" held. She learned that "caterpillars are born from eggs laid by summer birds," that they ate leaves, later spun cocoons, and finally turned into those marvelous summer birds. They slowly emerged from their cocoons and once again she watched their life cycle. No, they were far from evil and were "not born from mud," but would anyone believe her? She began to study them in earnest, paint them, and continued to learn. Perhaps one day she could make people understand.

This is a stunning portrait of a young girl, Maria Sibylla Merian, who made the world realize that insects and summer birds were not evil. The presentation of this book was fascinating and young people will be able to learn about the life cycle of the butterfly in a very painless manner. Of course they will also learn about Maria Sibylla Merian, a young woman whose curiosity took her around the world in her quest for knowledge.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am sending this to our Granddaughters in July. I fell in love with it and shared it with friends. The illustrations are just beautiful and the story of a brave young girl who did her research and discovered how the butterflies perpetuate is a wonderful example for young girls. Our Granddaughters are 5 and 8. One wants to be scientist so I am sure she will identify with the story. I loved the name Summer Birds for butterflies. I also learned interesting facts from this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I use this to teach insect metamorphosis in grades 3-5. It's a true story, and shows the value of critical thinking, making observations and inferences, and creating notebook entries. The illustrations are incredible.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I came across Maria Merian Sybilla when I was doing my genealogy. She lived in a commune with my family. I wanted this for my grandson so he could see that history can relate to his own history too. I'm glad she is being celebrated. A fascinating woman and added important ideas about habitat and how organisms reproduce.
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As a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists, I am thrilled with this sweet story--Maria Sybilla Merian was a woman of great spirit and her artwork was groundbreaking stuff at a time when women were helpmeets and cloistered from real life. For 'the rest of the story' read "Chrysalis" by Kim Todd. Summer Birds is a wonderful take on Maria Sybilla Merian! Thank you, Engle and Pashkis.
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