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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science

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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science

5/5 (2 peringkat)
196 pages
1 hour
Feb 20, 2018


Robert F. Sibert Medal winner

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.

Booklist Editor’s Choice
Chicago Public Library Best of 2018
Kirkus Best book of 2018
2018 Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book

Junior Library Guild Selection
New York Public Library Top 10 Best Books of 2018
Feb 20, 2018

Tentang penulis

Joyce Sidman lives in Wayzata, Minnesota. www.joycesidman.com    

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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies - Joyce Sidman


For Jim:

i carry your heart with me

(i carry it in my heart)

Copyright text and photographs © 2018 by Joyce Sidman

All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.


Map illustrations © 2018 by Virginia Allyn

Cover art courtesy of Getty Research Institute (foliage, butterflies, and caterpillars) and Minneapolis Institute of Art (butterflies). Figure by Aimee Sicuro.

Cover design by Rebecca Bond and Whitney Leader-Picone

Photo credit for endpapers art not credited elsewhere:

Detail from Maria Sibylla Merian, Mature Pineapple with Butterflies, c. 1705, hand-colored etching and engraving, P.18,712, courtesy of the Minnich Collection, the Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund, 1966, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photos © Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Detail from Maria Sibylla Merian, Rozenkoleurde Akkerwinde, De Europische insecten, hand-colored engraving, 1730, courtesy of the Getty Research Institute Digital Collections Open Content Program, Los Angeles, CA.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Names: Sidman, Joyce, author.

Title: The girl who drew butterflies : how Maria Merian’s art changed science / written by Joyce Sidman.

Description: Boston ; New York : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. | Audience: Ages 10–12. | Audience: Grades 4 to 6. | Includes bibliographical references.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016057731 | ISBN 9780544717138

Subjects: LCSH: Merian, Maria Sibylla, 1647–1717—Juvenile literature. | Entomologists—Germany—Biography—Juvenile literature. | Entomology—Germany—History—17th century—Juvenile literature. | Scientific illustrators—Biography—Juvenile literature. | Scientific illustration—Germany—History—17th century—Juvenile literature. | Scientists—Germany—Biography—Juvenile literature. | Women naturalists—Germany—Biography—Juvenile literature. | Insects—Metamorphosis—Juvenile literature.

Classification: LCC QL31.M53 S53 2018 | DDC 595.7092 [B]—dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016057731

eISBN 978-1-328-83028-9


Butterfly Glossary

A compendium of insect words used throughout this book

adult: the final, winged stage of growth in butterflies and moths. At the time Maria lived in Germany, adult butterflies were called summer birds.

caterpillar: the larval stage of a butterfly or moth.

chrysalis: A hard case that protects a moth or butterfly at the pupa stage of growth.

cocoon: a covering, often made of their own silk, which moth caterpillars (and some other insects) make around themselves for protection while in the pupa stage.

eclose: to emerge from the hard case of the chrysalis as an adult butterfly or moth.

egg: the small rounded reproductive body produced by an insect or other animal. Maria sometimes also referred to insect eggs as seeds.

instar: a phase of caterpillar growth between two periods of shedding skin, or molting.

larva: the immature wormlike form (caterpillar) that hatches from the egg of a butterfly or moth, grows through several instars, and is transformed into a pupa, from which the adult emerges.

metamorphosis: a series of major changes in form or structure that occur as an insect becomes an adult. For butterflies and moths, which undergo complete metamorphosis, the stages are egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Incomplete metamorphosis (which occurs in many other insects) consists of an egg, a nymph, and an adult.

molting: the shedding of an old, too-small layer of skin.

nymph: scientific name for the immature form of insects that undergo only partial metamorphosis. A nymph often looks like a smaller or less-developed version of the adult.

parasitism: a relationship in which one organism (the parasite) lives on or within the body of another (the host), gaining nutrients or shelter, and often harming the host in the process.

pupa (plural pupae): scientific name for the stage of development between larva and adult in insects undergoing full metamorphosis. Maria called some kinds of pupae date pits, because to her, that’s what they looked like (also called a chrysalis).

The Girl in the Garden

A girl kneels in her garden. It is 1660, and she has just turned thirteen: too old for a proper German girl to be crouching in the dirt, according to her mother. She is searching for something she discovered days ago in the chilly spring air. As she combs the emerald bushes, she looks for other telltale signs—eggs no bigger than pinpricks, or leaf edges scalloped by the jaws of an inching worm.

Ah! She has found it: a crinkled brown cocoon, anchored on a branch like a sailor’s hammock. She inspects its crumpled surface: Any change since yesterday? Any sign of the life within? No, not yet.

Her neighbors despise the creatures that fascinate her. They believe that all flying, creeping things are pests, born of filth and decay. If any of them spotted this swaddled cocoon, they woidd rip it off and crush the vermin within, giving no thought to what it might become.

But for years she has gathered flowers for her stepfather’s studio, carried them in, and arranged them for his still-life paintings. She has studied the creatures that ride on their petals: the soft green bodies of caterpillars, the shiny armor of beetles, the delicate wings of moths. She has looked at them closely, sketched and painted them. In learning the skills of an artist, she has learned to look and watch and wonder.

Imagine this girl, forbidden from training as either a scholar or a master artist because she is female. Aware that in nearby villages women have been hanged as witches for something as simple as showing too much interest in evil vermin.

Yet she is drawn to these small, mysterious lives. She does not believe the local lore: that "summer birds," or butterflies, creep out from under the earth. She thinks there is a connection between butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and the rumpled brown cocoon before her; and she is determined to find it.

This is her story.

A butterfly egg.

Chapter 1: Egg

April 2, 1647 Frankfurt, Germany

Maria Sibylla Merian was born on a bright spring day into a family of printers and engravers. Her father, Matthäus Merian the Elder, ran a thriving Frankfurt publishing shop, staffed by Maria’s older

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  • (5/5)
    As Newbery Honor-winning author Joyce Sidman explains, Maria Merian, born in 1647, loved to draw bugs from the time she was a young girl. But just drawing them wasn’t enough; she wanted to understand them as well:“With no formal training or university education, Maria Merian took on the role of artist, adventurer, and scientist in seventeenth-century Europe - a time when women were rarely allowed responsibilities outside the home, and unusual interests led to accusations of witchcraft.”But as Sidman notes:“Her intrepid fieldwork and careful observation helped uncover the truth about metamorphosis and changed the course of science forever."This beautiful book about Maria and her accomplishments begins with an insect glossary - such a great idea to put a glossary in the front! It is helpful to know at the outset, for example, the differences between moths and butterflies. The illustrations in this book are lovely. Some are drawings and paintings (many of which are reproductions of those made by Maria Merian herself), and some are stylized excerpts from Maria’s writings, but there are also many contemporary color photographs. There are informational pictures with captions as well, like one demonstrating the parts of a copper engraver’s workshop, similar to that owned by Maria's father. When Maria's father died, her mother eventually remarried, this time to a different type of artist. Jacob Marrel specialized in still lifes, and Maria was happy to help him. The author reports:“Her stepfather prized insects as models and sent Maria outside to capture them.”At the time, most people believed insects came from “spontaneous generation.” This was Aristotle’s theory and no one questioned it.Marrel taught Maria how to draw and paint, and soon she was so skillful that she was helping produce pictures for sale. But her curiosity over the nature of caterpillars, moths, and butterflies only intensified, and she began to do her own experiments to find out where they came from and how they developed.Women in Maria’s time could not attend a university. They could not neglect their “duties” as a female in favor of intellectual pursuits. They also had a “duty” to marry (and indeed, that particular duty was necessary for financial reasons as well as societal ones). In time Maria married one of her stepfather’s apprentices. But in spite of having and raising children and doing housekeeping, she continued to paint and even published a book in 1675 featuring pictures of her flowers.In 1679 she published a second book, this one including not only plants but images of specific caterpillars showing the preference of plant associated with each one.Maria found it increasingly difficult to balance all the parts of her life. In 1685, she left her husband, took her daughters and widowed mother, and went to join a religious commune in the northern Netherlands, where her half brother already lived. After six years, finding the restrictions of the community too limiting, she took her daughters to Amsterdam. Because the Netherlands [outside of religious communes] had more progressive laws for women, Maria could open her own business there. She became successful, but her curiosity hadn’t abated. Now she wanted to know more than just about European species of insects. In 1699, Maria and her younger daughter left for Surinam. [Suriname, a small country on the northeastern coast of South America, was formerly known as Surinam when became a Dutch colony beginning in 1667.] The author writes:“Maria delighted in the diversity of insects in Surinam and carefully painted them all, from stinging caterpillars to tarantulas.”But the climate made her ill, and after just short of two years, she and her daughter returned to Amsterdam. In 1705, she published a book with her findings, The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam. The book was widely praised and even acknowledged by the Royal Society of London, the famed scientific society which would not admit women to its membership for another 250 years.But Maria never really recovered from the tropical illness she contracted in Surinam and died at the age of sixty-nine in 1715.The author writes:“On the very day of her death, an agent of Tsar Peter the Great bought a collection of almost three hundred of her original watercolors to help found Russia’s first art museum.”Moreover, the famous scientist Carl Linnaeus relied heavily on Maria’s discoveries for his own work.But many men were offended by her presumption to conduct science, and insisted she had to have had help from a man. Moreover, they said, she was only self-taught, and therefore not a real “scientist.”Today’s scientists, Sidman points out, “have rediscovered and acknowledged her work for what it is: amazingly beautiful, accurate portrayals of insect metamorphoses and ecosystems.”The book concludes with an Author’s Note, a Timeline, and a Selected Bibliography. Recommended age range is Age 10 - 12 years.Evaluation: This book is replete with historical side notes as well as gorgeous photographs and paintings of plants and insects. Even aside from the inspirational story of Maria Merian, the book has a great deal to recommend it in the categories of history, science, and art.Note: Awards include the 2019 Sibert Medal Informational Book Award from the Association for Library Service to Children, and New York Public Library Top 10 Best Books of 2018.
  • (5/5)
    After reading Jeannine Atkins's Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, I was intrigued by the accomplishments of Maria Merian. I was thrilled to see that Joyce Sidman was writing an entire book on her. The result is a combination of art, science, and poetry—my favorite things. It's well researched, readable, and interesting. Joyce includes her own photographs as well as original illustrations from Maria. Each chapter begins with a poem, aptly titled "Egg" and "Hatching" and "Molting" and such. (The entire book was wonderful, but those poems and photos are my favorite parts of the story.) In an age when the contributions of women were neither accepted nor recognized for their importance, Maria perseveres and leaves as her legacy much about the true order of insects, destroying long-held myths as she documents their origins. The glossary, author's note, timeline, quote sources, and bibliography make this a must for every classroom and library, K to 12."Patience is a beneficial little herb." ~Maria Merian