Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

Overview

In the Middle Ages, people believed that insects were evil, born from mud in a process called spontaneous generation. Maria Merian was only a child, but she disagreed. She watched carefully as caterpillars spun themselves cocoons, which opened to reveal summer birds, or butterflies and moths. Maria studied the whole life cycle of the summer birds, and documented what she learned in vibrant paintings.

This is the story of one young girl who took the time to observe and learn, and...

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Overview

In the Middle Ages, people believed that insects were evil, born from mud in a process called spontaneous generation. Maria Merian was only a child, but she disagreed. She watched carefully as caterpillars spun themselves cocoons, which opened to reveal summer birds, or butterflies and moths. Maria studied the whole life cycle of the summer birds, and documented what she learned in vibrant paintings.

This is the story of one young girl who took the time to observe and learn, and in so doing disproved a theory that went all the way back to ancient Greece.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Top-notch writing and absolutely stunning illustrations tell [Merian’s] inspirational story. A historical note at the end adds detail about Maria's life. Just right for budding scientists. Grade: ACleveland Plain Dealer

 

“Bolstered by flat but elegantly rendered paintings, the award-winning Engle illuminates the life of an early female scientist. It all makes for pleasant reading and stirring stuff.” San Francisco Chronicle

“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. …Joyous and inspiring, this beautiful introduction to a passionate young scientist ho defied grown-ups and changed history will spark children’s own fascination with the natural world and its everyday dramas.” Booklist, Starred Review

“The illustrator's rich, gouache folk-style paintings, sometimes on a solid black background, share that joy in the natural world and with gentle fancy bring this little-known artist and entomologist to life.”

Kirkus, Starred Review

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
When Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Germany in 1647, people still believed that beetles, worms, and other bugs were formed from mud in "spontaneous generation." Maria narrates here how, at the age of thirteen, she is capturing and studying insects. She must work in secret since neighbors may accuse her of witchcraft. She carefully watches caterpillars spin cocoons and emerge with wings to be what they call "summer birds." Maria paints all the creatures she studies and the flowers as well. She looks forward to traveling to other lands to paint the creatures there and to put all she has learned into a book. She hopes to help people understand life cycles and realize that small animals are not evil. Pages are filled with attractive, carefully studied insects and plants. Some have the appearance of a scientific report. In others, like the scene of Maria using a press to print her artwork, there is a sense of Renaissance workmanship. Here and there Paschkis invents delightful fantastic creatures, providing both information and aesthetic pleasure. End pages offer drawings of insects and plants. Under the more traditional jacket, the cover has a splendid collection of subjects painted compellingly on a black background. A note fits this unusual female pioneer of science into history. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 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
Kirkus Reviews
It's not often that someone is born both a great scientist and a great artist, especially if that someone is a girl in the middle of the 17th century. But Maria Sibylla Merian was. In a time when people thought that butterflies (then called "summer birds") came from the soil magically, Maria studied these creatures in secret, lest she be accused of witchcraft. Engle and Paschkis tell Merian's story with emotion and passion, capturing the spare voice of the 13-year-old narrator. They capture the patient precision that Maria must have used to collect her specimens, watching them in secret and then waiting for metamorphosis. All this meticulous observation led young Maria to document her discoveries through precise watercolors. The illustrator's rich, gouache folk-style paintings, sometimes on a solid black background, share that joy in the natural world and with gentle fancy bring this little-known artist and entomologist to life. Young scientists, particularly girls, will be inspired to collect, observe and record their favorite critters. They, too, will imagine themselves growing up to follow their dreams. (historical note) (Picture book/biography. 4-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805089370
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 429,702
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Margarita Engle is a Cuban American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She is the author of young adult nonfiction books and novels in verse including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor Book, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Hurricane Dancers, The Firefly Letters, and Tropical Secrets. She lives in northern California.

 

Julie Paschkis has illustrated many books for young readers. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

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