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Book Review: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Publisher’s description

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.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

girl whoThis is a stunningly beautiful book about a woman I knew nothing about. Great for a 5th-7th grade audience.

Maria Merian had always been curious. Insects fascinated her. Her father ran a publishing shop, so young Maria was always surrounded by intellectuals, explorers, and free-thinkers at the shop. When Maria was only three, her father died. Her mother remarried, this time to an artist whose specialty was painting ornamental flowers. He took the time to teach Maria how to draw. Flowers and other plants filled their home and garden, and so did insects. At this time, people were unsure of the origin of insects, believing they spontaneously generated. Maria took it upon herself to study these insects, trying to figure out how they were created, birthed, and what changes they underwent. Despite gender restrictions at the time, and having to focus on things like running a household and preparing to be married young, Maria continued her studies and her art. She helped her husband open an engraving and publishing firm, where they published books of Maria’s flower and insect prints. Word spread about her insect collection, with people bringing her specimens to study. Her new book focused entirely on insects and refuted the idea that they spontaneously generate. Maria continued to learn, collect, and paint, eventually working independently as an artist and a businesswoman.

Though I wasn’t at all familiar with her before this book, I’m totally fascinated by the boundaries she traversed to pursue her passion. She was truly doing groundbreaking work. Aside from the main narrative about Maria’s life, there is ample information about other things of the era (religion, art, women in the workforce, witch hunts). There are also photos, engravings, maps, and paintings in the book, include a great many paintings and prints done by Maria. A glossary, timeline, quote sources, bibliography, and index round out this utterly compelling and gorgeous look at a pioneer of science. A great addition for all middle school collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544717138
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 02/20/2018

Book Review: Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs by Susan M. Latta

Publisher’s description

ra6Meet 21 determined women who have dedicated their lives to healing others. In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton—the “Lady with the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Battlefield”—earned their nicknames by daring to enter battlefields to aid wounded soldiers, forever changing the standards of medicine. Modern-day medical heroines such as Bonnie Simpson Mason, who harnessed the challenges of her chronic illness and founded an organization to introduce women and minorities to orthopedic surgery, and Kathy Magliato, who jumped the hurdles to become a talented surgeon in the male-dominated arena of heart transplants, will inspire any young reader interested in the art, science, and lifechanging applications of medicine. Lovers of adventure will follow Mary Carson Breckinridge, the “nurse on horseback” who delivered babies in the Appalachian Mountains and believed that everyone, including our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, deserve good health care, and Jerri Nielsen, the doctor stationed in Antarctica who, cut off from help, had to bravely treat her own breast cancer. These and 15 other daring women inspire with their courage, persistence, and belief in the power of both science and compassion.

Packed with photos and informative sidebars and including source notes and a bibliography, Bold Women of Medicine is an invaluable addition to any student’s or aspiring doctor or nurse’s bookshelf.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

bold womenThis is a great book to have on display during Women’s History Month, or as part of your science display, or to have at the ready for students needing to do a biographical report on someone possibly less well known. Have a careers section in your library? Stick this face-out there. Does your school have a health careers class or track, as the high school I used to work at does? Make sure that teacher and their students know about this book. While some readers will likely read this whole thing from cover to cover, it will probably be most useful for those looking for information about one specific woman or time period. Though the biographies are brief and include pictures as well as sidebars, it’s still a lot of information to absorb. The book includes the women many have heard of, like Elizabeth Blackwell, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and Virginia Apgar, but also includes many more that may be less well know. One chapter is dedicated to Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca Cole, the first African American women physicians (circa 1860-ish). Others include Civil War surgeon Mary Edwards Walker; Native American (Omaha tribe) doctor Susan LaFlesche Picotte; Catherine Hamlin, a gynecologist who worked in Ethiopia from 1959 on; Edna Adan Ismail, a Somaliland pioneer in the movement to end female genital mutilation, and many more. An interesting, thorough look at the lives, careers, and achievements of these inspirational women. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781613734377

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 09/01/2017

Series: Women of Action Series

In the Most Recent Issue of SLJ

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of School Library Journal.

 

Rockin’ the Boat: 50 Iconic Revolutionaries–From Joan of Arc to Malcolm X by Jeff Fleischer

ISBN-13: 9781936976744

Publisher: Zest

Publication date: 3/3/2015

Gr 9 Up—This collection of 50 revolutionaries spans continents and centuries. The profiles start with Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca and end with civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Others include George Washington, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Geronimo, Malcolm X, and Cesar Chavez. As Fleischer mentions in his introduction, some figures are clearly heroes while others are obvious villains, but “most fall somewhere in between.” The entries are a few pages long, detailing major accomplishments and lasting influence, with photos and text boxes that add context or highlight interesting facts. Arranged chronologically, the book is heavy on male revolutionaries, particularly at the beginning, with only nine women featured. Though brief, the chapters are still dense and somewhat tedious. The pictures are accompanied by lively captions, such as “Boudica, mid-harangue” or “Emma Goldman is not interested in your nonsense.” Unfortunately, this same energetic spirit wasn’t injected into the text. VERDICT The concept is better than the content, but readers looking to research a specific person or movement will find this compilation suitable for their needs.