Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

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Annotation: The true story of a girl who broke new ground as a scientist and an artist.
Genre: Biology
Catalog Number: #44164
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: STEAM STEAM Common Core Common Core
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition Date: 2010
Illustrator: Paschkis, Julie,
Pages: 32
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-8050-8937-3 Perma-Bound: 0-605-43448-4
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-8050-8937-0 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-43448-6
Dewey: 595.78
LCCN: 2009005267
Dimensions: 26 cm.
Language: English
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)
School Library Journal
Gr 1&11;4&12; 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&9;s groundbreaking work caught Carl Linnaeus&9;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.&12; Carol S. Surges, McKinley Elementary School, Wauwatosa, WI
Starred Review ALA 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.
Word Count: 448
Reading Level: 3.2
Interest Level: K-3
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 3.2 / points: 0.5 / quiz: 144214 / grade: Lower Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:3.4 / points:1.0 / quiz:Q61754
Lexile: AD600L
Guided Reading Level: Q

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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