Beauty in the smallest details
A 17th-century German girl with a passion for caterpillars and butterflies may seem like an obscure topic for a children’s book, yet Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman has painted a stunningly beautiful and accessible portrait of the relatively unknown scientific illustrator and ecologist Maria Sibylla Merian.
Merian was born to a family of printers, but life wasn’t a world of opportunity for a young girl in her day. Still, she managed to absorb her father’s business knowledge and paired it with her passion for nature and drawing. She studied caterpillars and butterflies incessantly, with a fervor many thought odd. Seeking to understand each insect’s life cycle, she sketched and recorded their stages of development and the plants they ate. Her passion eventually took her to the Dutch colony of Surinam, where her observations led to her grandest accomplishment: publishing her own volume on the insects of the South American country.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science is filled with Merian’s stunningly detailed and colorful botanical drawings created more than 300 years ago. Sidman’s arrangement of the story and its chapter titles (as well as one of Sidman’s original poetic stanzas) smartly draw a parallel between Merian’s growth as an artist and the stages of a butterfly’s life.
This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.