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

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  640 ratings  ·  202 reviews
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 bi
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published February 20th 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published February 2018)
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4.35  · 
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 ·  640 ratings  ·  202 reviews

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While each chapter heading of Joyce Sidman's The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Marian's Art Changed Science features one of Sidman's signature (and as usual quite simply exquisite and magical) poems, I for one did not even really notice them all that much at first (simply because I was and yes remain so enchanted and delighted with and by the main narrartive, with the author's concise, readable and massively enlighteninging biography of Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist of the latter ...more
R. G. Nairam
My, what a gorgeous book.

Confident, precise text, loads of direct quotes from Maria Merian, and so many of her illustrations included. It also includes small historical side-notes about different aspects of life in the 17th and 18th centuries that don't distract from the biography (or science). Sidman speculates about various parts of Maria's life that there isn't much information about, but never makes unwarranted claims, which is impressive for a book targeted at children/young adults.

The de
Beautiful biography of 17th Century naturalist and artist Maria Merian. An outstanding work of scholarship with extensive resources cited.
Laura Harrison
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, omg-cant-wait
Wow! Just wow! I wonder if it will win a Newbery or a Caldecott. It is pretty spectacular.
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an astonishingly well crafted biography on naturalist and German artist Maria Merian. Every page is filled with her art, quotes, historic events, and each scientific stage of an emerging butterfly. While reading her story and scanning the artwork, I made the realization as to how similar they are to John Audubon's exquisite representation of birds. Needless to say, his work is inspired by Merian's. A wonderful addition to any library collection.
Donna Merritt
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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" ...more
Beautifully designed, luxuriantly illustrated children's non-fiction book that would appeal to adults as well. Presents biography of Maria Merian in late 1600s who from childhood became fascinated with insect life- at that time seen as vermin and beneath the interest of good Christians. Focusing in particular on 'summer birds' as butterflies were known she made a serious study of their life cycles and habits and, coming from an artistic family background, was able to make and eventually publish ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful book about the life of Maria Sibyl Merian, one of the first female entomologists. Maria's meticulous research and understanding of butterflies, plus her incredible artistic ability, makes her a fascinating woman to learn about. I can't imagine a better writer than acclaimed poet Joyce Sidman to write about this incredible person. This book is beautiful produced with many of Maria's artwork alongside photographs, poetry, and interesting biographical information. A must have fo ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh my. Sidman does it again. What a talent. Gorgeous book illustrations and designs. engaging text, powerful biography, rich and accurate technology and science, fascinating history, end-matter, and a poem. In a way I love the poem the most, how we read one verse at the beginning of each chapter, and how it's about a butterfly but is also a metaphor for a life of anyone, especially for Maria.

I'm just blown away by all the different things we learned. The processes of engraving and printing. The
I don't like bugs and I LOVED this book! What gorgeous drawings Merian did! This was a great biography by a poet who recounts in the back how she decided to do something so far removed from her normal field (kind of poems about science.). She did put in some haiku, etc but mostly this book is straight prose and delightful illustrations mostly taken from the subject's illustrations. This was one independent lady for her times. She escaped what appeared to be an unhappy marriage the traditional wa ...more
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love Joyce Sidman's books and I adored this one. What a treat to discover Maria Merian's accomplishment! What a marvel! And how marvelous to read this and be in awe of the beauty and wonder of the natural world. It really is astounding. This is a perfect text for students like the ones I taught when I was at a Reggio-Emilia school as the school librarian as this book encourages direct observation of something in order to learn about it. This one is definitely deserving of all the awards!
Maria Merian lived a fascinating life: an artist, scientist, wife, mother, religious seeker, entrepreneur, explorer, writer, observer, and all-around amazing person who never stopped pushing the boundaries of what was possible. This book elegantly tells the story of her life in a tidily assembled collection of narrative, rich illustrations, quotes from Merian, and contextual sidebars that never interrupt the flow of the story.

There has been a push of late to draw attention to un- or under-known
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 Si
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A visually stunning book. I loved the illustrations and images of original works of Maria’s art. I also love that it was more than a biography. It had history lessons and science lessons as well and all beautifully presented throughout the story of Maria Merian’s life.
An explosion of talent, curiosity, and the scientific method. More than a century before Darwin and The Beagle set out Merian traveled to a land distant and rich in experience and bugs.
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow! What an undertaking, Ms. Sidman! Congratulations! A fascinating and beautiful biography of an amazing woman who really brought art and science together--in the 17th Century!!! Amazing book. Breathtaking illustrations. Meticulous research. A work of art to be poured over! Loved the poem and photo of the caterpillars that Sidman raised while writing this book that head each chapter.
Mary Norell Hedenstrom
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very comprehensive biography of one of my all-time heroes. This is a great upper elementary book.
Thomas Bell
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wonderful book. I'm glad to have learned of Maria Merian. This is a nonfiction book about a very early naturalist and artist. What's different is that this one started her career as an amateur and a young woman. Remarkable for the 1600's. And she helped in a big way dispel the notion of Spontaneous Generation.

On a side note - and the book doesn't mention this at all - her father who died when she was three is quite a bit more famous than she ever was. He drew maps and etchings of very many Europ
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: j-non-fic
This is a beautiful filled with richly detailed drawings and text. It is a well researched book about a little-known woman from 17th Century, Maria Merian, who studied bugs. She was one of the first naturalists, an accomplished artist, and in her own way one of the first feminists. This biography gives the reader a complete picture of this amazing woman’s life as well as well as putting that life in the context of the world she lived in so that the reader can appreciate just how extraordinary th ...more
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is an amazing gorgeous blend of biography, science and art.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a beautifully produced and written book. My only issue is with the title but that’s a quibble. Seriously, bravo to Houghton Mifflin for what is really as much an art book as a biography.
Joyce Sidman has done an outstanding job of bringing Maria Merian’s work to light! Excellent text with beautiful illustrations! I really learned so much.
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-8-non-fiction
Maria Sibylla Marian is a wondrous botanical artist and scientist who I previously discovered a few years ago, while browsing through a beautiful book about her written by Ella Reitsma, published by the Getty Museum. However, Joyce Sidman's book is even more exquisite, this is the story of an entomologist who hypothesized, and researched about the connections between caterpillars, butterflies, moths, and other insects, making astute hypothesis long ago. Living in the 1600's before any scientists ...more
Laura Gardner
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
🦋🐛🕷 W O N D E R 🦋🐛🕷

I've seen this book on some #Newbery contender lists, so I grabbed a copy to peruse. Oh my! While I don't think this will be a super easy sell for students, I was completely mesmerized by the story of Maria Merian, a German artist in the 1600s who was driven by her own personal curiosity to study and document the lives of insects. Weaving together art, science, history, and the story of a courageous female determined to make her mark on the world, The Girl Who Drew Butterfl
Teresa Bateman
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Maria Merian's work is only widely known in specific circles, but this book should make her name more familiar to others. Born in Germany, in 1647, Maria was a gifted artist but, more importantly, she was an observer, fascinated with the life cycles of butterflies, insects, and other creatures. Science, at the time, had various theories about these animals, most of which were incorrect. She took the time to observe them from egg to death, recording each step in beautiful artwork, including the p ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
First of all, this is just a stunningly beautiful book. The illustrations and plates are wonderful throughout the entire book. And, as is the case in a well-written children's book, I learned so much, not only about the subject of the biography, but about the world in which she lived. I am definitely putting this book on my wish list - I want my own copy!
Abby Johnson
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an exceptional biography about a female scientist from the 1600s. At a time when women were accused of witchcraft if they showed an interest in "unworthy" creatures, Maria Merian's fascination with butterflies and caterpillars helped advance science. Her paintings of the life cycles of butterflies and moths helped people understand that butterflies and caterpillars are the same species and it helped document their living conditions in the wild. In her time, people actually thought that i ...more
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It's written for middle school children, about an 8th grade reading level for American public schools, but anyone who loves 17th-18th century art history or science history will enjoy it. The illustrations are beautiful reproductions of paintings by Maria Merian, a German woman who was the first nature artist to carefully observe and faithfully record the life cycles of insects, at a time when "natural" science was just beginning to go from assumptions to observations. Her sto ...more
I picked this up because I have always loved scientific illustration. I was delighted to discover this gem of a book. Beyond just a biography of one of the most influential scientific artists of all time, I learned history, geography, culture, religious history, art, and science. The book was beautifully illustrated, both with replicas of Merian's art, and period illustrations of the era. Easy to read while simultaneously interesting and informative, I wish more non-fiction - especially for youn ...more
Jordan Henrichs
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A beautifully produced biography. From the illustrations, to the well-selected quotes, to the perfectly placed sidebars and text features, to Sidman's own poetry and clever chapter headings. Just a gorgeous book through and through, and well-researched too. I especially loved the way Sidman mirrored Maria's life to the life span of the very creatures she studied. Rather brilliant. A perfect book for young girls with an interest in science.
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The Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman is today's foremost nature poet for children. Accolades for her books include two Caldecott Honors, a Lee Bennet Hopkins Award, winner of the Claudia Lews Award, and many stars and best of lists. For her award-winning body of work, she won the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. She lives in Wayzata, Minnesota. Visit