Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian” as Want to Read:
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  551 ratings  ·  139 reviews
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 l ...more
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Henry Holt & Company (first published 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Summer Birds, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Summer Birds

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  551 ratings  ·  139 reviews

More filters
Sort order
When I heard that there actually exists a picture book fictional (auto)biography of the girlhood of famous German naturalist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), I immediately purchased a copy for my personal library. And while for the most part, I have quite enjoyed Margarita Engle's Summer Birds, I do and with considerable annoyance find that there is a rather problematic lack of historical accuracy portrayed at times. Maria Sibylla Merian lived in the 17th and early 18th century, and ...more
"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."

I love the idea behind this true story!* Maria was drawn to insects, especially butterflies, and couldn't believe that they were creations of the devil. (She also studied tadpoles and frogs.) She had to be very sneaky in capturing some to study because if people saw her doing it, she would be accused of witchcraft! She watched th
Lisa Vegan
Mar 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: kids who like nature & science and/or history; for learning about an accomplished girl
The historical note at the end really shows what an amazing girl and woman Maria Sibylla Merian was. While reading the book I thought a Middle Ages girl having her dreams wasn’t very realistic, but it turns out she fulfilled those dreams, and it showed me yet again that people are people, no matter when or where they live or have lived.

I have really mixed feelings about this book. I both greatly appreciated and felt lukewarm about the illustrations. Difficult to explain, but I was ambivalent.

Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Young Readers Interested in Butterflies and/or Historic Artists & Scientists
Contrary to the popular belief of those around her, thirteen-year-old Maria Merian - a seventeenth-century German girl with a talent for painting and an inquisitive mind - did not believe that butterflies and other insects were creatures "of the devil," spawned from mud in a process known as spontaneous generation. Having carefully observed these smaller creatures, from their larval through adult stages, and painstakingly documented them in her notes and drawings, Maria knew that they underwent ...more
May 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian is a fine picture book, though I would have preferred a more in-depth look at the life of the inquisitive, intelligent title heroine. Fro a young age Maria Merian took keen interest in art and science, and her experiments as a kid paved the way for common knowledge about the larval origins of creatures such as butterflies. Her work contributed much to the field of science.

I should give special mention to Julie Paschkis's illustrations in this book.
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
What amazed me when I read this book is that people could actually believe that insects and reptiles and amphibians could "spontaneously generate" from mud! Maria Merian was a 17th-century girl who painted and studied insects and small animals, observing their life cycles and noting that they were not born from mud. "Summer birds" refers to the medieval slang for butterflies, who seemed to appear during the warm months and disappear, seemingly into the mud, when it got cold. I wanted to give thi ...more
Randie D. Camp, M.S.
Hmmm…I am not quite sure what my reaction to this book is. I have always been fascinated with history, so that aspect of the book was interesting to me but overall, I just did not get into it the story. I didn’t really dislike the book either but I do think it is a bit odd that a book about this great artist would have so-so illustrations…I feel like if the illustrations could have captured the time period or showcased some of Merian’s actual art or just had some more inspiring illustrations, pe ...more
Maria was a real live women, and after I read this book, I looked her up. Her botanical art was quite accomplished and beautiful, and I truly wish that some of it had been shown at the back of this book. Julia P's illustrations were stylized, but still reminiscent of Maria's more botanical style paintings, striking colors, and the book was very attractive.

I found the story to be oddly unsatisfying. I wanted more... more history, or more story about Maria's family. I didn't feel connected to the
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Maria Merian is a name you should know.
Dec 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: parents reading with their children
This is a simple, but true, tale of a young girl who enjoyed studying creatures and nature and refused to accept the scientific beliefs of her time. The narrative is short and even younger children will appreciate the wonders of looking at caterpillars and butterflies, learning about the life cycles of these creatures. And our girls liked the fact that it was a young girl who discovered the truth.

The illustrations are very bold and bright and will appeal to children of all ages. I had never hea
Linda Lipko
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is by far one of the most beautifully illustrated books I've read. This book is based on the true story of young thirteen year old Maria Sibylla Merian, who, in the middle ages dispelled the belief that butterflies were of the devil.

The theory that butterflies grew deep in the mud and were scornful, evil objects was a very popular myth. Called the summer birds, the thought was that these beast of the devil grew up from the depths of the dark.

Watching them intensely, Maria captured the cater
I enjoyed this but didn't love it. My children and I did really enjoy the illustration right after she says "Sometimes I think that I am like a summer bird, waiting to fly..." Then on the next page she is pictured with butterfly wings and a sail boat is pictured with butterfly wings and so on...very beautiful and whimsical. I thought the story telling was interesting but not awe-inspiring and it is disappointing that her author's note was not more accurate. Maria Meridan lived in the late 1700's ...more
Joanne Roberts
Oct 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Very beautiful illustrations in this narrative biography of a German girl during the Enlightenment. Facts are expectedly light, but story is written in a way which makes the great scientific discoveries of a fifteen year old seem just as attainable today. A good introduction to the scientific method, too, for young readers.
Well told book about naturalist and artist Marie Merian.
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
This had such a different story, I loved it!
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, picture-book
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 dispr
Ursula Sadiq
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
E, almost 8 years old, gives it 4 stars. Beautiful pictures, simple prose. “It’s cool how she calls the butterflies Summer Birds”
Nov 09, 2015 rated it liked it
In the Middle Ages, discovery of nature and the way things came about was somewhat unknown. For example, "In the Middle Ages, people believed that insects were evil, born from mud in a process called spontaneous generation." This book tells the story of Maria Merian, a thirteen-year-old girl who disagreed with this public opinion and collected evidence to prove it wrong. She captured insects and watched them change from caterpillars to beautiful "summer birds," or butterflies, as well as tadpole ...more
Dec 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A startlingly beautiful book and introduction to not only Maria Merian, but to the natural scientific thought process of all children who wonder why anything is as it is. I picked up this book after learning about its existence through the Mighty Girl group on Facebook. I am surprised by the number of reviewers saying they were not engaged in this story. I think perhaps if we all took the time to look at children's books the way a child might, we could be as moved as they are. This storyline is ...more
Dec 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Have you ever wondered why we think the transformation of caterpillars to butterflies are fascinating? Thank Maria Merian, the lady who discovered that caterpillars transform into beautiful butterflies or summer birds.

Summer Birds, written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, tells the story of Maria Merian and her scientific findings, and how she changed the misconception on metamorphosis.

It all began when she noticed that certain organisms had certain migration patterns. In pa
Sep 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis is an inspiring historical biography with a strong focus on the childhood of a young German girl who observed and studied metamorphisis at a time when women rarely engaged in scientific study.

Maria watched caterpillars spin cocoons from which emerged summer birds, or butterflies and moths. Maria studied the life cycle of the summer birds, and documented what she learned in vibrant paintings.
She dispr
**I really, really hate it when Goodreads eats my long, thoughtful comments.**

Interesting, beautiful book.

Lisa Vegan's review and follow up comments about this book sent me back to read it for a third time. The book opens by stating that "'Summer birds' was a medieval name for the mysterious butterflies and moths that appeared suddenly during warm weather and vanished in the fall." Except that the Historical Notes state that "Maria Sibylia Merian was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1647." That's
Jul 24, 2010 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book and the illustrations, which tried to capture the spirit of the times. I found a few things fairly jarring about the historical accuracy of the illustrations that took me away from purely enjoying the story. Glass jars were very expensive and pretty uncommon, so as a child the likelyhood of this girl having them and being allowed to use them for keeping bugs is unlikely. She probably kept them in wooded containers or pottery. The glass is easier to illustrate, but just seems ...more
Morgan Flaherty
Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is about Maria Merian, a young girl who defies the common beliefs of her middle age culture. The adults around her believe that insects are evil creatures, but Maria disagrees. She discreetly watches the transformations caterpillars go through to turn into butterflies. She studies them and documents her work in paintings. This books gives an informative description of Maria and her studies. It all encourages children to consider what they themselves believe, even if it goes against soc ...more
Alexa Maring
Apr 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: children-s-book
Most Kindergarten classes have caterpillars that they monitor and watch until they turn into butterflies. This book would be a great book for an introduction to that activity. This book offers information about the different stages that occur while a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. While students are watching their class caterpillar, they can compare what is happening to their caterpillar compared to the book. This would also allow the students to see what they can expect to occur next. The ...more
In Germany in the mid-1600's, a young girl named Maria Merian studied caterpillars, butterflies, and toads in secret. She was fascinated with their life cycles and knew something most people did not, that metamorphosis was a fact. People of Maria's time believed butterflies and frogs came from the mud, and that they were "beasts of the devil". Had Maria's studies been found out, she surely would have been accused of witchcraft. Maria kept detailed paintings and notes of her observations, and gre ...more
Apr 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is not simply about the information on nature and its life, it is also a historical story of a real person whose determination and passion conveys a morally enlightening message.
The girl is in love with butterflies and studies them in secret - in her times, such practices would be easily recognised as witchcraft or illicit knowledge. Yet, she is bent on achieving her goal, that is - learning more and more about the tiny creatures that ensnare her imagination.
It seems to be the illustr
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
I want to give this book 3 stars because it barely whet my appetite with information. However, I'm giving it 4 stars because this is the only children's book I've seen about Maria Merian; and if this is all of the information you can get to start you down the road of wanting to know more, I think it's a worthy read. I think I probably learned more from the Historical Note on the back page of the book than the actual text of the book. I'm embarrassed to say I had never even heard of Maria Merian ...more
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Margarita Engle is appealing to the history buff in me. By reading all of her books I am learning much on the subject without even realizing it! Summer Birds The Butterflies of Maria Merian is the true story of a young girl who began collecting butterflies and other insects before the creatures were understood and instead were feared. Through her diligent observations it became known that metamorphasis in creatures is natural. Hopefully the reader recognizes that metamorphasis within the person ...more
Jan Rue
Jun 11, 2013 added it
Shelves: ed-689-books
Written by Margarita Englie (2010)& illustrated by Julie Paschkis. It is a picture book about the how Maria Merian changed the way people thought about bugs in the middle ages. At the time people thought bugs came from mud and were of the devil. Maria was a girl who was very observant and watch what took place in the life of butterflies. She made illustrations and paintings of the changes. She disproved a theory which went back to ancient Greece. A gook book to show what children can do by o ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People
  • Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya
  • Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
  • Me, Frida
  • How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look at Unusual Animal Partnerships
  • Yucky Worms
  • Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story
  • Insect Detective
  • Curious Critters
  • A Nest Is Noisy
  • Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace
  • The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps
  • Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors
  • Barnum's Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World
  • The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors
  • Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride
  • Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci
  • Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse
See similar books…
Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet, novelist, and journalist whose work has been published in many countries. She lives with her husband in northern California.