Joyce Sidman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Exquisitely executed, weaving poetry, Maria Merian’s artwork, biology, history, and feminism in this award-winning book about a 17th century German woman who lived outside the norms of the time.
Sidman presents excerpts from Merian’s journal, factual evidence of her life events, and 17th century beliefs in the field of entomology and women’s rights. Merian wrote almost solely about caterpillars, which she discovered, through her rigorous self-directed studies, metamorphosized into moths and butterflies. As such, Sidman questions how her subject felt being a progressive women in those times–one who successfully fled her marriage, conducted scientific experiments, published books of her art and discoveries, and traveled alone with her daughter to South America. Acts unheard of at the time!
As describes in Sidman’s author’s note, we do know that Maria Merian had “boundless energy, insatiable curiosity, and superhuman focus – traits that…marked her as a true scientist at a time when the odds were stacked against her.”
This non-fiction book is accompanied by an author’s note, bibliography, and index. It’s obvious appeal is to budding artists and biologists, but it is also a story of passion, will, and girl power. I couldn’t put it down.