by Maria Popova
omnibus of the year’s best children’s books, I was reminded of how woefully rare inspired children’s books about science are in our culture — as rare, perhaps, as are homages to pioneering female scientists and celebrations of the intersection of art and science. The confluence of these three rarities is what makes Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian (public library | IndieBound) so wonderful.
Writer Margarita Engle and artist Julie Paschkis — the talent behind the gorgeous illustrated tale of Pablo Neruda’s life — tell the story of 17th-century German naturalist and illustrator Maria Merian, whose studies of butterfly metamorphosis are among the most important contributions to the field of entomology in the history of science and forever transformed natural history illustration.
There are many ennobling and empowering threads to the story of Merian’s life — how she began studying insects as a young girl, two centuries before the dawn of science education for women; how she trained tirelessly in art, then brought those skills to illuminating science, all while raising her daughters; how she traveled to South Africa with her young daughter in an era when women had practically no agency of mobility; how she continued to work even after a stroke left her paralyzed.
famous assertion that science only adds to the mystery and the awe of the natural world.
When people understand the life cycles of creatures that change forms, they will stop calling small animals evil. They will learn, as I have, by seeing a wingless caterpillar turn into a flying summer bird.On her site, Paschkis shares her research process and offers a fascinating history of insect illustration.
For a grownup take on Merian’s legacy, complement Summer Birds with Taschen’s lavish volume Maria Sibylla Merian: Insects of Surinam.