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

Written by: Joyce Sidman

Illustrated by: photography by Joyce Sidman, illustrations by Maria Merian

For Ages: 10-12 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Historical Figures, Trailblazers, Women in Science, Artists.

Summary: This book covers the life of Maria Merian, trailblazing scientific illustrator born in 1647. When she was 13, Maria became fascinated by insects and cocoons. Her family owned a printshop but women during this time were not allowed to do much outside of traditional household tasks. When finished with her household tasks, she shadowed her stepfather as an apprentice and learned how to mix paints as well as select natural objects for still life paintings. During this time, Maria also learned to paint and began to study the transformation that caterpillars undertake to become butterflies. This book goes very in-depth about all of Merian’s achievements throughout her life and global travels.  Illustrations within the book are Merian’s herself, as well as some photographs taken by the author.  This is a story of triumph as well as independence.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why do you think Maria was so determined to keep doing what she loved when others told her she shouldn’t?
  • Has anyone ever said that you should or shouldn’t do something just because of your gender?
  • How can you have enough courage to follow your own dreams?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn about other trailblazing scientists like Marie Curie or Jane Goodall.  What interests you about being a scientist?
  • Sign up for Skype A Scientist and talk to real scientists all over the globe!
  • Make your own scientific illustrations about a natural subject you’re passionate about. Spider webs, flowers, mushrooms, whatever you like looking at!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

joyce sidmanJoyce Sidman is the winner of the 2013 NCTE Award for Excellence in Children’s Poetry, which is given every two years to a living American poet in recognition of his or her aggregate work. She is the author of many award-winning children’s poetry books, including the Newbery Honor-winning Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, and two Caldecott Honor books: Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems (also a Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award winner) and Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors (which won the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award). She teaches poetry writing to school children and participates in many national poetry events. Her recent book, What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms & Blessings, has been critically acclaimed and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Joyce lives with her husband and dog near a large woodland in Wayzata, Minnesota.

Maria_Sibylla_MerianMaria Sibylla Merian was a Swiss naturalist and artist living and working in the seventeenth century. She excelled in both endeavours. One of her principal claims to fame is that she is one of the first naturalists to have studied insects. She recorded and illustrated the life cycles of 186 insect species.
Her evidence documented the nature of metamorphosis and contradicted contemporary ideas about how insects developed. She also discovered unknown animals and insects in the interior of Surinam. Her classification of butterflies and moths is still used today. She also undertook scientific expeditions at a time when these were unusual and normally undertaken by men only.

Little People, BIG DREAMS Maya Angelou

Written by: Lisbeth Kaiser

Illustrated by: Leire Salaberria

For Ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Activism, Historical Figures, Activism.

Summary: This children’s book gives a brief overview of Maya Angelou’s life, as more of an introduction rather than a deep study of her achievements.  The book covers from childhood to her reading at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.  The text glosses over her childhood attack that causes her to be mute for 5 years, as well as the racism she faced being a person of color growing up in the era before the civil rights movement took off. A great introduction to activism as well as civil rights for young children! There is also a timeline on the last two pages with a few real photos of Angelou.

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever heard of Maya Angelou before?
  • Why do you think she wanted to tell people her story?
  • How do you think she helped people throughout her life?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Listen to a recording of Angelou’s poetry.  How does it make you feel?
  • Try and write your own poetry, about something you feel strongly about.  Maya loved the subject of hope.  What subject do you want to write about?
  • Read the book Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou.  What are you afraid of, and how can you be brave and face your fears?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

lisbeth kaiser


Lisbeth Kaiser is a writer and editor whose work has appeared on websites, commercials, billboards, and even toothbrushes. Lisbeth lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter and sister and brother-in-law and nephew.






Leire Salaberria was born in Andoain (Spain) in 1983. Currently, she lives and works in San Sebastián. She has majored in Fine Arts in Bilbao and studied a postgraduate in Children Illustration and graphic design in Barcelona. Leire has exhibited her artwork in different countries around the world. Her work has been selected to appear in Bologna Children’s Book Fair, IV Ibero-American catalog of illustration, Sharjah International Book Fair and BIB. In 2014 she won an Honorable mention at the Sharjah International Book Fair. Since 2011 when she published her first book, she’s illustrated several books in Italy, Mexico, EEUU, UK, Chile and Spain.

How Mamas Love Their Babies

Written by: Juniper Fitzgerald

Illustrated by: Elise Peterson

For Ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Family, Acceptance, Love, Activism.

Summary: This book is a tribute to motherhood and the myriad of ways mothers care for their children.  A fantastic a broad look at the things a mother might do-carry their baby inside of them, protest to get better childcare centers, stay home, or go to work.  All of the different things mothers do to help their children grow up happy, healthy and strong.  Some mothers wear uniforms to work and clean other mothers houses, while some mothers use their brains, and some mamas farm.  Some work at restaurants and some fly planes around the world, but the work they do help their children “dream big”.  The book talks about uniforms that might be worn-big and baggy or small and tight like a scuba diver’s.  At this point in the book is where the revolutionary material happens-the book addresses sex work and dancing as a type of job.  “Some mamas dance all night long in special shoes.  It’s hard work”!; this normalizes all types of jobs that women do to provide for their family, and shows a woman holding a protest sign advocating for living wages for strippers. This book’s art style is collaged, with a huge array of mothers and their children doing a variety of activities like hugging, doing hair, skateboarding, reading, and playing. The photos are diverse and show the tender ways that mothers care for their children, asking at the end how the reader’s mama cares for them.

The simple words and creativity of this publication is what makes this book a quiet revolution. Normalization of every person’s and family’s structure and wage earning is crucial to create an inclusive society that uplifts all citizens.

Reflection Questions:

  • What does your mother do for you to show love?
  • How do you show your family you love them?
  • What does your mama do for a job?
  • What do you think you might want to do for a job when you grow up?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • This book is all about how mamas love their children, but not everyone has a mother. What are some other family structures that are represented in your community, classroom, or your own family?
  • Make your own collage of how your loved ones care about you!
  • Rewrite a page or two to include other family members and how they might show love for their children.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

JuniperFitzgerald-WebJuniper Fitzgerald is a mother, former sex worker, and PhD based in Omaha, Nebraska. Her academic work focuses on sex work, sex workers’ rights, and alternative methodologies informed by feminist theories and the queering of intellectual spaces. For more than a decade, Juniper worked as a sex worker in various contexts and she continues to work as sex workers’ rights advocate. She has contributed to several sex workers’ rights cultural productions, including: The Red Umbrella Diaries, a spoken word event for sex workers created by Audacia Ray; The Red Umbrella Babies, a collection of writings by parents in the sex industry; SWOP, the Sex Worker Outreach Project; and CHANGE, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, a non-profit that supported Fitzgerald in her petition for congress to eradicate the Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath.

elise r petersonElise R. Peterson is a writer, visual artist and educator living and working in New York. Writing clips have appeared in Adult, PAPER MAGAZINE, ELLE, LENNY LETTER, and NERVE among othersShe previously served as the founding Music Editor of Saint Heron. Her written work doubles as storytelling and investigating the nuance of identity and sexuality as it relates to marginalized communities. Her multidisciplinary visual work is informed by the past, reimagined in the framework of the evolving notions of technology, intimacy and cross-generational narratives. Socially, it is her aim to continue to use art as a platform for social justice while making art accessible for all through exhibitions of public work and beyond. Elise is the host of MANE, a online video series highlighting the intersection of culture and hair as told through the narratives of women via Now This News.

Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World

Written by: Jane Yolen

Illustrated by: Christin Joy Pratt

For Ages: 7-10 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Trailblazers, Historical Figures.

Summary: This book goes deep into the history of some of the greatest pirates to ever sail the high seas: the women. Grania O’Malley, Alfhild, Lady Killigrew, and Rachel Wall are some of the 13 pirates covered in this historical text. The text is written for a young adult reader, but also perfect for a bedtime story or for a younger classroom (some text may have to be verbally revised for the youngest listeners, the book does not shy away from death).

Reflection Questions:

  • Do you think it was easy to be a pirate?
  • What do you think about the strong women that defied stereotypes and took up this lifestyle?
  • Which pirate did you like the best?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Sometimes history makes us believe that there weren’t any women doing certain things, but this book disproves that. What are some other historical jobs that you want to know more about? Do you think women did those jobs too?
  • Write your own adventure story! Invent characters and make up a story about their exciting life. Maybe you could even do the illustrations as well, or ask an artistic friend to help.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

jane yolenJane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others. This website presents information about her over three hundred books for children. It also contains essays, poems, answers to frequently asked questions, a brief biography, her travel schedule, and links to resources for teachers and writers. It is intended for children, teachers, writers, storytellers, and lovers of children’s literature.

Christine Joy Pratt’s pen-and-ink illustrations are alive with action and excitement.She is the illustrator of This is America, Pua’s Paniolo Parade and Plantation Child and Other Stories. She lives in Hawai’i. 

I Am Not A Number

Written by: Jenny Kay Depuis and Kathy Kacer

Illustrated by: Gillian Newland

For Ages: 7-11 years

Language: English, some Ojibway.

Topics Covered: Indigenous People, First Nations, Historical Figures, Residential Schools, Culture, Community.

Summary: This book is an emotional look into the story of Irene Couchie Dupuis and her forced residential schooling during her childhood.  Irene’s father was the chief of their First Nation community, yet Irene and several of her siblings are forced to attend a year of school away from home.  Irene’s mother tells her to never forget who she is, or anything about the life she had known before the residential school.  At the school, Irene and the other children are subjected to harsh rules and unkind nuns hellbent on erasing their culture. Their hair is cut, and their names are replaced with numbers.  Irene is burned after using her native Ojibway language, and after nearly a year with no familial contact the students are released for a summer at home.  Back at home, Irene tells her family what living in the residential school is like and her parents are outraged.  The Couchie family comes up with a plan to hide the children after the summer is over, horrified at the prospect of another year enduring more abuse at the hands of the nuns.  Irene is outside their home hanging laundry one day when the government agent that took them away the first time is seen walking up the road towards their home.  Irene and her two brothers run to their planned hiding place, shaking and afraid.  Their father tells the agent he sent his children to stay with family, and the agent can do whatever he wants to him but he will NEVER let the agent take away his children.  After what seems like an eternity to Irene, the agent leaves.  The children are safe.

Reflection Questions:

  • How do you think Irene feels when she is not allowed to use her own name?
  • How would you feel if you were Irene, and your father stood up to someone like that?
  • Have you heard any stories from your older family members about things that happened in their childhood that doesn’t really happen now?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn more about historical figures in your area.  What local impact have they made in your community, and why are they a role model for younger generations?
  • Speak with older family members about their lives when they were younger.  Write an autobiography for them, and look at old photos!  What is the same as your life now, and what is different?  Would your family members change anything?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

jenny-kay-dupuis-profile-picDr. Jenny Kay Dupuis was born in Northern Ontario and is a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, author, artist, and keynote speaker with over 15 years’ success advancing innovative programs, strategies and research initiatives across Canada focusing on topics pertaining to Indigenous issues, leadership and diversity, inclusion, and the importance of relationship building today. Jenny’s interest in her family’s past and her commitment to teaching about truth and Indigenous realties through literature and the arts drew her to to co-write I Am Not a Number, her first children’s picture book about her granny’s experience at a residential school. Since its release in September 2016, the book has been on CBC Books bestsellers list for 35 weeks. The book was also one of the finalists for the 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards, which celebrates the best writing for young readers. I Am Not a Number is up for a several other awards this coming year.

kathy kacerKathy Kacer was born in Toronto and has lived there her whole life. She has a Masters degree in psychology and worked with troubled teenagers and their families for many years. But she always dreamed of becoming a children’s author. She stopped working full time in 1998 to pursue this dream. Her first book, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, is based on a true story about her mother whose name was Gabi. She has gone on to write many more books about real people living through the Holocaust. A winner of the Silver Birch, Red Maple, Hackmatack and Jewish Book Awards, and a finalist for the Geoffrey Bilson and Norma Fleck Awards, she has written many unforgettable stories inspired by real events. Her books have also been published in many countries including Germany, China, Slovenia, Thailand, England, Japan, and Belgium. Her novels are stories of hope, courage, and humanity in the face of overwhelming adversity.



Gillian Newland is an artist. She works mostly in watercolour, ink and pencils.

Hiawatha and the Peacemaker

Written by: Robbie Robertson

Illustrated by: David Shannon

For Ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Indigenous Voices, Historical Figures, First Nations People, Culture.

Summary: This hefty book catalogues the story of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker as they attempt to unite the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tribes many years ago in the 14th century.  Hiawatha is a Mohawk man who lost his family and entire village when another tribe attacked-led by Chief Tododaho.  Distressed and enraged, Hiawatha sinks into a depression.  One morning, a mysterious figure in a blinding white carved stone canoe paddle up to the shore near Hiawatha with a message.  This figure has a pronounced speech impediment and wants well-spoken Hiawatha to accompany him to each of the other Iroquois tribes to unite them in hopes of defeating Chief Tododaho.  Hiawatha and the Peacemaker visit the Cayuga, Seneca, Oneida, and Mohawk councils to gather allies before confronting Tododaho.  When they reach Tododaho, they find a twisted and miserable beast.  The Peacemaker quickly realizes he is being consumed by evil within and tells Hiawatha how to fix Tododaho a medicine to heal him and expel the evil.  Hiawatha fixes him medicine and the evil is expelled.  As a symbol of peace between nations, the warriors from so many tribes buried their weapons underneath a white pine.

This book has stunning illustrations as well as historical notes in the back of the book.  The retelling of this important story takes place before Europeans were in North America.  In the back of the book, there is also a CD as well as an author’s note about the first time Robbie Robertson experienced a First Nations elder tell a story.  That story was of the Peacemaker and his disciple Hiawatha.

Reflection Questions:

  • How can you resolve conflicts peacefully, like Hiawatha and the Peacemaker?
  • Do you think Hiawatha did the right thing in helping Chief Tododaho get better?
  • When is a time that someone told you a story that changed your life, like the author had at the reservation longhouse with his family.

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Learn about other peaceful activists like Hiawatha.  What is something they all have in common?  Why is it important to resolve situations with peaceful solutions instead of violence?
  • Consider making a monument to peace in your community or on school grounds.  What message would you like it to portray?  Come together as a classroom, school, or community and make your plan for a symbol of peaceful activism.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

robbie robertsonBorn of Mohawk and Cayuga descent, musical icon Robbie Robertson learned the story of Hiawatha and his spiritual guide, the Peacemaker, as part of the Iroquois oral tradition. Now he shares the same gift of storytelling with a new generation. Robertson is a Canadian musician, songwriter, film composer, producer, actor, and author. His career spans six decades. He is best known for his work as lead guitarist and primary songwriter for the Band, and for his career as a solo recording artist. His work with the Band was instrumental in creating the Americana music genre. Robertson has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Band, and has been inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame, both with the Band and on his own. He is ranked 59th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists. As a film soundtrack producer and composer, Robertson is known for his collaborations with director Martin Scorsese, which began with the rockumentary film The Last Waltz (1978), and continued through a number of dramatic films, including Raging Bull (1980) and Casino (1995). He has worked on many other soundtracks for film and television.

david shannon

Caldecott Honor–winning illustrator David Shannon brings the journey of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker to life with arresting oil paintings. Together, Robertson and Shannon have crafted a new children’s classic that will both educate and inspire readers of all ages.

Yayoi Kusama From Here to Infinity

Written by: Sarah Suzuki

Illustrated by: Ellen Weinstein

For ages: 4 & up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Women Artists, Japanese Experience, Self-Expression, POC-Centric Narratives

Summary: Yayoi was born on the island on Honshu, in Japan.  Her family lived in the countryside and owned plant nurseries, but Yayoi longed to be an artist. When she was 28, Yayoi bravely moved to New York City by herself. She didn’t have much money, but she painted and painted and painted. Yayoi was fascinated with making dots into art, and when she had her first art show she was a smashing success! Yayoi began traveling the world and showing her art pieces, sculptures and paintings alike. Eventually, Yayoi returned to Japan and continues to make her dot-art to this day!

This book online, says that the age range is eighth graders and up, which we disagree with. This book also does not address her struggles with mental illness. It’s a beautiful book and a breath of fresh air to learn about famous artists that are women, but the book could have gone more in-depth. In the back, there are photographs of Yayoi Kusama’s art installations and paintings as well as a photo of the artist herself. This is a fairly quick read, great to introduce modern art to the budding young artist in your life!

Reflection Questions:

  • Who is your favorite artist?
  • What do you like the most about their artistic style?
  • Have you ever been to a modern art museum?
  • Have you ever heard of Yayoi Kusama?
  • What do you like about her art?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Look at more photos of Yayoi Kusama’s art. Which piece do you like best? Make an art piece in her dot style-is it easy or hard for you? Why do you think so?
  • Take a visit to your local modern art museum. Is any of Kusama’s artwork there? What are some other artists there that call to you with their artistic style? If there isn’t a museum close to you, find one that offers a virtual tour and explore the artwork digitally!
  • Look at examples of the art projects Kusama did with mirrors. Give your students small mirrors and let them experiment with art based on their reflections!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

sarah suzukiSarah Suzuki is Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Museum of Modern Art. At MoMA, Ms. Suzuki’s exhibitions include Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second World War (2015-16); Scenes for a New Heritage: Contemporary Art from the Collection (2015-16); Jean Dubuffet: Soul of the Underground (2014-15); The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters (2014-15); Wait, Later This Will All Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth (2013); Printin’ (2011) with the artist Ellen Gallagher; ‘Ideas Not Theories’: Artists and The Club, 1942-1962 (2010) and Rock Paper Scissors (2010) with Jodi Hauptman; Mind & Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940 to Now (2010); and Wunderkammer: A Century of Curiosities (2008), as well as solo exhibitions of Meiro Koizumi (2013); Yin Xiuzhen (2010); Song Dong (2009); and Gert and Uwe Tobias (2008). Among her publications are 2012’s What is a Print?, as well as contributions to numerous books, catalogues, and journals. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University, she has lectured widely and taught numerous courses on the subject of modern and contemporary art.

ellenweinstein-headshotEllen Weinstein was born and raised in New York City. She is a graduate of Pratt Institute and New York’s High School of Art and Design. Awards include American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts Illustration Annual, Print’s Regional Design Annual, Society of Publication Designers, Society of News Designers and the Art Directors Club. She has judged numerous illustration competitions including Communication Arts Illustration Annual 2016, 2016 National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, AOI/World Illustration Awards, Society of Illustrators Annual exhibition, Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship and Society of Illustrators Zankel Scholarship.