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.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

joyce sidman

Joyce 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 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.

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