Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian
written by Margarita Engle; illustrated by Julie Paschkis
(Henry Holt Kids) 2010
Source: Mebane Public Library
In the mid-1600s, thirteen year old Maria Merian was capturing and studying insects in secret so as not to be accused of witchcraft by her neighbors. Maria's observations taught her that butterflies (called summer birds since they "appeared suddenly during warm weather and vanished in the fall.") came about through metamorphosis and were not born from the mud as her adult neighbors thought. She also observed eggs becoming tadpoles and growing into frogs. Maria wrote down her observations and created paintings of the summer birds and other natural phenomena. She knew these changes were not something to be feared, but nature taking its course.
Students will be fascinated to learn about how people once feared things that we know to be natural today. Margarita Engle's historical note at the end of Summer Birds contains interesting background information that will be good to share with students. Engle's combination of story and science will be very appealing to young readers. Speaking of appealing, Julie Paschkis's artwork is amazing. She is on a roll in 2010 with the beautiful Where is Catkin? also appearing this year.
Summer Birds will be an excellent companion to your nonfiction informational life cycle books. It will help reinforce information about life cycles in butterflies and frogs. For older students who have a lot of background knowledge on life cycles, this would be a great book to use for teaching synthesizing where students take known information and merge it with new information to create something different.
Click on this link for a slideshow of Maria Merian's work from the Getty Center.
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