Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

written by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

A young girl named Maria Merian took the time to observe caterpillars and learn about metamorphosis, disproving a theory that went all the way back to ancient Greece.

Born in Germany in 1647, Maria Sibylla Merian disagreed with the conventional wisdom, dating back to the Greeks, that “summer birds,” or butterflies, were “beasts of the devil” that sprang alive from the mud through spontaneous generation. Maria tells her story; how she carefully watches the slow transformation of caterpillars to winged adults, painting everything that she sees, always in secret.

Basic science concepts about life cycles, along with biographical details are further developed in an appended historical note.

The flowing vines, jewel tones, and imaginary creatures in the illustrations all evoke artwork from the time. Occasional black backgrounds provide backdrops for her imagination.

Finding out more about this young woman far ahead of her time and unknown to most young readers should stir interest in the natural world and observation of its everyday dramas.