Finding wonders Three girls who changed science

Jeannine Atkins, 1953-

Book - 2016

"A biographical novel in verse of three different girls in three different time periods who grew up to become groundbreaking scientists"--

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  • Mud, moths, and mystery: Maria Sibylla Merian
  • Secrets in stones: Mary Anning
  • Many stars, one comet: Maria Mitchell.
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* From the author of Borrowed Names (2010), this three-part novel in verse vividly imagines the lives of three girls who grew up to become famous for their achievements in science. Mud, Moths, and Mystery opens in Germany in 1660 with Maria Merian as a girl, closely observing insect metamorphosis. Pursuing her interest in nature throughout her life, she even traveled to South America to observe wildlife. Secrets in Stones tells of young Mary Anning, who in the early 1800s began collecting fossils from cliffs near her home in Lyme Regis, England. Despite poverty and limited education, her significant discoveries and observations contributed to paleontology at a pivotal time. Mapmaker's Daughter begins in 1831 with Maria Mitchell stargazing through her father's telescope on Nantucket. Later, she discovered a comet and became a college astronomy professor. Atkins has a knack for turning a phrase, such as Certainty is like a pillow / she learned to live without, or Coughs scrape the air, as if Pa breathes through a grater. Science is woven through the narratives, but within the fabric of the characters' daily lives and family struggles. While the Mary Anning narrative is the most haunting, each of these three perceptive portrayals is original and memorable.--Phelan, Carolyn Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Writing in free verse, Atkins (Borrowed Names) reaches back into the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to the girlhoods of Maria Merian, naturalist and scientific illustrator; Mary Anning, fossil hunter; and astronomer Maria Mitchell, all curious girls whose childhood passions led to groundbreaking work. Each grew up in a deeply bonded family and had a strongly supportive father; each fought quietly and determinedly against the obstacles of being a girl with unusual interests. In a closing note, Atkins explains that while she carefully documented the women's adult achievements, writing in verse gave her the liberty to fictionalize details of their younger years. The result is a sensory depiction of daily life in earlier centuries-"the cottage smells of laundry soap and herbal tonics"-and a credible development of three sympathetic characters. Evocative similes abound ("a silkworm silently spins/ a silk cocoon around itself,/ like a dancer twirling/ or a baker frosting a tall cake"), building an increasing ambiance of "finding wonder" in the world. In addition to the author's note, a selected bibliography and Atkins's thoughts on other science biographies are provided. Ages 10-up. Agent: Sara Crowe, Harvey Klinger. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-8-A collection of fictionalized stories in verse about three real women whose innovations influenced modern science. Maria Merian (1647-1717) was captivated by the metamorphosis of the caterpillar. Despite common superstitions about shape-shifting magic, Merian secretly collected and observed first silkworms, then caterpillars, to document the science beneath the mystery. She grew up to create incredible paintings of insects, including butterflies and other wonders of the natural world. Mary Anning (1799-1847) shared her father's curiosity about fossils entombed in the rocks of their New England home. Her findings were painstakingly excavated by chiseling away each layer of rock. Maria Mitchell (1818-89), who tirelessly watched the heavens for both consistency and change, discovered a new comet and became one of the first women to be accepted into the American Academy of Arts and Science. Atkins skillfully conveys the importance of these women's scientific contributions to the world, while also imagining the complexities of their lives as daughters, wives, and sisters during times when female scientists were marginalized or ignored. The verse is effective-evocative and beautiful. VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of poetry about the natural world and the lives of real people.-Patricia Feriano, Montgomery County Public Schools, MD © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

Atkins (Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C. J. Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters, rev. 5/10) here tells the stories, again in poetry, of three real-life self-taught female scientists and the challenges they face in pursuing their passions. In seventeenth-century Germany, Maria Sibylla Merian assists her painter father, secretly observing and studying silkworm metamorphosis and challenging both folk wisdom and social norms. A century later, in England, Mary Anning develops paleontological skills out of necessity, selling fossils to keep her siblings fed and clothed and deferring to wealthy patrons who credit her brother with her discoveries. On nineteenth-century Nantucket, Maria Mitchell joins her father at his rooftop telescope, sharing a curiosity about stars that extends beyond whale ship navigation, and pursuing recognition despite the humility encouraged by her Quaker upbringing. Although the work of these three women is now part of the scientific canon, the book allows readers to share in the initial drama through slow reveals that give emotional weight to the importance of their discoveries. Atkins guides readers through the themes that connect the women's scientific quests, from a boundary-pushing desire for knowledge ("Questions aren't like maidens' ankles, / meant to be covered by long skirts") to the satisfaction they find in their work ("She weighs old theories, draws new conclusions. / Claiming this world, Mary claims herself"). The verse format allows Atkins to zero in on small but telling moments in her characters' lives without being heavy-handed in drawing parallels to the scientific process or to broader cultural shifts. Back matter includes information on Atkins's research and a bibliography of relevant sources. sarah rettger (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.