Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Non-Fiction Picture Book - A Woman Who Didn't Follow Rules

art by Sarah S. Brannen

      Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy.  From her post and others, you will discover and want to celebrate terrific nonfiction picture books! 

       Considering the political climate of our times, it feels appropriate to begin sharing this wonderful book chronicling Maria Merian's life, out last February, with some words from Joyce Sidman's introduction:                               "Imagine this girl, forbidden from training as either a scholar or a master artist because she is female. Aware that in nearby villages women have been hanged as witches for something as simple as showing too much interest in 'evil vermin'."
       By the 1660s, when Maria was thirteen, over 20,000 women had been tried and executed as witches in Germany alone.

       This exquisite biography opens with a table of contents, then a glossary and the introduction. The chapter titles themselves offer an overall view of the life cycle of a butterfly, and cover, chapter by chapter, Maria's life cycle, too. Clever in its execution, at the opening of each chapter also is one of Sidman's poems. Written from the insect's view, these themselves would make a beautiful story, for the caterpillar and for humans. Here is one example from Chapter 3, FIRST INSTAR (the phase between moltings): "All that glittering green/before me. . ./how much of it will I devour?"  
       Maria became a leading botanical artist, naturalist, and (possibly) the world’s first ecologist, as she depicted insects—in all their developmental stages—alongside their botanical food sources and helped establish the idea that butterflies and moths come from caterpillars. Before her observations, many "experts" considered that they and other animals, like amphibians, sprang from muddy earth or water-- 'spontaneous generation'. In her earliest observations, Maria became sure, after those months of observations, that those minuscule eggs that became caterpillars, then entering the chrysalis stage, finally emerging as butterflies or moths, were indeed connected.

      Sidman adds quotes from Maria's journals as she combines her life story along with the history of the time as well, like explanations of the witch hunts, the way science worked before photography, and religion in the 1600s. One quote showed the persistence that never wavered, even in her later life when ill: “She had the curiosity of a true scientist, the patience it took to raise insects, and the superb artistic skill necessary to share her observations." 

         In addition to the background information of Maria's life, shown are numerous artistic treasures of her detailed artwork of moths, butterflies, flowers, trees, etc., as well as additional art from others depicting the life at that time like the first museums, moth versus butterfly, slavery in Surinam etc. Also,  The Girl Who Drew Butterflies focusses on the highlights of Merian's life (from her childhood to her solo travels with her daughter Dorothea to Surinam), presenting a both interesting and always engaging, and marvelous story of someone who did not allow the mores of her time to stop her learning.

            Remember these times held no cameras. Maria had to concoct and blend her own paints, construct her own paintbrushes, then reproduce the art onto metal plates through etching. If the resulting pages were in color, that means each page of the book(s) were hand-colored. (Few books were made and they were expensive!)   I enjoyed this book very much. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Monday Reading - Politics & Seasons

          Visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders to see what they've been reading, along with everyone else who link up.  

          I had the pleasure of an advanced copy from Candlewick Press for this book by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin.

       I've loved M.T. Anderson's books with their social underpinnings (like Feed) and Eugene Yelchin's story, Stalin's Nose, showing more historical humor and bite. This time, unassuming elfin historian Brangwain Spurge volunteers for a mission of a lifetime: he will be catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory, deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord, and spy on the goblin kingdom. It's dangerous, yet enticing for the experience. Brangwain’s host, the goblin Werfel the archivist loves the idea of learning from this never-before visitor and goes to extreme lengths to prepare for him. It can feel like an earth human visiting Mars with the mistakes that occur accompanied by cultural misunderstandings. Even the idea of insult or compliments contradict. Goblins show their love for one another with insults; elves do not. Interspersed within the plot are secret letters from Ysoret Clivers, Lord Spymaster, who hints at a double-cross when Spurge closes in with his peace offering. These two erratic (yet oh so sincere) scholars end in the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them — and war for their nations. The story holds humor, beauty and an inspiring call for changing one's skin. (You'll have to read it to understand my meaning.)
      Eugene Yelchin illustrates the elf side of this story. In pen and ink archaic style, a few of his chapters move the plot along, enabling us to see the world-building and action from Brangwain's point of view, as the "other", Werfel's story is told in prose by Anderson. The reader will be thrilled to see and read the details of this new place, home of Goblins, and the fantastical plot that moves like a speeding train, across landscapes hard to imagine unless one is M.T. Anderson or Eugene Yelchin. To meet Brangwain Spurge and Werfel, both earnest and honest creatures that just happen to come from very different worlds, and histories, is a pleasure.

       And, thanks to Beaming Books, I received a copy of this new book celebrating fall and the joys of friendship and sharing.
        This sweet story by Laura Renauld--out tomorrow--is the winner of the Beaming Books picture book writing contest! Porcupine prepares for Fall Feast Day by taking off for the river to wash her cranberries. On the way, she meets several animals like Squirrel and asks them if they are preparing the favorite dishes she remembers from last year. Squirrel replies no, no "Nut Bread" this year because she has no flour. Generous Porcupine is happy to share her flour and tells squirrel to help herself. There is humor as well as sharing, like when Bear, appreciative that he will get the needed butter for his "Famous Honey Cake", "nearly hugs Porcupine". As Porcupine moves along, young readers might also notice that those cranberries are spilling from the bucket. Oh no! But Porcupine doesn't realize what's happening and is so disappointed at the river. She trudges home, saying later to the guests that there will only be piecrust this time. All working and sharing together makes a delicious end with "Friendship Pie". The recipe is at the back! Jennie Poh's illustrations fill the pages with cute animals in an autumnal forest, a rich anthropomorphizing in this story, with small touches like Porcupine's cupboard with dishes, a hanging picture of a cupcake, and Bear hanging out with a book. There is also a ladybug that makes an appearance in every scene. It is a story for young readers, perhaps with an added sharing and cooking time?

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Poetry Friday - Poems & Animals

          Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference hosts Poetry Friday today with a bit of a leaning toward German and Germany. You'll see! Tausend Dank, Tabatha!
          And be sure to visit Irene Latham's blog, Live Your Poem, to join her in her celebration of Octopus Month. Again, you'll discover more when you visit.

        I've enjoyed X.J. Kennedy's books for a long time, and mostly the one written with his wife, Dorothy M. Kennedy, Knock At A Star - A Child's Introduction to Poetry. This is one edition I have, falling apart, but it is still in print with a new cover. For those new teachers I mentored, this is the book I gave them to start them on their way to sharing poetry with students. Of course, others are favorites, too, yet I still love this one. When a poetry collection was donated to the bookstore by X.J. Kennedy, I snapped it up and would love to share it with you. 

       It is a bestiary alphabet book, full of animals known (bee, quetzal, snail), animals created (Ursa Major & Ursa Minor, minotaur), animals ancient (tyrannosaur), and animals real, but unknown to some, including me (Pangolin). Have you ever heard of a "Vinegarroon"? Pencil illustrations by Heidi Johanna Selig help visualize the descriptions by Kennedy, often with great humor. Here is one page with the poem "Alligator" and her illustration.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Non-Fiction Wednesday - Hoax or Not?

art by Sarah S. Brannen

      Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy.  From her post and others, you will discover and want to celebrate terrific nonfiction picture books! 

           It's the true story of British cousins who fooled the world for more than 60 years with a remarkable hoax, photographs of “real” fairies.

          There are the photos (see the cover) and there is the time toward the end of World War I when most had no idea how a camera worked or how to use one. Elsie and Frances Griffiths (cousins) tell their parents they saw fairies near their cottage, down near the stream where they often sat, played, and dreamed. Frances and her mother lived with Aunt Polly and Uncle Arthur and cousin Elsie because their father was serving in the war. They insisted if only Uncle Arthur would allow them to use his camera, they could prove it. When he gave them permission, they finally got the (rather convincing, but faked) photo to prove it. Elsie's father dismissed them as "stories", but the mother (Polly) thought Elise and Frances were telling the truth. The hoax was a mild success, but blew up when Polly showed them to Edward Gardner, who put them in the hands of Arthur Conan Doyle who made the photos famous, running them in the popular Strand magazine.