The Girl Who Drew Butterflies:
How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

"A vibrant, wonderfully rounded biography on a pioneering and prodigiously talented woman.” —Booklist (starred view)


Everyone knows that butterflies come from caterpillars, right? 


Not in the 17th century, they didn’t. How would they have known? Metamorphosis took place in hidden places. There were no books describing this process, or Monarch kits to send away for. Caterpillars were considered pests, and no one connected them to the beautiful “summer birds” that sailed through the air.


Only a very sharp-eyed and persistent person would be able to uncover such an extraordinary process, and only a person with artistic skill could document it in living color.

That person was Maria Sibylla Merian. An artist at a time when women weren’t allowed to be. A scientist before there were scientists. An adventurer who journeyed far and wide in search of the truth of metamorphosis.

Dive into this fully-illustrated account of her life: bursting with art, history and juicy details. 

Reader’s Guide

Link to Joyce’s Sibert award acceptance speech

News & Honors

2019 Robert F. Sibert Medal

New York Public Library’s Top Ten Best Books of 2018 

Kirkus Best Books of 2018

Booklist Editor’s Choice

Book Page Best Book of 2018

Garden State Teen Book Award Winner in Nonfiction


*Booklist, starred review: 

"Sidman’s writing radiates Maria’s passion and curiosity for the natural world, and it is as absorbing as fiction. A fantastic array of illustrations embellish the text with photos of butterflies, caterpillars, and chrysalises, and lovely images of Maria’s artwork. . . . A vibrant, wonderfully rounded biography on a pioneering and prodigiously talented woman.

*Kirkus, starred review:

"This fascinating account of Merian's life and work is beautifully designed and embellished with both Sidman's photographs of what Merian studied and images of her artwork. Informative captions identify and connect each image's relevance to Merian's life and work. An exceptionally crafted visual biography of a pioneering entomologist and naturalist who lived a life devoted to discovery.

*Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

"Stages of butterfly metamorphosis (accompanied by a trademark Sidman nature poem) serve as fitting chapter headings and mirror the stages of Merian’s life; a chapter titled “Flight” focuses on her groundbreaking research trip to Surinam. An author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index conclude this beautifully designed and expansive portrait of a gifted boundary breaker.”

*School Library Journal, starred review

"Sidman starts each chapter with a verse, otherwise telling the story through narrative with ample photographs, etchings, maps, paintings, and reproductions of Merian’s botanical art throughout. In pages of boxed text, readers learn a bit about topics that influenced Merian’s life . . . . An excellent choice for young artists, budding scientists, fledgling entomologists, and fans of biography.

*Horn Book, starred review:

"Sidman introduces readers to Maria Merian . . . whose illustrations of the life cycles of butterflies and moths included groundbreaking scientific details . . . . Excellent reproductions of the gorgeous botanical prints allow readers to appreciate their accurate scientific detail and artistry." 

A marvel of a book, just like the subject, Maria Merian. Reading Sidman’s fascinating and beautiful account of Merian’s life, we are witness to the miracle of a woman becoming an artist and a scientist in the 17th century. Just as a caterpillar emerges into the world out of its chrysalis, this book brings Merian out of the darkness and into the light.

                   — Deborah Heiligman, National Book Award finalist, author of

                       Vincent and Theo and Charles and Emma 

Useful Links

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