For the last Perfect Pairing post of March, I’m channeling my inner-Carol King, and focusing on Natural Women, or more precisely, picture books about two 19th century women who loved nature and shared it with others.
The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photography
Author & Illustrator: Fiona Robinson
Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2019
Themes: nature; botany; women’s history; photography
Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A gorgeous picture book biography of botanist and photographer Anna Atkins–the first person to ever publish a book of photography
After losing her mother very early in life, Anna Atkins (1799–1871) was raised by her loving father. He gave her a scientific education, which was highly unusual for women and girls in the early 19th century. Fascinated with the plant life around her, Anna became a botanist. She recorded all her findings in detailed illustrations and engravings, until the invention of cyanotype photography in 1842. Anna used this new technology in order to catalogue plant specimens—a true marriage of science and art. In 1843, Anna published the book Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions with handwritten text and cyanotype photographs. It is considered the first book of photographs ever published. Weaving together histories of women, science, and art, The Bluest of Blues will inspire young readers to embark on their own journeys of discovery and creativity.
Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.
Out of School and into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story
Author: Suzanne Slade
Illustrator: Jessica Lanan
Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2017
Themes: science; biography; nature; women’s history
Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):
This picture book biography examines the life and career of naturalist and artist Anna Comstock (1854-1930), who defied social conventions and pursued the study of science. From the time she was a young girl, Anna Comstock was fascinated by the natural world. She loved exploring outdoors, examining wildlife and learning nature’s secrets. From watching the teamwork of marching ants to following the constellations in the sky, Anna observed it all. And her interest only increased as she grew older and went to college at Cornell University. There she continued her studies, pushing back against those social conventions that implied science was a man’s pursuit. Eventually Anna became known as a nature expert, pioneering a movement to encourage schools to conduct science and nature classes for children outdoors, thereby increasing students’ interest in nature. In following her passion, this remarkable woman blazed a trail for female scientists today.
Read a review at The Nonfiction Detectives.
I paired these books because they feature 19th century women who loved and studied nature and shared that love with others, despite societal expectations to the contrary. In The Bluest of Blues, Robinson shares Atkins’ passion for botany and her contributions to the scientific study of plants via early illustrations and engravings and later photographs. In Out of School, Slade details the life of Anna Comstock, who studied plants and insects at Cornell University in the 1870s, whose insect illustrations helped farmers to identify pests, who created lesson plans to encourage teachers to hold nature classes outdoors, and who wrote and published many books about nature. In both picture books, a clear take-away is to follow your passion and see where it leads.
Looking for similar reads?
See, The Girl who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science (Joyce Sidman, 2018); The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever (H. Joseph Hopkins/Jill McElmurry, 2013); I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon (Baptiste & Miranda Paul, 2019).