Today we have a new picture book biography, Fearless World Traveler: Adventures of Marianne North, Botanical Artist by Laurie Lawlor and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander.
You may not have heard of Marianne North, but she was a fascinating woman. She grew up privileged and sheltered in England. Her father was a member of Parliament who owned multiple homes. On the other hand, her parents said she had no need for an education and insisted she get ready for marriage. Instead, Marianne taught herself to paint and immersed herself in nature whenever she got the chance. After her father passed away, Marianne began to travel the world. She made up for lost time by accurately painting every plant she could find. In the remaining years of her life, she produced more than 848 paintings, most of which she donated to Kew Gardens (see photograph of some of the display below).
Why is North’s work considered to be scientific? It is because she advanced the field of botanical illustration. Her technique of painting specimens in their natural environment rather than isolated on a light background was groundbreaking. The fact, she documented so many rare plants with such accurate detail that several of them are named in her honor.
As for the book, Becca Stadtlander’s lush illustrations are a fitting tribute to Marianne North’s art. Readers will want to get lost in them. And Marianne North’s story is captivating. Readers will want to visit it again and again.
Fearless World Traveler will appeal to a variety of young readers, including those interested in history, travel, plants, art, and science. Pick up a copy and join the adventure!
Suggested STEAM Activities:
1. Make a botanical illustration.
For inspiration, first visit the Kew’s Virtual Gallery to see scans of Marianne North’s paintings, organized by place and by plant type.
Gather some plants. Consider houseplants or vegetables, too. Note: avoid sampling plants you can’t readily identify because some plants can be poisonous. Also, make sure you have permission to gather plants. Collecting plants can be forbidden in certain public spaces, such as parks.
There are many instructions for drawing and painting plants for different grades or ages online. The video below has a nice introduction to botanical illustration and explains how to use plaster cloth to make a botanical impression.
The lesson is available for download as a PDF at the Blick website.
2. Incorporate scientific illustrations in a nature journal.
If you are interested in nature journals, speed over to the Exploring Marianne North website. Toward the bottom of the page they are currently offering a PDF booklet put together by volunteers. It chronicles some of North’s travels, a wonderful mix of history and art. The illustrations are amazing!!! Caveat: the text is in old-fashioned cursive, so may be difficult for young children to read.
LitLinks blog also has some great ideas about how to introduce children to the art of keeping a nature journal.
3. Make a leaf collection
There are many, many ways to make a leaf collection.
- Laminate dried leaves
- Take crayon rubbings of leaves (for example, instructions at First Palette.)
- Preserve autumn or dried leaves in wax paper or contact paper (instructions and templates)
- How to press leaves at the Field Museum
Plants and art are a perfect mix.
Reading age : 6 – 9 years
Publisher : Holiday House (May 11, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 0823439593
ISBN-13 : 978-0823439591
Public domain image of the Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens from Wikimedia.
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