Did you know that before author and illustrator Beatrix Potter began her career writing the famous children’s classics, she was a scientist?
In her new picture book Beatrix Potter, Scientist (illustrated by Junyi Wu), Lindsay H. Metcalf reveals how as a child Beatrix Potter was curious about plants and animals, but devoted her life as a young adult to studying fungi.
Like the illustration of Beatrix on the cover, the book focuses a lens on her lesser-known years as a mycologist (one who studies fungi). Although Potter had no formal schooling in science, Beatrix Potter was introduced to mushrooms by a talented amateur named Charles McIntosh. He became her mentor and sent her samples to study. Beatrix made beautiful detailed drawings of each specimen. She also figured out a way to prove that new mushrooms grow from spores, something that wasn’t well known at the time. However, like other women scientists in the 1800s and early 1900s, Beatrix Potter encountered resistance when she tried to share her findings.
After finishing the book, educators and parents will likely want to discuss with young readers the pros and cons of how Beatrix ultimately dealt with the rejection.
The back matter is extensive, and includes a section that gives more detail about Beatrix Potter’s life and studies, a timeline, a bibliography and suggestions for further reading. It is well worth perusing.
Overall Beatrix Potter, Scientist will appeal to both young readers interested in STEM and also those interested in women’s history. Investigate a copy today!
Activity: Draw or Paint a Fungus
What better way to celebrate Beatrix Potter’s work than to make a detailed drawing of a mushroom.
First, look at some of Beatrix Potter’s illustrations online (for example, here).
You will need some art supplies, such as:
- Colored pencils
- Watercolor paints
Find a mushroom to draw.
Safety note: A few fungi are poisonous, so avoid handling wild ones.
Fungi obtain nutrients by decomposing plants, particularly living or dead woody plants, so you will often discover them in forests.
The mushroom that we see is called a fruiting body. The fruiting body is like the flowers of a plant because it is how how a fungus makes more of itself or reproduces. The rest of the fungus is made up of threadlike strands called hyphae which form a mat called the mycelium. The mycelium is often hidden within the tree or soil and may grow for years unseen.
When conditions are right, a fungus produces its fruiting bodies. They often prefer cool, moist conditions and fall is a great time to find them.
Some fruiting bodies have a stipe (scientific term for the stalk part). On the underside of the mushroom in the middle of the photograph you can see ridges. Those are called gills.
Others form shelves. Sometimes the shelves are soft.
If you have trouble finding a mushroom in nature, you may want to examine a cultivated mushroom from the grocery store instead.
Observe the mushroom closely and draw what you see.
You can find out more about fungi in these related posts:
- Information and activity suggestions for exploring fungi and lichens (includes figure with parts of the mushroom) at LitLinks
- Nice Educator’s Guide to download at Lindsay Metcalf’s website
- About Fungi (previous post with activities)
- Yeast (previous post with activities)
- Blow up a balloon with yeast
- Archimedes Notebook has another review and an interview with the author
Be sure to check out our ever-growing list of biographies of women scientists at Science Books for Kids.
Grade Level : Preschool – 3
Publisher : Albert Whitman & Company (September 1, 2020)
ISBN-10 : 0807551759
ISBN-13 : 978-0807551752
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