Beatrix Potter, Scientist

Albert Whitman. (She Made History). Sept. 2020. 32p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807551752.
K-Gr 3–This picture book biography stresses Beatrix Potter’s scientific research. As a child, Potter found inspiration in nature. The text describes her methods as observing, questioning, collecting, and recording. Potter and her brother Bertram loved animals. However, when a pet died, she mourned the loss and also studied the animal bones. As Metcalf explains in an extensive note, artists in the 19th century boiled their dead pets so they could remove the skin and muscles, preserve the skeletons, and therefore learn about the inner workings of animals. Potter’s parents encouraged her art, but she did not receive the same formal education as her brother. She was deeply interested in fungi; she spent years experimenting with spores, making sample slides to study under her microscope, and creating detailed drawings of fungi. When she tried to submit her work to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, male scientists initially dismissed her findings. Why she stopped studying fungi and pivoted to children’s books is not explained; the answer seems to have been lost to history. Wu’s colorful, vivid illustrations appear to be rendered in pastels. Wu does not attempt to replicate Potter’s style but captures a sense of her drawings within the larger spreads.
VERDICT Celebrating how Potter’s talents and interests informed each other, this inviting biography illuminates an unfamiliar aspect of an accomplished woman’s life.

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