Finding Wonders

This is the one, true book, my father said. Close your eyes and bow your head. “Children should be seen and not heard,” he told me. “Do as I say, and stop asking questions!”

That wasn’t the case for the budding scientists in FINDING WONDERS, whose names you may not recognize, but whose accomplishments are renowned. From Jeannine Atkins, the critically acclaimed author of BORROWED NAMES and other favorites, comes this gem of a book. I’m overdue in sharing its brilliance.

In this historical novel-in-verse, Jeannine introduces three young girls, all of whom were born into religious families, same as I was. We share a wide-eyed curiosity about the world, but –lucky girls! — they were raised by indulgent fathers who encouraged them to challenge traditional thinking, because “Discoveries are made / by those willing to say, Once we were wrong, / and ask question after question.”

Here’s a quick blurb from the publisher, whose opinions I wholeheartedly share:

FINDING WONDERS is gorgeously written novel in verse about three girls in three different time periods who grew up to become groundbreaking scientists.

Maria Merian was sure that caterpillars were not wicked things born from mud, as most people of her time believed. Through careful observation she discovered the truth about metamorphosis and documented her findings in gorgeous paintings of the life cycles of insects.

More than a century later, Mary Anning helped her father collect stone sea creatures from the cliffs in southwest England. To him they were merely a source of income, but to Mary they held a stronger fascination. Intrepid and patient, she eventually discovered fossils that would change people’s vision of the past.

Across the ocean, Maria Mitchell helped her mapmaker father in the whaling village of Nantucket. At night they explored the starry sky through his telescope. Maria longed to discover a new comet—and after years of studying the night sky, she finally did.

Told in vibrant, evocative poems, this stunning novel celebrates the joy of discovery and finding wonder in the world around us.

And how gorgeous is this cover?

So many passages to savor, I was hard-pressed to choose a favorite! Take, for example, this excerpt about Mary Anning, whose imagination carries her further than fancy shoes ever could.

She looks towards the sea’s horizon,

which reminds her of the limits of sight.

Another country lies beyond, or so she’s been told.

Some things must be believed without seeing.

And other truths, barely imagined, found.

 

I also bookmarked this piece about Maria Merian, because it suggests a positive future for girls like me: girls who didn’t always believe what we were told, and who didn’t always do what we were asked.

What She Is Told

Women don’t cross the ocean,
at least not unless marries to merchants or missionaries.
No one has sailed to another continent
just to look at and draw small animals and plants.
Some travel to claim land for kinds, find treasure like gold,
or collect bark, berries, and pods to spice cakes.
But no one has sailed from sheer curiosity about the world.

Voyagers are in danger of shipwrecks, hurricanes,
sea monsters, or fires from lanterns tipped by high waves.
Those who survive under sails may die of peculiar fevers
in the New World. They might be eaten by jaguars.
Maria is told, You’re too old. You can’t go alone.
But nothing will stop her now.

–Jeannine Atkins, all rights reserved

Written primarily for younger audiences, FINDING WONDERS is a wonderful addition to any classroom library, for teachers and students alike.  But it’ll be equally at home in the hands of women like me–you, too? –who eventually laid claim to their own voices, and wear those stories like a badge of honor.

 

15 Comments

    • Melodye Shore

      Thanks, Kelly! The best way to do their stories justice, I think, is to find and share the wonders all around us. 🙂

    • Melodye Shore

      It really is! And isn’t it amazing, the ways in which our best stories come to life again (find their echoes and amen choruses), at different points in history?

  1. Fabulous post.
    I love how you tied everything and everyone together.
    Actually, I checked out Finding Wonders and Stone Mirrors from the library a few weeks ago. I heard a history podcast about Maud Lewis – and had to find out more information about her. And, huge surprise. Love love love how Finding Wonders and Stone Mirrors tells the stories so beautifully.
    All young readers have to read these books.
    Thanks for the excellent post!

    • Melodye Shore

      YES! As with the explorers in Jeannine’s book, one discovery leads to another (and another), and the pieces eventually fall into place. But who/what else will you encounter along the way…and how will you emerge, at the end of journey? That’s the heartbeat of these (our) stories, yes?

  2. Karen Reinhart

    Isn’t it wonderful that stories from many years ago and many years apart can come together today in the timelessness of a book that draws us into the minds and lives of three women whose discoveries touch our lives today? Books make us time travelers and the stories they contain make the world and its history a small place–in a good way. Accessible. And I love your ability, Melodye, to share with curious wonder the things you see and experience for us all to share in. Your world is very big, but you don’t lose sight of all the small things that are included in it.

      • Melodye Shore

        I’m no poet, and I don’t claim to have mastered the skill of “putting together the small and big.” But noticing big and small, and making those connections…that comes a bit easier for having sat so long at the feet of my father, who spoke in parables and prophesies. And I suspect it comes also of having followed my mother’s gaze, whenever she exclaimed about something wondrous beyond the bug-spattered windshield of our car. “Look!” she’d say, in whispered amazement. No surprise, that’s one of my favorite words. 🙂

    • Melodye Shore

      Thanks so much for your generous comment, Karen. It’s true that i’m captivated by the smallest things–for curiosity’s sake, and because they help me find my own place in this magnificent world we share. And how lucky am I, to have friends who indulge my fascinations and sometimes even join me on my adventures. 🙂

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