I always liked the tale of Cinderella, but by the time I could read on
my own, I looked for stories of real people who sometimes felt out of
place but ended up somewhere amazing. I especially like reading about
girls who weren’t given great chances, but through faith and hard work,
rather than wands and fairy godmothers, made a mark on the world.
These days I often write poetry, which asks us to pay close attention
to language and may bridge nonfiction and fiction. I enjoyed
contributing to the Poetry Friday Anthologies
edited by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell, which
help make it easy for teachers to fit poetry into the week. It was fun
to write biographical poems for The Poetry Friday Anthology for
Science, but later I wanted to write more than could fit on one page.
That desire led me to compose a series of poems about girls whose
early love of science led them to important discoveries.
Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science celebrates three
girls born in three different centuries who went on to do
groundbreaking work. Most of the poems show Maria Sibylla Merian, Mary
Anning, and Maria Mitchell at about thirteen years old, when their
commitment to studying plants and animals, fossils, and the night sky
deepened. The final poems in each series present the highlights of their extraordinary careers.
Believed to be a portrait of Maria Merian probably painted by Jacob Marrel, her stepfather, in 1679. (Kunstermuseum Basel)
Back when insects were commonly believed to come from mud, Maria
Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) found and raised caterpillars, discovering
how they transformed into moths or butterflies. As an early ecologist,
she painted insects along with the plants that provided their food and
shelter. She may have been the first person to take a voyage (from
Europe to South America) for purely scientific reasons. Her paintings
of flowers and insects can be found today in many museums. Learn more about Maria on Pinterest.
Portrait of Mary Anning (B.J. M. Donne, Geological Society of London
Before either the word “dinosaur” or “scientist” had been coined, Mary
Anning (1799 -1847) discovered patterns in stones suggesting that
animals no one had ever seen lived in a time most thought had never
been. Living in the coastal village in Britain where she was born, she
became first person to make a living by selling fossils. Learn more about Mary on Pinterest
Portrait of Maria Mitchell (by Herminia B. Dassel, Maria Mitchell Association)
Maria Mitchell (1818–1889) was a Nantucket stargazer who taught
herself math, then became the first female professional astronomer in
the United States. She won a gold medal for spotting a comet flash
across the night sky, and spent twenty years teaching young women,
many of whom also forged careers in science. Learn more about Maria on Pinterest
Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell all had fathers who
encouraged their curiosity about the natural world. They also all
lived during a time when science was developing, and was more
interwoven with art, literature, and religion than it tends to be now.
While an emphasis on looking long and hard remains, those doing
science in earlier centuries often depended on what an unaided human
eye could see, and the arts, which help sharpen vision, were a common
part of a naturalist’s education. Religion and science were sometimes
at odds, but many, including these three girls, found ways to unite
them. They also found beauty and mystery in poetry, which both Mary
Anning and Maria Mitchell included in their daybooks.
Paying close attention, discovering, making mistakes, and being
disappointed or astonished, all three scientists explored what was
hidden: the origins of caterpillars and moths, the world’s history as
written in stone, and what can be seen in the sky only with
Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound.
Resources for readers and educators
Read the Finding Wonders Timeline.
Learn how to write a historical poem with Researching a Way into a Poem - with Poetry Prompts.
Download the Questions for Readers about Finding Wonders by Jeannine Atkins
Poet to Poet interview about Finding Wonders, Read now...
Kirkus Reviews Interview, Read now...
Finding Wonder in the Process, Read now...
Conversation about Women, Poetry, and Science at Booklist, Read now...
Teaching Authors Interview, Read now...
Finding Questions and Wonders: at the Poem Farm, Read now...
A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Bulletin Blue Ribbon
Nerdy Book Club a Best Poetry and Novels in Verse
Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices 2017
Booklist Lasting Connections
“In the scramble for STEM curricular materials that celebrate the
contributions of women scientists, Atkins’ offering of three extended
free-verse biographical poems is distinguished for both content and
—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred
review, Read review...
“Evocative and beautiful. Highly recommended for fans of poetry about
the natural world and the lives of real people.”
“Vividly imagines the lives of three girls who grew up to become
famous for their achievements in science. . . . each of these three
perceptive portrayals is original and memorable.”
“Although the work of these three women is now part of the scientific
canon, the book allows readers to share in the initial drama through
slow reveals that give emotional weight to the importance of their
"Inspirational and informative, Atkins shows how pursuing one’s
passion for science, math, or any field considered nontraditional is
worth the risk."