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.