Some of you may recall that earlier this year I had an opportunity to visit California. It was the first time I had ever been to Northern California and when I was choosing gifts to bring back for my children I was delighted to find the book Girls Who Looked Under Rocks. The book is subtitled The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists, it was written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Paula Conner. I purchased the 63 page book for $8.95 plus tax at the gift shop in Muir Woods. From my point of view the best part is the follow-up resources listed in the back of the book. My best guess is this short chapter book was written for an eight to ten year old female audience although others can certainly appreciate the subject matter.
Girls Who Looked Under Rocks briefly describes the life and times of the following revolutionary naturalists: Maria Sibylla Merian, Anna Botsford Comstock, Frances Hamerstrom, Rachel Carson, Miriam Rothschild and Jane Goodall. The tales of these girls growing up in restrictive societies that frowned on their interests flows naturally into their lives as young women, adolescents, mature women and continues to their deaths unless they are still living today. Considering the length of the book, the size of the type, and the full page illustrations I was pleasantly surprised to find such a wealth of information about each of the women chosen by the author. The stories are real although the author has used a modest amount of literary license to bring the lives of these amazing women into the lives of readers today.
Although the book focuses on six women who studied nature and the physical world the book highlights important artistic, literary, social and political contributions these women made. Anna Botsford Comstock was the first female professor hired by Cornell University. Several of her classmates were suffragists who fought for the voting rights of women. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was written after a friend of hers wrote about how the robin population near her home had been affected after a pesticide application. Silent Spring was an unpopular book at the time but it was an influential work that helped ban harmful pesticides in the United States. Miriam Rothschild has been an important voice for the gay and lesbian community. She also lobbied on behalf of the mentally challenged, arguing that they needed a higher standard of care and better living conditions.
People who are familiar with the story of Jane Goodall know that her legendary work among primates has been well documented elsewhere. Each of the women featured in Girls Who Looked Under Rocks had their own difficulties to overcome. All of them were persecuted, ridiculed and looked down upon yet these women clung to their dreams despite the challenges they faced. In my opinion Girls Who Looked Under Rocks is a concise, well written, relatively easy to read book. It offers simple, interesting biographical information about each of the six women and their contributions to the study of modern day science. The large, detailed illustrations are appropriate for the younger target audience, even children who are too young to read can look at pictures of reptiles, insects and plant life.
So far you’ve heard what I have to say about the book, you read earlier that it was purchased as a gift for my daughter mainly because I wanted her to be exposed to women who carved their own destiny out of a hard and unyielding world. I had hoped that the book would encourage her to explore the plant, animal and insect life around her. I went through parts of the book with my daughter Jane. She liked the section on Jane Goodall mainly because they share the same name. So far my daughter Jill hasn’t shown much of an interest in Girls Who Looked Under Rocks. In terms of her future I can only hope that someday there will be a book about girls who liked to play video games.
Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: A Sharing Nature with Children Book published by Dawn Publications. ISBN 1-58469-011-9