The Picture Book Buzz

Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I love that biographies offer us a window into the adventures, decisions, and struggles of people we admire. It's fun to discover little known facts or aspects of people I thought I knew.

But it is even more fun to learn about the people I've never heard of. Introducing me to new heroes and guides. I was unaware of the adventurous Lucy Evelyn Cheesman, who overcame childhood illness and persisted in her desire to be outdoors exploring and discovering insects, despite danger, disease, and disapproval. The fact that she traveled alone, "collected over seventy thousand specimens—some that hadn’t been recorded by scientists before," AND wrote children's books on insects makes her a hero in my book.

I hope you enjoy her story.

Evelyn The Adventurous Entomologist: The True Story of a World-Travelling Bug Hunter

Author: Christine Evans

Illustrator: Yasmin Imamura

Publisher: Innovation Press (2019)

Ages: 5-10

Nonfiction

Themes:

Follow your dreams, adventure, bugs, and STEM

Synopsis:

Back in 1881, when Evelyn Cheesman was born, English girls were expected to be clean and dressed in frilly dresses. But Evelyn crawled in dirt and collected glow worms in jars. When girls grew up they were expected to marry and look after children. But Evelyn took charge of the London Zoo insect house, filling it with crawling and fluttering specimens and breathing life back into the dusty exhibits. In the early 1920s, women were expected to stay home, but Evelyn embarked on eight solo expeditions to distant islands. She collected over 70,000 insect specimens, discovered new species, had tangles with sticky spider webs, and tumbled from a cliff. Inspire children to believe in their dreams and blaze their own trail with the story of Evelyn's amazing life!

Opening Lines:

Back in 1881 when Evelyn Cheesman was born, most people thought girls should be quiet, clean, and covered with lace. And little Victorian girls definitely weren’t supposed to go on bug hunts.

Why I liked the Book:

While the book spans much of Evelyn's life, it's not quite a birth to death biography. Instead it's an excellent glimpse into the motivations and endurance of an amazing woman who bucked society's norms and expectations to follow her heart and her dreams.

The book opens with Evelyn on her knees, muddy, and delightedly discovering a dragonfly. And introduces the refrain and guiding mantra of her life - "But Evelyn went anyway." Defying Victorian ideals, Evelyn "crawled in mud and stuffed her pockets with bugs."

Evelyn wanted to be a vet. But at the time, women couldn't be vets. She grew dissatisfied with her limited option of "canine nurse." Although no woman had been ever been in charge of an exhibit at the zoo, Evelyn interviewed and became the first female curator of the London Zoo's Insect House. Within a few weeks, Evelyn changed a decrepit facility into a thriving and educational exhibit.

Text © Christine Evans, 2019, Image © Yasmin Imamura, 2019.

Still, Evelyn dreamed of more. She jumped at the chance to explore insects on tropical Pacific islands. The fun of discovering new and unknown insects was slightly tempered by getting stuck in a giant spider's web and tumbling off a steep cliff. But she endured and persisted, discovering and collecting insects for over thirty years. The bold, deeply colored illustrations enhance the remote, wild feeling of the tropics and highlight Evelyn's love for insects. And are sure to spark discussions about the history of women's rights and colonialism.

Text © Christine Evans, 2019, Image © Yasmin Imamura, 2019.

Christine's brilliant refrain "But Evelyn went anyway," sums up Evelyn's life. Doggedly bucking society's norms and expectations she set out to follow her heart and fulfill her dreams. An interview with a modern entomologist and Evelyn's biography round out this book. It is a great addition to STEM biographies and will hopefully encourage everyone to pursue their dreams.

Resources:

- read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and make your own caterpillar; (https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/diy-caterpillar-craft-for-kids-4125131);

- create your own bug exhibit with: a (1) firefly (https://onelittleproject.com/pop-bottle-firefly/); (2) snail (https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/egg-carton-snail-craft-3877337); (3) dragonfly (https://iheartcraftythings.com/sparkly-clothespin-dragonfly-craft.html); (4) honeybee (https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/bee-craft-for-kids-4142022); (5) spider (https://iheartcraftythings.com/paper-plate-spiders.html); (6) butterfly (https://alittlepinchofperfect.com/painted-butterfly-doily-craft-for-kids/); (7) ants (http://www.pinkstripeysocks.com/2014/08/make-egg-carton-bugs.html); and/or (8) grasshopper/cricket (https://www.gluedtomycraftsblog.com/2016/03/paper-plate-grasshopper-kid-craft.html). What would you need to take care of them? Can you create a realistic zoo exhibit for one or more of them? ;

- write a story or draw a picture of your favorite insect; or

- what do you dream about doing? Describe or draw a picture of your dream.

If you missed Christine Evan's interview on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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