Book review: Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

Quintero, Isabel. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide. Illus. by Zeke Peña. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018. $19.95. 95p. ISBN 978-1-947440-00-5. Ages 13+. P7Q8

In this graphic biography, black and white drawings with digitally-added grays are combined with the author’s brief poetic narratives to each chronological section and over two-dozen of Iturbide’s unstaged feminist—and sometimes disturbing—photographs. As a child, Iturbide tried to follow the traditional lifestyle of her conservative Catholic family in Mexico, but her drive to be a writer and the loss of her daughter led her to photography. She travelled the world, engaging with diverse cultures as the book follows her for over 50 years. A common theme pervading the book comes from the use of birds, frequently appearing in backgrounds apart from the graphic panels.

Verdict: This startling look at indigenous communities through the eyes of an artist who experiences them can engender discussions and shifts in critical perspectives.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer, by Sarah B. Pomeroy and Jeyaraney Kathirthamby

Pomeroy, Sarah B. and Jeyaraney Kathirthamby. Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer. J. Paul Getty Museum/Abrams, 2018. $21.95. 96p. ISBN 978-1-947-44001-2. Ages 10-16. P7Q9

Merian’s activities would be remarkable for the world of today, but she began her discoveries of butterfly metamorphosis in 1660 at the age of 13 and continued her scientific discoveries for 51 years until she died at the age of 64. In between, she sold her paintings for a trip to Dutch Surinam, off the coast of South America, where she traveled in 1699 and stayed for two years when she became ill. Merian did all this almost a half century before Carl Linaeus created his classification of species and two centuries before Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The many colored reproductions of Merian’s work in the book are supplemented by an introductory map of the world, paintings and etchings of Merian’s Amsterdam, and some paintings by Merian’s two daughters. Because women were not allowed to have formal education in art at that time, Merian learned from her father and stepfather.

Verdict: This book gives an excellent view of the 17th century German entomologist and artist with many of her exquisite, detailed paintings of insects, spiders, and frogs, bats, and other small creatures. Highlighted are her independent thinking and curiosity about the world around her that results in a different perspective of nature. An excellent follow-up to Joyce Sidman’s book for younger readers about Merian, The Girl Who Drew Butterflies. 

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.