The Girl Who Built an Ocean: An Artist, an Argonaut, and the True Story of the World’s First Aquarium

Knopf. Oct. 2022. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593305119.
Gr 1-4–Meet the inventor of the first aquarium, 19th-century designer Jeanne Villepreux. Born in France, Villepreux trained as a dressmaker and embroiderer, gaining a great deal of respect for her beautiful work, including the wedding dress of a princess. After she married, she and her husband moved to Sicily, where she found herself entranced by the sea life. Seeking to study ocean animals more closely, Villepreux designed a glass box to observe creatures in their native water habitats. With her aquariums, she was able to make some interesting observations about argonauts, a kind of a squid with a shell. Many in the male-dominated scientific community dismissed her; but over time, her work was proven factual and people outside the scientific community found applications for her aquarium. The artwork is colorful and inviting. While the faces of people are cartoonish, other aspects of the illustrations are more realistic, giving the book an intellectual heft. The endpapers are a compelling array of dressmaking tools and ocean life samples that tie the two important pieces of Villepreux’s life together. This book will help students connect to different topics—women’s studies, inventors, 19th-century innovations, and biography.
VERDICT Excellent nonfiction in an interesting and beautiful book that gives readers many points of interest for entry, with detailed pictures to pore over.

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