Beatrix Potter is beloved for her delightful children’s stories about Peter Rabbit and critters found in the English countryside. Her art illustrations are breathtaking and can take up an entire gallery. What few may know, however, is that before Beatrix Potter became the children’s-book bestseller she was a mycologist—a citizen scientist determined to contribute research to mycology.
In Beatrix Potter, Scientist, writer Lindsay H. Metcalf and illustrator Junyi Wu introduce us to a young Potter and her fascination with natural history and science. We learn Potter pursued the scientific method in her studies, in addition to making amazing nature illustrations. She even sprouted 40 kinds of mushroom spores at a time when very few people could accomplish such a task.Yet her contributions to science went unappreciated.
During the Victorian era (ca. 1837-1901), male-dominated established institutions acted as major obstacles for any woman pursuing the sciences. Women, such as Potter who lived from 1866 to 1943, were denied access to scientific institutions such as the Linnean Society. And so, in 1897, Potter’s paper, “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae,” was submitted to the Linnean society on her behalf by scientist George Massee. Unfortunately, it was not approved for publication.
Dismissed by the male-dominated science community, Potter began to focus on storytelling, and Peter Rabbit became a great hit. We gained a wonderful children’s author, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Potter’s studies in mycology been encouraged and accepted by the scientific community.
While Beatrix Potter, Scientist may be perfect for children grades kindergarten through third, it’s equally enticing for older children and adults. Adults—especially parents and educators—will enjoy Junyi Wu’s beautiful illustrations and Lindsay Metcalf’s text. The book ends with a brief biography and timeline of Potter’s life. Beatrix Potter, Scientist, will inspire children and even adults wanting to pursue citizen science. And if I’m giving it a ranking, I’d give it five mushrooms.
Review by Eva Gordon, 2022