Robinson examines the life of Anna Atkins, whose childhood love of the natural world propelled a unique career.
Born in England in 1799, Anna was raised by her scientist father after her mother’s death. Father abets Anna’s fascination with nature, fostering her scientific education. She becomes a botanist, collecting, cataloging, and illustrating British flora. The pair moves to London, where Father works at the British Museum. Anna marries John Pelly Atkins and continues work on her pressed-plant herbarium. Father’s retirement occasions the family’s return to the Kent countryside, where father and daughter explore their mutual zeal for a new technology: photography. Introduced to the cyanotype, whose chemical reaction produces permanent images, Anna harnesses the technique to share her botanical collections, producing several books under the demure nom de plume “A.A.” As little is known of Anna’s early life, Robinson’s present-tense narrative imagines childhood scenes. Historical context highlights the British mania for worldwide plant collection (but does not connect it to imperialism) and the sexist constraints on women and girls pursuing career paths. Illustrations utilize the cyanotype’s distinctive blue and white, with touches of red and yellow. A note details Robinson’s process, including digital manipulation of Atkins’ cyanotypes. (Other backmatter includes an author’s note, cyanotype instructions, bibliography, resources for Atkins’ works, and illustration credits.) The effete, white-skinned figural depictions, which infantilize the adult Atkins, detract from the otherwise handsomely designed package.
An inventive look at a pioneering woman whose intellectual passions culminated in published works of beauty and scientific verisimilitude. (Picture book/biography. 6-9)