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The Bluest of Blues

The Bluest of Blues

Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs

This gorgeous picture book biography tells the story of botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, the first person ever to publish book of photography.
 
After losing her mother very early in life, Anna Atkins was raised by her loving father. He gave her a scientific education, which was highly unusual for women and girls  in the early 19th century.
 
Fascinated with the plant life around her, Anna became a botanist. She recorded the natural world in detailed illustrations and engravings – until the invention of cyanotype photography
 
1807 – The English Meadow
The sky is the bluest of blues.
Little Anna’s arms are full of flowers: buttercups, forget-me-nots, corncockles, love-in-a-mist, feverfew, and marigolds….
Anna finds a poppy. 
She wants to keep the poppy forever. Father passes her the book. She opens it and places the poppy on the pages…
 
1811 – Beside the Sea
The sea is the bluest of blues.
Anna find a long strip of squeaky, bubbly, brown seaweed…
Anna takes out her notebook. She draws and records the seaweeds: bubbles and bobbles, tendrils and roots, frizzes and wrinkles. Father helps her label them with their scientific names.
Anna is a treasure hunter. Anna is an artist. Anna is a scientist!
 
1823 – Flowers and Shells
By her early twenties, Anna is a botanist, a scientist of plants… For Anna, botany is her job, her life’s work. She uses her skills as an illustrator to create images of the natural subjects she and Father collect.
 
1841 – The Gift
One morning at breakfast, Father placed a wooden box on Anna’s lap. She turns it  around carefully. There’s a slot at the top and a hole in one side where a circle of glass sits. A camera! One of the first ever made.
 
1842 – The Bluest of Blues
Anna listens carefully as Sir John introduces his most recent discovery: the cyanotype print. This process does not need camera, just two chemicals, paper, water, and strong sunlight…
 
1843 – Anna’s Book
Anna gazes at her seaweed cyanotype, fascinated by its detail. The blue background reminds her of the sea, the plant’s natural habitat…
She has a brilliant idea: a book! A book combining the science of botany with the realism of photography. A book of her seaweed collection.
 
1852 – The Poppy
The sky is the bluest of blues. 
Anna drifts slowly, along, through the tall grass.
Father has died.
A flash of bright red catches her eye. A poppy! …A distant childhood memory sharpens into focus. 
She wants the poppy to last forever….
 
 
 

REVIEWS:

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.  – Kirkus Review

 
 

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