Invitation to the Invisible World

Long before our present-day preoccupation with invisible germs, Antony van Leeuwenhoek peered into a world of miniature life present in and around us. In 1716, he wrote:

I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.

From Delft-china-patterned endpapers to a back matter image of a cabinet of curiosities, Lori Alexander‘s Sibert Honor chapter book is a biography of Leeuwenhoek, a lively combination of voiced, present-tense text and delicately detailed illustrations.

It opens with an introduction to a man peering through an oddly shaped metal bar. He’s on the cusp of a big discovery, and his quoted words on the facing page evoke his wonder at what he’s seeing.

Subsequent chapters lead readers through Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s youth in Holland, where he raises silkworms and lives with his busy, enterprising parents. Through family tragedy, adolescence, an apprenticeship, travel, and more, Alexander reveals the context and background of Leeuwenhoek’s life along with all kinds of marvelous details of his obsession for looking up close at all that he encountered.

The back matter makes visible a whole lot of additional material as well–a timeline of Leeuwenhoek’s life, including related world events in red font, a glossary, source notes, selected biography, and index. Even the author’s note speaks directly to the young reader, providing information and clarifying points of scholarly agreement and doubt. Vivien Mildenberger‘s pastel, colored pencil, and watercolor art invites “all ingenious people,” and curious ones as well, to look up close at “eye of bee” and “leg of lice.”

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