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

by Jess Keating (Author) Michelle Mee Nutter (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

The inspiring tale of a seamstress-turned-scientist who invented the world's first aquarium at a time when women in STEM were startlingly rare.

The daughter of a seamstress and a cobbler, Jeanne Villepreux-Power began her career as a dressmaker, sewing beautiful gowns for the Parisian aristocracy. But her heart longed for more, and when she moved to the seaside, she became fascinated by the ocean's mysteries.

She filled her pockets with seashells and specimens, and filled her notebooks with oservations about coral and crustaceans and all manner of marine life. The argonaut interested her most of all, but Jeanne's observations of this shy creature were confounded by its tendency to swim away when approached. Jeanne wanted a way to bring a piece of the ocean home with her, and that's she came to build the world's first aquarium--an invention that would pave the way for countless scientific discoveries in the years to come...

Jess Keating (Shark Lady) and Michelle Mee Nutter (Allergic) bring Jeanne's story vividly to life with lively text and vibrant artwork that captures the curiosity and perseverance this pioneering woman in science brought to everything she did.

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Kirkus Reviews

A STEM-winder’s delight, awash in affirmation and the joy of discovery.

School Library Journal

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.—Debbie Tanner

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Jess Keating
Jess Keating is a zoologist-turned-author who writes with the sort of wisdom you can only get from multiple crocodile bites and skunk sprays. She's received oodles of state awards and starred reviews for her books, which include the World of Weird Animals nonfiction series and the biographies Shark Lady and Ocean Speaks. She also dabbles in illustration, has her own Youtube Channel, and runs a blog that's popular with teachers and librarians for its exploration of STEM subjects and the writing process. Jess lives with her husband in Ontario, Canada.

Michelle Mee Nutter graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, 3x3 Illustration, Creative Quarterly and she is the illustrator of the graphic novel Allergic. Nutter lives in Boston, Mass.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date
October 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
JNF051170 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Science & Nature | Discoveries
Library of Congress categories

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