The Bluest of Blues

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I found this beautiful book whilst on stage one of my Half Term Book Crawl at Foyles on the Southbank. To my shame, it is about another pioneering woman I had not previously heard of- Anna Atkins, often considered the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images and claimed by some to be the first woman to create a photograph.

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Focusing on the close relationship she had with her father after the death of her mother, the book tells of how he greatly encouraged Anna’s education, particularly in the sciences, which was most unusual for women at that time.

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Anna became a skilled botanist, collecting and cataloguing British specimens and eventually creating highly detailed drawings which were turned into engravings for her father’s book about shells. After her marriage, she created an herbarium, preparing, mounting and storing hundreds of specimens.

In 1841, her father gave her a camera , but it was her introduction to Herschel’s discovery of the cyanotype print which allowed her to create the pictures for a book of her specimens.

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An author’s note at the end explains more about Anna and how her story has been told in this book. Information on how to make a cyanotype- a sun print- and additional information explaining how the author created some of the illustrations are fascinating. Some of the illustrations are examples of Anna’s own work, each credited. The amount of research and attention to detail offered by Fiona Robinson in this work is echoed by her using the same dedication for this book that Anna Atkins used for hers:

To my dearest Father this attempt is affectionately inscribed

This wonderful book has sent my teacher gene into overdrive as I can see it forming a key part of science work on the Y6 ‘Living Things and their Habitats’ Science unit. In this it says, pupils should be taught to:

  • describe how living things are classified into broad groups according to common observable characteristics and based on similarities and differences, including micro-organisms, plants and animals

  • give reasons for classifying plants and animals based on specific characteristics

Anna’s dedication to her subject is a great example of working scientifically in action and the use of sun prints to record collections, creating class herbariums might inspire children’s creativity and enjoyment of this area. Unlike Anna, whether a girl or a boy, they will be able to present their findings to audiences, taking pride in sharing their knowledge.

Inspiring and beautiful, ‘The Bluest of Blues’ shows the role women played in the development of science and art, encouraging everyone who reads it to discover and explore .

The Bluest of Blues Fiona Robinson

Abrams ISBN: 978-1419725517