The Lady and the Octopus: How Jeanne Villepreux-Power Invented Aquariums and Revolutionized Marine Biology

The Lady and the Octopus: How Jeanne Villepreux-Power Invented Aquariums and Revolutionized Marine Biology

Coming from Lerner October 4, 2022


 Born in a small village in eighteenth-century France, Jeanne Villepreux-Power wasn't expected to transform marine science. Curious, creative, and clever, she ventured to Paris by foot as a teenager. After achieving acclaim as a seamstress, she met a wealthy merchant and traveled with him to Sicily, where they married. Rather than settling into a life of domesticity on this beautiful island, she set out to investigate its natural wonders, from fossils and insects on land to the marvelous mysteries of the sea.

In an era when women weren’t accepted into scientific societies and many naturalists based their findings on dead specimens, Jeanne fashioned her own fortune. She observed and experimented on living animals, in particular one very unusual shelled octopus called an argonaut. To keep argonauts and other sea creatures alive long enough to learn from them, she invented a device to hold them—the aquarium. With patience and persistence, she solved the two-thousand-year-old mystery of whether argonauts grow or steal their shells, and she made sure the scientific world knew about it.

"This story of one woman's pluck, determination, and scientific insight is a riveting read for anyone of any age!"—Sy Montgomery, New York Times-bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus

"From its very first scene on a sun-drenched beach in Sicily, this book bursts with the passion and enthusiasm of its subject, 19th century naturalist Jeanne Villepreux-Power, who was bent on studying live sea creatures rather than the dead specimens of her contemporaries. With lively, engaging, and at times humorous text, Staaf deftly turns issues like the fallibility of biographies or the ethics of animal experimentation into thoughtful discussion points for young readers to explore. Fascinating from beginning to end!"—Joyce Sidman, author of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal


Pronunciation of "Jeanne Villepreux-Power"