The Lady and the Octopus

How Jeanne Villepreux-Power Invented Aquariums and Revolutionized Marine Biology

  • Interest Level: Grade 5 - Grade 12
  • Reading Level: Grade 6

Jeanne Villepreux-Power was never expected to be a scientist. Born in 1794 in a French village more than 100 miles from the ocean, she pursued an improbable path that brought her to the island of Sicily. There, she took up natural history and solved the two-thousand-year-old mystery of how of the argonaut octopus gets its shell.

In an era when most research focused on dead specimens, Jeanne was determined to experiment on living animals. And to keep sea creatures alive for her studies, she had to invent a contraption to hold them—the aquarium. Her remarkable life story is told by author, marine biologist, and octopus enthusiast Danna Staaf.

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Interest Level Grade 5 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 6
Genre Social Studies
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction, Animals, Diverse Books: Feminism, Diversity, SEL: B Self-Management, SEL: E Responsible Decision-Making, Social Emotional Learning, STEM, STEM: Life Science/Animals, STEM: Technology
Copyright 2022
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Books ®
Language English
Number of Pages 136
Publication Date 2022-10-04
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS JNF007090, JNF003150, JNF007120
Dewey 578.77092 [B]
Dimensions 8 x 10
Lexile 1220
Features Author/Illustrator note, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Endnote, Glossary, Index, Maps, Primary source quotations/images, Reviewed, Starred Reviews, Timeline, and Websites

Author: Danna Staaf

Danna Staaf is a freelance science communicator with a PhD in marine biology. Her writing has appeared in Science, KQED, Earther, and io9, and her first book, Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods (now reprinted as Monarchs of the Sea: The Extraordinary 500-Million-Year History of Cephalopods), was named one of the best science books of 2017 by NPR. She created the science outreach program Squids4Kids and visits schools at every grade level, as well as venues from museums to libraries to tech companies. She lives in San Jose with her spouse, children, and innumerable plush octopuses.

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The Lady and the Octopus: An Interview with Author Danna Staaf

Jeanne Villepreux-Power was never expected to be a scientist. In the early 1800s she took up natural history and solved the two-thousand-year-old mystery of how of the argonaut octopus gets its shell. Follow her story in the new nonfiction The Lady and the Octopus: How Jeanne… View →


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  • Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, Winner, 2023
  • Booklist Top 10 History for Youth, Winner, 2023
  • Booklist Top 10 Science and Technology Books for Youth, Winner, 2023
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2023
  • Booklist Top 10 Biographies & Memoirs for Youth, Winner, 2023
  • School Library Journal Best Book of 2022, Winner, 2022


Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD)

“Readers will be amazed by Villepreux-Power and the interesting journey she made from seamstress to self-taught scientist, credited with creating the first aquariums and studying live aquatic animals in the process of discovery.” –Children’s Literature


“An illuminating work on a scientist in the same league as Maria Sibylla Merian and Mary Anning.”—starred, Booklist

Publishers Weekly

“Highly detailed, conversational chapters feature archival material, scientific drawings, and full-color photos in a handsome layout, and numerous contextualizing sidebars cover topics ranging from the ethics of animal experimentation to the metric system.”—Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal

“This author is as resourceful and ingenious in relating the story of her subject as Jeanne Villepreux-Power was in her scholarly endeavors. . . . This life story of an important female pioneer in the sciences is highly recommended.”—starred, School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

“[W]ell researched and expertly explained. A seaworthy bio of a revolutionary scientist.”—Kirkus Reviews

Sy Montgomery

“This story of one woman’s pluck, determination, and scientific insight is a riveting read for anyone of any age!”—Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, a National Book Award finalist

Joyce Sidman

“This book bursts with the passion and enthusiasm of its subject with lively, engaging, and at times humorous text. Fascinating from beginning to end!”—Joyce Sidman, author of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal