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The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin- Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker Hardcover – October 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 5 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: 3 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 890L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 44 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 1st edition (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374456283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374456283
  • Product Dimensions: 12.1 x 9.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Here is a fascinating, detailed look at the life of Charles Darwin: naturalist, geologist, and independent thinker. In his author's note, Caldecott Honor illustrator Peter Sis (Starry Messenger, Tibet: Through the Red Box) writes that Darwin always regretted not learning how to draw. However, he could and did take "dense and vivid" written notes, from which Sis drew his inspiration. Readers will spend hours poring over the gorgeous, intricately crafted pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations depicting layer upon layer of Darwin’s life as he developed his theories about the origins of life and natural selection. Tidbits from Darwin’s extensive and legendary voyage on the Beagle, notes on Galapagos tortoises, bloodsucking benchuca bugs, and Toxodon skeletons, and particulars from his family life intermingle with each other--just as in real life. Crammed with a veritable muddle of diary entries, cameo portraits, diagrams, natural illustrations, maps, timelines, a gatefold spread, and narrative divided into "Public Life," "Private Life," and "Secret Life" blocks of text, The Tree of Life will certainly be overwhelming to some readers; for other, less linear thinkers, it will be sheer, chaotic delight. (Ages 9 and older) --Emilie Coulter

From School Library Journal

Grade 4 Up-Sis offers an impressive homage to the life and ideas of Darwin through a fully illustrated, multilayered narrative augmented with copious charts, maps, and sketches. Two strands of text recounting Darwin's youth from his own and his father's points of view run below picture blocks in several early pages. Soon smaller chunks of text, often taken from Darwin's journals, move across the spreads with a central image and copious small, framed vignettes and picture bits. Other pages are filled completely with rows of picture cards. The artist melds information into handsome constructions to explain first the long years of travel aboard the Beagle and then the naturalist's evolving ideas about the origin of species. He knew all along it was a troublesome notion, and Sis introduces many other scientists and thinkers who influenced his work or objected to it. A gatefold spread near the end of the book reproduces the title page of the famous book, here with swirling lines of explanation and illustration. Muted tones of blue, green, and tan, and finely hatched drawings in the manner of old prints lend a period look to the pages. Beautifully conceived and executed, the presentation is a humorous and informative tour de force that will absorb and challenge readers. Though linear in its chronology, the sweeping, circular design and shorthand catalog of species, people, and ideas encountered by Darwin is a fragmentary account. However, it's a fabulous, visually exciting introduction to the man, his ideas, and the science of the natural world.
Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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This is a children's book that adults can also enjoy.
Gail Hurt
It's probably the best book by Peter Sis, and he's published quite a few great books.
Bianca Castafiore
A wonderful book which packs a lot of information in few pages.
Sumant Sumant

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on October 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Although this book targets elementary school libraries, adults of all ages and persuasions will find it riveting. Tree of Life recounts Darwin's childhood from two points of view: his own and his father's. Terrific art work of various media take readers from the naturalist's youth to his long years of travel aboard the Beagle, where his then revolutionary ideas about the origin of species took root. He knew early on that publication of his theories would create a maelstrom. The unique pictorial presentation of this material is nearly as revolutionary as Darwin's thought processes. Though chronologically linear, it feels bold and sweeping in the process of presenting so much information in so small a space. It's a spectacular, visually exciting intro to Darwin's ideas of the natural world. You feel as though you're inside the great man's brain.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you are at all familiar with Peter Sis, then you linger under the incorrect impression that you know what to expect from him. Carefully researched subjects. Illustrations containing infinitesimally small people, places, and things. Engaging and entertaining plots. I tell you now, ladies and gents, "Tree of Life" takes all of this and multiplies it. Quadruples it. You have never seen a picture book like this before. When you are dealing with a book that cares to discuss the origins of life itself, you need an author/illustrator comfortable with details. In this, Sis is your man.

This is a summarization and encapsulation of the life of Mr. Charles Robert Darwin. The book begins like so:

"Charles Darwin opens his eyes for the first time! He has no idea that he will (a) start a revolution when he grows up, (b) sail around the world on a five-year voyage, (c) spend many years studying nature, and (d) write a book that will change the world".

From here on in we watch Darwin learn and grow. The text is separated, initially, into two parts. One portion is in bold and discusses the facts of Darwin's life. An italicized portion below this talks about Charles's passions and desires. Up above we see little images and factoids strewn about the page willy-nilly, giving us a better sense of the times and people involved in the naturalist's life. This form and style goes out the window when Darwin joins up with the Beagle. Suddenly the pages become drawings of creatures and sights. There is a magnificent two-page spread of boxes, each one carrying an interesting fact, animal, moment, or image that Darwin encountered. It's as if his very experiences have been cataloged for the reader's viewing pleasure.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on September 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Naturalist student Charles Darwin spent five-years exploring remote locales in the Pacific as part of the voyage of the Beagle. Darwin kept detailed notes that documented all he saw. However, though his writings about the trek are incredible in scope, no drawings accompanied Darwin's wealth of material. Peter Sis fills the void by providing a stunning pictorial of Darwin's diary, journal, and other writings that will leave the audience in awe while taking hours to look at one overwhelmingly detailed page at a time.
This reviewer and her spouse spent an hour a day over the past few weeks fascinated by this tribute. Though intended for the elementary school crowd readers of all ages will appreciate THE TREE OF LIFE: CHARLES DARWIN as a powerful introduction to one of the most influential individuals of the last two centuries. This tome makes the perfect family gathering as adults and children can share the fascination as Mr. Sis shows a picture is worth a thousand words (and $18.00).
Harriet Klausner
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on October 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Tree Of Life is the complex biography of Charles Darwin will reach ages 8 and up: those with good reading skills attracted to pictures. From views of Darwin as a schoolboy to reviews of his naturalist theories, this uses many intricate drawings to cover Darwin's achievements - no bright colors here, just facts and images paired with solid text.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ted Shigematsu on July 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book. Great illustrations with much detail about Darwin's life (all of it, family, career, adventures) including "pages" from his diary. I bought it for my son who really liked it. We read it together the first time, then he explored it on his own. He used it for a 4th grade school project and got an A. I enjoyed it, too.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jedidiah Palosaari VINE VOICE on December 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This was a delightful read. The illustrations are simple, but evocative and enjoyable. They are exactly what is needed for the text. More than any other book I've read, this introduces the young adult reader to who Darwin was as a person. While it is perfect for the inquisitive child of ages 10-13, there's a lot here for the inquisitive child of all ages. Sis shows us the progression of Darwin's thoughts and understanding through Darwin's own words. I had no idea how seriously Darwin took the subjugation of 2/3rds World peoples by Europeans, and how deeply he felt that pain. While I am following along with Darwin's growing understanding of the evolution of fauna and the imperialism of Britain, I completely missed until the end that Darwin was also observing the human animals, and looking at the spread of various cultures as another nail in the edifice of his developing theory on the origin of species.

This is a great book to introduce younger audiences to the father of modern biology, the man who had perhaps the greatest scientific breakthrough in history, and who changed our understanding of all of life. Tree of Life lets us into the inner sanctum, to understand the development from observation to hypothesis to theory, as Darwin himself saw it.
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