From School Library Journal
Grade 4–6—Beginning with the letter inviting him to sail aboard the Beagle
, this traditional biography relates Darwin's life with an emphasis on the trip that led him to forge his theory about natural selection. Ashby makes good use of Darwin's own writing, sprinkling quotes throughout the text, which allow his adventures and opinions to come to life. A lengthy author's note at the end includes small black-and-white photos and useful information about science in Darwin's time, the Oxford debate, the Fuegian natives onboard the ship, and Darwin's presence on the British 10-pound note. Deborah Hopkinson's Who Was Charles Darwin?
(Grosset & Dunlap, 2005) is shorter and includes many illustrations and sidebars. David C. King's Charles Darwin: A Photographic Story of a Life
(DK, 2007) is also shorter, a bit harder to read, and filled with colorful photos, sketches, and sidebars. With its comfortably large font and the requisite more-than-one-hundred pages, this biography will work well for book reports, rather than research reports, providing accurate and readable information about the scientist and his journey.—Ellen Heath, Easton Area Public Library, Easton, PA
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Failure provides the opening drama in this biography of Charles Darwin. But after an unsuccessful turn as a medical student, he embarked on a five-year voyage around the world and changed scientific theory forever. A hand-drawn map shows the HMS Beagle’s global journey, and the book’s focus is on what Darwin saw, including volcanoes, earthquakes, petrified forests, huge fossils; the 1,529 specimens of plants, animals, rocks, and fossils he shipped home; and the discoveries that led to his groundbreaking scientific theory. Why had earlier species become extinct? How were they related to the present-day species? The exciting questions are raised, and middle-grade readers will go on to other titles that discuss the answers in scientific detail. The moral issues are not only about religion, but also about Darwin’s passionate abolitionism and his fury at the slaughter of native peoples by Spanish “savages.” Extensive back matter includes a bibliography and notes, but there is no documentation of direct quotes. Duranceau’s occasional sketches add interest. Grades 4-7. --Hazel Rochman