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Darwin Hardcover – April 6, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 3–5—This picture-book biography emphasizes the scientist's curiosity and determination to learn the truth about nature. Most spreads contain two or three paragraphs of clear expository text in a comfortably large font, a handwritten quotation from a primary source, and a lovely watercolor-tinted woodcut. The text begins with Darwin's childhood interest in collecting specimens and experimenting with chemistry and moves through his education, his experiences on the Beagle, and the development of the theory of evolution. Although the topic does not dominate the book, McGinty takes on the issue of religion. She says, "Charles himself finally came to believe that there were no answers to his questions about God. He saw the universe as too amazing not to have been created by a God." The endnotes and source list are comprehensive but, appropriately, do not intrude on the easy-to-read text. Azarian's woodcuts are filled with cheerful color and capture the moments in Darwin's life that will most intrigue children. With its cover made to look like one of his own battered brown leather notebooks, showing the naturalist surrounded by his beloved specimens, this is a pleasing package for children just learning about the man and his work.—Ellen Heath, Easton Area Public Library, Easton, PA
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*Starred Review* After tracing Charles Darwin’s youth and education, this fully illustrated biography focuses on his five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, when he observed geology, animals, and plants; collected specimens; and took extensive notes. He returned to England and spent his life researching, reflecting, and writing about his discoveries. Azarian, whose Snowflake Bentley (1998) won the Caldecott Medal, illustrates the book using handsome woodcut prints painted with watercolors. Quotes from Darwin’s journals and letters appear as pictures of cursive lines on parchment-colored sheets, setting them apart from the narrative text as well as the illustrations. Source notes for quotes are appended. McGinty does a fine job of communicating Darwin’s personal humility as well as his passion for exploring the natural world, his tireless work to understand it better, and his reluctance to publish a theory that seemed to contradict religious teaching. The interplay of the clearly written third-person text with Darwin’s own words and occasional quotes from his contemporaries creates a multifaceted view that leads to a broader understanding. Biographies of scientists can be challenging to write for an audience unfamiliar with their research, but this one succeeds in introducing Darwin and his work to a surprisingly young group. Grades 1-4. --Carolyn Phelan
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Things didn't get any better in the school department. His father wanted him to be a doctor, but he was more interested in experiments. Finally, probably in exasperation, his father sent him off to Cambridge to become a cleric. In his own writing Charles said on this topic, "To my deep mortification my father once said to me. `You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.'" Later a special letter came from Professor Henslow asking if Charles might be interested in joining an expedition to study the plants and animals along the South American coastline. In spite of the objections his father made, in 1831 Charles Darwin set sail with the HMS Beagle. This fortuitous voyage would reshape world thinking.
This is a very well done book on Darwin, a seemingly resurgent topic in children's literature. The art work is vivid and includes drawings of penned letters that Charles wrote during his lifetime. The flow of the writing makes this book fun and would interest even the most reluctant of readers. "His life's work had shown that all living things, including people, are part of a natural changing world." This one just might interest your dead bug collector!