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Mrs. Harkness and the Panda Hardcover – March 13, 2012
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Best Books of the Year So Far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
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Starred Review, Booklist, February 15, 2012:
“An engaging, graceful narrative…. Sweet’s Asian style watercolor landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful.”
Starred Review, School Library Journal, February 1, 2012:
“This little gem will be perfect for one-on-one sharing and for those second-grade biography assignments. It’s simply stunning.”
About the Author
MELISSA SWEET is the Caldecott Honor artist of A River of Words by Jen Bryant, The Boy Who Drew Birds by Jacqueline Davies, and The Sleepy Little Alphabet by Judy Sierra, amongst many others. Her work has received numerous honors, and reviewers have described her unique mixed-media illustrations as "exuberant," "outstanding," and "a creative delight."
Top Customer Reviews
Ruth Harkness never expected to venture very far away from her comfortable home. But then her husband died and she felt a need to carry on his work, to find and bring a panda home to America.
The reader will love following Mrs. Harkness' difficult journey, beautifully illustrated with cartoon panels of conversations and actual photographs of Mrs. Harkness and her panda, maps of the journey and real postcards of old China.
"In 1934, Ruth Harkness had never seen a panda bear. Not many people in the world had." Thus begins the story of Mrs. Harkness, who had not intended to go looking for the beishung. After all, in 1934 women were considered "too dainty for exploring." But after Mr. Harkness passes away in China during his search for the panda, Mrs. Harkness is determined to take on the expedition. Despite the vocal naysayers, Mrs. Harkness packs, prepares, and heads to China. With the help of Quentin and Lao Tsang, a panda is found. Mrs. Harkness names the baby Su Lin and finds him a home in the Brookfield Zoo. The naysayers are quieted and Mrs. Harkness is recognized as a woman explorer.
The watercolor and mixed media illustrations bring a nostalgic feel to Mrs. Harkness's travels. According to Melissa Sweet's web page, much of the paper and collage materials used were obtained while she was in China.
Students from nine to eleven were drawn in by the phenomenal illustrations and the rich language of this story. A passion for research was ignited in some students sending them to the library to look for more information about both pandas and female explorers. The children loved the determination of Mrs. Harkness and commented on how she continued her quest despite the negative feedback from others. A "Chronology of Events," "Author's Note," and "Selected Bibliography" provide further information for readers wanting to know more about Su Lin and Mrs. Harkness.
From Boston, Alicia Potter is a long-time reviewer of children's books. Melissa Sweet, who currently resides in Rockport, Maine, has received a 2009 Caldecott Honor award and the 2012 Sibert Award.
Her daring travels are easily admired, especially since her excursion took place in the 1930s. After her husband's unexpected death, Mrs. Harkness decided to take over his Asian expedition. Naysayers condemned her efforts. I could easily relate to the comment, "You're out of your head." Far too many people openly told me that I was "crazy" to consider being a middle aged international teacher in a Third World country. Anyone who seeks an adventure will be intrigued by Mrs. Harkness's unusual story. I certainly was.
Alicia's descriptions and Melissa's illustrations enable the reader to feel part of the journey. Maps, lists of supplies, copies of newspaper headlines, photographs, and colorful illustrations enhance the telling of the story. At a time when few American women had notable roles outside their homes, Mrs. Harkness' tale adds another layer to American life during the Depression. Simultaneously, readers will get a glimpse of Chinese culture and question whether animals should be held in captivity. Sadly, the panda bear, Su Lin, died a couple years after it was brought to the United States. A Chronology of Events, an Author's Note and a selected biography provide additional information.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I love sharing picture book biographies with my students. My first graders were entranced by the adorable illustrations of the panda on the cover. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Tere Hager
My 6 year old daughter LOVES pandas. She heard about this book in school and we ordered it. Such a cute story and a history lesson too. Read morePublished on May 19, 2014 by RJC
I thought it was Rebecca Harkness who started the Harkness Ballet and brought the Panda into her room at the Caryle.Published on November 11, 2013 by Susan W. Twing
My seven yr old daughter used this book for a biography assignment and it was perfect. The story is thorough enough without being overwhelming and the illustrations are just... Read morePublished on June 15, 2013 by Renee
I bought this book for my 8 year old daughter. We read it together and both loved it. It's a non-fiction story that reads like fiction. We loved Mrs. Harkness' determination.Published on January 2, 2013 by Heidi King
In 1934, when her husband died in China, while trying to bring the first panda bear to the United States, Mrs. Harkness set off to complete his expedition. Read morePublished on April 13, 2012 by Catherine W. Hughes