This year celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and there are many books for children and adults recognizing this. One of the most beautiful and and engrossing, and possibly the one that will be the most attractive to young readers who are less than enthralled by science, is Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure: Countries Visited During the Voyage Round the World of the HMS Beagle Under the Command of Captain FitzRoy, Royal Navy. The scrapbook format of this book, made popular by the Ology series of books, also published by Candlewick Press, is what makes this book so easy to pick up and fall into. My 5 year old, who cannot read yet, has spent minutes (for him, this is a very long time to sit still in one spot, regardless of what he is doing) poring over this book at a time, picking it up again and again. On top of that, our local Natural History Museum has an exhibit titled Darwin: Evolution/Revolution at which we were able to see artifacts and facsimiles of artifacts that accompanied Darwin on the HMS Beagle. This, too, proved fascinating for my son. Why? I may never know... But, I think this might be a testament to the universally interesting life of Charles Darwin.
Like Professor Ari Berk's gorgeous books, Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure is, above all else, a collection of the work of amazing artists. I have always been a fan of antique scientific drawings, be they of flora or fauna, and this book does not disappoint. There are also historical photographs and engravings included in the book. Small books within the book and flaps conceal added information about the subject and his journey. There are "booklets" on Erasmus Darwin, Charles's famous grandfather, navigation, orchids, slavery, hydrography, Darwin and the Bible, the geologist Charles Lyell who may have been Darwin's greatest influence, and rodents of the Andes, to name a few. There is also a fold-out chart showing the principle tracks of the Beagle as well as envelopes containing the reproduction of a letter written by Darwin as well as a family tree and a final envelope containing a brief version of his Theory of Evolution that took him 20 years to publish, as well as a handful of "photographs" that illustrate this.
Two-page spreads, with the occasional four-page spread, make up the "chapters" of this book. Beginning with an introduction that focuses on Darwin's early life, the chapters also cover the preparations for the trip, the HMS Beagle, the voyage to Brazil, South America, Patagonia, Cape Horn, the Galapagos, and the voyage back to England. The most fascinating thing that I learned as I read this book was the story of the Fuegians. When FitzRoy and the HMS Beagle first visited the island of Tierra del Fuego in 1830, he adopted four native children and took them home to England with him. FitzRoy renamed the boys Boat Memory, York Minster, Jemmy Button and the girl Fuegia Basket. They were returned to their island homeland in 1832 along with a missionary who, along with the children was meant to help spread "civilization" among the Fuegians. The missionary lasted a matter of days and was taken back on board the Beagle.
For a very thorough review of the many books on Darwin that have been published for kids this year, check out this great piece from the editors of the School Library Review. And, for a spectacular collection of poetry selected by our current Children's Poet Laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman, don't miss my review of The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination. Inspired by Darwin's Tree of Life diagram, Hoberman and Linda Winston selected poems that represented the "family tree of all life on earth" and included an audio CD of the poets and others reading a selection of these poems.