Jennifer Thermes's debut picture book, When I Was Built, which she both wrote and illustrated, was released in 2001 and, while it is now out of print, I need to get my hands on a copy because it sounds similar to a childhood favorite of mine, Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House, winner of the Caldecott medal in 1943. After one reading of Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure, Thermes's second picture book that she authored and illustrated (she has illustrated several other works that you can see at the end of this review) I am in love with everything about her illustration style, from the bright palette and pencil and watercolor illustrations to a style that reminds me of Janet Ahlberg (The Jolly Postman) and Lois Lenski. Thermes is a master mapmaker and that brings so much to the life of Charles Darwin, especially the focus of her book, his five years on the HMS Beagle. And, as a storyteller, Thermes pulls from Darwin's own writing to highlight many fascinating aspects of his journey that I was not familiar with.
Two pages into Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure and he has convinced his father to let him be a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. And, while Thermes tells readers that young Charles once tried to carry a beetle home in his mouth because his hands were full, I would have like to know a bit more about how he learned to identify and classify animals. However, there is literally A LOT of ground to travel in this book, in fact, the endpapers show the route of the Beagle along with a timeline of the travels.
Thermes does a marvelous job getting all the animals on the page in Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventures, giving readers an idea of just how wondrous his experience was. Thermes also does a fine job of incorporating observations Darwin made on his journey, writing, "he made big observations about the tiniest of creatures." On a rocky terrain, Darwin wonders if it is possible that the shape of the land might affect the animals' survival? In the icy waters of the Tierra del Fuego Darwin observes that the lives of the animals are all connected as he sees how the kelp feeds the "fish and the crabs and the microscopic creatures, which in turn fed birds and otters and seals."
I was fascinated to learn that, while traveling in Chile, Darwin saw a volcano erupt, experienced an earthquake and a giant wave that destroyed villages. Observing this, he noticed that the land was now a few feet higher than it had been before! Could these things all be related? A trip up the Andes revealed fossilized seashells, furthering Darwin's inquiries.
Thermes includes notes, sources and further reading on a two-page spread. Thermes's notes definitely put Darwin and his accomplishments into perspective. I especially like the final two-page spread titled "fun facts." Chunks of information are accompanied by superb miniature illustrations by Thermes. Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure is a magnificent work of narrative non-fiction and I can't wait to see what Jennifer Thermes turns her attention to next!
More books illustrated by Jennifer Thermes:
Tone Almhjell's Thornghost
Source: Review Copy