Monday, November 30, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: A Double Dose of Darwin

Today's Nonfiction Monday post brings two biographies of Charles Darwin, both currently nominated for the Cybils Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category.

by Ruth Ashby
Peachtree Publishers, $12.95
Grades 4-6
Copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration.

Charles Darwin always had a mind for exploring plants and animals, but at twenty-three, having failed at medical school, it looked like a career in the church was more his destiny than science. Luckily, the opportunity to sail the world for five years, collecting species from various habitats presented itself. As a result, both Darwin and humankind's understanding of the origin and evolution of species were profoundly changed. In full narrative text, Ashby takes readers along on Darwin's voyage, including snippets from his journals and letters. Included at the back is a bibliography and author's note chronicling the development of scientific thought. The structure makes this useful as a book to read cover to cover, but not so much for research.

by Deborah Heiligman
Henry Holt & Co., $18.95
Grades 7+
Copy borrowed from my local library.

Back from his travels on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin was bursting to set about analyzing his findings and sharing his theories on the evolution of species - just as soon as he could be sure there was enough scientific evidence. At the same time, however, he realized it was time to make a decision about settling down and starting a family. Being the careful and practical scientist that he was, it was not without a carefully thought out list of pros and cons that he made his decision: he would marry. And whom to marry, but his cousin Emma Wedgwood (yes, of those Wedgwood's), a smart, if not particularly tidy young woman of devout religious faith. In a narrative including excerpts from their personal letters and Darwin's journals, Heiligman takes the reader inside their relationship. Even as Darwin's research effectively disproved long-held religious teachings beliefs about creation, Emma was always his first editor and primary confidant, challenging his evidence and ensuring his arguments were airtight while also worrying for his salvation. Charles and Emma serves as a beautiful story about the power of love to overcome tragedy and disagreement, a wonderful look into the personal life of such a well-known figure and a history lesson in Victorian England. An engaging narrative and family photos keep the reader - whether teen or adult - turning pages. Highly recommended as a cover-to-cover read to snuggle up with on a cold winter's night.

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