Back in the day, people went out on ships, made scientific discoveries and had adventures. They must be doing it now, but sometimes it feels like the really big questions have been answered, and the minutiae, although very important, just don’t have that romance for the general public. 2009 was the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, whose adventures have had an enduring effect on the world. Since then, numerous books have been written about him. Fortunately for us, he was a careful journal keeper, which allowed him to make sense of his observations, and provided a font of great quotes for all these books. Here are some of the most colorful and charming, written for children but of course informative and enjoyable for adults.
Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure, by A. J. Wood and Clint Twist. Flaps, foldouts and inserts make this fun to explore for the middle and upper grades.
Voyage of the beetle: a journey around the world with Charles Darwin and the search for the solution to the mystery of mysteries, as narrated by Rosie, an articulate beetle, by Anne Weaver, illustrated by George Lawrence. Quite charming, for read aloud, and for maybe 3rd or 4th grade readers.
Animals Charles Darwin Saw: an around-the-world adventure, by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Zina Saunders. Shorter but still plenty of detail, for good readers.
What Darwin Saw: the journey that changed the world, written and illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer. This is a large format, colorful book with very busy pages of pictures and boxes containing some of the best quotes from Darwin’s journals. A National Geographic publication.
Charles Darwin by Alan Gibbons, illustrated by Leo Brown. A large showy book, written from the point of view of a fictional young ship’s assistant to Charles Darwin. A good read-aloud for 5 and ups, or for middle readers.
One beetle too many: the Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Fun illustrations to the same timeless story. The title refers to the (true) story of Darwin trying to catch three beetles at once by putting one in his mouth, which is undoubtedly told in every one of these titles.
Reading books like these out loud, with plenty of animation, can let your child (and you) know that science is exciting, accessible, and relevant, carried out by nice people with drive and curiosity who get outside and work. It’s OK to read several, revisiting the excitement of the exploration, and emphasizing the understanding of how science is carried out, which will help your listeners throughout life.
The indoor explorers now are studying DNA and cell biology, which is very important, but scientists are also going to Antarctica, swimming the world’s reefs, and collecting still more new species of insects in the rainforests. Look for books in the Children’s collection about scientist/naturalist/explorers Jacques Cousteau, John Muir, John Wesley Powell, Jane Goodall, William Beebe, John Audubon, John Bartram, Sylvia Earle, and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…