Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Alan Gibbons
Illustrator:  Leo Brown 
Picture Book
For ages 8 to 10
Kingfisher, 2008   ISBN: 0753462516

It is 1832 and James Kincaid, ship’s boy on the HMS Beagle, is enjoying spending a little time with his feet on firm ground. The ship has been at sea for several weeks, and for some of that time the journey was on very rough seas. Mr. Charles Darwin, a guest on the ship, was seasick for much of the journey and he is delighted to be able to walk on land once more. He is also studying, with great enthusiasm, the animals and plants on St. Iago – an island off the coast of Africa. Mr. Darwin has given James a blank journal in which he is describing the adventures that he, and Mr. Darwin, are having.

As they go from place to place Mr. Darwin collects plant and animal specimens of all kinds, and he notes down the things he sees in his notebooks. Apparently Mr. Darwin is going to be a clergyman when he gets back to England but James cannot help thinking that Mr. Darwin was “born to be a man of science and exploration.”

When he has time James writes in the journal Mr. Darwin gave him. He describes what life on the ship is like, what Mr. Darwin does, and what he learns from Mr. Darwin. He also notes down that Mr. Darwin and Captain Fitzroy disagree on several controversial subjects. It causes a little friction on board the HMS Beagle, but both men try not to let the situation get out of hand.

As the days pass James come to appreciate how clever and intelligent Mr. Darwin is. He is not content to accept what he is told. Instead he uses what he sees in front of him to determine what the truth really is.

Through the eyes of a young boy readers can get a sense of what it must have been like to sail on the HMS Beagle. James’ observations and remarks help us to see how much the journey changed Charles Darwin’s perspective. The idea for his controversial theory of evolution first came to him as he examined the wildlife that he saw during the expedition.

In addition to James’ diary the author has also included sections about Charles Darwin, the HMS Beagle, Victorian era scientists, and more.

With its engaging narrative and numerous illustrations, maps, and photographs, this book beautifully combines fact and fiction.