Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas

Cheryl Bardoe
Illustrator:  Jos A. Smith 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Harry N. Abrams, 2006   ISBN: 978-0810954755

The son of a Czech farmer, Gregor Mendel saw with his own eyes that sheep could be bred to yield better wool and that "growing two kinds of apple trees together could produce better fruit." Unlike most people, Gregor wanted to know why these things happened. To learn as much as he could, Gregor went to a paying school that was located some distance from his own village, and he often went without food so that he could pay the school fees. For him, gaining knowledge was more important than filling his stomach.

Then Gregor's father was injured and he could no longer pay for Gregor's education. By working as a tutor, Gregor was able to pay for his fees  himself until he graduated, but he did begin to worry about how he was going to provide for his livelihood while he continued his studies. Then the perfect solution presented itself - Gregor became a friar. At the Abbey of St. Thomas in the town of Brno, Gregor could "feed his body, mind, and soul."  Gregor's abbot sent the young man to the University of Vienna for further education, and when he came home Gregor became a teacher himself. When he wasn't teaching and studying, Gregor worked on a project that was very dear to his heart - he worked on trying to find out how parents pass on certain traits to their children. He decided to use plants for his experiments and determined that peas had the kinds of distinct traits that he was looking for. They were the species that he would use in his trials.

What followed was years of painstaking experiments. Gregor was meticulous and he kept very careful records of everything that he did. Though no one living in his time really appreciated what he had discovered, today he is considered the father of the study of genetics, and his discoveries are called Mendel's laws.

This is a fascinating account of the life of a man who was clearly born ahead of his time. He applied the scientific method to his experiments, which was most unusual, and he had a love for knowledge for its own sake. Written with clarity and enthusiasm and wonderfully illustrated, this an excellent example of an informative, entertaining, and attractive picture book biography.