Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin

Peter Sis
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 and up
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003   ISBN: 978-0374456283

From the very beginning Charles Darwin was a non-conformist. His father had very clear ideas of what he wanted his son to do with his life. There was the local boarding school to attend and then Edinburgh University. Charles was to be a doctor, or so his father thought. And yet, Charles refused to play along with his father’s wishes. He ran away from boarding school regularly and left Edinburgh after just two years having no inclination or the stomach to become a doctor. So, the much annoyed father then decided that a career in the church was to be his wayward son’s future. To this end Dr. Darwin send Charles to Cambridge University. Once again Charles did not comply. Instead he attended lectures in zoology, geology, botany and other topics that interested him. Nevertheless Charles manages to do well in his exams and thus pleased his long-suffering parent.

Despite his apparent success in Cambridge, Charles still had no interest in becoming a clergyman. Instead he saw himself becoming a naturalist studying the natural world. It was with delight that Charles accepted the position of naturalist on an expedition to the seas around, and some of the countries of, South America. Thus it was that he began an extraordinary five year adventure traveling on the ship H.M.S. Beagle.

What follows is a fascinating description in words and pictures of the trip itself and the events that took place in Charles’ life after he got back to England.

In wonderfully detailed illustrations the author presents Charles’s adventures, showing the reader pages from journals, maps, and illustrations of some of the creatures, places, people Charles saw. We also get to read Charles’s own words in quotes from letters, his diary, and other documents and therefore we discover all sorts of things about Charles Darwin, the man.

As well as presenting the life and work of Charles Darwin, the author puts his own slant on the story providing humor and a sensitive understanding of Darwin’s inner person.

The magic of this book is that we learn about Charles Darwin’s life not just by reading the main text on each page but also by looking at the heavily annotated illustrations. The illustrations are quite extraordinary, full of detail and information and gentle humor. The text is also presented in many novel ways which only adds to the uniqueness of this remarkable book.