Saturday, February 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

February 12, 2009, would be Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. Because he shares that date with Abe Lincoln he does not always get the press he deserves in this country. This year there was significantly more talk about him so it seems time for me to add my two cents, such as it is.

No, I am not going to get involved in the Evolution/Creationism debate. That is way beyond the scope of this blog and no matter what I would say I would be sure to upset someone on this touchy subject.

What I would like to do is recommend a fascinating biography of Charles Darwin. The Tree of Life by Peter Sis may first look like a picture book but it is not for the very young and, like all good pictures, grows as the reader gains more interests in the world. Peter Sis (due check out that link because it is great fun and informative) first and foremost is an amazing artist. He also has creative ways of conveying information. This biography highlights both of his talents. Woven into the intricate illustrations are more facts about the life of Darwin from his childhood through his adult work. My favorite fact to share with folks that I learned from this book: Charles Darwin had a brother named Erasmus who was called Ras for short. Charles liked to work in the chemistry lab a lot so he earned the nickname Gas--Ras and Gas, two brothers at a boarding school. What a great picture that conjures up for me.

Happy Birthday, Gas. I am so glad you liked exploring nature.

While you are reading Sis, be sure to check out his autobiography The Wall which documents his life in Czechoslovakia under Communist rule. It is not your typical autobiography.

For younger readers Sis has two books about a charming young girl exploring her New York City neighborhood--Madlenka and Madlenka's Dog--both of which have lots of interesting details and unusual twists. Another favorite that may be out of print is Komodo which is about a boy who really want to see a komodo dragon. Again, the illustrations deserve hours of careful study to see all the secrets hidden there.

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