Review Blog

Jan 29 2009

One beetle too many by Kathryn Laskey and Matthew Trueman

cover image

Candlewick Press, 2008. ISBN 9780763614362
(Ages: 10+) This strange picture book, concerning the life of Charles Darwin is neither one thing nor the other. Written in the form of a wordy story, it purports to be a biography, presenting Darwin's early life, culminating in the voyage of The Beagle in 1831. He collected specimens from all over South America, filling the ship with animal bones never seen before; shells collected from the tops of mountains and finch skulls from the Galapagos Islands. He sometimes came into conflict with the captain of the ship, over the ideas developing in his remarkable brain, questioning the story of the ark and the great flood of the Bible.
Back in England he spent many years, refining and developing his ideas on how the animals of the world emerged. His first published book, his journal of the voyage of The Beagle, appeared ion 1839, and his tome which described the ideas he developed, On the origin of species, finally appeared in 1859, with similar success as the journal, but arousing much controversy. Laskey devotes much space to the idea prevalent at the time, that god created the earth, man and the animals, trying unsuccessfully to explain why Darwin's book was controversial.
So we have a biography/picture book, attempting to make Darwin's life and ideas accessible to readers in junior primary school, but using a text that is difficult to read and illustrated in such a way that makes Darwin an eccentric cartoon character. The facts given in the book are sound but if it is to be an information book, why not use the marvelous techniques used by better non fiction publishers: time lines, fact boxes, side panels, photographs etc. I missed that reinforcement of information, and came away with just a story of a strange man who did not discipline his children. People wanting information about Darwin and his ideas will need to look further.
Fran Knight

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