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Candlewick Biographies about Handel and Darwin

The two Candlewick Biographies below are reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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Handel, Who Knew What He Liked by M. T. Anderson with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick Press, 2013.

Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, written by M. T. Anderson and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes,
(Candlewick Press 2013, $14.99, Ages 8-12)

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin, written by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (Candlewick Press 2014, $14.99, Ages 7-10)

Did you know that composer George Frederick Handel was once challenged to a duel? Or that scientist Charles Darwin’s childhood nickname was “Gas” because of the deliberate explosions he and his brother set off in their makeshift laboratory?

The two books reviewed here are part of the Candlewick Biographies series for children. Each examines “…a turning point or defining moment in the life of a famous person and how it led to significant contributions.”

Both men were born to fairly well-off families and had domineering (but well-intentioned) fathers who wanted their sons to pursue more affluent careers. Despite their fathers’ objections, both men realized success in their chosen professions.

When his father refused to pay for music lessons, Handel (‘who knew what he wanted”) smuggled a clavichord into the attic and taught himself how to play it. In England, he found the British didn’t like his Italian operas. So he wrote them in English. Throughout his life, Handel, when challenged by the naysayers, found a way to make everything work and still do “…what he wanted.”

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One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky with illustrations by Matthew Trueman, Candlewick Press, 2014.

Darwin’s father wanted him to be a doctor. All young Darwin wanted to do was explore the natural world and collect specimens. So he did not apply himself to what his father wanted him to study (medicine, and when that didn’t work out, theology), causing his father tp accuse his son of disgracing the family. A botany professor recommended Darwin for the position of naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle, and, despite his father’s objections, embarked on a five year journey that gave birth to his theory of evolution.

These short biographies are engagingly and humorously written by award-winning authors. Complex topics and terminology are clearly explained in accessible language. Colorful and vibrant illustrations convey each man’s world from the wealth and privilege of European aristocracy to the exoticness of the Galapagos Islands. Previously published as oversized biographies, the new smaller format is conducive to individual reading and research, although the lively language makes for a great read aloud. Added tools such as indexes and resources aid research and learning. Highly recommended for children 8-12 years old as wonderful introductions to biography and nonfiction.

Others in this series include biographies of Fred and Adele Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Muir and Phillis Wheatley.

Read Ronna Mandel’s review of A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet.

Animals As Seen By Darwin & Polo

Yesterday, guest reviewer Debbie Glade looked at Charles Darwin and today she is also reviewing Animals Charles Darwin Saw: An Around-the-World Adventure and Animals Marco Polo Saw: An Adventure on the Silk Road, two Chronicle Books by author Sandra Markle.

9780811850490_normAnimals Charles Darwin Saw (Chronicle, $16.99; ages 7-10) is beautifully illustrated with bright colors by Zina Saunders. The depictions bring the reader closer to the reality of Darwin’s nineteenth century world. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzinni’s illustrations in Animals Marco Polo Saw (Chronicle, $16.99; ages 7-10) are both vivid and somewhat smoky at the same time, demonstrating her originality. Her use of light and shadows are incredibly impressive, and I really enjoyed studying all the detail.

In the Darwin book, readers learn about the naturalist’s expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. The author does a good job introducing his theory of evolution to young readers, and I like the way she explains what Darwin was trying to accomplish on his voyage. In reality, Darwin’s findings and theories are quite sophisticated, and Sandra Markle simplifies it for children in a way that is understandable yet not at all patronizing. In Marco Polo, readers are taken on a j9780811850513_normourney from Italy, through the Middle East and to China, along the same path this great explorer took during the 13th century. Young readers learn about Marco Polo’s interest in the people he encountered (Kublai Kahn among them), their cultures and religions, as well as the many unique animals he saw that were unfamiliar to him. Both books highlight specific animals with offset copy, giving the reader a greater depth of information.

Also, each book starts off with a note to parents and teachers and has a Table of Contents. In the back is a Glossary, a “For More Information” page and even a helpful Index.

unknownAnimals Charles Darwin Saw: An Around-the-World Adventure and Animals Marco Polo Saw: An Adventure on the Silk Road teach children about two curious men from long ago, with great minds, who journeyed afar in search of answers. They each brought back an abundance of new information to share that would change the way we think and live. There is so much that Charles Darwin and Marco Polo have taught us, and these books are a great way to expose young readers to these great men.


dsc_0024-300x217Debbie Glade is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for WanderingEducators.com. She blogs daily at smartpoodlepublishing.com.

Let’s Go Exploring for Geography Awareness Week

According to guest reviewer Debbie Glade, Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure (Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick, $19.99; ages 8-12), written by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist, “is the highest quality, most inviting, most creative, most entertaining, most sophisticated and most informative children’s science book I have ever read. There, I said it.”

dsc_0024-300x217Debbie Glade is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for WanderingEducators.com. She blogs daily at smartpoodlepublishing.com.


51lyslu9b5l_sl500_aa240_As soon as I took one look at the unique cover, I knew this was a special book. The pages are accessed by opening the flaps of a sturdy, magnetic cardboard cover. What lies inside is a visual wonderland of flaps to flip and envelopes to open, revealing letters, illustrations, maps, photos and scientific information regarding Darwin’s findings aboard the HMS Beagle. You will actually feel as though you are reading Darwin’s diary from the famed voyage of 1831 to 1836. The pages were even printed to look as though they were hand sewn to the binding! (FYI – This book is one of three historical notebooks from Templar Books, all of which I’d love to read.)

This is not a book for you or your child to rush through; rather you will want to curl up on the couch and take your time reading and discovering. You don’t want to miss a thing. Open the inside cover to pull Darwin’s family tree out of an envelope. Then continue on to read about the experiences that led Darwin to a life of scientific exploration and discovery. View a map of the track the HMS Beagle took, read a letter from Darwin to his father about his decision to take the voyage and then soak in all the flora and fauna as seen by the great naturalist himself. And of course, learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution.

0763645389int1Did you know that the HMS Beagle’s departure was delayed numerous times before setting sail? Or that there were 74 people on board the not-so-large ship? And that Darwin experienced severe seasickness? Or that Darwin was a very religious man? You will learn about these facts as well as details about Darwin’s tracking of plant and animal species and how he collected specimens in South America, around Cape Horn and on his voyage back to England.

Reading Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure is as close as you can get to actually being on Darwin’s voyage of 1831-1836. This book is indeed a lifetime keeper.

One Beetle Too Many

076361436xAuthor Kathryn Lasky did extensive research before writing One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin. She read many books, audited evolutionary biology classes and even attended lab sessions to look at bones at Harvard University. What resulted from her impressive preparation is a factual account of Darwin’s fascinating life, from childhood to his later years.

Before getting into the meat of the story, I simply cannot go further without mentioning the captivating illustrations in this book. Artist Matthew Trueman used a most unusual assembly of mediums to achieve the uniquely spectacular illustrations you see here. These included layers of acrylic ink, watercolors, graphite pencils, gouache paints and colored pencils. He then brilliantly used collage elements like paper, string, flowers and leaves to really give the illustrations true depth. You’ve simply just got to see these illustrations for yourself to appreciate them.

Now back to the story . . . Readers of One Beetle Too Many will not only learn about the focus of Charles Darwin’s passion – nature – but also of his struggles. As a young boy in the early 1800s, Charles was a failing student, though his sister shined in school. His disappointed father urged him to join the clergy, but although Darwin spent many hours each day reading the Bible, his passion was with nature. After a friend invited him on a long voyage to South America to serve as the naturalist on board a ship called The Beagle, Darwin had found his true calling. I like that this book mentions his early struggles so children can understand that not everyone who is smart and accomplished successfully mastered every aspect of his early life.

In the pages of the book, we learn of the many plants and animals Darwin observed on his long journey, and how he viewed the world only as a true scientist would. He noted minute details and questioned so much of what he saw. His observations led him to realize that animals of the same species differed slightly from island to island in the Galapagos. The outcome of his great voyage was Darwin’s theory that species changed over time to adapt to their environment, stating that sometimes the most minuscule changes may have taken millions of years. Naturally Darwin’s theory of evolution was not received well by many religious people of his time. To this day there remains controversy among some over Darwin’s theories. Yet still we can all greatly benefit from learning about Darwin’s life and work, and One Beetle Too Many is a great way to introduce readers ages 7 to 12 years old, the scientific world of naturalist Charles Darwin.

dsc_0024-300x217Regular Good Reads With Ronna contributor Debbie Glade gave us this informative review. Glade is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for WanderingEducators.com. She blogs daily at smartpoodlepublishing.com.


Let’s Celebrate Lincoln

Today I am celebrating the birthday of our nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, with a roundup of several noteworthy children’s books. It’s definitely worth noting that February 12th is also the 100th anniversary of the NAACP as well as Charles Darwin’s birthday.

9780060848194What Lincoln Said, by Sarah Thomson, illustrated by James E. Ransome is recommended for ages 6-9. From earning his first dollars to outlawing slavery, Honest Abe’s life was one of hard work and dedication. Along his journey, Lincoln’s quotes, such as “Leave nothing for tomorrow that can be done today,” and “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” were as well known as the man himself. In this book we learn about Lincoln’s character through his words as well as his deeds.

0763637238medLincoln and His Boys, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, has a suggested age range of 8-12. Told through the eyes of Lincoln’s sons Willie and Tad, this engaging story about Lincoln’s rise in politics is both enlightening and endearing. Willie and Tad were the closest of the Lincoln boys and their experience being “first children” is probably not very different than what Malia and Sasha Obama will encounter in the White House today.

9780805082647 Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier, for ages 5 and up, is a deftly crafted story bringing together two of history’s greatest statesmen. The book introduces young readers to a most unusual relationship of its time. The year is 1865 and the setting is Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball. From there the book details the path of Douglass, former slave, leader of the abolitionist movement and reformer and how it crossed fortuitously with that of Lincoln, our nation’s 16th president.

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