The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin: Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker

Book review by
Marigny Dupuy, Common Sense Media
The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin: Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker Book Poster Image
Children's biography of the famous naturalist.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that for just the right child between the ages of 8 and 12, this book will be a treasure trove, but many kids may need a bit of parental help to make sense of the book's design and give a context for the bountiful amount of information. Some of the exquisitely drawn illustrations are small and subtle in meaning, and the typeface used in the illustrations could be challenging for young readers as well. The subject matter of the biography will be of interest to adult as well as child readers, and this book might best be enjoyed in a joint first reading.

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What's the story?

This children's biography of the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin, begins with his birth in 1809 in England and ends with his death in 1882. While touching on many aspects of his life both private and professional, the bulk of the story focuses on his travels around the world from 1831 to 1836 on the H. M. S. Beagle, and the data that he collected on that voyage that influenced his revolutionary theory of evolution.

Is it any good?

Although in picture book format, this is not an easy book, but for children (and adults) willing to make the effort, it is deeply rewarding. 

The Tree of Life is organized chronologically, beginning with Darwin's birth into a prosperous English family in 1809. Because the author is tracing the influences on the young Darwin, both familial and cultural, however, the amount of information pertinent to the story could be overwhelming. Sis has developed a signature style perfectly suited to such a challenge. The illustrations are packed with pictures of people important to the story, with relevant scenes, and with additional writing that helps illuminate the story. Underneath the illustrations text runs in two and sometimes three fonts so that the reader can trace Charles Darwin's public life, private life, and what the author calls, secret life. The secret life in Darwin's case was the development of his revolutionary theory of evolution, work to which only a select few were privy.

One is left with a clear sense of the personal life of this famous man, from the difficulties that he had convincing his more conventional father to allow him to pursue his professional passion to his full family life with a wife and 10 children. The reader also gains a grasp of the essential aspects of his thinking about the evolutionary process.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Darwin's determination to pursue his professional passion despite his father's reservations. What led him to follow his own path? Families can also discuss the impact that Darwin's findings had on his contemporaries -- and have still to this day.

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