Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Looking For Answers

There are those who can never have enough questions answered.  They extend themselves daily not content with a reply but wanting to know why.  We have all had them in our collective classrooms.  We might even be one of those people who have a driving need to know.

The world is an entirely different, a better, place because of these people who never rest in their search to obtain a complete picture of whatever it is (or was) they are pursuing.  Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure (Abrams Books For Young Readers, October 4, 2016) written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes follows one of these people on a voyage which changed his life.  It changed all our lives, then and now.

Charles Robert Darwin would have rather been outside searching for bugs, beetles, worms, butterflies, birds, rocks, and bones than sitting in a classroom.

He was a seeker and a collector, much smarter than his teachers thought he was.  He was unable to follow in his father's footsteps in the medical profession but sought to become a clergyman.  After his completion of studies at Cambridge University, his professor of botany recommended Charles as the naturalist sailing with the HMS Beagle.  The ship would be voyaging to South America to take map measurements.

The ship was captained by Robert FitzRoy (he and young Charles did have disagreements).  It was ninety feet long.  There was not a bit of room to spare between the men on board and the supplies.  Thankfully Charles decided very early to journal everything about this journey.

Charles was happier than he had ever been when visiting the rain forests along the east coast of South America. Stick insects he observed helped him ponder how creatures adapt to continue their species.  He continued to collect and send specimens back home.  Did you know that Charles spent a lot of time on land while the ship sailed along the coast?  What he discovered there prompted other theories.  Everything he saw contributed to his quest to discover as much as possible about animals and their survival.

One hundred miles from the HMS Beagle Charles, the captain and a few sailors had a near-death experience.  Just reading about it gives you the shivers.  You have to wonder how our world would be if Charles had not survived.  Through personal experiences Charles formed hypotheses about earthquakes and volcanoes and their effect on the earth's surface.  One was confirmed with a trip to the Andes and a discovery there.

After four years the HMS Beagle needed to return home but first there were stops at the Galapagos Islands, around New Zealand, Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, Ascension Island, and back to Brazil.  Five years away from home changed Charles more than in age (22-27).  A path for his life's work stretched before him.

Painstaking research and a love of what she read lead Jennifer Thermes to create a nonfiction narrative which captivates readers. Interesting incidents make Charles Darwin the person more accessible.  In the first paragraph she relates an encounter with a beetle that will astound at the very least.  It's a little gross... in a good kind of way.

It's important for us to know Charles was often seasick but his desire for adventure and quest for knowledge overcame any hardships he met.  This leads into his being on land for more time than we might have previously known.  Thermes' descriptions of the surroundings in which Charles finds himself give us a sense of being there with him.  Another skillful technique she employs is to insert questions in the text, suppositions made by Charles.  It will lead readers into forming their own questions.  Here are two pieces of sample text.

In the rain forest, the ground soaked up the downpour while the plants grew green and lush.  Charles was surrounded by the buzz of millions of insects, yet the jungle wrapped him in velvet silence. 

He studied rocks and tried to figure out how steep cliffs and flat plains were formed.  Was it possible that the shape of the land affected the animals' survival?

In a clever artistic move Jennifer Thermes has the tree on the front of the dust jacket aligned with mountain peaks of the Andes on the back, to the left.  This image on the back is taken from the interior of the book.  The illustration on the front is a beautiful blend of a multitude of places Charles visited.  It allows us to see how his views expanded on this trek around the world.  The fine lines and exquisite attention to detail seen here is only a glimpse of what the remainder of the book holds for readers.  The book case is a series of waves, layered from nearly the top to the bottom.  Above them are sky and the HMS Beagle sailing west.  Beneath the vessel is a quote from Charles Darwin.

The opening and closing endpapers are elaborate portraits of the world portraying the voyage as a departure and as a return.  Arrows show the line of travel and stops.  Continents and places are appropriately named.  By turning the page to view vertically you can see a detailed timeline for the five years corresponding to the points in the journey.  The title page and verso is one single illustration of sea and sky with the HMS Beagle beneath the title text.  On the left a picture is placed over this.  There are several specimen jars, rocks, a shell, a bone, a butterfly, and other insects with a magnifying glass.  A dedication is placed on the largest bottle.  Under this is an open journal with the publication information.

Rendered in watercolor and black colored pencil on Fabriano Hot Press Paper these images, wonderfully realistic and brimming with elements, ask us to stop and look.  This is how Charles Darwin viewed our world.  He stopped and looked. (I love that Thermes places a puppy in the picture of Charles as a boy and has the dog grow with him and greet him when he arrives home.)

There are eight maps of varying sizes throughout this title, one which needs to be viewed vertically.  Thermes has them labeled completely and includes animals found in each of the places after leaving England.  Her images range in size from double-page spreads to single pages to smaller pictures set in larger ones.  Her cross section of the ship at sea is illuminating.  Her perspectives are marvelous; a bird's eye view of the ship at sea, Charles riding across the pampas amid mice, rabbits, armadillos, and birds. Gauchos ride alongside him swinging their bolas.  A close-up of collected fossils will have readers searching for their own treasures.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Charles in a small sailboat in the Tierra del Fuego waters.  Behind him is the HMS Beagle on the left.  The scene is framed by sky and mountains.  Penguins stand on ice floes.  Seals swim near him and rest on ice.  Beneath the water we can view an array of marine life; seals, fish of all sizes, a whale, jellyfish, starfish, crabs and an octopus.  All move around in a garden of seaweed.

For this post I borrowed a copy of Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes from my public library.  But rest assured I not only will be getting a personal copy but several others to give away.  This is a stellar work of nonfiction sure to promote curiosity and the value of never stopping pursuit of your passion.

To learn more about Jennifer Thermes and her other work please visit her website and blog by following the links attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including one of my favorite pictures.  There is artwork and process sketches at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  At Miss Marple's Musings Jennifer Thermes is interviewed.  We get to see her work space and more artwork tied to this title.  We also get to see more about this book and the process involved at The Little Crooked Cottage.  Enjoy Jennifer's tweets.

Remember to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other selections by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this one too, Margie. I love the vivid illustrations.