Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
BIBLIO: 2009 Henry Holt and Company LLC, ages 12 and up, $18.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Chapter Book
This is a charming well written biography of the life of Charles Darwin. Like most biographies it is hard to capture everything so this particular one focuses on Charles domestic life after his marriage to his wife Emma. The book is structured like a fiction title in that it is easy to read and told with heavy third person narrative with plenty of “dialogue” meaning the words the author found in letters were used as the works. She fills in the details with general details about the setting, person’s temperament, and the Victorian era. There is a Table of Contents like in most nonfictional books along with a foreword, picture inserts, family tree, source notes, a selected biography, and a detailed index. In the beginning of each chapter the author leaves a written quote from a letter or reading material that directly relates to the subject of the chapter. The author at the beginning of the bibliography also offers two websites among her sources for further investigating for the curious mind.
The book begins with Darwin debating the pros and cons of gaining a wife and family that comes along with marriage. He obviously decides to marry, his first cousin, the lovely Emma. The story picks up after his five year long journey on The Beagle, the trip where he studied finches and began to develop his theories of evolution. His internal struggle with marriage to Emma, the theme of the book, revolves around their differences in opinion about religion. Charles worries a devoted Christian like Emma would have trouble loving a questioning scientist like himself. The story briefly covers their casual courtship, engagement, and then their happy life of being married. The reader follows the newly wed thirty year olds as they have their first child in London, experience the house at Down as it fills up with their plentiful litter of children. Grief is felt at the deaths of two babies and the darling of the family Annie, and the constant sickliness of the members of the home. Joy over the seven surviving children, Darwin’s success, and being a part of the countryside. This book highlights the Darwins’ domestic life but does bring the scientific works of Charles through encounters with his academic friends and the repeated mention of his daily routine, a large part of it studying barnacles, pigeons, and orchids in his study. While the Darwins had their struggles and their triumphs the author made sure to make the reader aware of just how much love this famous family had for each other and how they persevered and made a great life for themselves.
This book won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults in 2010.