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Saturday, January 30, 2010

One Beetle Too Many, written by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated by Matthew Trueman. Candlewick, Random House, 2009.$20.00 ages 8 and up

"Charles was the happiest when he was out alone collecting. He especially liked to collect beetles. He found them under the bark of trees, in rotten logs, between the cracks of old stone walls, and even in puddles and ponds. Looking through his looking glass, he would wonder why the diving beetle had a smooth back and the whirligig beetle that spun in circles on the pond's surface had no grooves at all."

Such questions make for scientists, I would think. Having just read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate(Henry Holt, 2009) in a world that recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of Darwin's On The Origins of the Species, I find myself recognizing that concept and while I am not of that ilk, thank goodness there are inquisitive, analytical, perceptive and puzzled people out there.

In an interview with Kathryn Lasky about the 'evolution' of her book, she said that it had taken many years to write. Lucky we are that all of her thoughts, questions and research resulted in a book that makes Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution available to young readers. It is written in chapters and they reflect the various times in Darwin's life.

As a young boy, he was always curious, hated school and wanted nothing to do with learning about Greek and Latin. His father was furious and felt he just needed more serious study...thus, sending him to he sent him to study medicine, which Charles found disgusting. His interest in science grew and his knowledge of medicine did not. Well, then there was the clergy. His real interests led him to become friends with a botany professor who saw him for what he was...'a much better scientist than clergyman'. John Henslow encouraged Darwin to take the position of naturalist on the Beagle and the rest is history. It was while on that voyage, he saw many sights, animals and events that led him to question the origin of the species.

In asking those questions and seeking plausible answers, he reflected on what he was seeing every day of the voyage. His powerful observations had him wondering about many assumed theories and he began to develop his own. While complicated, Lasky makes his story accessible for her audience and leaves us with a brief, but close, look at the man who continued to pose questions throughout his life and who once wrote, 'I am a complete millionaire in odd and curious facts.' That is a admirable legacy to leave for future generations.

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