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The Tree of Life    by Peter Sis order for
Tree of Life
by Peter Sis
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This elegant picture book follows the author's acclaimed Starry Messenger (about the great Galileo Galilei). This time he introduces us to Charles Darwin, famous for his theory of evolution, based on survival of the fittest.

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England in 1809. Peter Sis shows us his background through pictures - his family home and the boarding school he kept running away from. His father wants him to be a doctor, and then a clergyman. Charles wants to be a naturalist. He takes a position on the Beagle, which sails around the world on a five-year voyage, during which Darwin is extremely seasick. The author shows us illustrated diary entries of what the naturalist saw and recorded (with sketches of creatures such as butterflies and bearded monkeys). He also expresses his horror of slavery.

Darwin says 'The map of the world ceases to be a blank; it becomes a picture full of the most varied and animated figures.' On his return, he secretly begins to analyze what he observed on the journey, and to develop a theory of 'transmutation' of species, which he eventually publishes as On the Origin of Species. He dies in 1882. The Tree of Life is an accessible overview of Charles Darwin's life, travels and discoveries, suitable for older kids (at least eight and up) to adults. I found it fascinating and recommend it highly.

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