Charles Darwin meets the beetles.
This year marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of his book, The Origin of Species, which presented the most controversial scientific theory of his day.
Readers can get acquainted with Darwin's scientific voyage of discovery in Kathryn Lasky's One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin (Candle-wick, $17.99, 40 pages, ages 8 to 14).
The beautifully illustrated book, with paintings by Matthew Trueman, follows Darwin from his childhood when he was fascinated with collecting wildlife (especially beetles), through his schooling (he hated Latin, Greek and anatomy) and, finally, on the 1830s voyage of the Beagle, which took him from England to South America. There he studied plants and animals and began to wonder why and how the world and its creatures came to be the way they are.
Darwin concluded that plants and animals evolved over millions of years through the process of natural selection: Living things changed to better fit with their environment.
What a fury he set off. Many religious leaders condemned him for disputing the Bible's creation story. Others, more liberal, thought that natural selection could be an instrument of God's design. Darwin himself asked in one of his private notebooks: Who else but God could have made things happen in such a marvelous way?
Lasky discusses the complicated aspects of this subject in an accessible way. Trueman's paintings manage to convey the dispute Darwin set off -- and capture the beauty and variety of the intriguing animal kingdom he studied all his life.
Want to read more on the subject?
Robert Winston's Evolution Revolution (DK, $16.99, 96 pages, age 9 and older) also tells the story of Darwin's life, including more of his hardships and tragedies than are found in One Beetle Too Many.
Animals Charles Darwin Saw (Chronicle, $16.99, ages 8 to 12) by Sandra Markle and Zina Saunders also follows Darwin and the Beagle, emphasizing the exotic animals in mixed-media illustrations.