Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Mr. Darwin, Mr. Darwin

It’s Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday! 


Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin was one of my favourite nonfiction titles of 2012.

I bought a copy for my son for Christmas and he has been examining the detailed drawings and asking me questions about Darwin, his travels, his theories and all of the fascinating animals of the Galapagos.

This prompted me to look for other picture books on the same topic to share with my children and we have been spending our nightly read aloud time reading more about Mr. Darwin, his voyage on the HMS Beagle and his theories of evolution.

Both of the books described below would be best shared as interactive read alouds with an early intermediate class or for independent reading for children in Grade 4 and above. Some vocabulary and concepts would need support.

We started with A Natural History Museum selection – What Mr. Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom (published 2009). This book is written like a diary and includes amusing thought bubbles and detailed drawings of the animals and the places where Darwin travelled. End pages are a map of Darwin’s route on board the HMS Beagle. The final pages of the book explain Darwin’s theory of evolution with visuals of chalkboard drawings and notes. It offers the beginning of an understanding of Darwin’s complex ideas.   My children had some background knowledge on this topic already and so they were able to ask some informed questions to build on their understanding.

what mr darwin saw

Next we read The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin by Peter Sis (published 2003). I don’t know if read is the best way to describe our experience with this book. Instead we studied, examined and flipped back and forth through the pages learning about Darwin’s life. My children loved the maps, found the illustration with Darwin’s own family tree fascinating (“He had so many children!” “Lots of them died young.” “His wife must of been so tired and sad.”) and liked the lists that outlined his daily routines at different times in his life. (“How did his wife get anything done if she was always reading to him?” my daughter wanted to know after finding out that Emma read to Charles multiple times a day.) We found some of the drawings and text too small – stunning but hard to interact with. Maybe this book needs a magnifying glass!? Many illustrations were perfect though and made the topic so much richer. This book is certainly a biography – we learn much about Darwin’s upbringing and about his later life that Sis divides into the public, private and secret realms. I’m leaving this book out so that we can continue to pore over it.

Tree of Life

Looking to learn more about Charles Darwin? These three titles would be a great place to start!

Interested more in the concept of evolution? This book does a wonderful job of explaining it in a story that allows children to understand the concept.

Charlie and Kiwi. . . an evolutionary adventure – created by Peter H. Reynolds and the NewYork Hall of Science.

Shared in my classroom here.

Charlie and Kiwi

Thanks to Alyson from KidLit Frenzy for the inspiration to participate weekly in this challenge.


My original goal was 60 nonfiction picture books for 2013. Progress: 7/60 complete 🙂


Monday December 3rd, 2012

It’s Monday! What are your reading?

penguin little

Join Jen and Kellee’s meme to share your reading from picture books to young adult reads. The best way to build your book piles with recommended books from many book addicts around the blogosphere.

It’s Monday! What are your reading? 

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Busy, busy week with finalizing report cards and many meetings and special events. But always, I squeeze reading in to keep me happy and wise! 🙂

The picture books I enjoyed this week . . . 

Penguin and Pinecone (a friendship story) by Salina Yoon I shared this sweet little story with the primary students at our weekly Social Responsibility gathering. It is the story of a penguin who finds a strange object in the snow. When he realizes that his new friend needs to go back to where he belongs to grow big and strong, he takes the little pinecone to the forest. Of course, the forest is no place for a penguin so the friends cannot stay together. The friends must part but the love and kindness they have exchanged grows. Grows in ways that seem quite unbelievable. Let’s just say that one page in this book produced that lovely gasp out loud reaction with the group. The perfect book for story time and to spark talks about friendship and caring.


Big Brave Brian by M.P. Robertson This is a fabulously funny book filled with alliteration, scary (or maybe not) creatures and delightful illustrations in M.P.Robertson’s signature style. Thinking it would be a great prompt for a writing activity to make a class book . . . Hmm . . .

big brave brian

Mars Needs Moms by Berkeley Breathed This was a reread that I loved sharing again with my reading group when we were doing an activity about asking specific questions about the storyline. I LOVE Berkeley Breathed. In fact, he is the creator of my favourite picture book of all times. Yes, I have one. I’ve decided and I’m sure. Curious? Read here. But back to this story . . . Lots of humour and curious Martians cannot upstage one of the most beautiful and yet, simple moments of parent/child love in a picture book.


Dragons Love Tacos written by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri This author/illustrator team can do humour in the catch you quick, lure you in, leave you wanting more way that is an absolute hit with young readers (and the adults who get to read to them) Taco obsessed dragons who cannot do spicy salsa (tummy troubles like you don’t want to imagine) turn up to a taco party where there are hidden jalapenos.  Yikes! When things go wrong with a bunch of fire breathing dragons, they go very wrong in a big way. Delightful!

dragons love tacos

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers Wilfred and Marcel the moose go romping through some lovely landscapes. Wilfred trying to impose his ownership over Marcel who is generally having none of it. In the end, it’s not the labels that matter but how we deal with each other. Tender. Funny. Quirky. Wise. Loved this book!

this moose belongs to me

Life in the Ocean The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A Nivola I think this is a wonderful read aloud to share with upper primary (and older) students about finding your passion and making it your life’s work. I love this book for many reasons. The depiction of Earle’s curious childhood in the water, descriptions of moments in her life that truly shaped and changed her, beautiful and enticing illustrations and this very important message: “You can’t care if you don’t know.” In this story, this message applies to ecology and caring for our natural world but it is a message that applies to so many things. One worth thinking a lot about.

Life in the Ocean

Guilty confession: I abandoned What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt. This was tough. When I read Okay for Now, I frequently stopped and shook my head, not believing that someone could write a story that completely captured me and yet allowed room for me to reflect on this amazing way with words. “How can this be this good?” I kept thinking. But with this novel (Stars) I was completely distracted with having to look up words in the glossary at the back and with the flipping back between worlds and the story couldn’t flow for me. I need Schmidt to write another book so we can redeem our author/reader relationship and I can stop feeling bad.  I suppose I can blame my challenging week for not wanting to work so hard. Sometimes it is not the time for a book and reader to meet. All of this rambling about this book is the measure of my guilt!

I did begin reading Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor and am enjoying the feeling of just relaxing into a book. So far? Lovely.