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 🙂


Charlie and Kiwi

Right at the time I decided to do a unit on birds in the classroom, this amazing book caught my eye – Charlie and Kiwi. . . an evolutionary adventure – created by Peter H. Reynolds and the NewYork Hall of Science.

I purchased a copy for my son who is intrigued by concepts of evolution and on a shopping trip to Kids Books with Ms. Sheperd-Dynes, Seymour’s Teacher Librarian, I convinced her (wasn’t a hard sell!) to buy a copy for our library. Two copies of this fantastic book meant that when Ms. Hibbert came in on a Thursday afternoon, we could each take half the class and share the book. Smaller groups and an interactive read aloud session means more opportunities for students to share questions, opinions and connections to other learning. We strive to provide many opportunities that allow students to develop oral language skills: listening, speaking in turn, adding to what someone else has said, responding to a question, etc. This book inspired lots of talk!

Story Summary: Charlie needs to write a report about a bird for school. He wanted to choose a bird that nobody else would choose and decided on a kiwi bird. But when he announced his selection to his classmates, they were a little confused. How could this strange flightless creature with whiskers be a bird? Charlie needed to know why the kiwi was so different from other birds and why? The next thing Charlie knows, he is zooming through space with his stuffed kiwi bird heading back in time to meet his Great x 5 Grandpa Charles who happens to be an expert on birds! This time Grandpa, Charlie and kiwi travel back in time to 30 million years ago. Charlie learns how the kiwi bird was just right for life in New Zealand and how and why it had likely evolved to be this way.

Grandpa Charles explains. “Little changes in each generation add up to big changes.”

Then the time travellers are whizzing back through time to meet the very first birds 150 million years ago! Charlie learns that the first birds were actually dinosaurs (with feathers!) So the many diverse birds that we have on the planet today all descended from the first birds – dinosaurs and changed and adapted to survive in different environments. Charlie returns to class armed with this new knowledge and a fossil of an early bird and explains to his class how all birds came from the same ancestor: the dinosaur!

Student reactions: Students then had the opportunity to think about what they had learned and share their learning on a Knew-New Connections sheet (adapted from Adrienne Gear‘s Non-fiction Reading Power text)

Here is some of what they shared:

I KNEW this already!

* Birds lay eggs.  Shae-Lynn

*I knew that most birds fly. Reiko

*I already knew some birds don’t fly. Purity

*I knew that kiwis were birds, not just fruit! Catriona

* Birds eat with their beak. Markus

This is NEW to me!

* Kiwis have a good sense of smell. Khai

* These birds have big feet. Jacky

* Kiwis eat bugs at night. Shae-Lynn

*Dinosaurs lived 150 million years ago! Carmen

* I didn’t know that kiwis say keee weee keee weee. Truman

* I learned that Kiwi Bird whiskers help them hunt in the dark. Raelyn

*Kiwis evolved from birds that flew and changed because of danger in the air and better eating of bugs. Catriona

* I thought a kiwi was a fruit, but I found out it was a bird. Mai

This Knew-New Connections response sheet is an ideal way for students to express their new learning and connect their prior knowledge to new information.

We are hoping that Peter H. Reynolds is going to create more books like this! We learned so much!