The Humblebee Hunter
February 2, 2010
Hyperion Book CH
On a beautiful day the last thing Etty wants to do is sit inside baking honeycake. She'd much rather be outside. Who wouldn't? And there's no better person to better person to be outside with than Etty's father, Charles Darwin.
While many might be familiar with the story of Darwin's theory of evolution, few of us have had the opportunity to see Darwin the family man-at home in England, doing what he loved best-walking, exploring, and observing. All the while he pursued the answers to his most persistent questions, and he often had a little bit of help.
Deborah Hopkinson's lyrical story of Charles Darwin at home with his children portrays a very human side of one of the most revered figures in the history of science. In doing so, she shows the natural affinity children have for the scientific process.
To read more about this book, please see this "Behind the Book" column Deborah wrote for Bookpage.
* From Publishers Weekly
Hopkinson (Stagecoach Sal) draws upon Charles Darwin's twin loves of nature and children to pen a playful, fictional account of an experiment the great naturalist might have conducted with his offspring. Initial spreads find the young narrator-Darwin's daughter, Henrietta-unwillingly making a honey cake and reflecting on life with her famous father. "We grew up asking what? And why? And how?" When Darwin recruits the eager Etty and her siblings to assist with the "Great Bee Experiment," the tale takes on compelling tone. He assigns each child a humblebee (bumblebee) to follow and count its flower visits for one minute. Enlarged typeface enumerates Etty's bee's landings: "Four, five, six... How quick and sure this tiny creature was," until the one-word ending from her father ("STOP!") surprisingly concludes both experiment and book. With graceful lines and subdued hues, Corace's (Little Pea) illustrations evoke nature's simplicity. Soft closeups of bees and blooms will sweep readers into the garden excitement. Deftly weaving the bee motif throughout, Hopkinson crafts a beautiful glimpse into the exhilaration of science. Brief notes on Darwin and his family are included. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)
From School Library Journal
Gr 1-5 -This fictionalized account of the Darwin household offers readers an introduction to both the renowned naturalist and scientific inquiry. Young Henrietta, who is clearly a kindred spirit, describes some of her father's adventures as well as experiments that she and her siblings performed. "We grew up asking what? and why? and how? When Father studied worms, Lizzie and I stuck knitting needles in the ground to try to measure their holes." Etty is in the kitchen reluctantly learning how to bake a honey cake, and when her father enters the house and sees her covered in flour, shaker in hand, he becomes excited. "I could almost hear his mind buzzing with an idea, a problem, a pattern to figure out-an experiment." The entire family runs out to conduct "The Great Bee Experiment" to determine how many flowers a humblebee visits in a minute. Notes about Darwin and his family are appended. The delicate, stylized illustrations, outlined in black and washed in natural shades of green and brown with spots of color, depict an amiable country Victorian household. Pair this inspiring read-aloud with Peter Sís's The Tree of Life (Farrar, 2003) and encourage students to question and observe the world around them. -Barbara Auerbach, PS 217, Brooklyn,NY
While his anniversary year is over as of Feb. 12, 2010, Charles Darwin remains an intriguing figure, as evidenced by this imaginative tale told from his daughter's point of view. Hopkinson conjures a lovely summer day and a lively narrator in Henrietta, known as Etty. Stuck inside helping in the kitchen, Etty longs to be outdoors with her ever-inquisitive father. She labors dutifully but is thrilled to be summoned outside, where she joins her father and siblings as they observe the habits of the "humblebees" (aka bumblebees). Using a drift of flour to mark them, each child follows a bee from flower to flower to calculate how many visits it makes per minute. While the author's note acknowledges that her story is fiction, her scientific method is sound and the activity is clearly in keeping with Darwin's wide-ranging interests and methodical approach. Corace's lovely, stylized images feature thin, precise lines filled with browns, greens and ochres, effectively evoking a long-ago time. A charming introduction to a well-known figure and his large but less-familiar family. (Picture book. 4-8)
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