Deborah Heiligman has been writing books for many years and currently has more than 27 under her belt. One of the most recent, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, was one that I could not put down. What a pleasure to see that it was a finalist for the National Book Award. It also won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction and has garnered many stars and excellent reviews. That is not to diminish the other books that Deborah has written - her series about the holidays for National Geographic was engaging and quite well done--but her latest book was a cut above what she has done thus far.
A graduate of Brown University, Deborah dreamed of being a writer--she had this vision of a writer dressed in black who smoked and drank lots of coffee. Not quite the way life really is. Her roommates pushed her into interviewing for a job with a Jewish magazine in Boston. She did get the job and she met her future husband (the science writer, Jonathan Weiner, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for The Beak of the Finch), and eventually she moved to New York where she ended up at Scholastic. They wanted to know if she could write for children and she passed the test with flying colors (a trial assignment to come up with 15 to 20 ideas and she produced 50). She got the job and a proposal from Jonathan. Like any sensible woman she prepared a pro and con list (just like Charles Darwin did.)
Her job at Scholastic proved to be an amazing training ground. She was writing for grades 1- 6 and faced really tight deadlines. It prepared her for her future work at National Geographic. They are sticklers for research and required at least 3 sources for the work that she did. After her pregnancy she did not return to Scholastic; and for 20 years the family was supported by two freelance writers -Deborah and Jonathan. She wrote more than 15 books during those 20 years. Being a mother was her first priority, but she wrote to keep her sanity. In addition to writing for children, Deborah also wrote articles for adult magazines. However, her real love is writing for children because she believes that we can change a child's life with a book.
Jonathan, her husband, was writing for adults and he talked constantly about Darwin and the study of finches beaks. It was a topic that she gradually absorbed as he discussed the changes and what he had learned. He asked her if she knew that Darwin's wife was a deeply religious woman. His wife was terrified that he would go to hell and that they would be separated forever. Although no book had been written about their marriage, Deborah sat on the idea for a long time. It was too big a subject, a very big idea. Also, Darwin was really her husband's subject. Earlier, she had written a proposal and sent it to an editor at Scholastic who thought it was a good idea, but the book fair and club divisions wouldn't take it.
So, Deborah took on the assignment of writing a holiday book series for National Geographic. Her agent asked her what else she had and she told him about him her proposal for Charles and Emma and he pushed her to write the book, It was a dream come true - she was scared, actually terrified, and her publisher was pushing her to get the book out. Her husband reminded her that everything in her book should be in relation to the love story.
Big questions faced Deborah - where was she going to start the book and how could she grab the readers right away? She tried several different approaches and finally decided to focus on Charles Darwin the risk taker whose biggest risk was marrying Emma. Most would agree that On the Origin of Species would have been a very different book if Emma had not been part of his life. Deborah's book, surprisingly has not generated much controversy.
In order to come close to their real feelings, Deborah went back to primary sources (a 2 volume set of letters written by Emma). Then she read Darwin's autobiography, which was what he would have wanted people and family to know. Also, Darwin wrote thousands of letters. Using Emma's diary and his letters and notebooks she created her story. Their personalities come out in the letters as well as in the letters that others wrote about him. Deborah also visited his home so she could visualize the rooms. The final result is a love story that is best summed up in the quote from The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books "Come for the science, stay for the love story."
Contributor: Marilyn Courtot
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith
Most books about Charles Darwin center around his voyage on the HMS Beagle and the writing of his hugely significant and controversial book, The Origin of Species. This one is different. Here, the focus is on how Darwin's life was influenced by his decision to marry and raise a family with a woman of deep religious convictions. The book has been meticulously researched and reflects the time of Charles and Emma Darwin. Above all, it is a love story. It begins in 1838 in London, two years after Darwin's monumental voyage around the world. In this personal and highly readable biography, Deborah Heiligman examines how Charles and Emma Darwin met, how their friendship deepened, how they grew to love and respect one another, and how they struggled to create a successful marriage between science and religion. His wife's religious convictions and her fear that they would be separated after death when she would go to heaven and he would go to hell, moderated Charles Darwin's views and revealed to him how other faithful people might receive his revolutionary ideas. The author provides detailed sources notes, and these show that she has drawn from a variety of materials, including letters, notebook entries, and diary entries. This highly recommended book contains eighteen black-and-white photographs. Thirty-three chapters in length, it contains an epilogue, a family tree, source notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. 2009, Henry Holt & Co, $18.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Phyllis J. Perry (Children's Literature).
Booklist Book Review Stars , Jan. 1, 2009; United States
New York Times Notable Children's Books , 2009; United States
NPR Best Young Adult Fiction, 2009; United States
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, December 15, 2008; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Best Books, 2009; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, January 2009; Cahners; United States
Top 10 Biographies for Youth, 2009; American Library Association-Booklist; United States
Washington Post Best Kid's Books, 2009; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
Michael L. Printz Award, 2010 Honor Book United States
National Book Awards, 2009 Finalist Young People's Literature United States
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, 2010 Finalist United States
Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith
Read by Rosalyn Landor
Deborah Heiligman focuses on the marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin, showing us a man wrestling to reconcile the concept of faith in the literal Word of God with his scientific observations of ongoing changes in the natural world. His marriage to the religious Emma Wedgwood developed into a template for the coexistence of religion and science. Rosalyn Landor narrates the account with a straightforward delivery. However, the various people she quotes often come across as rather pompous. Her delivery of lines from Jane Austen--intended, presumably, to place the Darwins in the same society as Austen--seems as pretentious as her world. Marketed as a young adult book, this title may miss its audience. More's the pity, as Heiligman has done an admirable job of humanizing the eminent Darwin. N.E.M. (c) AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine 2009, Listening Library, Six CDs, $50.00. Ages young adult. Reviewer: Nancy McCarty (Audiofile, July 2009).
Heiligman's biography of Charles Darwin concentrates on his relationship with his wife, Emma, and its effect on his scientific work and religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Darwin was not only a brilliant scientist but a devoted family man as well, and very much in love with Emma. Narrator Landor reads this work of nonfiction as if it were a novel, giving individual voices to all parties-an apt choice for Heiligman's personal approach. Landor's refined British accent and old-fashioned, plummy tones suit the material, while the warmth of her narration and the appeal of Heiligman's very human-centered story keep listeners close. 2009, Listening Library, 6 CDs, $50.00. (Middle School, High School) Reviewer: Martha V. Parravano (Horn Book Audio Reviews, May/June 2009)
A Selection of Other Books by Deborah Heiligman
Illustrated by Laura Freeman
The "Jump into Science" series features a picture book format with big, bright illustrations and a readable text, while presenting enough scientific information to capture the interest of younger readers who are curious about the world around them. After delving into topics like sand, honeybees, earthquakes, and volcanoes, the publishers now offer budding scientists a closer look at babies. New siblings or interested neighbors will probably have observed some of the infant characteristics for themselves, but may still be fascinated by a number of the facts in these pages. For example, a baby of only ten days can identify its mother's unique smell. There is information about a baby's growth, bones, sense of taste, and efforts to communicate; the difference between fraternal and identical twins is explained, as well as a bit about genetic versus acquired traits. Freeman's computer-colored illustrations are mostly double-page spreads framed by borders of baby-related objects, all in vivid colors like purple, blue, green and red. Brothers and sisters will recognize the family's puzzlement when baby cries and Dad's sleepy eyes as he offers a bottle in the middle of the night. Two pages suggesting an experiment start with a list of equipment needed: first item, "a baby." (It also specifies a grown-up to help.) Since both author and illustrator are mothers, they bring their own expertise to this cheerful and informative book along with assistance from several professionals in child psychology. 2002, National Geographic, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft (Children's Literature).
Barbara McClintock: Alone in Her Field
Illustrated by Janet Hamlin
Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize nearly 30 years after she discovered and described "jumping genes", or transposons. Manipulation of these highly mobile portions of the genetic code has advanced medical research by leaps and bounds. However, as with many great discoveries, it wasn't understood or appreciated at the time. The subtitle, "alone in her field", is a nod to her style of working completely alone and her choice of subject for her genetic research--she painstakingly hand-pollinated corn plants. This book details Barbara McClintock's unconventional childhood and her growth into a premier scientist, despite the obstacles she often faced because of her gender. It conveys her brilliance without losing her warmth and personality. The difficult scientific concepts (so difficult her contemporaries didn't understand them!) are clearly explained. Soft pencil sketches enliven the pages. A short list of recommended reading is included, as is a brief glossary. 1994, Scientific American, $14.95 and $4.95. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Dr. Judy Rowen (Children's Literature).
Consultant, Shira Stern
Like Heiligman's Celebrate Hanukkah with Light, Latkes, and Dreidels (National Geographic, 2006), this entry in the Holidays Around the World series is illustrated with international photographs. Striking images from places as far-flung as Yemen, China, and Uganda show Jews of many colors participating in Passover rituals. The large, well-reproduced full-color pictures are accompanied by captions that name the individuals and their locations and also describe their actions. The illustrations create a multicultural, very inclusive sense of Klal Yisrael (Jewish community), which the text reinforces with its use of the first person plural (We remember the story of Passover). At the same time, the narration is sensitive to differences in practice, for example: Some of us use dishes that are used only on Passover. The explanations of Passover history and customs are extremely simplified, yet the book is thorough, touching on everything from the Exodus to the search for hametz to post-seder activities. More important, the meaning behind each ritual is briefly and clearly explained. Six pages of back matter round out the package with Passover facts and symbols, a dessert recipe, a bibliography and glossary, a map showing where the photos were taken, and commentary from a rabbi. This high-quality, visually-attractive title is a must-buy for Jewish libraries serving children or teachers, and would also make a lovely afikomen gift. For kindergarten to grade 3. (Holidays Around the World Series). Category: Holidays. 2007, National Geographic, 32pp., $15.95. Ages 5 to 9. Reviewer: Heidi Estrin (Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, May/June 2007 (Vol. 26, No. 4)).
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2008; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
Sydney Taylor Book Awards, 2008 Notable Book Younger Readers United States
Cool Dog, School Dog
Illustrated by Tim Bowers
Tinka is a golden retriever who offers a rather distinctive take on the separation anxiety that is triggered on many levels when a young child begins the great adventure of schooling. We are told just a bit about the joy shared by a boy and his dog when we see a boy going for the school bus while Mom holds onto the dog who is suddenly "A sigh dog, / a cry dog, / a has-to-say-good-by dog." Tinka finds her way into the school even so and while at first all the adults are for banishment, Tinka quiets down and becomes "A look dog, a nook dog, a loves-to-hear-a-book dog." Bowers' perky, stylized illustrations match the highly rhythmic text. This emphasis on the dog missing its master rather than on the trauma of leaving home for the child could prove to be an effective way for teachers and parents to talk about the challenges and benefits of participating in the world of school. 2009, Marshall Cavendish, $15.99. Ages 5 to 7. Reviewer: Mary Hynes-Berry (Children's Literature).
Having experienced two earthquakes on the West Coast, it was interesting to read the factual explanation of what caused the ground to move. Heiligman imparts a lot of information in this "Scholastic Science Reader." Kids will see diagrams of the earth's make-up and understand that the surface is always in motion. The example of the cracked eggshell really helps one visualize the tectonic plates. Interspersed with the facts about cause are descriptions of significant quakes and safety steps. Young readers will also learn how scientists are working hard to understand this force of nature; that they are helping to build stronger buildings and develop more flexible materials; and through study, they will see if there are tell-tale signs that will let them predict earthquakes. In spite of the tremendous power of this natural phenomenon, not many quakes cause great damage or loss of life. The two I experienced caused no major damage and represent the more than 8,000 minor earthquakes that occur every day on our planet. Clear and interesting photographs and other illustrations fill every spread. New words are presented phonetically in the text and defined in the glossary. There is also an index and note to parents, plus a few suggested activities. A Level 2 book in the "Scholastic Science Readers." 2002, Scholastic, $3.99. Ages 7 to 8. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature).
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2004; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Illustrated by Carla Golembe
Bees seem to be a popular subject and honeybees in particular. Heiligman does a fine job explaining that these little insects are not so much to be feared as admired for their industriousness. Most bees are too busy to pay attention to anything but their work. Readers will be fascinated learning about the bee's life cycle, from egg to larva to pupa and then a "grown-up bee!" From the moment she is born, the bee works to clean the hive, feed and check on the larvae, add and repair the honeycomb, tend to the queen and gather nectar. The ways that bees communicate through touch, smell and motion is fascinating, and it is amazing to realize how much work goes into producing 7 grams of honey. Bees also perform a vital service in pollinating plants. The experiment at the end of the book challenges kids to communicate as the bees do without the use of language. Two features not to be overlooked are the honeycombed endpapers and the warning about bees and other stinging insects. As one who has an allergy and caries an epipen--I was impressed with the care the publisher took to point out this potential problem to young readers. This books would work well with Busy Buzzy Bee written by Karen Wallace (DK, 1999) Honey, Honey, Honey written and illustrated by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (Winslow Press, 2001) and If You Should Hear A Honey Guide by April Pulley Sayre (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). 2002, National Geographic, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature).
Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, Supplement, 2003; H.W. Wilson; United States
Children's Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006; H.W. Wilson; United States
Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2003; National Science Teachers Association; United States
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