Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman


Though much is known about Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution, less is known about his courtship and marriage to Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin. A man ruled by logic and order, Charles took a measured approach to his marriage, and was worried that his wife would not support his scientific ideas (including his doubts about the existence of God). Emma, a highly religious person, worried about these doubts, and the two spent much of their lives discussing their ideas and opinions. Heiligman’s biography of Charles and Emma sheds light on the famous scientist’s personal life, allowing readers to see the Darwins as a couple in love, despite their fundamental ideological differences.

I thought this book was interesting, but I don’t know how interesting it will be to young adult readers today. It won the first YALSA nonfiction award in 2010, but it seems YA nonfiction has grown in leaps and bounds since that time. This book has no pictures and is organized like a novel (with chapters), but it doesn’t have the same fast pace a novel would have. Don’t get me wrong — the information and subjects are certainly interesting, but the presentation and delivery are off. I liked seeing a biography of Charles and Emma that focused on their love story (a great one, by the way), but I wanted a faster pace to the work.

Rating: 3/5

*YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, Winner, 2010

*National Book Award Finalist
*Printz Honor Book

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.


Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Phillip Hoose presents the story of B95 (Moonbird), the most successful survivor of the Red Knot shorebird species. Though the Red Knot faces extinction due to man’s interference along its migration route, B95 has managed to complete this journey (the distance of a hemisphere) for over twenty years. Through this bird’s remarkable existence, Hoose explains what the typical life of a Red Knot looks like, its migration route, its breeding patterns, and, above all, the importance of continued efforts to protect the species. Hoose uses a near-narrative style for this book, with call-out sections highlighting important facts and people in the Red Knot conservation group. His mix of facts and personal narrative make Moonbird accessible to readers of all levels.

I’m really not a fan of science non-fiction, so I’m surprised at how much I started to care about this bird and his species. I had no idea Red Knots fly so far just to breed, and the fact that B95 has flown the path for so long is just incredible! Hoose’s use of first person narrating also got me into the story, and there is a lot of suspense surround whether B95 will be spotted again. I also enjoyed how the author highlighted student groups advocating for the preservation of Red Knots. I definitely won’t be looking at shorebirds the same after this book, and I wish more was being done to help this species!

Rating: 3.5/5

*YALSA Award for Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist, 2013
For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.