What Darwin Saw

October 14, 2009


*What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World

by Rosalyn Schanzer

National Geographic Children’s Books, 2009

ISBN #978-1426303968

Grades 3-6 and up

48 pages

Nonfiction PB

*Nominated for the Cybils award in the NF PB cagegory.

“Even though Darwin has never been much of a student, he is destined to become one of the greatest scientists in history. And why is that? It is because Darwin’s astonishing discoveries will forever change the way people think about our planet and every single thing that lives here.”

“Darwin’s great adventure will last four years, ten months, and two days. It will affect everything he does for the rest of his life.”

A twenty-two year old Charles Darwin jumped at the chance to travel around the world as a naturalist-companion to the captain of the ship The Beagle, and the voyage that ensued opened his eyes to questions that would change the face of science for years to come. Written from the perspective of Darwin’s early years and his journey on The Beagle, Schanzer details his notes and explorations in short snippets of text and graphic-style illustrations in vibrant acrylics that show the path and documents the discoveries he found as the Beagle sailed from Europe to South America and on around past Australia and Africa.

The art is gorgeous and fits the youthful air of Darwin as well as documenting his finds. The text, found in sections, divisions, and bubbles, is reader friendly and chock full of fascinating information. As a former science teacher, I enjoyed learning things I never knew about this intrepid explorer and gentleman. Back matter includes a wealth of information that asks hard questions and provides a tree of life diagram, along with more fascinating details.

In the 200th year anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th year anniversary of the publication of his On the Origin of the Species, controversy over his conclusions is still very much alive, but there is no disputing the wealth of information he uncovered. No matter what your beliefs are, this book is one that should be read.

Activity 1

Choose one of the animals from the book that Darwin saw and create a graphic organizer to illustrate the variety of species that are in that animal group.

Activity 2 This activity is based on Darwin’s information about the volcanoes he saw on the trip.

Look up shield volcanoes and stratovolcanoes. Compare the two in their formation and eruptions. Find the meaning of these volcanoe related terms.

pyroclastic flows, lahars, subduction zone, ring of fire, tephra, pahoehoe, low viscosity, fissure eruptions, calderas

Information about stratovolcanoes can be found here. 

Information about shield volcanoes can be found here.


Visit Rosalyn Schanzer’s site to find out more about this author/illustrator.

For more details about the book, visit this site.

This page has links for all sorts of information about volcanoes.

National Science Standard: Science as a human endeavor; Nature of science, History of science


Although I preferred What Darwin Saw over this book, it also contains good information.

One Beetle Too Many by Kathryn Laskey and illustrated by Matthew Trueman


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