The True Adventures of Charley Darwin
The book is very much a record of Charles Darwin’s youth from the time he is a nine-year-old going off to boarding school to his work as an established scientist twenty years later. It is also a wonderful, clearly written introduction to his theories of evolution and natural selection and to social life in 19th-century England.
What may most attract young readers to the book is the focus on Darwin’s personal life. The author gives us a very real boy who gets bullied, feels homesick, and hates studying Greek and Latin. What captivates Charley Darwin is the outdoors and collecting specimens of all sorts of things, especially beetles. The opportunity to ship onto the Beagle comes at a time when he cannot make up his mind about a career. After some convincing his father agrees to support the venture and at twenty-two, Charles leaves on the historic voyage.
During the next five years Darwin will ride with gauchos in Argentina, survive storms off Tierra del Fuego, experience an earthquake, and witness a volcanic eruption. He will discover fossils and collect crates of specimens to ship back to England from every port, recording his discoveries in meticulously kept journals. The excitement of the adventure is shaded with the death of shipmates and long waits for mail from home.
All in all, this is a fine read. The author makes abundant use of Darwin’s journals and autobiography but does not bog the text down with it. She portrays Darwin’s research as a large part of his life—but not the whole of it so there is plenty of room for readers to see him away from his desk. Charley Darwin turns out to be a strong, engaging, and very likeable character. The book is an excellent choice for summer reading and should be on every library’s shelves.