Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Heiligman, Deborah. Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith. 2009. 320pp. Lexile 1020.

It’s a rare young adult nonfiction book that combines science and romance!  This one does so beautifully.  It provides a fine introduction to Charles Darwin and his work but goes beyond that to show his views of religion and how they differed from those of his beloved wife, Emma, who worried that her husband’s work would undermine the religious tenets she valued.  Fans of Regency novels will be attracted by the elegant silhouettes of the Charles and Emma on the cover, with a primate loping into the picture behind Darwin.  Heiligman does a masterful job with her topic, choosing perfect quotes from Darwin’s writings and diaries, and the letters between husband and wife.  The book opens with Darwin making a list with one side of the page labeled “Marry” and the other, “Not Marry.”  He includes under reasons not to marry, “Cannot read in the Evenings—fatness & idleness—Anxiety & responsibility—less money for books.” Such well-chosen details fill this exemplary book, which won the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

Reading Std #9 for grades 6-8: Compare/contrast texts on similar themes or topics.  Have students compare the information in this biography about Darwin’s theory of evolution with that offered in Laurence Pringle’s Billions of Years, Amazing Changes, at a similar lexile level and published one year after the Heiligman book.