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The Tree of Life

by Peter Sis

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About Book

Here is a fascinating, detailed look at the life of Charles Darwin: naturalist, geologist, and independent thinker. In his author's note, Caldecott Honor illustrator Peter Sis (Starry Messenger, Tibet: Through the Red Box) writes that Darwin always regretted not learning how to draw. However, he could and did take "dense and vivid" written notes, from which Sis drew his inspiration. Readers will spend hours poring over the gorgeous, intricately crafted pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations depicting layer upon layer of Darwin’s life as he developed his theories about the origins of life and natural selection. Tidbits from Darwin’s extensive and legendary voyage on the Beagle, notes on Galapagos tortoises, bloodsucking benchuca bugs, and Toxodon skeletons, and particulars from his family life intermingle with each other--just as in real life. Crammed with a veritable muddle of diary entries, cameo portraits, diagrams, natural illustrations, maps, timelines, a gatefold spread, and narrative divided into "Public Life," "Private Life," and "Secret Life" blocks of text, The Tree of Life will certainly be overwhelming to some readers; for other, less linear thinkers, it will be sheer, chaotic delight. (Ages 9 and older) --Emilie Coulter

From School Library Journal
Grade 4 Up-Sis offers an impressive homage to the life and ideas of Darwin through a fully illustrated, multilayered narrative augmented with copious charts, maps, and sketches. Two strands of text recounting Darwin's youth from his own and his father's points of view run below picture blocks in several early pages. Soon smaller chunks of text, often taken from Darwin's journals, move across the spreads with a central image and copious small, framed vignettes and picture bits. Other pages are filled completely with rows of picture cards. The artist melds information into handsome constructions to explain first the long years of travel aboard the Beagle and then the naturalist's evolving ideas about the origin of species. He knew all along it was a troublesome notion, and Sis introduces many other scientists and thinkers who influenced his work or objected to it. A gatefold spread near the end of the book reproduces the title page of the famous book, here with swirling lines of explanation and illustration. Muted tones of blue, green, and tan, and finely hatched drawings in the manner of old prints lend a period look to the pages. Beautifully conceived and executed, the presentation is a humorous and informative tour de force that will absorb and challenge readers. Though linear in its chronology, the sweeping, circular design and shorthand catalog of species, people, and ideas encountered by Darwin is a fragmentary account. However, it's a fabulous, visually exciting introduction to the man, his ideas, and the science of the natural world.
Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist
Gr. 4-7. Sis incorporates phrases, lines, and paragraphs of text into the artwork of this highly visual biography of Charles Darwin. Cameos, small portraits, and miniature framed drawings add further layers of texture and information. The narrative follows Darwin through his youth as he struggled to find his life's work, and through his adult years of scientific study, observation, and thinking that led to the publication of The Origin of Species and other writings. At the heart of the book is Darwin's work as a naturalist aboard the Beagle, when he collected the specimens and made the observations that formed the basis of his theories. Giving young readers a sense of Darwin's curiosity, adventures, and discoveries are a series of small journal pages featuring exquisite illustrations and tiny seemingly hand-lettered type that nearly discourages reading. A number of mysterious and evocative pictures fill the endpapers, with pictures suggesting biblical and other creation stories in the front and images representing the scientific study of the natural world in the back. A sophisticated interpretation that will have rapt admirers, including many adults. Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

"Sweeping in scope, lavish in detail, this is a book to launch many a reader's personal voyage of discovery." --Starred, Publishers Weekly

"Beautifully conceived and executed, the presentation is a humorous and informative tour de force that will absorb and challenge readers...a fabulous, visually exciting introduction to the man, his ideas and the science of the natural world." --Starred, School Library Journal

"Sís translates Darwin's written legacy into visual narrative in an extraordinary book that explores Darwin's life, work, and sources of inspiration...The detailed illustrations and narrative complexities demand of readers the same process Darwin set for himself: observe carefully, make connections, and learn." --Starred, The Horn Book

"Sís incorporates phrases, lines, and paragraphs of text into the artwork of this highly visual biography of Charles Darwin...A sophisticated interpretation that will have rapt admirers, including many adults." --Booklist

"This enchanting find is for readers of all ages." --VOYA

Book Description
In this brilliant presentation of a revolutionary thinker's life, the picture book becomes an art form

As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men . . .

Charles Darwin was, above all else, an independent thinker who continues even now to influence the way we look at the natural world. His endless curiosity and passion for detail resulted in a wealth of notebooks, diaries, correspondence, and published writings that Peter Sís transforms into a visual treasure trove. A multilayered journey through Darwin’s world, The Tree of Life begins with his childhood and traces the arc of his life through university and career, following him around the globe on the voyage of the Beagle, and home to a quiet but momentous life devoted to science and family. Sís uses his own singular vision to create a gloriously detailed panorama of a genius’s trajectory through investigating and understanding the mysteries of nature. In pictures executed in fine pen and ink and lush watercolors – cameo portraits, illustrated pages of diary, cutaway views of the Beagle, as well as charts, maps, and a gatefold spread – Peter Sís has shaped a wondrous introduction to Charles Darwin.



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