Darwin: A Graphic Biography is aimed at 10- to 15-year-olds. However, it’s also sophisticated and detailed enough to give older readers a fantastic springboard into the life and scientific times of the world’s greatest biologist.
The book delves deep into Darwin’s childhood, humanising a man who’s perhaps better known for his science than his life. Home-schooled because his teachers couldn’t handle his constant questioning, but fortunate enough to come from a wealthy family that subsidised his voyage on The Beagle, it’s fascinating to see how a mixture of fate and seized opportunities help tease out one of the world’s most important scientific theories.
The book also builds a vivid picture of what was happening around Darwin at the time: how other biologists were close to finding the same conclusions; how Darwin sat on his ideas for several years to avoid unleashing controversy; and how it was a love of hunting and collecting creatures, rather than preserving living creatures in their natural habitat, that perhaps most aided his ability to study evolutionary differences in such detail.
Byrne and Gurr use a running joke of some monkeys making a TV show about Darwin to break up the narrative and offer some light relief, and at one point, explain the concept of natural selection with crystal clarity. This is really the only nod to the target age group and, while it might appear cheesy to an adult, it’s inclusion helps lighten the biographical detail.
If it weren’t for these sections, the book could appeal to adults as much as older children. The science is presented clearly and concisely, without dumbing it down, and Darwin himself is presented as a thoughtful, caring and quirky genius.
I’d certainly recommend this book to any child with reasonable reading skills, who is interested enough to find out more about Darwin and the world he was working in. The text is clear but can be dense at times, but bright, inquisitive kids should find it deeply engaging. As, no doubt, will their parents.