I believe I have already mentioned on this blog that I am a fan of the Czech author/illustrator Peter Sís. There is as much richness in his words as in his artwork, and what talent, when an artist manages such depth and intricacy in a way simple enough for picture book age children to appreciate.
In the Tree of Life Sis introduces us to the genius of the naturalist Charles Darwin. Sis’ detailed artwork in this book subtly mirrors the detail of Darwin’s observations. He manages to capture the historical period and give illustrative life to Drawin’s five years of in-depth journaling while he travelled the world. Darwin himself lamented his lack of artistic ability; we give homage to the great scientist through the brush of this great artist.
Who was this man that changed the history of the world? Sís looks first at Darwin’ introspective and questioning early years, when his passion for the natural world was birthed. We follow Darwin as he stands up to paternal hopes and pressure and chooses to follow his own dreams in his university choice, ending up studying botany and geology at Cambridge. The heart of the biography is, of course, Darwin’s years on the Beagle, his: discoveries, wonder, journaling, and conclusions, leading to the culmination of his work in the Origin of the Species.
Each era contains information helpfully subdivided into the public, private and secret life of Darwin, enabling the reader to feel privy to more personal sharing. I can only think that the artwork in this book took an astounding amount of research, love, revision, tears and joy. It feels like a work of love to reveal to us with such skill, the life of Charles Darwin.
You will discover : dates and daily life and animals and ship-life and research and charts and maps and navigation and prejudice and natural selection and oh so much more…. The pièce de résistance is a gatefold spread, which immerses the reader in the evolution of mankind. The layers of detail are such that the first reading is almost overwhelming.
I recommend this as a coffee table book – the sort that will keep kids and adults pouring over the pictures for hours. It is a truly marvelous biography of a man whom I admire greatly. The Tree of Life, not surprisingly, was a Caldecott Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book.
Peter Sís is an internationally renowned illustrator, author, and filmmaker. He was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1949. In 1982 he was sent to LA by his government to produce a film for the 1984 Winter Olympics. The film project was canceled when Czechoslovakia and the entire Eastern bloc decided to boycott the Olympics. His government ordered him home, but Sis opted to stay and was granted asylum in the USA. Meeting Maurice Sendak led to Sis’s introduction to children’s book editors, and he moved to New York City in 1984 to begin a new career.
He has won countless awards including the Newbery Medal and in 2003, Peter was named a MacArthur Fellow, an honor bestowed by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recognizing “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”
This is # 80 in the There’s a Book Read to Me Picture Book Challenge.