Charles and Emma, The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

I recently spotted this hardcover and bought it at a literacy conference. I had seen reviews of it and the title appealed to me. I was curious. I have never read The Origin of Species but wanted to learn more about the man who wrote that groundbreaking book.
I was blown away while reading Charles and Emma. I kept thinking 'what an amazing amount of research this author has done!' and 'how did she make all of these facts and quotes so readable?'
Charles Darwin was a young man in Victorian England when he went on a sea voyage around the world on the ship called the HMS Beagle. While visiting islands in South America and beyond, he collected specimens of plants and animals, recording information and labeling each item. 
Back in England, after 5 years, he and other scientists studied these artifacts in detail. They had been raised in the solid belief that God had created all things and that these things did not ever change. However, studying birds collected on the Galapagos Islands, they noticed minute differences in the beaks. Having observed earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Darwin's brain slowly made him realize that not all things were as constant as had been believed. He realized that changes, that evolution, were at work to allow all species the benefit of the fittest; to allow them to survive and adapt to their environment. He also realized that the earth was much older than the few thousand years the church said it was.
In Charles and Emma, I learned how scared Darwin himself was of his realizations. How he felt the need to document and proof his beliefs before sharing them with anyone. The book focuses on his personal life  with his beloved wife Emma. Emma was extremely religious and worried about her husband's findings. Yet, even though she never shared his strong feelings, she helped and supported him. Her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debate even today. He was a thoughtful and kind man, supported by a loving, liberal family. This book is a unique glimpse into their world and into households of Victorian England. A fascinating read, no matter which side of the fence you are on. And look at all the awards it won! It is, in my opinion, one of those rare books that is both for YA (young adult) and adult - a true 'anybody' book.

'Deborah Heiligman's biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers'.

Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road by Priscilla Galloway, Dawn Hunter

Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road by Priscilla Galloway, Dawn Hunter

This is a gripping account of three dramatic journeys that changed the course of history.

The fabled Silk Road conjures up sights, smells and sounds of faraway lands. But traveling the Silk Road took years, and those who set out encountered bandits, starvation and treacherous storms.

"Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road" introduces readers to three great historical figures:

Chinese Buddhist Xuanzang, whose 16-year journey from China to India and back (629-645 AD) is the only source we have for huge chunks of the history and geography of this time. His successful search for Buddhist scriptures changed the course of two great nations.

Genghis Khan, bred from infancy to be a warrior, brought the Mongol clans together. He established the greatest empire the world had seen, which ruled the Silk Road from 1201 to 1227.

And the Italian merchant Marco Polo who journeyed through China from 1271 to 1295. He changed the way Europe saw the world, and his book even inspired Columbus to sail west across the Atlantic Ocean in search of China.

Beautiful photographs and art depicting the ancient routes and peoples bring the stories to life. Maps, sidebars and an afterword that updates the story of the Silk Road are also featured. This is one of those books that is labeled YA or children's but really is an 'everybody' book.

Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones

For years I kept coming across a scrap of paper on my desk, or in a drawer. The title of a book recommended by someone, I can’t even remember who recommended it.
Mr. Pip - the story of a teacher in the South Pacific’ that scrap of paper said. I never threw it out because the title held such promise. 

Then, a few weeks ago, I was cleaning up the shelves in the recycle book depot and there it was. A blue book with a photo of a palm tree and ocean. Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones.
The book was in terrible shape: stained and possibly mildewed. But the title had so long been with me that I could not bear to part with it. I took it home.

And when I opened the tattered cover, I fell right in. I fell into the story and in love with the characters. What a work of great literature! What spell binding storytelling.
Take Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, transport it to an island in the South Pacific ravaged by mining, strikes and violence. Enter a young girl and a teacher who shares his love of literature. Weave in intrigue, suspense, some nonfiction and an exotic location.
The story is brilliant, full of beauty and horror. Full of gentleness and violence.
It is the tale of the impact a gifted teacher can have on eager children, the power of a good story to turn someone into a lifelong reader, even to influence a life. It’s even about how a story can claim a life.
It’s hard to sum up the storyline, I won’t even try. This is a book you need to read if you are a book lover, or a teacher, or an admirer of Dickens. To quote from the book itself:
‘You cannot pretend to read a good book.
Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing.
A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe.’

I forgot to breathe throughout this story. A quote from the very last page of this 256 page book:
‘His survival was story. My Mr. Dickens taught every one of us kids that our voice was special, and that whatever else happened to us in our lives our voice could never been taken away from us.’

Lloyd Jones’ voice is special. It makes me want to try his other books.
I hope you will try this one.

Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones, Random House, ISBN 978-0-676-97928-2