“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Friday, March 20, 2009

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith • Nonfiction

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith
Deborah Heiligman
Just out! •
Henry Holt • YA fiction • Ages 12 and up
A portrait of a brilliant man, a radical science, and a great love. Story: Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary treatise on evolution in 1859. Even today, the theory of evolution creates tension between the scientific and religious communities. This same debate raged within Darwin himself and played an important part in his marriage: Emma's faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on his controversial theory. This biography takes a personal look at the man behind evolutionary theory. His children doubled as scientific specimens, and his wife's religious convictions made him rethink how the world would receive his ideas.

Story behind the story: Deborah Heiligman writes: "My new book is the true story of Charles Darwin's marriage. In 33 chapters and an epilogue I tell the story, letting it unfold so the reader can see how Darwin's marriage played a huge part in his scientific work. He had a close and devoted relationship with Emma [his first cousin], and she adored him. But Emma was religious, and Charles Darwin was working on a theory that would rock the religious and social world. It pained Emma to think that she and Charles might not be together for eternity. The Darwins' marriage, and how they coped with this gulf between them, even in the face of heartbreaking tragedy, is a real and poignant love story. For me, writing this book was a labor of love. I hope you enjoy it."

  • A Printz Honor Award Book
  • Winner of the first-ever YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award
  • National Book Award Finalist

Charles and Emma has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Horn Book and The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books! -
click here to read them!

Plus Deborah Heiligman's website has a wealth of information so you can:

"Heiligman's writing is so good -- so rooted in particulars of time, place an Darwin's scientific thought, yet so light and full of drama -- that readers will care about Charles and Emma and their love story. The debate between science and religion continues today, but the relationship of Charles and Emma Darwin demonstrates that science and religion are not incompatible." -- BookPage
In the foreword, Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch writes: "Authors by the hundreds have written about Darwin's genius and the way his ideas transformed the world....But as far as I know, this is the first book to focus on the adventure that began when Darwin, home from his voyage, took out a piece of scrap paper and made himself a quirky, funny, very candid list of the pros and cons of settling down....How Charles and Emma ... made a successful marriage of science and religion is the story told in this book. Reading it helps us understand in the most vivid, intimate, and personal way how shocking Darwin's ideas were for the people of his time.... Charles and Emma were the best of friends, and their story is an inspiration....one feels that their love story was one of the most significant adventures and greatest masterpieces of Darwin's life."
FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.


K.Deeb, Sarasota Florida said...

Upon receiving this book I read it straight through. It was very, very interesting and I would recommend children ages 12 or 13 years old. It was a biography of a man and what he belived in. I give it a 3.5

ESnover said...

Having never read anything about Charles Darwin, I found this book both interesting and enjoyable departure from most non-fiction. Heiligman does a fantastic job bringing Charles and Emma to life; their upbringing, their individual religious beliefs, and their undying devotion to one another. Having read through this book has helped me understand Darwin's evolution of thought, the culture in which it fermented and how his work became the consuming passion of his life. However, due to its length, only students who are interested in the topic will venture to pick this one up.
Rating 4 out of 5
Eileen Snover
South Mountain MS
Grades 6-8

Anonymous said...

I rate this book a 2.

This book is perfect for someone who needs to research Charles Darwin. The first two chapters were very dry material and difficult to get through. It got better and I enjoyed the book more, but it was not for me.

Kelsey B. said...

I thought that this book was an interesting biography, particularly if one is interested in Charles Darwin. I definitely learned information that I had previously not known.

This will be a difficult book to draw students into because of its subject matter and length. I think that students with an interest in Charles Darwin would enjoy it. It could also be a useful resource.

I would give it a 4 out of 5.

Kelsey B.
7th grade language arts

Julie Peterson said...

Summary: Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, his revolutionary tract on evolution and the fundamental ideas involved, in 1859. Nearly 150 years later, the theory of evolution continues to create tension between the scientific and religious communities. Challenges about teaching the theory of evolution in schools occur annually all over the country. This same debate raged within Darwin himself, and played an important part in his marriage: his wife, Emma, was quite religious, and her faith gave Charles a lot to think about as he worked on a theory that continues to spark intense debates.

Deborah Heiligman's new 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. -- Henry Holt

I have been interested in Charles Darwin and his ideas ever since I took an Anthropology class my freshmen year in college. I rarely read non-fiction books (outside of memoirs) but CHARLES AND EMMA: THE DARWIN'S LEAP OF FAITH by Deborah Heiligman definitely intrigued me. This book explores the relationship between Darwin, the man behind the concept of evolution, and his wife Emma who was a woman with very strong religious convictions. I thought the idea of a book that examines their relationship might be interesting to read. Plus it was a book geared for children ages 12 and up, so I thought I probably wouldn't have any problems understanding the science in it!

I have to admit that when I first picked up this book, I wasn't sure it was for me; however, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it. I thought the science parts were interesting and didn't bog down the reader with a lot of technical jargon -- the explanations were clear and easy to understand. And, I really liked learning about the Darwins' marriage and their children.

What I like most about this book were the parts about Charles and Emma and how they handled their differences in faith. From all accounts, their marriage seemed to be very strong and they certainly respected each other (although Emma did fear that Darwin's beliefs may keep him from heaven.) I thought it was fascinating how they reconciled such a huge difference in their marriage.

I really enjoyed learning more about Darwin as a man. While there is no doubt that he was an absolutely brilliant scientist, he also seemed to be such a sensitive man and caring father. He adored his wife as evidenced by his correspondence with her when they were apart, and it seemed like he managed to find time to play with his children despite his busy work schedule. I am amazed by how productive he was since he spent much of his time seriously ill. I truly believe that his frailties were compounded by the stress he incurred with his very controversial scientific discoveries.

I think high school aged children would probably appreciate this book more than younger ones. It isn't a difficult book to read, but it is a little on the long side (around 250 pages.) It most definitely will appeal to children who are interested in science and Darwin's ideas because some parts of the book do go into detail about his observations and writings. That's not to say that some readers will also enjoy the more biographical parts of the story as well as the love affair between Darwin and his wife.

Thanks to The Picnic Basket and Henry Holt for sending me a copy of this book.

Rating: 4/5

Julie Peterson
Booking Mama
Mechanicsburg, PA

wordwarrior said...

Charles and Emma: The Darwins Leap of Faith is an interesting read about a man and his convictions and the woman who supported him and also held to her own convictions too. The story is well told to entertain as well as inform the reader. There has been and continues to be alot of controversy about Darwin's theory of evolution. Here in Kansas, our state board of education made the news a few years ago for not wanting to teach evolution as a scientific fact which proves that Darwin's theories are still raising eyes and ires today. I think this book would provide good additional information about not only Darwin's beliefs but also the man and his relationships behind his beliefs. It is best suited for middle or high school students. I give it a 4.

Chief said...

This a great addition to our biographies in our middle school library. While I found it hard to stay engaged through the first few chapters, the remainder was informative.

Anonymous said...

I greatly enjoyed "Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith." I loved the book's varied vocabulary and the fact that it supplied so much information about the development of Darwin's theories and his interactions with his family especially Emma. In addition, a great deal of information about the time period and its social constructs can be construed. So often, information about historical figures can seem very dry and unappealing to high school aged students. This book provides a juicy look into Charles Darwin's private life. "Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith" allows the reader to peer into the world of nineteen century England and learn how Darwin's relationships with the people he loved and the world around him helped to shape his theories.
I think this book would be most appropriate for students in grades 8-11. It would be a terrific idea for a Biology teacher and an English teacher to collaborate using this book as a jumping off point.

I give this book a 5/5. I couldn't put it down.

Jennifer Sherman
Second Grade Teacher
Vitalistic Therapeutic Charter School of the Lehigh Valley

jackie purificato said...

I have never read anything about Charles Darwin, and liked the way that this was not a book full of data, but one that told a nice story. I had difficulty at times reading it, and could relate to Emma and her religous beliefs. I don't know if many students will pick this book to read in the middle school. I think students at the high school level may pick it up because they will have a clearer understanding of Charles Darwin's work. I give this book a 3.

Mandy said...

I found this biography a very informative and enjoyable read. Darwin and his family are excellently described to the point that I felt like I knew them. I think that middle and high schoolers who have an interest in Darwin and his ideas would enjoy and learn from this read. 4/5

EShay said...

I was pleasantly surprised by the content of this book. It took a bit to get into it, but after a few pages, I was intrigued as to how Charles' story would come out. It is a bit long and therefore might be a bit much to ask children to get through. However, it is very informational and might do well to bridge the gap between literature and science. I enjoyed the pictures as well.
I learned a great deal!
I give it a 4.

Mflick1 said...

I was not sure if I would enjoy this story because I wouldn't classify myself as enjoying biographies or science driven novels. However, I was pleasantly surprise at how I did come to enjoy learning about the family. The characters are a wonderful asset to the story. I am a high school teacher, so I wouldn't reccomend this non-fiction piece to my higher readers, but I have several below average readers who I think would enjoy this book.

Anonymous said...

I had a difficult time getting through this book. I found it difficult to follow at times. The author made an attempt to have the book more scholarly but some of the material seemed to be out of character of a book for a middle school student. I would give it a 3out of 5.

dmuldawer said...

Charles and Emma was an interesting read but, to use Picnic Basket terminology, not one I'd gobble up.

Prior to this book, all I knew about Darwin is that he created the theory of evolution, and it was interesting to read about his personal life and also about the society of the time.

In this book, Charles and Emma come to life through their reflections, actions, and personal letters. The conflict between religion and science provides the most tension in the book, and it is thought-provoking that people with such different views could love each other so deeply.

That said, I found the style of the book overly dry and scientific. With few pictures and rather dense text, it is hard to imagine most middle school students reading this for pleasure. I could see chapters being used in a science class or parts being used in a research paper. However, I think that most students would struggle to complete the entire book.

Charles and Emma would be a good addition to middle school and high school libraries as a reference material. However, I would not recommend it for a classroom library.

Picnic Basket Rating: 3

Julia Pitau said...

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith was a truly endearing story. This book was difficult for me to set down once I started reading it. I learned many things about Charles Darwin and what he really believed. Now I think of Darwin in a new, brighter light and I understand his "evolution" theory better. But this book goes deeper than his debated theories; it shows how both passionate and compassionate he was towards his wife, his children, family, friends, and readers. One concept I found particulary interesting was that despite the fact that it was common in the Victorian ages to marry someone closely related to you (Charles and Emma being first cousins), Charles questioned if this would produce weaker offsprings.

Even though I was pulled in by this story from beginning through end, my rating for this book is a 3 due to the fact that I'm not sure this book is going to be readily choosen by students unless required to do so, such as with a biography. I am grateful to add this book to our collection. Thank you Deborah Heiligman for a wonderful story.

Media & Intervention Technician
Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

Anonymous said...

Prior to reading this book I did not know alot about Charles Darwin let alone that he was married. I knew that his ideas shocked the world at the time of their publication. I had no idea that he was a religious man who struggled with the observations he made and how it would be perceived by the general public. He spent his life studying everything he could including his children. The story of how his wife and he kept their marriage together was amazing considering all the trials they faced. I would give this book a 3.5.

Mrs. Horne said...

At first I had a very hard time getting into this book - it seemed quite dry at times but I believe that is partially due to my lack of interest in the topic.

However, as I got further into it I truly enjoyed learning the ins-and-outs of the Darwin's marriage. This novel really "got" how devoted they were to one another and how much they loved their family.

I found myself tearing up as Charles died while Emma held him. I think everyone should take their marriage as an example of how to work through things. With divorce becoming more and more common it would really benefit our culture to take a few lessons from people like the Darwins.

I also really enjoyed having the science side of his life explained to me in plain text. I learned just as much about his theory and contributions to the science community as I did about his personal life, which was fantastic.

This book would definitely be suited for upper middle school and high school students, it is a little heavy for younger students. What a great intro this novel would be into a unit on Darwin and his theory (a way to spark students' interest before unveiling the science). It would also be a great biography study on Charles or Emma.

I really liked this!

Picnic Basket Rating: 4/5

Lindsay Horne
New Kent Middle School
New Kent, Va

Anonymous said...

This book was very informative and interesting, but took awhile for me to get into it. It definitely has some content that was not appropriate for younger than 8th grade. It also would take someone who was familiar with famous authors and names for that time period to truly appreciate Charles' world. Sometimes the book also seemed to skip around and get a bit confusing with the suddent time changes.

I give it a 3 out of 5.

Tasses said...

Perhaps no scientist in modern history has stirred as much debate as Charles Darwin. But in 1838, a twenty-something Darwin had pressing concerns. He’d returned from his great, and science altering, five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle. It was time to make a choice. Down the center of a piece of paper he drew a line. On one side he wrote, “Marry,” on the opposing side he wrote, “Not Marry.” Across the top: “This is the Question.” Yes, young Charles had more pressing matters than whether to change the face of science and religion forever.

But because the story is called Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, we begin knowing Charles’s decision, can easily guess that the pros outweighed the cons. And the pros of the Darwin’s marriage are plenty: a loving and understanding relationship, a respectful friendship, ten children, a beautiful home and blessed life.

There are two ways to review Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, one from its engaging nature and one from that of a young adult. Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith held my attention and piqued an interest in the Darwins, though I’d never really considered Charles or his theories much before. But, as a reading educator, I kept wondering whether this would be the case for a young adult, the book’s target market. There’s no dramatic tension associated with young love and little cinematic-friendly plot. Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith is a sweet, simple tale of a scientist and his devout wife.

Much like my split review, Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith makes a great addition for school library biography sections, but I’d pass this one up for classroom purchase.

Cheryl Tasses
Reading Specialist, Florida
Picnic Basket Rating 3.5
See my full review on Reading Rumpus

ahslibrarian said...

Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith tends to be less contentious and more readable than one might imagine. Aside from a jacket illustration that pits silhouettes of an ape and Charles against a cross bearing Emma, the book is relatively free of such obnoxious notions.
The writing style is comfortable and does focus on the relationship of Charles, Emma and their families. At times the book reads like Jane Austen, but that only lends authenticity to the voice that Heiligman is determined to expose.

The Darwins lived in a very different world; one much more severe in terms of its tolerance for religious ambiguity. It was a world fraught with sickness, tragedy, and little medical science. As a result, lives that were hanging in the balance would be treated with over the counter medications today. Similarly, breakthroughs in the life sciences seemed years away.

Readers young and old should enjoy this book, but they must be prepared for a challenge. They must be prepared for an intellectual challenge that will serve to strengthen their beliefs as they reconcile God and science. And challenges are good. They help us deepen our understanding and commitment to the reasons that drive us as human beings.

The book focuses most of its energy on the relationship of Charles and Emma. To this end, it was most successful and entertaining. As a broader biographical work the book also gives the reader some perspective for the times in which the Darwins lived.

Perhaps the single most impressive accomplishment of Charles and Emma is that it is a biography about a great scientist that should interest girls. In true Jane Austen fashion the story is resolved.

My grandson still thinks Heiligman's best efforts were Fun Do Sun Dog. But then again, he's only 3.

4 out of 5

John Parker
Media Coordinator
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901


StacyB said...

I wasn't sure if this book was going to be able to hold my interest (as history/science reading are not my particular favorites) but as I read I got more and more involved in the relationship between Charles and Emma. This book taught me the human side of Charles Darwin along with some new facts about his research and faith beliefs. It also helped open my eyes to how people can reconcile differences in their lives with those near and dear to their hearts. I would recommend this to anyone that would like to challenge themselves to read a biography, especially students in the upper middle grades.

Pamela Kramer said...

This book was enjoyable to read because of the different slant--it's about the Darwin's marriage. Their love story is an unusual one, and in spite of their differences, a truly wonderful story.

Learning about Charles Darwin from a personal viewpoint was also interesting. The fact that he didn't like novels with sad endings, and he loved to have Emma play the piano for him show a glimpse into his private side.

I agree with many of the other comments that this book is not for everyone. But, a student with curiosity about Darwin and his life will enjoy this book.

I would recommend it to my more serious students I give this a 4 out of 5. It's like a tart cherry pie. I love it but others prefer sweet desserts.

Pamela Kramer
Reading Teacher
Oak Terrace School
Highwood, Illinois

Lemon the Duck said...

I couldn't put this book down. The story of Darwin as a human being--- a man and a scientist. Truly refreshing. What a way to grasp students' interest in an important figure in history. The inner conflict Darwin experienced is something we can all relate to on some level, especially our students.
Being able to relate to Darwin as a person made me all the more interested in him as a scientist. The debates upper middle and high school students could have around this book! I'd love to be a fly on the wall.
I rate this book a 4 out 5.

Kathy said...

Charles and Emma was an intersting story but one that was hard to get through. It was difficult to go between the two sides of Charles - the scientific research part of the book and the father/husband side. It would be a good addition for the library for those who are researching Charles Darwin. I made myself finish the book but it is not one that I would read again or
even recommend.

Picnic Basket: 2.5

Kathy J. Johnson
4th grade
Williamsburg Elementary
Williamsburg, MO

cupcake said...

I had head many different things about Charles Darwin, but had not actually read anything scholarly about him. I knew, of course, about his theories of evolution, and I also recall being told by a Sunday School teacher that Darwin renounced his theories because he saw the light of the Lord. This book helped me understand the truth behind Darwin's search for evolution, especially within the context of marriage to a religious woman. I so enjoyed reading about his marriage and his family life, as well as that of his wife.

The book was well written, interesting, and I will urge my high school sophomore and junior students to read it.

Picnic rating: 4 out of 5.

Heather S. Hill said...

"Charles and Emma" was an interesting read. Though he is famous for his scientific and controversial work, this book gives us a unique window into the other facets of his life that impact his work. I give it a 4.

rauzer said...

This book was very interesting for me-the adult reader. I was interested in Darwin and the look at his relationship with his wife was new and more gripping than the average non-fiction book.

However, my students can't use this book. It is too long for their research projects. I do not appreciate the section on sexuality for the pre-teen reader. As a teacher in a Christian school, I can't recommend this book as I did not agree with all the Biblical assumptions.

I give it a 2 out of 5.

5th grade teacher
Lutheran school in WI

Anonymous said...

Rating: 3 out of 5

This is a fascinating title, not necessarily the "faith" aspects of it, but the glimpse into the lives of very interesting people.

The faith/non-faith issue became quite boring as no new information was ever discovered or added. It was merely repetitious.

Also at times the author would foreshadow an event, or jump forward in time and then back and this convoluted the story.

A Librarian

Tegan Sexton said...

What a great non-fiction read! Most people today associate Charles Darwin with the evolution side of the creation controversy - keeping the idea that he came from a religious era. It was highly informative to see his struggle with the information that was his life's work. On another note, it was very interesting to see the "other" great love of his life - Emma. Having made his decision to marry, Charles put every bit as much of himself into his marriage and family as he did into his work. It was refreshing to see him portrayed from such a human perspective.
This book would be appropriate for upper elementary and beyond. It is useful as a research tool on Darwin's life, the religious aspects, and his legacy.
Overall - 4 out of 5!

Tina's Blog said...

Charles and Emma: The Darwins Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman was interesting and thought provoking. This year celebrates the anniversaries of Abraham Lincoln's and Charles Darwin's birth - both were born on the exact same date - and while I had heard of many books that were published to commemorate Lincoln's birth, this is only one of two books that I have seen recently published about Darwin. I will also admit that besides my rather limited knowledge of Darwinism I knew nothing about Charles Darwin's life.

Heiligman's book does a wonderful job of creating a picture of Charles Darwin as a real person - one who struggled with his scientific findings and what that meant to his own personal religious beliefs and those of others, specifically his wife Emma's. Emma was a devout Christian and when Charles was first interested in marrying her, his father, Dr. Darwin, instructed Charles to keep his religious doubts a secret. Charles didn't heed his father's advice, and luckily for him, his wife was open-minded and one of his strongest supporters. Emma and Charles' marriage was a true partnership. The two had ten children together, losing three before adulthood. Emma supported her husband's work, and while she continued to pray for him and remain true to her own religious convictions, she was able to see the value in Charles' work and believed in the things he had discovered.

Heiligman does a wonderful job of making the Darwins real people. She also does a wonderful job of showing what a true moral/religious dilemma Charles' discoveries created. While no right or wrong beliefs are given, there are many things to think about while reading this book, and it is very apparent what sort of dilemma Darwin's work presented to devoutly religious people.

This book is best suited for high schoolers - perhaps younger students could understand the story, but the issues involved may not be entirely understood or evaluated by younger readers.
Rating 4.5/5

Kimberli Carrier said...

This book is beautifully written. It gives the reader a clear, interesting look at the life of Charles and Emma Darwin. It gives the reader a chance to see the heart and love a scientist had not only for his work, but also for his wife and the struggle that this caused for him. I think it would work best for students if it was read as a class with discussions after each chapter or if the teacher read it aloud and then lead a discussion of the issues raised. I think it is a great way to teach students about Darwin and his ideas because it really shows the struggles he had, not only with "proving" his ideas, but also with how he felt about them. I give the book a 5 because it really offers a clear picture into his life.
Kimberli Carrier
Nashua, NH

The Black Family said...

This book was very well written. It gave an entirely different feel to Darwin and made me realize that he was not just a scientist but also a husband and father as well. The relationship between Charles and Emma is beautiful and I love to see the struggle between religion and science that Darwin goes through. Recommended for high school age and above. Maybe mature 8th graders.

4 out of 5

Lindsey B.
Title I teacher