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Book Review: Charlie and the Tortoise

Charlie and the Tortoise. M. J. Mouton (Author), Jezreel S. Cuevas (Illustrator), Cara Santa Maria (Foreword). Rare Bird Books, December 6, 2016, Hardcover and E-Book, 24 pages. 

Reviewed by Lisa J Lickel.

Author MJ Mouton shares his time between Louisiana and Chicago. He became passionate about the sciences and wanted to share his discoveries with his children, so he created short stories about world-changing discoveries. Three of these stories I found have been published. They are lavishly illustrated rhyming text picture books featuring the basic elements of the discoveries of naturalist Charles Darwin, physicist Richard Feynman, and astronomer Carl Sagan.

Charlie and the Tortoise is Mouton’s tale of Charles Darwin’s visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1832, a stop on his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. Mouton features Darwin’s study of birds on the island, particularly finches and why their beaks developed differently for different purposes. The story begins with a contemporary rendering of Darwin as a youth who loves being outside, and all things nature. He gets a chance to learn more when he sails away.

Using simple rhyming text, Mouton explains Darwin’s method of study, “Charlie whipped out his book in a pinch. ‘This bird’s beak is different, but it’s still a finch!’”

On the island, the young Charles Darwin, Charlie of the title, meets a tortoise who speaks, encouraging Charlie to study the differences in the animal species. “I’ve noticed the birds. I’ve been here a while . . . 200 years,” he said with a smile. “You’ll have to bear with me, I speak as slow as I walk.” To which Charlie exclaimed, “Holy cow! You can talk!”

Although a dog named Hitch is featured inviting readers to join him in discovering the series, his role is merely to accompany Charlie, and shows up in various illustrations. Each book in the series so far has a foreword by an exclaimed expert in the field. In Charlie and the Tortoise, Cara Santa Maria, a science communicator and television personality, explains that Darwin inspired her to study science, too, and entreats readers to continue a lifelong adventure of asking questions.

Charlie and the Tortoise is a cute way to explain Darwin’s method of study and his eventual conclusions. Geared toward young children and early readers, the information is not overwhelming for young minds. The illustrations are clear, simple and vibrant. A general historical outline of Darwin’s life is included on the inside back cover. This book was published as one of the Tiny Thinkers series, highlighting real-life scientists who changed our world.


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