cover image The Riverbank

The Riverbank

Charles Darwin, illus. by Fabian Negrin. Creative Editions, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56846-207-3

Negrin (The Perfect Knight) proposes that Darwin's scholarly prose can be made accessible if accompanied by illuminating illustrations. His experiment doesn't quite work-phrases like "Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse" defy illustration-but it's a noble effort. The book's text is the most famous passage in On the Origin of Species; Negrin's artwork examines life along a riverbank like the one about which Darwin writes ("It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank..."). The spreads follow a small dark-haired boy as he gazes at birds and lifts up rocks. Fine lines of color show the grain on the shell of a snail, the fur on the boy's dog, and the cilia on single-celled organisms, seen as if through a microscope. "[F]rom so simple a beginning," Darwin writes, "endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." As a paragraph expressing as deep a sense of wonder and mystery as a religious text, it's a crucial statement; as a book for children, it presents some difficulties. A glossary offers help with technical terms. Ages 6-up. (Nov.)