Review of Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem

Etty Darwin and the Four Pebble Problem
by Lauren Soloy; illus. by the author
Primary    Tundra    48 pp.    g
5/21    978-0-7352-6608-7    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7352-6609-4    $10.99

Fairies, butterflies, foxes; belief, observation, evidence — there’s plenty to ponder and discuss with your father when he happens to be Charles Darwin, “one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the World.” Joining Papa for one of his twice-a-day strolls around the Sandwalk, his “oval thinking path,” young Etty suggests that they do four laps, tracked with four flint pebble markers. As they walk with the family dog, Etty’s questions drive much of their warm and lively chat. She first asks Papa about fairies, and he describes his “trouble believing in anything without proof.” Their discussion shifts to the importance of keen observation, and, in Soloy’s verdant mixed-media illustrations, yellowish-green leaves turn out to be camouflaged butterflies. Flattened grass and a small hole signal that a fox is nearby, and Soloy zooms in for two of the book’s many visual highlights: a dramatic double-page spread dominated by the predator’s face and piercing eyes; and, after the page-turn, a close-up vignette of Etty’s hand clasped tightly in Papa’s. In her author’s note, Soloy explains that the characters, setting, and even Etty’s interest in fairies are factual, but the dialogue is fabricated. Styled with comic/graphic novel conventions (speech bubbles, brief text, panel illustrations), Soloy’s historical-fiction picture book makes room for both science and make-believe. But at its core, it’s all about a special relationship, wonderfully humanizing the father of evolutionary theory who prized his daughter’s thoughts and gave her musings “space to fly.”

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tanya D. Auger

Tanya D. Auger
Tanya D. Auger is a former middle school teacher with a master’s degree in learning and teaching from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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