Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
“Charles and Emma” is a well-researched biography of Darwin and his wife Emma. Their relationship was notable because, while he questioned the involvement of God in the workings of the natural world and developed his theory of evolution, she was a devout Christian. The book works through Charles and Emma’s courtship and even provides glances back to their respective childhoods.
This book is written for grades 8-12, but I think it might be more appropriate for grades 7-9. I was actually a bit confused about the intended age group because there are some difficult themes such as death – including the death of children. Some parents may consider Charles’ questioning of God’s role in the world an unsuitable theme for younger children as well. These aspects of the book would certainly point to a grades 8-12 audience, but at many times I felt that the writing was more at the level of a middle-grades book, 4th or 5th grade through 7th or 8th. There was simply a certain lack of sophistication in the writing that made the book seem more childish to me than something written for high schoolers. I do not believe this is due to a lack of skill on the part of the author but because she seems to have primarily written nonfiction for grade school children. This style carried over into “Charles and Emma” perhaps a bit too much, making it somewhat juvenile for most high schoolers to read for pleasure.
That being said, “Charles and Emma” is very clear and well-researched and would make a fantastic source for a report on Darwin for students up through high school. They may not be enamoured of the writing, but they will find good, solid information. Middle school or even mature upper-elementary students with an interest in Darwin could definitely read this for pleasure. Heiligman did a fantastic job being very even-handed with both science and religion and was not dogmatic in either direction, which should give easy to many parents.
Adults, don’t run out and buy this for yourselves, but it may be interesting for some children in your life.