Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - Darwin and the Galapagos

If I could travel back in time and accompany someone on a journey, I would want to spend time on the HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin. Well, maybe not all those years sailing, but certainly the time in the Galapagos. I've always been fascinated by the geological history of the islands and with the flora and fauna found there. 

Today's book pairing is inspired by my love for all things Galapagos.

Poetry Book
An Old Shell: Poems of the Galapagos, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tom Pohrt, is a collection of 34 poems in which Johnston pays tribute to the wonder that is the Galapagos. I'll begin at the end of the book and share an excerpt from the author's note.
After reading about them for a lifetime, in 1995 I visited the Galapagos. When you stand in this place, wild and vast and stark, looking out over the endless and shining skin of the sea, you hear the flutter and roar of Creation, feel the stir of your own beginnings upon the delicate chain of life. Here, you are at the core of the mystery and poetry of Nature.

These islands symbolize the peril that the entire earth faces. We can take it apart, sea turtle by sea turtle, shell by shell, but we cannot put it back together.

Meanwhile, as we struggle with our humanity, the sun bakes their old backs, the wind caresses the salt grass, the waves wash the Galapagos.
The book opens with a two-page map of the islands. The poem topics include the sea, the islands, animals, plants, and more. Here is one of my favorites.
Small White Flowers

At night the lava cactus blooms
In small white flowers. Its faint perfume
Floats upon the quiet dark
Along the lava still and stark
Where lone owl, old cold shadow, glides
While rice rat hugs the dark and hides.
When dawn comes up and darkness goes
Silently the petals close.
No one sees them in the gloom,
Small white flowers to please the moon.

Poem ©Tony Johnston. All rights reserved.
Most of the poems in this collection are written in free verse, though a few are written in haiku.

Nonfiction Picture Book
What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World, written and illustrated by Rosalyn Schanzer, is a colorful, oversized graphic novel that follows Darwin on his 5-year+ voyage aboard the HMS (Her Majesty's Ship) Beagle. Meticulously researched, the text features abridged quotes taken from Darwin's diaries, letters, books, and scientific papers. These quotes are written in a different font and cover the pages and thought bubbles of the book. There is SO MUCH information here, packed into the text and illustrations. There are a few pages of follow-up on his later life, with a final double-page spread with large map showing the Beagle’s route  and a final bit of text entitled Evolution on the March that highlights the impact of his life and work on us today. Also included are an index, extensive bibliography, and author's note.

Here are two Darwin quotes from the text.
p. 30.
"This archipelago seems to be a little world within itself; the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else."

p. 31.
"I never dreamed that islands, about 50 or 60 miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of the same rocks, placed under a similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted."

You can learn more about how Schanzer created this book at the Ink Think Tank post The Evolution of a Book.

Perfect Together
I would use these books together to study observation and the processes of scientists. You can compare what Darwin saw and wrote about from a scientific point of view, to how Johnston wrote from poet's point of view. Both poets and scientists are known for looking closely and capturing the details, so there is much to be learned from both these perspectives.

For additional resources, consider these sites.


  1. Wow! What a fabulous kickoff for this month, Tricia! I will be sharing...thank you, and happy happy Poetry Month!

  2. Wonderful pairing for the beginning of poetry month. Thanks.

  3. A few years ago my class theme was evolution & I found other books too about Darwin, but not these. They would have added much to our investigations, Tricia. The poem is lovely (small white flowers to please the moon), & I'm grateful for your idea for poetry month. This is going to be terrific! FYI-during that year a friend gave me another book of poetry about Darwin by Ruth Padel: Darwin: A Life In Poems. It is about Darwin, and includes some about the Galapagos. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for today!

  4. Thank you for another great resource!

  5. Thanks so much for this wonderful pairing! My son will love these books!