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Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

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The Bottom Line

It's rare to find an engaging biography for young people that focuses on the everyday life of the subject. Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma examines the achievements of Charles Darwin and the impact that his research on the adaptability of species had on scientific thought. But more importantly, Heiligman focuses on Darwin as a human being, a husband, and a father. Although his wife was a religious woman and Charles a non-believer, the two were well-matched in terms of their backgrounds and temperament. This combination of biography and love story will hit the mark with middle and high school readers.
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  • Accurate glimpse of life in England in the 1800s
  • Excellent documentation of quotations and sources
  • Bibliography, index and family tree included
  • Includes some period photographs
  • Printz Award Honor Book


  • The portrayal of childhood mortality may disturb sensitive readers.


  • Author: Deborah Heiligman
  • Length: 268 pages
  • Recommended for: Ages 11 - 15
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • ISBN: 9780805087215

Guide Review - Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Most students are aware of Darwin’s theory of evolution. However, Charles and Emma highlights the relationship that Darwin, a non-believer, had with his religious wife and how she helped him articulate his theory and publish his research. The Darwins were well-matched in terms of their backgrounds and temperament.

However, Emma’s fears that Charles would never experience a religious conversion were well-founded. Heligman manages to give life to this couple and their family and to enlighten the reader about the customs and daily life of 19th century England. She ably portrays Darwin’s struggles as a scientist and a family man but tempers these with glimpses of lighthearted moments of love and joy.

Charles was thoughtful in his pursuit of his theory that new species are created through the evolutionary process. He understood how revolutionary this was and how it might be met by the religious community. Emma’s faith in her husband was as strong as her faith in God. She served as a sounding board for Charles while he developed his theories, conducted his research and published his findings.

The story is told in chronological order and each chapter begins with a quotation that ties the chapter in primary sources. The few existing photos of Darwin and his family are included, providing the reader with a further glimpse into their lives. Well-researched and engagingly told, this is a story of love as much as it is a story of science. Enjoyable and enlightening, Charles and Emma: the Darwins’ Leap of Faith should find an audience with both scholars and tweens looking for a good read.

Jean Hatfield has experience as a children’s librarian, a school librarian, and a head librarian. She has served on the selection committee for major children’s book awards and is presently responsible for the selection of public library materials for youth – children and young adults – for the public library system in the largest city in Kansas, Wichita.

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