Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner (Review)
Interest Level: Ages 7 - 10
Author: Janice N. Harrington
Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III
Publisher: Calkins Creek Books, 2019
Retail: $18.99, hardcover
Summary: A picture book biography of Charles Henry Turner, an African-American entomologist who lived from 1867 to 1923. Includes extensive end matter and source information is included.
Chances are that you haven't heard of Charles Henry Turner. He was the first African-American to receive a PhD in zoology at the University of Chicago. During his career, conducted numerous important studies demonstrating that some insects can hear, learn, and see in color. The only other children's book about Turner, Bug Watching with Charles Henry Turner (1997) by Michael Elsohn Ross, is out of print.
This book is a fascinating read for children and adults alike. Turner was a janitor's son, but against the odds attended college and graduate school. His curiosity and hard work propelled him forward, and he made a strong impression on other students and scientists that he encountered. Not surprisingly, he faced resistance to joining the scientific community because of his skin color, and apparently had to do a fair amount of research without the benefit of a laboratory or assistance from others. Indefatigable, Turner published dozens of scientific papers, and went on to teach a new generation about entomology and psychology.
Janice Harrington's writing is lilting and full of vivid imagery. She makes liberal use of insect imagery (e.g. "His parents' home swarmed with books"), and the prose goes back and forth from a poetic feel to plainly descriptive. The story takes the reader as far as his teaching career where he inspired new generations of students to "go and find out." A timeline provided in the back of the book provides dates (some estimated due to poor historical records) of his life and death. Although not a scientist herself, Harrington is a person of color, a poet, and the award-winning author of several other timely books.
The illustrations in Buzzing with Questions were created by Theodore Taylor III who has illustrated a number of books and comics about African-American experiences. The colors are bold and show views from different angles and perspectives. The digital style isn't a stand-out in children's illustration, but it helps make the book feel modern and mainstream - a quality that goes well with sharing the sometimes overlooked accomplishments of a minority scientist.
This book would make an excellent addition to any elementary classroom, and would have been an excellent home read-aloud for my science obsessed son if it had been available when he was younger.