Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas (Review)
Interest Level: Ages 5 - 10
Author: Cheryl Bardoe
Illustrator: Jos. A. Smith
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006
Reading Level: Lexile AD1030; F&P Level Q
Retail: $9.95, paperback
Summary: A biography of Gregor Mendel and the story of how he developed his theory of heredity, a precursor to modern genetics. Simple language and colorful illustrations are used to convey the basic principles behind his discoveries. Includes additional biographical notes from the author.
This is truly a beautiful and interesting picture book. It is also very wordy, and though it is intended for audiences as young as age 5, the subject matter and vocabulary are on the complex side. Note that it has a Lexile level of 1030, and independent readers below a middle school reading level may have difficulties with some parts. Adults who read this book with a child may appreciate the science lesson.
I remember learning about Mendel as a child and seeing diagrams of pea pods with labels that said "dominant" and "recessive." This book has the same types of illustrations but they are folded into a larger story of Mendel's childhood, his early life, and his later studies. Jos. A Smith's illustrations are rendered in soft but lifelike realism, with a particular attention to detail and perspective. As I leafed through this book for the first time, I became aware of clever pops of color integrated into otherwise ordinary scenes.
The story of Mendel is fascinating and many children will relate to a boy whose learning appetite exceeded the opportunities in his local town. He made many personal sacrifices to pursue his interests, and his choice to join an Abbey was a practical one - he simply could not afford to pursue his education elsewhere. Teachers too, will appreciate accounts of Mendel as a lively educator who made learning approachable and enjoyable.
We learn that Gregor's work was not appreciated in his time. His published research was ignored for decades, and the world had no idea that he had meticulously uncovered the mechanisms behind genetics and evolution. Imagine what would have happened if Gregor's work had made it to Charles Darwin, a scientific contemporary whose path he never crossed?
I have no criticism of this book. It is well written, expertly told, beautifully illustrated, and well-researched. Author Cheryl Bardoe's appreciation of poetry is evident, and she has the ability to show science as an adventure. She is a former senior project manager of exhibitions at the Field Museum in Chicago, and hers is the kind of subject matter expertise I love to see in a children's book.