The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & the Life of H. Tracy Hall (Review)
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Interest Level: Ages 4 - 8
Author: Hannah Holt
Illustrator: Jay Fleck
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper-Collins), 2018
Retail: $17.99, Hardcover
Summary: A picture-book biography of H. Tracy Hall, inventor of the world's first man-made diamonds. His story is told in dual-narrative form with parallel accounts of the creation of a natural diamond in the earth and of Hall's life and career. Includes endnotes and a timeline.
The subject matter expert who wrote this book could not be more qualified. Not only is Hannah Holt the granddaughter of H. Tracy Hall, she is also a former engineer herself. As it happens, she also has a knack for writing for young audiences. This book ingeniously intertwines a lesson in geology with an engaging story of a boy who succeeded in pursuing his dreams despite growing up in poverty and facing down those who doubted his invention would ever work.
The dual narrative format of this book is unusual. On left-hand pages in each spread, we read about a step in the millions-of-years-long process that a piece of graphite undergoes in becoming a diamond. The right hand pages are about Tracy Hall, his early life, aspirations and later his professional career. The text draws parallels between the two stories with twin use of terms such as "HEAT," "PRESSURE," "CHANGE," and "WAITING" on facing pages. The text is lyrical and poetic, and I found it a joy to read aloud. Even my 11-year old who reluctantly sat as my audience could not resist making volcano noises under his breath when we got to the the ERUPTION page.
The endnotes of the book include interesting information about the discovery of diamonds in India, about the De Beers company's attempt to control the diamond trade, and about the use of blood diamonds to finance war and violence in Africa. Tracy Hall's life milestones are woven into the larger history of diamonds in a timeline that continues right up until the present. While some of the details may be above the interest level of young children, I am glad that the author did not gloss over the darker history of diamonds.
The illustrations created by Jay Fleck started as pencil drawings that were later turned into digital scenes. Although simple, the images convey a great deal of emotion. The color palette is unified and fresh, but has an historical feel. The end of the book includes two photos of Tracy Hall, one as a boy, and the other hugging his granddaughter, the author. These photos help to humanize the story.
On a personal note, I read with sadness about how Holt was not able to learn much about her grandfather's life and accomplishments until after he had died. Like many in his generation, he was reluctant to talk about the past. When age started to take his mind, he was unable to answer her questions. My father, now passed away, also lived through the Great Depression. Although he told me many things about his life, I yearn for more information that can only be found through archival research. My grandparents, immigrants from eastern Europe, pointedly avoided talking with him about the old world, and those memories too have long since faded.
The Diamond and the Boy moves easily between the genres of biography, natural history, and bedtime story. It is inspirational and engaging. I recommend it for elementary classrooms and libraries as well as the home of any child with an interest in geology, engineering, technology, and history.
The publisher provides an amazing teaching guide for use with this book.