There are many reasons to love Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, a new picture book biography, by Alicia Potter and Melissa Sweet. Here are the top 5:
1. It’s a true story! In 1934, Ruth Harkness “inherited an exhibition” from her husband who died in China while he was searching for a live panda to bring back to the United States.
2. This is an inspiring book. Ruth Harkness was committed to completing her task. Even though her friends “scoffed” at the idea of her setting off to China alone, she carried on. Harkness traveled through Ceylon and Singapore and, with a guide, sailed up the Yangtze River. At the point where they faced thirty miles of rough terrain, I would have looked for a gift shop selling cute plush pandas, but not Mrs. Harkness!
3. Melissa Sweet’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations are perfect – lovely and evocative. I wanted to cut them out and hang them on my walls, especially the one in which Mrs. Harkness is giving a bottle to a “wriggly, furry bundle.”
4. I like the information at the back of the book. There’s a chronology of events and an author’s note that addresses the concern about taking a baby panda out of the wild. Potter writes: “Our attitudes about animal conservation and zoos, as well as our knowledge of pandas’ behavior, are much different than they were in the 1930s.” She goes on to explain how Mrs. Harkness introduced pandas to America which ultimately led to the panda becoming the symbol of the World Wildlife Fund.
5. This is a great read aloud – and one I plan on reading to a class the first opportunity I get.