I don’t love Anita Silvey’s new book, The Plant Hunters, because it’s about plants. I love it because it’s about passion. This is a book about men and women willing to travel long distances at great personal discomfort and inconvenience to find a plant! In the name of medical research or furthering scientific knowledge, the explorers profiled in Silvey’s book did not let scary animals or lethal plants or extreme weather conditions get them down.
Silvey spoke about her book at the Sense of Wonder conference at the Kennedy Library last week. As a fan of Silvey’s books about children’s books and her picture book biography of Colonial-era bookseller, Henry Knox, I was looking forward to hearing her speak. But I did not expect her talk to send me directly from the auditorium to the conference book store. To be honest, a few minutes after Silvey spoke, I would have been hard pressed to recite the names of the explorers or the plant they were looking for. But what I did capture was how deeply her subjects felt about their work and the curiosity that motivated them to take such tremendous risks. Actually, in a way the men and women in Silvey’s book reminded me of Waterhouse Hawkins, the man who created life-size dinosaur models for London’s Crystal Palace in 1852. I learned about Hawkins from reading Barbara Kerley’s wonderful picture book biography, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins – it was the first dinosaur book I truly enjoyed. Like the plant explorers, it was Hawkins’ own passion for his work that made me want to know more.
After Silvey spoke about The Plant Hunters, she listed some of her favorite science books for children. The books that made both our lists are:
The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton
Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
The Buffalo Are Back by Jean Craighead George
Blizzard! by Jim Murphy
and….anything by Steve Jenkins