Cover image for The tree of life : a book depicting the life of Charles Darwin, naturalist, geologist & thinker
The tree of life : a book depicting the life of Charles Darwin, naturalist, geologist & thinker
Sís, Peter, 1949-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, [2003]

Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 31 cm
Presents the life of the famous nineteenth-century naturalist using text from Darwin's writings and detailed drawings by Sis.
General Note:
"Frances Foster books."
Reading Level:
IG 890 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 6.3 0.5 70428.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 5.6 4 Quiz: 34426 Guided reading level: NR.
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH31.D2 S57 2003 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
QH31.D2 S57 2003 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
QH31.D2 S57 2003 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
QH31.D2 S57 2003 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf
QH31.D2 S57 2003 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
QH31.D2 S57 2003 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography
QH31.D2 S57 2003 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



In this brilliant presentation of a revolutionary thinker's life, the picture book becomes an art form

As far as I can judge, I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men . . .

Charles Darwin was, above all else, an independent thinker who continues even now to influence the way we look at the natural world. His endless curiosity and passion for detail resulted in a wealth of notebooks, diaries, correspondence, and published writings that Peter Sís transforms into a visual treasure trove. A multilayered journey through Darwin's world, The Tree of Life begins with his childhood and traces the arc of his life through university and career, following him around the globe on the voyage of the Beagle, and home to a quiet but momentous life devoted to science and family. Sís uses his own singular vision to create a gloriously detailed panorama of a genius's trajectory through investigating and understanding the mysteries of nature. In pictures executed in fine pen and ink and lush watercolors - cameo portraits, illustrated pages of diary, cutaway views of the Beagle, as well as charts, maps, and a gatefold spread - Peter Sís has shaped a wondrous introduction to Charles Darwin. This title has Common Core connections.

The Tree of Life is a 2003 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year and Notable Children's Book of the Year, and a 2004 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Author Notes

Peter Sis was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1949 and attended the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague and the Royal College of Art in London. He began his career as a filmmaker and won the Golden Bear Award at the 1980 West Berlin Film Festival for an animated short. He has also won the Grand Prix Toronto and the Cine Golden Eagle Award, and in 1983 collaborated with Bob Dylan on You Got to Serve Somebody. His film work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In 1982 Sis was sent to Los Angeles to produce a film for the 1984 Winter Olympics. But the film project was canceled when Czechoslovakia and the entire Eastern bloc decided to boycott the Olympics. Ordered by his government to return home, Sis decided to stay in the United States and was granted asylum. Sis then met Maurice Sendak who introduced him to children's books, and he moved to New York City in 1984 to begin a career in children's literature.

Sís earned quick acclaim with the publication of the 1986 Newbery Medal Winner, The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman, for which he did the illustrations. Sis is a five-time winner of The New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year.. Komodo! and A Small Tall Tale from the Far Far North were each named a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book, and he has won a Society of Illustrators Gold Medal for Komodo! and a Silver Medal for The Three Golden Keys. Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei was a 1997 Caldecott Honor Book, as was Tibet Through the Red Box. Sis has also received a MacArthur Fellowship

Sis' editorial illustrations have appeared in Time, Newsweek, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, and many other magazines in the United States and abroad. He has published nearly 1,000 drawings in The New York Times Book Review. He has designed many book jackets and posters, including, in 1984, the famous poster for Milos Forman's Academy Award-winning motion picture Amadeus. He has also completed a mural for the Washington/Baltimore Airport, a poster for the New York City subway system, and a stage set for the Joffrey Ballet. His work has been exhibited in Prague, London, Zurich, Hamburg, Los Angeles, and New York in both group and one-man shows.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 4-7. Sis incorporates phrases, lines, and paragraphs of text into the artwork of this highly visual biography of Charles Darwin. Cameos, small portraits, and miniature framed drawings add further layers of texture and information. The narrative follows Darwin through his youth as he struggled to find his life's work, and through his adult years of scientific study, observation, and thinking that led to the publication of The Origin of Species and other writings. At the heart of the book is Darwin's work as a naturalist aboard the Beagle, when he collected the specimens and made the observations that formed the basis of his theories. Giving young readers a sense of Darwin's curiosity, adventures, and discoveries are a series of small journal pages featuring exquisite illustrations and tiny seemingly hand-lettered type that nearly discourages reading. A number of mysterious and evocative pictures fill the endpapers, with pictures suggesting biblical and other creation stories in the front and images representing the scientific study of the natural world in the back. A sophisticated interpretation that will have rapt admirers, including many adults. --Carolyn Phelan Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In another stunning picture book biography, Sis (Starry Messenger) trains his attention on Charles Darwin. From the naturalist's early days ("Charles doesn't like... school") to his father's initial refusal to let him sail aboard the H.M.S. Beagle to the explosive reaction to his theory of natural selection, Sis traces the arc of the scientific giant's life. The sheer amount of information he compiles and presents-all with great fluidity and ingenuity-is nothing short of staggering. Not an inch of space goes unused (including the endpapers, which extend the major themes of Darwin's career through a patchwork of elaborate motifs), and the result is an opulent and vastly absorbing tapestry of maps, thumbnail portraits, diary entries, floor plans, family trees and more, including an elaborate gatefold that illuminates Darwin's major work, On the Origin of Species. Sis's trademark style, with its meticulous cross-hatching, pointillistic images and slightly enigmatic air, invites close inspection and repeat readings. His knack for defining not only the grand events of a subject's life, but also the humanizing particulars once again make a complex subject accessible to readers-Darwin's daily domestic schedule, for instance ("12:00 noon: Rain or shine, stroll around the Sandwalk with Polly, his dog") and his childhood nickname ("Gas"). Sweeping in scope, lavish in detail, this is a book to launch many a reader's personal voyage of discovery. Ages 8-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4 Up-Sis offers an impressive homage to the life and ideas of Darwin through a fully illustrated, multilayered narrative augmented with copious charts, maps, and sketches. Two strands of text recounting Darwin's youth from his own and his father's points of view run below picture blocks in several early pages. Soon smaller chunks of text, often taken from Darwin's journals, move across the spreads with a central image and copious small, framed vignettes and picture bits. Other pages are filled completely with rows of picture cards. The artist melds information into handsome constructions to explain first the long years of travel aboard the Beagle and then the naturalist's evolving ideas about the origin of species. He knew all along it was a troublesome notion, and Sis introduces many other scientists and thinkers who influenced his work or objected to it. A gatefold spread near the end of the book reproduces the title page of the famous book, here with swirling lines of explanation and illustration. Muted tones of blue, green, and tan, and finely hatched drawings in the manner of old prints lend a period look to the pages. Beautifully conceived and executed, the presentation is a humorous and informative tour de force that will absorb and challenge readers. Though linear in its chronology, the sweeping, circular design and shorthand catalog of species, people, and ideas encountered by Darwin is a fragmentary account. However, it's a fabulous, visually exciting introduction to the man, his ideas, and the science of the natural world.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.