Darwin’s Dragons is a story so compelling that I carried the book around with me; every single chapter revealed a new challenge for our hero. Historical fiction that brings science and exploration to life for young readers and a book I would highly recommend for upper primary onwards.
Lindsay Galvin has combined fact and fiction in an adventure so vividly drawn that the fantastical feels possible. Authors often take that “What if” question and explore a world that is a joy to inhabit temporarily even though we know it is one conjured by the imagination. Darwin’s Dragons is a story set in a world that is historically and scientifically accurate and so it all feels real. Briefly the reader wonders if the impossible is actually plausible.
It is 1835 and we meet our hero Syms Covington on the Galápagos Islands where, as a former cabin boy and now assistant to the naturalist Charles Darwin, he is helping his master in the gathering of specimens. A storm breaks and as they try to row back to their ship, The Beagle, first Darwin and then Syms end up fighting for their lives in the ocean. As the storm subsides Syms finds himself washed up on a volcanic island. Alone.
From this dramatic opening our young Robinson Crusoe struggles to cope with no water, very little food and a lack of shelter. He knows he must try and survive somehow until his master and the crew come to rescue him but the situation then becomes even more dangerous than he anticipated with the arrival of a huge and terrifying beast. However Syms is not as alone as he thinks and assistance is close at hand in an unusual and unexpected form.
This is a cracking adventure of the traditional type and every heart stopping challenge is met by Syms with a quiet, dogged determination. The chapters are short and the writing rich in detail and imagery which, I think, would make this a treat to read aloud to slightly younger children too. That the story is based on truth and includes real people gives this a greater impact and will awaken curiosity in readers to discover more about this fascinating period in history. I particularly enjoyed the cameo appearance by a young Queen Victoria.
There are aspects to this story that resonate strongly today. Charles Darwin’s scientific discoveries were greeted with scepticism by many initially and he waited many years to publish his findings. This sceptical attitude is still seen today in the attitude of some to the threat of climate change and this book could be used as a prompt for discussion on this subject.
The book itself is beautifully packaged and designed and the cover illustrations by Gordy Wright incorporate maps and images of Darwin’s works adding to the feel that this is a journal. There is information about the people and the places featured in the story at the end of the book and an interesting interview with Lindsay Galvin plus a timeline of events and suggested reading list. All of which will add to children’s enjoyment and understanding of this hugely enjoyable story.
There are chapter by chapter teaching resources created by Lindsay Galvin and Scott Evans available on the Chicken House Publisher’s website plus videos and an extract of the book to whet your appetite.
I should like to thank Laura Smythe and Chicken House Publishers for providing my review copy. Darwin’s Dragons was published on 7th January and is available to purchase online at Waterstones or via your nearest independent bookshop which can be found on this map.