Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

This post is part of Nonfiction Monday 
hosted today by Capstone Connect

(pub. 3.13.2012)  40 pages 

A True Tale with A Cherry On Top

A uthor: Alicia Potter
     and Illustrator:  Melissa Sweet

haracter:  Ruth Harkness

O verview from the publisher: 

     In 1934, Ruth Harkness had never seen a panda bear. Not many people in the world had.
     But soon the young Mrs. Harkness would inherit an expedition from her explorer husband: the hunt for a panda. She knew that bringing back a panda would be hard. Impossible, even. But she intended to try.
     So she went to China, where she found a guide, built traps, gathered supplies, and had explorers' clothes made—unheard of for a woman in those days.  Then she set out up the Yangtze River and into the wilderness.  What she discovered would awe America: an adorable baby panda she named Su Lin, which means "a little bit of something very cute."
      With breathtaking illustrations from Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet, this little-known true story shares the tale of an adventurous woman who was bold and brave—and the unforgettable journey that helped shape American attitudes toward wildlife.

T antalizing taste: 

       "Mrs. Harkness wanted to go with him. But women were considered too dainty for exploring. Still, she hoped to join Mr. Harkness at the end of the expedition. An adventure together!
       Many months passed. Then, on a winter afternoon, Mrs. Harkness received terrible news. Her husband had died in China. Mrs. Harkness was very sad. She had loved him so.
       That love inspired her to carry on with his work.
       Mrs. Harkness would go to China.  She would find the panda."

and something more:   I liked that the Author's Note in Mrs. Harkness and the Panda discussed the "question [of] whether it was right to take a baby panda from the wild. Our attitudes about animal conservation and zoos, as well as our knowledge of pandas' behavior, are much different than they were in the 1930s. Back then, before the advent of television and widespread commercial air travel, zoos were the primary way for people, including scientists to learn about and appreciate animals - particularly rare or unusual species.
       But even today, many conservationists admire Harkness's contribution to zoology. In bringing Su Lin to America, Harkness introduced the world to a tubby, bamboo-chomping ambassador. After Su Lin, the race to kill pandas for sport eventually lost much of its appeal. Instead, people rooted for their survival."  
      The concept of Su Lin as an "ambassador" for his species reminds me of my experience with my nonfiction picture book, Astro the Steller Sea Lion.  As I wrote in a piece for Children's Literature Network:  "At a book talk last year, I had the opportunity to introduce the incredible children’s book author and environmentalist, T.A. Barron, and share my book with him. He said it’s as if Astro is 'an ambassador for his species now.'  And that’s truly what he seems to be.  People have learned not only about Astro, but also about Steller sea lions, an endangered species, and the need to protect their habitat and limit commercial fishing."  And that makes me very pleased -- the idea of Astro the Ambassador.     


Cathy Mealey said...

I did enjoy this book and thought it spread the conservation message in a positive way to children. I had read other material on Mrs. Harkness that was not terribly flatttering, but she did indeed persevere toward her goal!

On a side note, my kids are crazy about Astro and Mystic does a very nice job talking about wildlife conservation and habitat preservation in their Stellar sea lion presentation!

Jeanne Walker Harvey said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Cathy. And that's so nice to hear that your kids are fans of Astro. I agree that the Mystic Aquarium does a terrific job providing information about conservation issues. And, of course, I love visiting Mystic to say hello to Astro and his amazing trainer, Erin Gibbons.