"One summer afternoon Mother and Cook tried to teach me to bake a honey cake."
The narrator of Deborah Hopkinson's The Humblebee Hunter, Inspired by the Life and Experiments of Charles Darwin and his Children (Hyperion, 2010) is Darwin's daughter Henrietta, or Etty. I suppose I can't blame her for not wanting to be in the kitchen on a summer afternoon (I have a pet peeve about girls in books who are interested in science never liking needlework or cooking). She is otherwise a wonderful narrator, at first reflective about her father and family's scientific curiosity, and then excited to take part in an experiment--counting the number of flowers a humblebee visits in one full minute--that also gets her out of the kitchen.
Deborah Hopkinson was inspired to write about Darwin's family life by a visit to the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (the image above is of the garden at Down House, where the experiment would have taken place) and The Humblebee Hunter, while technically historical fiction, captures what it must have been like to grow up in the Darwin household. There's no reason (apart from scary Colony Collapse Disorder) you couldn't observe a humblebee in your own garden, though--I did, and my count was the same as Etty's!
A note about the pictures: I always adore Jen Corace's work. Its slight formality is perfectly suited to the period and the story of The Humblebee Hunter, as are its precise and graceful brown ink line and watercolor palette.
Read more about The Humblebee Hunter in Deborah Hopkinson's "Behind the Book" column for BookPage and her post at Wonders and Marvels (my new favorite blog, subtitled "A Community for Curious Minds who love History, its Odd Stories, and Good Reads"). And go humblebee hunting on the next sunny afternoon! Or, if you're so inclined, bake a honey cake and read this book instead. Highly recommended.