Monday, March 4, 2013

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

March 4 - Today's post is provided by Amy of Hope is the Word

Many women down through history have done unexpected things that make them not only champions for their gender, but also heroines for the more obvious reasons.  Alicia Potter’s 2012 picture book biography, Mrs. Harkness and the Panda (Knopf, 2012), is the story of just such an unlikely heroine. It is the story of Ruth Harkness, who in 1934 kissed her husband goodbye as he sailed off to China in search of a panda to bring home, the first of its kind to be seen in the United States.  Ruth Harkness stayed home and designed tea gowns, as was expected of a woman in her time, though she did expect to join her husband at the end of his expedition.  However, tragedy struck, and Ruth received word that William Harkness had died in China.  In Ruth Harkness’ own words, “I had inherited an expedition.”  She set out for China despite the naysayers and despite complications and difficulties.

After many people told her it couldn’t be done, Ruth found a champion and encourager in a young Chinese man she called Quentin Young, and he helped her on her journey in a multitude of ways, from packing for the trip (no small task!) to navigating the waterways and mountainous terrain.  Ruth Harkness and her expedition finally found their panda, and when she brought baby Su Lin home to the U.S., “panda-monium” broke out.  In addition to introducing these black and white furry creatures to what quickly became an adoring public, Ruth Harkness also gained for herself a new title:  “woman explorer.” 

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda was awarded a 2012 Cybils Award in the nonfiction picture category.  Not only is this an engaging and well-written tale about a little-known woman from history, it is also beautifully illustrated by the inimitable Melissa Sweet in her trademark watercolor and mixed media style.  Using actual maps, Chinese characters, and facsimiles of newspapers, Sweet’s illustrations evoke the feeling of both the time and place in history.  This is an excellent biography that appeals to a variety of ages and is well deserving of the accolades it has received.  Highly Recommended!

Editor's Note:
Amy is currently a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of three (soon to be four!) children.  She has worked as a public lbrary aide, a public high school English and history teacher, a public elementary school librarian, a community college reading and English instructor, and a supervisor in a university media and curriculum center.  Her latest job was as a Cybils round 2 judge in the nonfiction picture books category.  One of her greatest joys is sharing books with her children and helping set them on the path to being total bookworms.  (It is working, by the way!).  She blogs about books, reading, and home education at Hope Is the Word.  
Amy @ Hope is the Word


  1. Nice to see your thoughts about this book here too! It was a privilege to work with you. :)

  2. I am so glad i found this. DD is fascinated about animals and would love to read this one! After reading this review, it also struck me how unique this story is! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love this book -- happy to hear it won a Cybils this year. Thanks for the lovely review.

  4. This sounds really good. I have GOT to stop reading about good picturebooks, since I can't really buy many for my library!

  5. Nice to see your thoughts. This wasn't my own favorite from the Cybils but you convince me it was worthy.:)