Reviews for Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

Booklist Reviews 2012 February #2
*Starred Review* The first lines provide the hook, "In 1934, Ruth Harkness had never seen a panda bear. Not many people in the world had." When her husband dies in China, Harkness grieves for him and longs for the panda he had promised to bring home to her. Despite dire warnings from friends, the determined tea-gown designer set off for China on her own to find a panda and bring it back to the U.S. Sprinkling in snippets from Harkness' own writings, this account describes her dangerous journey in an engaging, graceful narrative. The expedition is placed in the context of the time, expectations of women, and attitudes toward animals in captivity. This masterful book design employs multiple panels per page to establish contemporary attitudes and move the story, leading to the dramatic double-page spread revealing the baby panda. Sweet's Asian-style watercolor landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful. Archival postcards, coins, and newspaper headlines add delicious detail that help convey the subsequent "Panda-monium." Appended matter includes a chronology, a short bibliography, and an author's note explaining changes in attitudes regarding captured animals. A delight. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Fall
Ruth Harkness, newly widowed, set out in 1936 to complete her husband's mission: to fetch what would be the first-ever panda from China. Her return to America with a young panda was a triumph. The engaging narrative is illustrated with delicate watercolors enriched with collages of Chinese fabrics, maps, postcards, and more to evoke period, place, and dramatic action. Bib.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #2
Ruth Harkness, newly widowed, set out in 1936 to complete her husband's mission: to fetch what would be the first-ever panda from China. According to Potter, Harkness "wasn't particularly strong, athletic, or daring," nor were her friends supportive ("Don't forget, your husband died trying to find the panda!"). Still, she took a steamer from New York to Shanghai and traveled up the Yangtze into mountains where, indeed, she and her companions Copyright 2012 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 February #1
An unlikely American explorer brings the first panda to the West. When New York socialite Ruth Harkness set off in 1936 to fulfill her deceased husband's goal of finding and capturing a panda in China, her friends tried in vain to discourage her. Potter's frugal narrative focuses on Harkness' apparently fearless embrace of the adventure—including meeting her guide, the young explorer Quentin Young, outfitting her expedition and tailoring her husband's equipment (including boots) for her use and journeying up the Yangtze River. The expedition was fairly short, as Harkness found an unattended baby panda just a few weeks into the journey. Her return to the United States with the cuddly-looking Su Lin made the headlines for days. Sweet's rich colors and collages incorporating reproduced photos, maps and postcards add humor, dimension and nuance to the story. Delicate Chinese-watercolor–style illustrations depict the expedition's progress. Potter eliminates details that might have intrigued readers, including Young's Chinese-American connection and the fact that Su Lin may have been named for Young's sister-in-law, an explorer in her own right. But she deals diplomatically with Harkness' relationship with Young, saying only that Harkness bestowed her wedding band on him "for his fiancée," as she departed from China. A timeline reveals that Su Lin lived only 14 months after coming to live at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago. Fascinating—and pandas, too. (author's note, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 4-10) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 January #5

Potter (Fritz Danced the Fandango) and Sweet (Balloons over Broadway) tell the little-known story of American fashion designer Ruth Harkness, who intrepidly trekked through China in 1936 to bring the first live panda back to the U.S. Engaging mixed-media illustrations set a quiet, sophisticated tone, perhaps a nod to Harkness's socialite status (not explicitly mentioned, but hinted at in vignettes showing Harkness among well-attired friends). Sweet's inspired collages brim with a sense of time and place: patterned and textured torn-paper backgrounds serve as canvases for several scenes, while one spread shows a small steamer journeying over faded maps and old postcards. With help, Harkness returns with a baby panda she names Su Lin. A chronology reveals that Su Lin dies of pneumonia after less than a year and a half in captivity; Harkness also dies young, but not before she revisits China and brings home a second panda, a mate for Su Lin (both pandas turned out to be male). However, the tale concludes on a positive note, celebrating one woman's steadfast and pioneering spirit. Ages 5-8. Agent: Teresa Kietlinski, Prospect Agency. Illustrator's agent: Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown. (Mar.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2012 February

K-Gr 2--In 1934, the Western world had never seen a panda, so William Harkness set off from the United States in an effort to bring one back from China. He died during the expedition. His widow picked up on the cause and went to China herself, something unprecedented for a woman at that time. Once there, she paired up with a local guide; had the right clothing and shoes made; packed medicine, guns, and more into 22 pieces of luggage; and took the long, harsh journey into the country's interior. They eventually found an abandoned baby panda. She brought it back to America where it ended up at the Brookfield Zoo, just outside Chicago. That panda is now a mounted exhibit at the Field Museum. This is a gorgeous book. The illustrations are a combination of small and large watercolor drawings, background collages using decorative Chinese papers, floral prints, maps, and Chinese lettering, as well as a few photographs. This little gem will be perfect for one-on-one sharing and for those second-grade biography assignments. It's simply stunning.--Ieva Bates, Ann Arbor District Library, MI

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