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Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

3.93  ·  Rating Details  ·  521 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
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2013 Mock Caldecott
41st out of 97 books — 241 voters
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Community Reviews

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Imagine that, two months after you finally marry your dear friend of ten years, he goes off to Asia to look for giant pandas. And, because you are a woman, and considered too "dainty" to travel, you have to stay behind even though you will miss him terribly and you would really love to see China and see pandas. Then imagine that, over a year into the journey, your husband dies! This is the tragedy and heartache that befell Mrs Harkness in the mid-1930s. Where others may have crumpled, Mrs. Harkn ...more
Aug 24, 2015 Kristi rated it really liked it
Shelves: harper-read
this one was a little advanced for the girl at age two but I tried to make it interesting for her. however I really enjoyed the story myself and had no idea that this was how pandas first came to the U.S. we might have to get this one again when she's older.
Apr 09, 2012 Cymiki rated it it was amazing
Love nonfiction in small bites. This one tells the story of an intrepid woman explorer travelling to China to bring a panda to the U.S. Lovely illustrations accompany this true story.
Apr 12, 2012 Pam rated it it was ok
Pandas! Who doesn't love cute pandas and wouldn't want to read about them? Alicia Potter's introduction to Ruth McCombs Harkness, who brought the first panda to America, is supplemented by the bright colorful illustrations of Melissa Sweet. But upon reading the book, I couldn't ignore the feeling that the author, illustrator and publisher all missed wonderful opportunities to really educate children with this book. Alicia Potter's text is wordy without providing many actual details of Ruth Harkn ...more
Dec 19, 2012 Dolly rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: parents reading with their children
This is a dramatic and true tale of a woman who completes her husband's quest to bring a panda to the United States. I liked that the story gave us a glimpse into life in the 1930s and explains that pandas were virtually unknown to the general populace at that time. I also liked that Ruth was willing to fly in the face of popular opinion that women were too dainty and unable to attempt such an endeavor.

I was very concerned that the story tells of the expedition taking a baby panda from the wild
“Mrs. Harkness and the Panda” is a story about a young woman on an adventure to find a panda. She is on this adventure because it was originally meant for her husband, but he died so she is taking it upon herself. This story can be important to young girls. It can teach them that women are capable to do the same things as men. While reading this book, readers are also given an insight into a different culture and can learn some Chinese words. The illustrations are beautiful and bright. They have ...more
In the 1930s Mrs. Harkness took up her husband’s (William Harkness) dream of mounting an expedition to capture a live panda and bring it back to the United States. At that time it was highly unusual for a woman to become an explorer, but Mrs. Harkness didn’t care. Not many people had seen pandas outside of China (some refused to believe the animals actually existed!), and Mrs. Harkness needed all the help she could get, so she enlisted the services of Quentin Young – a Chinese man who knew panda ...more
Richie Partington
Nov 05, 2011 Richie Partington rated it it was amazing
14 October 2011 MRS. HARKNESS AND THE PANDA by Alicia Potter and Melissa Sweet, ill., Knopf, March 2012, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-375-844448-1

This was when pandas really caught the attention of so many of us Baby Boomers:

"One highlight of panda diplomacy was the Chinese government's gift of two pandas, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, to the United States in 1972 after President Richard Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972. (President Nixon reciprocated by sending back a pair of musk oxen.) Upon the panda
May 09, 2012 Carrie rated it really liked it
In 1934, most of the world had never seen a panda, and many, even in China, believed they were only mystical creatures. Mrs. Harkness gets her husband, an explorer, to set sail for China to capture a live panda.

Sadly, Mr. Harkness dies while on his quest. Mrs. Harkness, despite many people telling her how inappropriate it would be for a lady to do this, takes over the expedition. She has her husbands clothes and boots cut down to fit her, finds a guide, and sets out to capture a panda to bring b
Alyson (Kid Lit Frenzy)
Ruth Harkness in 1936 did something that most women would not have done. She left her home and went to China to find a baby panda bear. Her husband died during an earlier exploration (due to cancer) and Harkness wanted to finish that search despite being a woman.

Now though we don't advocate going to another country to capture an animal, in 1936 attitudes were different. Harkness's actions provided many people information about pandas that wasn't available before.

I did find it funny that she to
Elizabeth K.
Feb 24, 2016 Elizabeth K. rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-lucy
I've read the actual, adult book about how Ruth Harkness got the panda, and I enjoyed it so I was looking forward to this. But after reading it, I'm not sure it was the most successful transition to a children's picture book. I get that it was a different time, but as I was reading it with my 5 year old, I was super, super aware, in an uncomfortable way, that the book doesn't really go into how this white lady went to China and TOOK a baby panda because she wanted one, an animal she had no idea ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Betsy rated it really liked it
I really like Melissa Sweet's artistic style (I first saw her work in Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade). The style here is similar--collage, gentle illustrations, mixed media. The story charmed my children: a lady goes off in the 1930s to find a panda and bring it home to the United States. Early conservation efforts, heroism/bravery under hardship, and cute baby animals--no wonder it's a winner with kids!
Following the death of her husband, Mrs. Harkness decides to pick up his cause, setting out on an expedition to China. Her goal, to bring a panda back to America (it was thought to be a mythical creature by some at the time!). At every turn concerned parties tried to dissuade her, for women did not do such things in the 1930's. However, Mrs. Harkness was determined, and after much preparation, and with the help of locals like Yang Di Lin, she managed to find one. The baby panda, whom she named S ...more
Oct 29, 2012 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Biography of Ruth Harkness; 1934
Themes: pandas, travel, exploration, women, china, zoos
Activities: use Google earth; databases to look at panda/biographical info; make an explorer list of items needed for an exploration; transportation - war gar, boat, walking, etc; debate zoos; look at primary sources - newspaper articles, her memoir etc; also look at timeline for further info about Harkness
Brienz Wilkening
May 29, 2014 Brienz Wilkening rated it really liked it
Shelves: 689
This is a heart jerking and then heartwarming book about a lady and her and her husbands love and desire to find a panda and bring it back to the United Stated where very few, if any, people had ever seen pandas. The story begins by the husband dying in search of the pandas and then Mrs. Harkness taking over her husbands journey. Many people told her that it could not be done and that she would meed the same fate as her husband, but she was determined. This book shows courage and determination a ...more
Aug 29, 2011 Angela rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books
Keeping my fingers crossed that this will get recognized for it's amazing illustrations and the importance of Ruth Harkness's role in women's history. With irresistable pandas, to boot!

An excellent addition to the long list of male explorers studied in schools and a great pairing for studies on Jane Goodall.

Highly recommended.
I know this is supposed to be a sweet heartwarming tale. But I found it sort of sad, the panda was perfectly happy in its home in China and then she takes it back to America and puts it in the zoo. Zoos always make me sort of sad too. So while this is an interesting story its just a bit too sad for me.
May 03, 2014 Romelle rated it it was amazing
A great example of creative nonfiction which follows the journey of Mrs. Harkness and her quest to bring home the first panda to the U.S. A story of bravery and determination. The back of the book includes a timeline of the important events of Mrs. Harkness' expedition, author's note, and selected bibliography.

Before you judge the ethicalness of the story, the author does explain that in the 1930s zoos were the primary way for scientist to study and appreciate particularly rare or unusual animal
Jun 04, 2015 Alice rated it really liked it
4.5 stars I have heard this story before. I remember thinking it wasn't right to take a baby panda out of the wild, but in the author's note, some very important points were made.

By finding the panda and taking it to the US, they could be studied, and examined. In China Panda's were considered by some to be a mythical creature, like a unicorn.

You have to give it to a brave 30 something widow to trek the rugged mountains of China, to fulfill her husband legacy. It takes patience and courage to
Stephanie Croaning
As always, Melissa Sweet has created the most perfect illustrations for this picture book biography. Her mixed media collage style is the perfect accompaniment to this 1930s story of Ruth Harkness and her quest to bring the first panda to America.

The idea of capturing and bringing a baby panda to a zoo is one that is not embraced by people today, but in the 1930s it was acceptable, and it was the only way that people could study rare species. Ruth Harkness has been praised by many conservationi
Jun 13, 2015 Adrielle rated it it was amazing
Alicia Potter's winner of a Cybils Award for Best Nonfiction Picture Book in 2012 is a rich and inspiring work. The story of Ruth Harkness is not one I not was familiar with prior to reading this book, so I am especially pleased to have come across it. The story is put together in the style of a travel scrap book, which brings a personal feeling and depth to the narrative. Melissa Sweet's paintings and collage are lush in color and texture, working as much to tell the story as the prose. I look ...more
Angela Germany
May 17, 2013 Angela Germany rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book. It reveals the true story behind America’s first panda and the woman who brought the panda to us. In the early 1930’s hardly anyone had ever seen a panda and some people didn’t believe they actually existed. There was no internet or television for people to see that panda’s exist like today. Mrs. Harkness’ husband set off to China with the goal of bringing a live panda to the United States but he died and did not accomplish his goal. Mr ...more
May 27, 2013 Heather rated it really liked it

"In 1934, Ruth Harkness had never seen a panda bear. Not many people in the world had." Thus begins the story of Mrs. Harkness, who had not intended to go looking for the beishung. After all, in 1934 women were considered "too dainty for exploring." But after Mr. Harkness passes away in China during his search for the panda, Mrs. Harkness is determined to take on the expedition. Despite the vocal naysayers, Mrs. Harkness packs, prepares, and heads to China
Roberta Gibson
Feb 14, 2013 Roberta Gibson rated it it was amazing
We all know what a panda is, but who is Mrs. Harkness? She is not a household name, but she did something that was extraordinary for her time.

During the 1930′s, Mrs. Harkness was a dress designer and socialite living in New York City. Her husband heads off to exotic lands to bring back rare animals for zoos. Even though people aren’t even sure they really exist, he goes to China to find a panda. When he dies there, Mrs. Harkness decides to finish his expedition. What an adventure!

As a round II C
Jan 03, 2016 Becky rated it really liked it
This book tells the story of the explorer, Ruth Harkness, and her quest to finish her husband's expedition to find and bring back a panda bear. In 1934 few people had ever seen a panda bear. In fact, according to the author's note at the end of the book, these "bears" were often considered mythical beasts by scientists, like unicorns. Mrs. Harkness, along with her guide, Yang Di Lin (known as Quentin Young), found and brought back a panda cub from the wild mountains of China. The cub found a hom ...more
Christine Turner
May 29, 2012 Christine Turner rated it liked it
Shelves: juv-non-fiction
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 wildernes ...more
Sep 04, 2012 Jessi rated it did not like it
This book is awful. It's not the author's fault- it's history's.
Let me explain. I had no idea what this book was about. I've never heard of its protagonist, Mrs. Harkness, before. I just ordered all the kid's books from my library that had the word "panda" in the title for the heck of it. The illustrations were beautiful, and I was intrigued by the subject matter- here's a woman in the 1930s who (ostensibly) cares about animals and wants the world to know about pandas. Do you know how she does
Apr 01, 2012 Kate rated it really liked it
An interesting telling of a little known story of how the first panda came to the U.S. This was in the late 1930s, a time when it was astonishing for a woman to head off on an expedition. The story is brief since it is aimed at early elementary ages. As an adult reader, I found myself wanting to know more, but this book is about right for the intended audience. More could have done to explain how different China must have been to the U.S. and how different traveling was (no mention of how long i ...more
Amy Goldstein
Feb 16, 2015 Amy Goldstein rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 07, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing
In 1934, William Harkness set off to China to bring the first panda back to the United States. After he died during the expedition, his wife, Ruth Harkness, decided to plan an expedition of her own. She traveled by ship to China, hired a guide, and traveled up the Yangtze River. And she found a baby panda, returning to 'panda-monium' for Su Lin ("a little bit of something very cute") in the United States.

I loved this clearly told historical account of how the first panda came to the United Stat
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Alicia Potter is the author of Fritz Danced the Fandango, illustrated by Ethan Long, and Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Alicia Potter lives in Boston.
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