Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
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Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  368 ratings  ·  102 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...more
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
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2013 Mock Caldecott
40th out of 97 books — 229 voters
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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
Dec 19, 2012 Dolly rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
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.
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
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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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!
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
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
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.
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...more
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...more
Angela Germany
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

"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...more
Roberta Gibson
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...more
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
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
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...more
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
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...more
In 1934, Mr. Harkness set out to China to bring the first live panda to the United States. Unfortunately, he did not survive his journey. So his young widow, Mrs. Harkness decided to set out and complete her husband’s dream. Mrs. Harkness was not an adventurer; she designed tea gowns. She knew that the journey would be hard, maybe even impossible. But she set off for China and met up with Quentin Young, a man who had seen pandas and agreed to help her. They packed carefully for the journey, even...more
Samantha Van
Title: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
Author: Alicia Potter

Artistic Media: Mixed Media

Brief Summary
Ruth Harkness inherits an expedition from her husband to find a panda. She defeats all odds and finds a baby panda in the wild. She brings it back and finds a home for the panda in the zoo.

Artistic Critique
Mixed Media Style: I loved how there are many illustrations that showed Asian art styles. Such as the paneled art and the Chinese symbols.
Endpapers: the story started in these first couple papers....more
The story of Mrs. Ruth Harkness, who after the death of her husband while on an expedition to the wilds of China, took up his mission herself and became the first person to bring back a live panda to the West. "Su Lin" ("a little bit of something cute") was the first panda on display in a zoo. Before then (1934) no one had seen a live panda, and some people thought they were mythological creatures like unicorns! Mrs. Harkness was not an explorer, but she was gutsy enough to take on the challenge...more
Barb Middleton
Terrific story and photos about a woman who brought the first panda from China. Kids asked good questions and were curious as to how long pandas live, why Mrs. Harkness gave her wedding ring to Quentin, and it being wrong to take the baby panda from the wild. Make sure you read the "author's note" that addresses the last question.

The collage materials used by the illustrator give a flavor for China from the writing to rice paper framing water color and colored penciled pictures. The addition of...more
I spoiled rich lady was carried though rough terrain to see a panda. I was not really sure what her role in that expedition was. And poor Chinese workers had to carry 22 pieces of her luggage. We did not care for illustrations nor for the tiny font.
In 1934, not many people had seen a panda bear. One exception to this was explorer William Harvest Harkness, who in September of that year sailed for China with the hopes of bringing a live panda back to the United States. Unfortunately, he died before accomplishing his goal. When his wife learned of his death, she decided to take up the gauntlet, and made plans for her own expedition, in spite of criticisms from friends and family. Potter's picture book narrative of her adventure, combined with...more
Beautiful illustrations. Appreciated the author's note briefly addressing the ethics of taking a creature from its natural habit. Very interesting reading. Would be a good book to use to have students present an argument/point of view.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
When you have read a lot of children's nonfiction as I have, you might start to think you've heard all the good stories. Then a book like Mrs. Harkness and the Panda arrives at your door and you happily learn there are many more stories to tell.

Ruth Harkness never expected to venture very far away from her comfortable home. But then her husband died and she felt a need to carry on his work, to find and bring a panda home to America.

The reader will love following Mrs. Harkness' difficult journey...more
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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.
More about Alicia Potter...
Jubilee!: One Man's Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace Fritz Danced The Fandango Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats Everybody Knows That Goats Don't Dance!. Written by Alicia Potter Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

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