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Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  614 Ratings  ·  126 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 h
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
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Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
True story of Mrs. Harkness and her quest to bring a live panda to the United States. Very informative both in the text and the illustrations.
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
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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
Nov 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Angela Germany
May 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
“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
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
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: picture-books
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
Elizabeth K.
Feb 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 16, 2012 rated it liked it
This gloriously illustrated picture book biography is about Ruth Harkness, credited with introducing the first panda to the Western world. According to the book, up to this time (1930s) the panda was a mythical creature much like the unicorn. After Mrs. Harkness' explorer husband died of cancer in the middle of his expedition to find a panda, she decided to carry on with his mission. Though the story is much simplified for young readers, how she manages to succeed is fascinating and readers may ...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!
This simple picture book tells the story of Ruth Harkness, who completed her deceased husband's expedition to find and bring back the first panda to the United States. Friends and strangers doubted her ability and sanity -- a woman traveling to China in 1936 was highly unusual, but Mrs. Harkness succeeded and caused 'pandamonium'. Melissa Sweet's illustrations are the star of this story. The author's note is essential to address the questions contemporary readers may have about the morality of t ...more
Amy Carr
I absolutely fell in love with this book and the remarkable story it tells. It is the journey of one woman who suffers the loss of her husband as he is on an expedition in China to discover the mythical "panda bear" and decides that despite the odds, she has inherited this expedition that she will finish. I truly loved everything about this sweet book from the writing to the illustrations to the true life story of this remarkable, brave woman.
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully illustrated and engaging biography of the intrepid Ruth Harkness, who took over her late husband's quest to bring back a panda from China in 1936. Today we would question her actions in snatching a baby panda from the wild, but the World Wildlife Fund organization credits Harkness with "evoking sympathy for the plight of the species." The book can also be commended for its portrait of a determined and resourceful woman.
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sharon Lawler
Excellent biography of the woman who brought the first Giant Panda to the United States. In the 1930's her husband, who was an explorer, journeyed to China on a quest to find a panda. Unfortunately, he died. Ruth Harkness, although totally untrained as an explorer, was determined to finish her husband's goal.
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.
Sandy Brehl
Outstanding visuals combine delicate art, collage-like images, authentic photos, and postcards with insertions of maps, and iconic characters. This is a true story of the first giant panda in captivity, and a woman who exceeded the limitations of gender expectations to accomplish what was thought to be impossible.
The story of a dressmaker that trekked into the wilds of central China to bring back the first giant panda that many Americans had ever seen is beautiful, true, and cleanly presented. I like the inclusion of a summative author's note and photograph at the end. Any kid could read and enjoy this, and learn a little something too.
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens
A lovely book about a little-known female explorer. The mixed media illustrations incorporate Chinese newspaper, postcards, and maps so that the book resembles a personal journal.

Mrs. Harkness is a great role model for bravery, determination, and curiosity. And who can resist a baby panda?
Recounts the little-known story of Ruth Harkness' 1936 expedition to China in search of the mysterious panda.
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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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