Why Darwin's Study Of Earthworms Made The Perfect Picture Book


Polly Owen

When my daughter was younger she spent a lot of time with her nan, looking for worms and snails in her nan's organic garden. Together they would mark the shells of the snails and watch where the creatures would go.

Images of daughter in garden and snails

As Earthworm Society of Britain members they planned on attending some events to learn more about earthworms, but then … COVID and lockdown happened.

My mother had recently told me about Darwin's 'worm book'. At first I thought it would be a difficult read, written in Victorian English on a subject I knew nothing about, but I couldn't have been more wrong. It was a page turner, from start to finish and I realised Darwin was a wonderful author as well as naturalist, geologist and biologist.

Darwin's Book

Darwin studied worms for 40 years and described them as "a hobby-horse" for which he had "perhaps treated in foolish detail". But the detail he described was some of the earliest and most comprehensive observations we have about earthworms. I immediately looked for children's books on the subject, and was surprised that none existed.  

Darwin's book, 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms' felt destined to be a picture book. Darwin's many experiments included playing musical instruments to the worms, breathing on them after chewing smelly food and hiding leaves in the mud, for his own version of hide and seek. 

Books on worms

He tested their senses in such vivid detail that the images leapt off the page. And of course, there was also … the poo! Hence the title: Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular! Never had there been a more educational reason to write about poo!

Darwin's Super Pooping Worm Spectacular
Images: Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular, by Polly Owen and Gwen Millward, published by Wide Eyed Editions.

Worm Poo

Worm poo was key to Darwin's study in many ways. He was fascinated by the evolution of the landscape and how worms played their part. But he was also keen on learning about the rich, nutritious soil and its benefit to plants. I was surprised to hear that many Victorian farmers thought worms were pests and damaged the soil. So Darwin's work was most enlightening, and initially outsold the 'Origin of Species'. 
Darwin's work was hugely important, not only for highlighting the role of worms on our planet, but also demonstrating the benefits of scientific observation. He observed, measured, recorded and published his findings, furthering human knowledge and all because he followed his passion. Darwin's perseverance, even in the face of mockery, is a wonderful example for all of us, but especially children who may, too easily, be put off their interests. 

victorian images
Left image: Sketch of an Indian earthworm cast from 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms'. Right image: A cartoon featured in journal 'Punch', depicting Darwin as a little girl playing in the garden.

The Importance of Earthworms

Darwin studied many animals, including exotic creatures on the  Galapagos islands. But despite the many wonderful things he saw, he still had this to say about earthworms …

"It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures."

Although I started writing this book with my daughter and other mini beast lovers in mind. It soon became important to me, to bring Darwin's forgotten history to a new, younger generation. This huge, 40 year part of Darwin's life is just as much of historical importance as it is scientific. I hope his passion for nature, science and watching the world helps to inspire others, and his love of earthworms helps to elevate their status in the future of our world.

'Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular' is a fun look at Darwin's amazing study of earthworms and their benefit to all of us. With beautiful illustrations by Gwen Millward. 


About the Author

Author with bookPolly Owen is a children's author from Hertfordshire. She lives with her husband, two children and the occasional mouse. She is an organic gardener with a passion for nature and a newfound love of earthworms. Polly studied Mathematics and Statistics at Brunel University and loves writing about  STEM subjects as well as silly rhymes.

Website: https://pollyowen.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/pollypoem
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pollypoem/

Schools & Home Educators Competition

To celebrate the publication of Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular by Polly Owen and illustrated by Gwen Millward, QuartoKids are giving away a SIGNED copy of the book alongside a fun Worm Explorer Activity Kit!

To enter, all you have to do is email: lucy.lillystone@quarto.com with your name and school!

This giveaway is open to the UK only and closes at midnight on the 11th January. The winner will be contacted by Lucy Lillystone.

Best of luck to all!

Schools competition