cover image Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda

Alicia Potter, illus. by Melissa Sweet. Knopf, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-375-84448-5

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.)