An unlikely American explorer brings the first panda to the West.
When New York socialite Ruth Harkness set off in 1936 to fulfill her deceased husband’s goal of finding and capturing a panda in China, her friends tried in vain to discourage her. Potter’s frugal narrative focuses on Harkness’ apparently fearless embrace of the adventure—including meeting her guide, the young explorer Quentin Young, outfitting her expedition and tailoring her husband’s equipment (including boots) for her use and journeying up the Yangtze River. The expedition was fairly short, as Harkness found an unattended baby panda just a few weeks into the journey. Her return to the United States with the cuddly-looking Su Lin made the headlines for days. Sweet’s rich colors and collages incorporating reproduced photos, maps and postcards add humor, dimension and nuance to the story. Delicate Chinese-watercolor–style illustrations depict the expedition’s progress. Potter eliminates details that might have intrigued readers, including Young’s Chinese-American connection and the fact that Su Lin may have been named for Young’s sister-in-law, an explorer in her own right. But she deals diplomatically with Harkness’ relationship with Young, saying only that Harkness bestowed her wedding band on him “for his fiancée,” as she departed from China. A timeline reveals that Su Lin lived only 14 months after coming to live at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago.Fascinating—and pandas, too. (author’s note, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 4-10)