Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution, a picture book meant to simplify the complex biological processes of evolution by natural selection for preschool children, may also help American adults finally figure out that no, humans did not evolve from apes.
In what began as a self-published book fueled by a Kickstarter campaign, author Jonathon Tweet and illustrator Karen Lewis’ work received so much attention it was picked up by MacMillan for a second edition.
While making evolution understandable for 3, 4, and 5 year olds may sound like mission impossible, perhaps it shouldn’t. Evolution is a simple phenomenon: over time, species change. In a small timespan, changes are subtle yet noticeable; in a massive timespan of millions of years, changes are shockingly dramatic — descendants look and behave nothing like their ancestors. Changes occur when genes mutate during an imperfect reproduction process, and are passed on if the mutation helps an individual creature escape predators, find food or shelter, or attract a mate (natural selection).
Grandmother Fish focuses on how all life on Earth is related, creating a family tree (the study of DNA, by the way, proved once and for all that Charles Darwin and countless other scientists were right. By mapping the genetic code of Earth’s lifeforms, scientists determined — and continue to determine daily — that all life on earth shares DNA, just like within human families). It also emphasizes the long stretch of time needed for the dramatic changes of species.
At the back of Grandmother Fish are science notes to help parents explain evolutionary concepts further. Tweet wrote on his website, during the early stages of the book, why that was important to him and how he went about doing it:
The story of Grandmother Fish is simplified for preschoolers, so the science notes for parents in the back have to be rigorous. Fortunately, I’m getting help from the National Center for Science Education. These people are serious about teaching evolution…
…I spent extra time trying to get the paragraph below just right. This is the paragraph in the back that helps parents talk to their children about the “grab” motion that Grandmother Ape was good at. Talking about “feet” and “hands” gets tricky when you’re talking about primates, humans in particular. Our ancestors’ limbs have been specialized first for swimming, then crawling, and then climbing. Now our hind limbs are specialized for walking while our forelimbs are specialized for grabbing. It might sound minor, but I want to help children understand how special human feet are. Here’s the paragraph…
- Our early primate ancestors’ paws evolved into four “hands” that helped them climb and live in trees. In humans, our rear “hands” have evolved into stable feet specialized for walking and running on the ground. They are a new kind of foot, unlike the feet of any other animal.
The work has been praised by the likes of philosopher Daniel Dennett and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker.
Hopefully it will capture the imagination of children and spark an interest in evolutionary science, clarify certain concepts for adults who understand that evolution isn’t fantasy, or, for adults who don’t understand that fact, provide a straightforward introduction to a discovery with 150 years of scientific research supporting its validity.
While the scientific community is nearly unanimous in support for evolution as fact, some 42% of Americans do not believe in evolution.
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