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Oct 25 2011

Someone tell Santa about good kids’ books

There aren’t enough children’s books telling the story of evolution — every doctor’s office seems to be stocked with some ludicrous children’s book promoting that nonsensical Noah’s ark story, but clean, simple, and true stories about where we came from are scarce. Here’s one, a new children’s book called Bang! How We Came to Be by Michael Rubino. Each page is formatted the same: on the left, a color picture of an organism (or, on the early pages, a cosmological event); on the right, a short paragraph in simple English explaining what it is and when it occurred. The book just marches forward through time, showing us where our species came from. Easy concept, nice execution, and it fills a gap in children’s literature.

It’s short enough to be good bedtime reading, and simple enough for pre-schoolers. The illustrations are thought-provoking enough for older kids, but won’t keep them engaged for too long — they’ll be asking for more books to satisfy their curiosity about these strange creatures that lived billions or hundreds of millions or tens of millions of years ago. Which is exactly what we want to do to our kids, right?

(Also on Sb)

50 comments

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  1. 1
    elaine

    wait! what?

    we want to tell our kids the truth?

  2. 2
    P. Kirby

    What about “Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be” by Daniel Loxton? Reviews said it is pretty good.

  3. 3
    feralboy12

    It’s short enough to be good bedtime reading, and simple enough for pre-schoolers.

    But is it simple enough for creationists?

    Which is exactly what we want to do to our kids, right?

    No. It’s exactly what we want to do for our kids.

  4. 4
    MoonShark

    For ages 9-12 there’s also Laurence Pringle’s new “Billions of Years, Amazing Changes” with a foreward by Jerry Coyne.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/new-childrens-book-on-evolution-fact-checked-and-with-foreword-by-moi/

  5. 5
    Glen Davidson

    Can we get Ken Ham and Bill Dembski to read them and learn?

    Glen Davidson

  6. 6
    PZ Myers

    Loxton’s book is also good, but longer and meatier — more for the older kids. You definitely wouldn’t plunge into it for bedtime reading.

    If you’re willing to read one of the longer Berenstain Bear books to your kids, you can read them Rubino’s book instead. (Oh, man, we had so many of those Bear books when the kids were little).

    Nothing is simple enough for creationists.

  7. 7
    Janice in Toronto

    But, but, but think of the children!

  8. 8
    greame

    Excellent! I was looking for something to get for my nephew. Magic of Reality is a bit too advanced for him right now (Though, I’m loving every page). Thanks!

  9. 9
    jimlynn

    My kids are reading the ‘Horrible Science’ series, after my daughter loved ‘Evolve or Die’. We were watching a science programme, and she started to tell me all about Darwin and his voyage, then launched into an explanation of mendelian genetics. I asked her how come tall plants and short plants don’t produce middle-sized plants, because that would be logical, and she tutted and explained dominant and recessive genes. Even Lamarck came up. All from a frothy, amusing comedy science book.

  10. 10
    Amphiox

    Nothing is simple enough for creationists.

    Anything more than three syllables and 7 letters is beyond them.

  11. 11
    docslacker

    My 5yo likes looking through “The Magic of Reality” even if it’s too advanced for her. But my 9yo is the one who really gets a kick out of it. His review? “Dawkins is really really funny!” And the best bit is that he’s sharing what he learns with his friends.

  12. 12
    Brian

    I would also recommend “Life Story” by Virginia Lee Burton — the woman who wrote Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, among many others. (They recently released a new version with several details updated to reflect current science.) Amazon lists it as ages 9-12 but it’s much better suited for a younger crowd.

  13. 13
    Bill

    I’m always conflicted on this one.

    Yes it’s nonsense, but it’s good nonsense. Just like Little Red Riding Hood and any story about Santa Claus is good nonsense. Because of all the fanciful opportunities in the nonsensical story (not to mention the chance to draw lots of different animals in a big boat) I’ve always liked the story of Noah’s Ark. One of the big things that I really hate about creationists is they’ve taken away the luxury of enjoying this fantasy, because doing any attempt at doing anything creative with this fantasy now feels like abetting the propagandists.

    Having said that I’m ashamed to say I don’t know many good science picture books. The Magic School Bus series is always good, and there’s “Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story” by Lisa Westberg Peters, “Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities” by Kristan Lawson and “The Tree of Life: The Wonders of Evolution” by Ellen Jackson and Judeanne Winter Wiley

  14. 14
    Tom Clark

    Right!

  15. 15
    elaine

    Also, How big is a million? is a wonderful picture book that teaches kids about maths and about powers of 10.

    and it has penguins and polar bears.

  16. 16
    A3Kr0n

    My first thought was “Bang!” could be a violent reference to guns, and/or explosives, and this book will not be allowed in public schools.

  17. 17
    Quidam

    Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites
    Or the Tiffany Aching series: The Wee Free Men, Hatfull of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight
    Or Nation

    None of these books are true but they contain truths about what it means to be growing up human

  18. 18
    Trish

    Sounds like so much fun. I’m writing a series of kids books that mix science with fiction. It’s a great technique for teaching kids in a fun way.

  19. 19
    Clare

    The preschoolers you know are brighter than the ones I know! Frankly the preview on Amazon made it look a bit wordy (and worthy). However, my nephews are mad about dinosaurs and I think some of the dinosaur books they have include stuff on fossils and evolution.

    There is a big gap for good, fun children’s picture books that include genuine scientific concepts though. Probably because most children’s authors aren’t scientists.

  20. 20
    Holms

    I am positive that this book, no matter how good, will be panned by religious and quasi-religious organisations alike on the grounds that the children shouldn’t be preached at or recruited to a side, they’re young and impressionable, you Nasty Atheists just want to sink your claws into etc. etc. etc…

    Oh but here, have a bible.

  21. 21
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Here’s my review of Loxton’s book:

    A pretty decent explanation of evolution–surely better than what many students in the US public education system get in their whole time in primary and secondary school. I just finished reading The Blind Watchmaker, and I recognised many of the points and examples from there in the first part of Loxton’s book (he even drops Dawkins’ name a couple of times for some reason–like instead of saying “biologists” or “scientists” think he says “biologist Richard Dawkins thinks”). One significant omission was the discussion of ring species as evidence of evolution that we can see in real time.

    The second part was a take down of common creationist talking points, presented in a question-answer format. Most of these were rather good, explaining things well in a short space without being either condescending or too abstruse for the target audience. I did, however, think the answers to the final two questions were a bit weak and a little too much on the side of accommodation.

    The first dealt with abiogenesis, and instead of being quite firm that though the details are sketchy, scientists have arrived at several plausible methods whereby living cells could have evolved from self-replicating chemicals. Instead, he stresses the fact that we don’t yet know how it happened, making it sound like we have no real clue at all. At least that’s how it came across. Okay, but not strong enough for my taste.

    The second question was the one about religion. I mean, if he’s going to bring up religion at all he shouldn’t take the “non-overlapping magisteria” tack. It’s rather a cop out. It’s wrong to tell kids that “science as a whole has nothing to say about religion”. It’s an easy thing to say, and might prevent your book being banned by anti-intellectual parents, but it’s just not true. Science has plenty to say about religious claims: in the form of evidence-based history and archaeology, in the form of controlled studies of the efficacy of prayer, miracle claims, in the form of the study of neurology and the human brain to determine whether there’s any evidence for body/spirit dualism, in the study of anthropology and sociology to figure out how religion develops and operates in society and in diverse human cultures…you get my point. Sorry Daniel, “your family, friends and community” are not the “best people to ask about religious questions”. You want a kid to develop critical thinking skills? Don’t tell them to ask questions of people who may have a biased interest in selling their own religion, and say they’re the best option. Tell them to be critical and ask some experts or read some books by experts on those subjects.


    Also, very important to consider when evaluating children’s books:

    Presence of Sexism – A
    Men and women, girls and boys are presented fairly equally. Loxton seemed to make an effort to include a female scientist by talking about paleontologist Mary Anning. So overall, a good job.
    There is a page talking about hominids and the misleading “March of Progress” image which would have been better had it included both a man and woman in each place.

    Presence of Heterosexism – mostly N/A
    As sex was hardly mentioned at all aside from a couple of places where we would have to infer it (e.g. he uses a compromise in tail lengths as an example of balance between selection for speed and selection for sexual attractiveness, but doesn’t actually ever explain sexual selection).

    Presence of Racism – B+
    There’s quite a bit of diversity among questioners, but when humans were the subject that was being discussed, the illustrations were of white people only, and the March of Progress page still made it look a little bit like modern humans in the form of white people (actually men) were the “most evolved” or what have you. Definitely not the impression he was trying to make, but it could come across that way subliminally.

    My rating: 7.5/10

    {Feel free to make that an Amazon affiliate link, PZ. I’d do it, but I don’t know how}

  22. 22
    Rey Fox

    Which is exactly what we want to do to our kids, right?

    I thought we just wanted our kids to shut up.

  23. 23
    Lynn Wilhelm

    I agree with Bill at 14 that Our Family Tree is great. My 8 year old still likes it.

    I’m reading Dawkins’ new book to her now and she loves it. We just finished the chapter on atoms and she can’t wait to hear more.
    I think it might be too much for children under 5, but if an adult condenses it down a bit, it would still be interesting.

    I expect this is a book that she will reread over the years. I probably will too.

  24. 24
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I’ve always liked the story of Noah’s Ark.

    Really?? A petulant god is angry at human beings so he saves one family, but destroys all the other humans (including babies & children), *plus* all of the other animals (cats, dogs, horses, koala bears, and bunny rabbits) for no reason whatsoever, and thinks he can make up for the mass slaughter by producing a rainbow? No thanks.

  25. 25
    RickFlick

    Hear, hear! I call for Dr. Myers to write a followup to his first book. It would be a book for the younger set addressing evolution specifically, in a tone that would appeal to the younger set, but not talk down to them. Am I alone in this? Or do I hear a second!

  26. 26
    Jojo

    I am going to pick this up for my 5.5 year old. He’ll love it. I’ve been making do with my old biology text and some Smithsonian books. This will be much better.

    As far as thinking of the children. The kid is already doomed. He’s wanted to be a paleontologist since he was three and got into a discussion with his preschool teacher about birds evolving from dinosaurs, so I might as well make the best of it.

  27. 27
    DLC

    ” . . . and then, Charles Darwin went to South America, which is a terribly long way from his native land . . . “

  28. 28
    ellyphillips

    Those who have read the magic of reality, what age range would you suggest it is for (for some weird reason I couldn’t find a suggested range on amazon). I was thinking that my bright, curious, knowledge-guzzling 9 1/2 year old nephew might enjoy it, but I don’t want to discourage him with something too difficult for him. Thanks

  29. 29
    William Bell

    I would recommend “Ubiquitous” by Beckie Prange.

  30. 30
    William Bell

    @EllyPhilips: That seems at the very low end of the range but it’s okay, I haven’t read much of it yet.

  31. 31
    Trekkinbob

    This is a good overview of this book. I wish it was around when our kids were tots.

    http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/bang-how-we-came-be

  32. 32
    Akhnaton

    Although it covers a lot more topics than evolution, Bill Bryson’s A Really Short History of Nearly Everything is a good one

  33. 33
    michaelnicholson

    There are some good books in Swedish by a woman called Sarah Sheppard, but they only seem to be available in Swedish or French.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oh-dinosaures-Sarah-Sheppard/dp/2748507371/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319610699&sr=1-10

    The first one is called “Lots of Dinosaurs”, and the second one is “Look out for the meat eaters” (Rough translation). They engage kids interest with dinos living millions of years ago, show the extinction and explain how mammals took over, and how dinosaurs survived to become our birds of today.

    My kids love these books ;) (There is also a Dino 123 and a Dino ABC book).

  34. 34
    Tom Ivar Helbekkmo

    Michael Schmidt-Salomon has some really good children’s books – but I don’t know if they’ve been translated from German into any other languages yet. “Wo bitte geht’s zu Gott?” (“Which way to God, please?”) is about the non-existence of gods (and playfully pokes fun at Christianity, Judaism and Islam), “Die Geschichte vom frechen Hund” (“The story of the naughty dog”) shows why it’s a good idea to be kind to others, and “Susi Neunmalklug erklärt die Evolution” (“Suzy Supersmart explains evolution”) teaches the history of the universe, and of life here on earth.

    -tih

  35. 35
    Reed

    Like their parents, our kids (now teenaged) have been lifelong fans of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Some years ago the Field reorganized their fossil and related collections into a continuous, well organized and presented timeline of the planet’s development that they call “Evolving Planet.” It’s still got lots of the cool fossils and such from earlier days, but it’s much more coherently presented and enhanced by some informative (and entertaining) multimedia.

    By the early elementary school years they were able to talk about Darwin, natural selection, the great mass extinctions and such with enthusiasm and real understanding (kid-level, of course). And now, a decade later, they still like to go back and dig deeper.

    The Field has a website introducing the exhibit:
    http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/evolvingplanet/

    And (of course, it’s a modern museum with the obligatory Gift Shop at the end of the path), there’s an accompanying book:
    Evolving Planet: Four Billion Years of Life by Erica Kelly, Richard Kissel & al.

    It’s a nice overview of the subject, browsable by younger kids, but with a lot of useful info for older ones. Amazon.com gives the age range as 8-12. You can get it online from the Field, too.

  36. 36
    StevoR

    Well if you want books that will excite kids about evolution dinosaurs are usually a good bet. They certainly were for me as a boy. This one :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/10/24/ankylosaur-attack/

    was recommended on the Bad Astronomy blog lately & may be worth considering.

  37. 37
    StevoR

    Isaac Asimov wrote a great series for young kids on the solar system and universe too but I’m afraid they’re probably out of print by now.

  38. 38
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    LeCointre’s and Guyader’s Tree of Life is both interesting and useful for children and adults alike.

    I’m reading Watership Down to my daughter right now. I’m not sure that it is working out. She has begun to pray to Frith and El-ahrairah.

  39. 39
    Robert Oerter

    For younger kids, The Story of Everything is a great pop-up book. My 4-yr-old loves it. Link:
    http://www.amazon.com/Story-Everything-until-Pop-up-Spreads/dp/B001O0D0NE/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319634668&sr=1-6

  40. 40
    Serena

    I am a children’s librarian. When I look at the non-fiction shelves in my library, I see lots of science books. There’s tons about dinosaurs, early mammals, hominid evolution, Darwin, astronomy, ecology, etc. More is always welcome, of course, but I don’t sense that there is a gaping hole there (maybe it’s because we’re in Canada; Loxton’s book was published here, after all).

    But there certainly is a big gap in the religion section. We have zero books for kids about atheism, secularism, humanism, or agnosticism. When you look in the 133s (where you find psychics, bigfoot, UFOs, etc.) there may be one or two books written from a skeptical viewpoint, but most are accepting of paranormal phenomenon as being real.

    So, my conclusion is that Daniel Loxton needs to write more books from a skeptical viewpoint, following the course of Junior Skeptic, and that someone out there needs to write a kids book to fit in the world religion section about people like us. Not a preachy, you-should-be-an-atheist-because book, but a book explaining what it is, why people choose it, and demonstrating that we are not bad people. Too much to ask?

    Also, Bryson’s book was published in a kids’ version. http://www.amazon.ca/Really-Short-History-Nearly-Everything/dp/0385666861

  41. 41
    Special One

    I like to get ‘em started on the meaty controversial stuff young.

    Plus, nothing puts a kid to sleep faster than a chapter or two from The Origin Of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

    Seriously though, my nephew loves The Dinosaur Heresies.

    Be champions!

  42. 42
    Meghan Quinn

    Prometheus Books is proud to be publishing Bang! How We Came to Be. We are so glad you liked the book, PZ.

    @Serena – Prometheus Books has a good number of books about skepticism, humanism and atheism for kids. Maybe you’d be interested in some of these!

    Some of our kids’ humanism titles include:
    Humanism, What’s That?
    A Solstice Tree for Jenny
    What About Gods?

    Our kids’ skeptical, critical thinking books include:
    Sasquatches from Outer Space
    Flat Earth? Round Earth?
    How Do you Know it’s True?
    Maybe Yes, Maybe No
    Wonder-Workers!
    The Magic Detectives
    Alexander Fox and the Amazing Mind Reader

    We also published The Tree of Life: The Wonders of Evolution (mentioned above by Bill).

    More info on all these books is available at prometheusbooks.com.

    I hope that’s helpful!

    Meghan Quinn, Publicist at Prometheus Books

  43. 43
    Jules

    I just ran into a similar issue recently. My 18-month-old charge is very bright, and she loves books. But there are no informational dinosaur picture books, such as the simple toddler books that list cow, dog, chicken, crow, lizard, etc. I finally found one that I figured she couldn’t destroy in 2 seconds, but there was literally only one. I know she’s young and the names are hard, but she’s been able to identify all domesticated animals (or at least popular western ones) and major sea life for 2 months already.

    I want dinosaurs, dammit.

  44. 44
    Mikey

    Ordered one for my seven-year-old. He’s a bright kid and already developing an interest in mathematics and science. I’m sure he will enjoy reading this book.

  45. 45
    wm

    How disappointing. Our library doesn’t have any of the books mentioned in the above posts that seem to be anywhere near the right level for my 6 year old (though it does have some books on evolution). It does have a mess of copies of the “Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution” video series, however. Must be popular.

  46. 46
    krippendorf

    My son’s favorite bedtime story for a while (age 5-ish) was The Sandwalk Adventures, by Jay Hosler. Cartoon? Check. Ninjas? Check. Talking follicle mites? Check. Follicle mite’s butts? Ummm…

  47. 47
    Heather Dalgleish

    I have ordered this book for my older nephew – although I would say that the format sounds quite similar to ‘Earth Story’ by Eric Maddern, which I bought him a while back, which is also good and very well written with younger kids in mind:

    http://www.amazon.com/Earth-Story-Eric-Maddern/dp/1845071859/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319753176&sr=1-1

    And I’d agree with the other person who commented that ‘The Story of Everything’ by Neal Layton is really good:

    http://www.amazon.com/Story-Everything-until-Pop-up-Spreads/dp/B001O0D0NE/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1319753339&sr=1-1

    And the Usborne ‘See Inside’ series is also very good:

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=usborne+see+inside&sprefix=usborne+see+

    Anyone got any other good ideas for me to go mad on Amazon again for my nephew’s Christmas? :-B

  48. 48
    Jerry Stickle

    listed below are several goods to web sites which i hook up to seeing that all of us think they will be worth visiting.

  49. 49
    Caroline

    lol, you have hell lot of spam here.

  50. 50
    rubinogallery

    PZ, Thank you, very much. You must reach a lot of people – the book’s ranking on Amazon shot way up immediately following your review. I’m very glad that you enjoyed “Bang! How We Came To Be”.

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