Jun 09 2014

Get ‘em young

I got to meet someone in Seattle who is working on an evolution book for four year olds — this is a great idea, because I remember shopping for kids’ books and their usual idea for introducing zoology was something about Noah’s Ark. But the real story is so much more interesting!

Rough sketches of the book, Grandmother Fish, are available online; those aren’t the final drawings, and the work will be done by KE Lewis, once funding is obtained. You can see the challenges of getting a sophisticated scientific concept across to very young children, but I think the current story does the job very well.


There will be a kickstarter later this week to get the project off the ground.


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  1. 1
    Dick the Damned

    This is very good, as it stands. I’ll try it out on my six-year old grandson.

    How much opposition will it get from the god-botherers? Should we give copies to Ken Ham (& his ilk)? Could he understand it? When it comes to his inevitable question, “was the author there?”, i think the answer is that this author is closer than the authors of the bible, thanks to his access to modern science.

    Let’s back this book.

  2. 2
    Hakan Koseoglu

    This sounds interesting. These things do have an impression. When I was a young lad, I had a book which started from an anthropomorphic solar system and ended up in humans evolving from an ape ancestor, going through all of the stages of the evolution (albeit in a linear manner, from fish to dinosaurs to mamals. It had fun drawings and an easy going style and that was that, I wouldn’t believe any religious text after reading this book, it just made much more sense. No wonder by the time I was 10, I was already telling my school teachers there was no god and getting a hard time about it. That was early 80s, I’m sure the book had originated earlier, if only I could remember the name & the writer.

  3. 3
    David Marjanović

    Nooooo, not yet another ripoff of the same old Labidosaurus sketch used as the first amniote! Labidosaurus isn’t anyone’s grandmother, it’s a captorhinid, and the captorhinids are all extinct; also, it’s easily 50 million years younger than the first amniote.

    Other than that it’s awesome! :-)

    Could [Ken Ham] understand it?


  4. 4
    Scr... Archivist

    It isn’t clear from the sketches if Grandmother Human looks African. Shouldn’t she?

  5. 5

    During a family event I got into a discussion with a spouse of a distant relative. We started to have an interesting conversation about science, till he revealed to me he was an ID creationist and was fond of Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and that he was a devout Catholic. I was taken a back and I briefly explained to him that the book was utter bunk and a few reasons why and suggested he read more in the little time I had. It occurred to me again that we live in a sea of vast ignorance of science that we are not fully aware of the extent of as when we encounter it in other people in conversations. I was stunned that people can go through life not just being utterly misinformed about evolution but basic biology itself. So every and all forms of education especially for children are a plus.

  6. 6


    This looks great. Could you provide a link later in the week when the Kickstarter funding starts? I’d like to contribute but know that I’m going to forget all about this within the next 5 minutes. So, a reminder would be nice.

  7. 7
    Jonathan Tweet

    Hi PZ,

    It was a pleasure meeting you last Thursday, and thanks for the plug! The idea of evolution for preschoolers seems to be striking a chord. And thanks for fielding so many questions after your talk. Very interesting.

    -Jonathan Tweet
    Twitter: @Grandmotherfish

  8. 8
    Jonathan Tweet

    Happy to see comments about my book!

    Dick, I hope we get a ton of opposition from Ken Ham.

    Hakan, do you happen to remember the name of that book? I’ve taken up a keen interest in evolution books for children.

    David, my artist hasn’t used Labidosaurus for the a reference, so any resemblance is coincidental. Cute critter, though.

    Scr, Grandmother Human is going to look African. It’s touchy because we don’t want to give the impression that Africans are more primitive than non-Africans, but it would be irresponsible to whitewash her. Adam and Eve can be white, but not Grandmother Human.

    Mikeyb, I’d love for evolution to be just one more thing that kids learn about their world as they grow up. I’d especially love to help make that happen.

    chimera, if you follow Grandmother Fish on Twitter (@Grandmotherfish), Facebook, or Google+, you’ll get reminders and more. The Kickstarter starts June 16th. Is the country ready for a preschoolers’ book on evolution? I’m banking on it, but it’s all up to the backers.

  9. 9

    Jonthan @7 – I have a baby, and think I’ll need one of these soon. Looking forward to your kickstarter. Basically: please take my money any make it happen.

  10. 10

    Oh goodness please take my money

  11. 11

    It almost makes me wish I still had a four-year-old. Not quite, but almost.
    I rather like the look of the rough sketches. Look at the baby mammal on the left, with its cute little open mouth!

  12. 12
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden


    I like the book. However, as hopefully constructive criticism, I noticed that one of the myths you are trying to counter is the OneSpecialAncestor™ myth.

    Does that not imply that you should have an illustration of a number of grandmothers of each ancestor species selected? “Fish” is already plural, so the name of the book wouldn’t need to change. Maybe a few pages at the beginning like:

    your grandmother had 2 grandmothers, and her grandmothers each had two grandmothers of their own. Over a long, long time, one child can have LOTS of grandmothers.

    This also allows the concept of generations to creep in: the child has lots of grandmothers of any given generation, but even more grandmothers across multiple generations. It also sets up grand mother fish living longx5 ago with the longx2 in the previous page set. Framing it in terms of grandmothers keeps the theme of the book and also (for now) sidesteps the issue of assisted fertility in queer families.

    Then in the illustrations for the jawed fish, there can be an illustration of multiple jawed fish.

    It also makes room for a racially diverse set of grandmothers when we get to humans.

    In general, I love the book and the tools it uses to get across the basics of taxonomy and evolution. I hope that comes across.

  13. 13

    This is fantastic! I’ve got the evolution timeline poster, and the book ‘Evolution, how we and all living things came to be’, and the book ‘Our family tree’, but this one is perfect for the very young. Simple, straightforward, and cute.
    Why does my computer not have a spot I can cram money into?

  14. 14
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @Jonathan Tweet:

    Scr, Grandmother Human is going to look African. It’s touchy because we don’t want to give the impression that Africans are more primitive than non-Africans, but it would be irresponsible to whitewash her. Adam and Eve can be white, but not Grandmother Human.

    Phew! I don’t know why I didn’t read this comment before making mine – I think I got distracted by kids’ needs then thought I was done or something – but that takes away my concern around human racial diversity. I would rather diversity than whitewashing, but I’d much rather honest accuracy in the portrayal.

    Still, I think the multiple grandmothers thing is worth a look.

  15. 15
    Mike Lumish

    Ironic that you have hit upon the only strategy for the long term survival of Fundamentalist Atheism: fill the minds of young children before they have matured enough to defend themselves against your nonsense. Fortunately the decent people of the world are on to your lies, and the General Secretary of NAMBLA will be elected dog catcher long before one of you lot will be selected.

    [Bye, Mike. --pzm]

  16. 16
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Are you in love with your own ignorance?
    You need to learn what “fundamentalist” and “atheism” means. Perhaps then you’ll understand how mindnumbingly insipid your {hit n run without engaging} comments are.

    fill the minds of young children before they have matured enough to defend themselves against your nonsense.

    What nonsense?
    Many of us would like children not to be indoctrinated into any religion. Let *them* decided for themselves when they’re adults which-if any-religion they want to follow. Until they’re adults, lets teach them about the world around us which we’ve come to understand through science.

    I despise the idea of scaring children with threats of hell.
    I despise the idea of children being taught that their gender or sexuality is going to send them to hell.
    I dislike the idea of teaching children-from a very young age-that a supposedly all powerful entity exists, when there’s no evidence whatsoever that such a being exists.
    I dislike the idea of teaching kids to take claims about the nature of reality on “faith”. Faith is not a virtue. Faith is nothing more than believing in things without evidence. That’s not virtuous. That doesn’t better humanity in any way. It’s a hindrance.
    I dislike the idea of children being taught that “sin” exists, or that jesus was tortured and killed in an act of “compassion” to save all of humanity.

    I’ve no use for religious belief of any kind. As Hitchens said, “religion poisons everything”, and that is borne out time and time again.

  17. 17
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    @Tony!, #16:

    Oh, it’s worse than that. Mike Lumish learned the definition of ironic from Alanis Morissette herself!

  18. 18
    Al Dente

    Mike Lumish @15

    The only people who talk about NAMBLA are fundamentalist Christians.

  19. 19
    chigau (違う)

    I don’t get god-botherers like #15 Mike Lumish.
    I mean God killed Himself for their sins and they won’t do more than drop a drive-by turd for God.

  20. 20

    Strange. Brainwashing kids with religious nonsense and misinformation is probably aok by apologists like Mike above, yet when atheists do the same, but with actual facts and knowledge about reality, then we are suddenly fundamentalists.

  21. 21
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    But zenlike! You **fundamentally** reject self-contradictory, frequently nonsensical, biblical mythologies as a basis for sound long-term prioritization of activities and expenditures, not to mention as a factual description of the world. Why *shouldn’t* you be called a fundamentalist?

  22. 22

    Two books I vividly remember from my childhood — though not, alas, to the extent of remembering their titles, and I hadn’t yet learned to care about authors at that age — one about ants and bees, and the other on the evolution of horses. They were children’s books, but they were real science books. I’d love to find them again, to show to my nephew.

    I was fortunate to learn the Noah story only as a myth, even though I was raised Catholic.

  23. 23

    Speaking of babies squeaking, here’s something not everyone will have heard – the sound of a litter of one day old rats as their mum feeds them.


  24. 24
    Tony! The Queer Shoop


    I was fortunate to learn the Noah story only as a myth, even though I was raised Catholic.

    I wasn’t raised in a religious household, so I don’t know how kids in catholic homes are raised. I’m surprised to know you weren’t taught the story of Noah as fact.

  25. 25
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I’m surprised to know you weren’t taught the story of Noah as fact.

    Unlike the Protestant fundies, the Catholics and liberal Protestant groups look on tales like the flud as allegorical. Since there is no evidence for those tales being true. Some learned their lesson when the geocentric universe was demolished by science.

  26. 26
    Al Dente

    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop! @24

    Very few Catholics are Biblical literalists. When I was going to Catholic schools I was taught that Genesis was myth, none of those stories were true, and various morals were to be taken from the stories. My high school biology teacher taught us evolution and, when someone queried it, said that evolution was the basis for biology.

  27. 27
    chigau (違う)

    I was raised Catholic and was never taught Biblical Literalism.
    Especially about the Old Testament.
    And no one ever said that Jesus’s parables were narrations of actual events.

  28. 28
    Mirri Maaz Durr

    (first time poster, long time lurker – procrastinating on a deadline so I’m writing this instead!)

    Another ex-Catholic chiming in – Catholics are certainly not bible literalists. Even though I’m atheist I still get bugged sometimes when Catholics get lumped in with anti-science fundies. We were specifically taught Genesis in particular and lots of other parts of the Old Testament were allegorical. We did a whole unit learning about archaeology and about how people are looking for clues to explain where some stories come from – IE an ancient flood in Mesopotamia giving way to the flood in both the OT and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    We learned that possible explanations for the flight out of Egypt stories were that a disease in cattle possibly killed a large number of the most vulnerable Egyptians – children. Slaves didn’t eat meat so they didn’t get sick or die. And the Red Sea was possibly a mistranslation from a word for a swamp, which the slaves could get through on foot, but in which Egyptian chariots got stuck.

    We weren’t taught that those alternatives were actually what happened, just that there’s probably scientific explanations for where these stories came from, rather than them happening exactly as what’s in the bible now. The details were kind of immaterial when it comes down to your faith.

    One story that still resonates with me as an atheist is the “miracle” of the loaves and fishes. At least the way my mother explained it – Jesus didn’t magically duplicate the loaves and fishes. By asking that everybody share, he prompted the people to reach into their pockets and share what they had brought for themselves – and people realized that as long as they weren’t greedy, there was another to go around. Like a Stone Soup situation. Jesus’ power wasn’t in magically making more loaves of bread, it was in getting people to realize it was nicer to share what they had instead of hoarding it for themselves.

  29. 29

    We learned that possible explanations for the flight out of Egypt stories

    they didn’t tell you that the actual data supports that the Exodus never happened though, did they.

    well, at least they gave you the idea that it’s worth questioning things. That’s really more than most Catholic schools do.

    The details were kind of immaterial when it comes down to your faith.

    just so. Which of course, is why “faith” is utterly useless as anything other than an ingroup buzzword.

    At least the way my mother explained it

    I like the way your mom explained it. Not supported by any text, but still a good rationalization for a fictional event, and a much better lesson.

  30. 30
    Monika Schwarzbach

    Oooooh wonderful book!
    I love the idea to help the parents with the explaination of the concepts of evolution at the end of the book. It’s not easy to find the right simple words without getting it wrong.
    Grandmother Human could be more a mixture of african, caucasian, asian features, she’s everyones granny after all.

  31. 31
    Jonathan Tweet

    Crip Dyke, it sure is a challenge to simplify the story of evolution enough that it appeals to a child. You’ve given me something to think about, so thanks. I’d love to get your comments on the science material in the back of the book, too.

    Mike the creationist, look like PZ has blocked you, but at least I’m heartened to know that my book threatens creationists. I hope a lot more creationists find out about it and kick up a fuss.

    Optimal Cynic, thanks for the clip! That page used to be about Grandmother Mammal squeaking when she was scared, but children didn’t like that. The new page is much better.

    Re: Catholicism. I used to think that Catholics were hidebound, until I did some actual research. They want to be everybody’s church, so they have to be as broad-minded as they can manage.

  32. 32
    Jonathan Tweet

    Thanks again for the plug, PZ. We launched on Monday and, with your help and the help of a couple other big names, we funded on Wednesday, and we’re still climbing. And it was a pleasure meeting you in Seattle.

    And thanks to the rest of you for your interest. I said I would remind people when the Kickstarter started, but it’s been hectic. The book has been updated with some new color art. The Kickstarter page is here. Please check it out and consider supporting us: http://bit.ly/gf-ks


  33. 33
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Jonathan Tweet:
    I don’t have kids (and it’s not likely I ever will), but I value education based on empirical knowledge, so thanks for this book. I imagine many parents will appreciate being able to give this to their kids.

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