BOOK REVIEW: Grandmother Fish: a child’s first book of Evolution

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My kids reading Grandmother Fish while a young Darwin (portrait by natural history artist Diana Sudyka) looks on.

UPDATE (1/13/16): Grandmother Fish has been picked up by a major publisher, and the second edition will be available in Fall 2016. You can pre-order it now on Amazon!

Most kid’s books about evolution are geared toward upper elementary ages and above. Relating the concept of the inter-relatedness of life on earth to even younger children can be a difficult task. Millions of years, common descent, phylogenetics – these are not necessarily ideas that a four-year-old can grasp. A new book seeks to teach preschool age kids about evolution, and succeeds at distilling some big ideas into an approachable and easy-to-understand story.

Grandmother Fish: a child’s first book of Evolution (website), by Jonathan Tweet and charmingly illustrated by Karen Lewis, likens thinking of evolutionary history as learning about one’s familial ancestors. This is a concept that preschool age kids can possibly understand (when my son was four-and-a-half, he said to me upon thinking about how we have evolved from fish: “I eat fish, but I don’t eat my grandpas”). Children will meet the book’s namesake, Grandmother Fish, but also, getting closer and closer to the present, Grandmother Reptile, Grandmother Mammal, Grandmother Ape, and Grandmother Human. Deep time is shown as orders of “a long time ago” rather than millions of years. And while the Grandmothers are the focus, the images throughout show cousins, too – lineages of animals that descended from our shared ancestor. To make the book more fun for little ones, each Grandmother has physical or behavioral traits that readers can mimic – and are asked to. Grandmother Fish wiggles and chomps while Grandmother Mammal squeaks and cuddles. These traits aren’t simply random actions – they make sense at those evolutionary stages.

Following the story is a kid-friendly evolutionary family tree (showing where all the Grandmothers fit in the bigger picture of life), a note to parents and other readers, some advice on explaining evolution concepts, more detail about each Grandmother and their specific traits, and a list of common misconceptions about evolution.

Grandmother Fish is fun, visually appealing, and above all, scientifically accurate. And here’s a good sign that Grandmother Fish is a great tool for educating young minds: the National Center for Science Education loves it* and the creationist organization Answers in Genesis hates it.** With the recent news that more and more younger people are accepting evolution, it’s even more encouraging to see great materials for evolution education.

Grandmother Fish: a child’s first book of Evolution (website) started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, and was successfully funded. While the book was made available recently, all copies the author sent to Amazon have sold out as well as those through his website (thanks to a positive review on an NPR blog that was shared on their Facebook page). He plans to put out a second edition, and interested folks can sign up to be updated about that progress – in fact, you can pre-order a copy here. Until then a PDF of the book can be downloaded!

* Stephanie Keep of the NCSE wrote that it is “heads and shoulders above any evolution book for children that I’ve ever seen.”

** Georgia Purdom of AiG calls the book deceptive and suggests that parents request their libraries purchase a creationist book for kids that states dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time.

3 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Grandmother Fish: a child’s first book of Evolution

  1. Pingback: Children’s evolution book Grandmother Fish available again | The Dispersal of Darwin

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