Have Darwin’s birthday celebrations piqued your interest in natural selection and evolution? One painless way to learn about a complex subject is to explore it through fiction. A funny, easy-to-read example is The Evolution of Jane by Cathleen Schine. While on an ecological tour of the Galapagos Islands, Jane begins to apply Darwin’s principles to her own relationships – in particular, the unexplained break with her childhood friend, who(coincidentally!) is leading the tour.
Barbara Kingsolver calls the book a “beautifully descriptive travelogue of the Galapagos, loaded with mini-lectures on natural history, evolutinary theory and Darwiniana, wrapped around a rollicking family saga tinged with hints of sexual intrigue….My hat is off to any writer who can render such complex ideas comprehensibly in English…”
How does one simplify the subject of evolution? One solution — read some children’s books on the subject. Well, at least that’s what I did. After quickly purveying Darwin’s original On the Origin of the Species, it was pretty obvious that I wouldn’t be finishing it anytime soon, so I did the next best thing. I checked out what we had in the juvenile section, and lo and behold, I could actually understand them! I also garnered some fascinating tidbits about this legendary scientist. For instance, did you know that Darwin . . .
- was a poor-to-mediocre student who would rather be out hunting than studying the classics? (Wouldn’t most kids?)
- dropped out of medical school as he couldn’t stand to watch surgery being performed on children without anesthetic? (That would do me in, too.)
- spent five years on a voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle? (Though plagued with terrible seasickness, he collected countless new specimens and fossils.)
- spent eight years just studying barnacles?
- was an ardent abolitionist?
- preferred the term “transmutation through natural selection” over “evolution”?
- suffered from stage fright so severe he couldn’t publicly defend his ideas?
If you’re interested in finding out more about Darwin, check out these titles:
Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas by Kristan Lawson
Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution (a graphic novel!) by Heather Adamson
The Tree of Life: a Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist and Thinker by Peter Sis