evolution-of-janeHave 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…”

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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