Moth

Moth
Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Interestingly this is the second picture book introducing adaptation and natural selection to children I’ve seen in the past few weeks – could a new trend be starting. I was first taught about these scientific ideas with reference to the Peppered Moth, the particular example used in this story, when doing A-level zoology donkeys ages ago, and now they’re part of the KS2 science curriculum – quite a thought.

‘This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope.’ So says science writer, Isabel Thomas in the opening lines of her narrative, a narrative that seamlessly interweaves both science and social history.

In the nineteenth century almost all Peppered Moths had light grey patterned wings that blended with the tree trunks and branches it frequented.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution also came air pollution blackening buildings, monuments and trees alike.

In this new environment, the light-coloured moths became easy to spot and were gobbled up by birds.
Darker forms of the insect were less conspicuous and more likely to escape predation and to breed whilst the lighter form became extremely scarce.

With the advent of the Clean Air Acts in the mid-twentieth century air pollution from smoke and soot was greatly reduced, trees and buildings were no longer stained. Now the dark moths were more conspicuous and less likely to breed successfully, though both forms of the moth can still be found.

All this, Isabel Thomas recounts in her dramatic, sometimes lyrical text that ends with hope. A hope which, as we hear in the final explanatory pages, might lead to other living things being able to adapt to the changes, including climate change, that we humans inflict upon our planet.

Daniel Egnéus’ illustrations are as lyrical as the text, embodying at once arresting beauty and veritas, and instilling a sense of awe and wonder. It’s rare to see such an eloquent science-focused book that also embraces the arts side of the curriculum.

How the Borks Became

How the Borks Became
Jonathan Emmett and Elys Dolan
Otter-Barry Books

Who better to introduce the concept of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection to primary age children than author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Elys Dolan?

So let’s take a journey to a distant planet, quite similar to earth, named Charleebob, home to a species going by the name of Borks.

When we arrive a group of llama-like Bork mothers has just given birth to a large brood of Borklings, long-necked, shaggy, yellow creatures, each one slightly different.

They didn’t always look that way though: long, long ago their appearance was altogether different: their fur was short, smooth and blue and their necks short and thick, at least that’s how most of them were. A few exceptional ones had shaggier fur – not ideal for hot weather but when the chilly time arrived later in the year, they were the ones that survived.

Over the next couple of generations, more changes took place; first instead of all the offspring having blue fur a few were bright yellow.

This meant that the latter blended in with their surroundings so that when a Ravenous Snarfle was on the lookout for its lunchtime feed, the blues were hastily consumed

leaving the yellow-furred few to thrive and breed the next Borkling batch – all yellow, the majority with short necks, a few with long skinny ones.
You can guess which ones survived the drought that year, saved by their ability to feed on the thick leaves high up in the Ju-Ju-Bong trees. And that’s it – evolution in just four generations of Borks.

Clearly changes don’t happen that fast, but artistic licence on behalf of the book’s creators demonstrates how three key environmental factors – climate, predation and food availability brought about evolutionary changes with only the fittest surviving by natural selection.

The combination of Emmett’s brilliant, quirky rhyming narrative and Elys Dolan’s wonderfully witty, whimsical illustrations is an enormously enjoyable amalgam of science and storytelling, which offers a perfect starting point for the KS2 evolution topic.

(At the end of the book it’s explained that the Borks’ evolution story is a hugely speeded up account of what really happens: evolution happens at a much, much slower rate and the changes are smaller and more gradual so that an earth animal could take millions of years to change.) While you’re looking at the back matter, do check out the quirky end papers.

Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure

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Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure
Jennifer Thermes
Abrams
In this introduction to the work of Charles Darwin, the author focuses on his five-year long voyage aboard HMS Beagle, the ship on which he served as naturalist. Before that though we’re given brief details of his earlier life leading up to his departure on the ship whose mission was making maps of South America.
The young man was absolutely fascinated by the sights and sounds around. He kept a journal, writing in it detailed daily observations of what he saw and heard –‘big observations about the tiniest of creatures’ we’re told.

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So delighted by the wild life was he that Charles would often choose to remain on land while the Beagle sailed up and down the coast. This delight is portrayed in Thermes’ detailed watercolour portraits of the young man at work, work that set his imagination on fire and would later contribute to his ideas and writings on evolution. Her narrative fills in other details, particularly that of Darwin’s observations on individual creatures: ‘He saw a rare bird called a rhea that used its wings to steer as it ran, but could not fly’, and later in Tierra de Fuego, on the interconnectedness of all wild-life, indeed all of nature itself.

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The stop on the volcanic Galápagos Islands particularly amazed Charles with its 200 pound tortoises big enough to ride on, but most notably the different kinds of finches he came across.

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In addition to a detailed cross-section of the departing Beagle, there are large, colourful maps charting the exciting voyage for readers to enjoy …

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Further information is given about Darwin’s life and work, and other related facts in the two final spreads.
All in all this does a very good job of capturing the excitement not only of the voyage, but of the wonders of nature as a whole. Definitely one for the primary school bookshelves and for individuals interested in wildlife in general.