Evolution & the Curious Child

 

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It was a simple question about being distant kin to the monkeys. The kind of question, like “Why is the sky blue?” “Where do stars go in the morning?” that any curious third grader might ask. His teacher, however, was irate. “Ridiculous,” she said. “Don’t bother me with impertinent questions.”

This kind of a rebuke did not sit well with the grandson of Peter Klopfer.

Klopfer is a distinguished Duke University biology professor, author of more than 20 books and an expert in animal behavior and evoluntionary biology. His daughter Erika Honore, the questioner’s mother, is a retired veterinary scientist with multiple degrees and the author of A Concise Survey of Animal Behavior. She and her doctor husband know a thing or two about kinship with monkeys, and had – along with his grandfather – passed along enough anthropological truth to the third grader that his teacher’s rebuke had the opposite effect: now he wanted to know the story of evolution.

“Erika and I started looking for an age-appropriate book on evolution,” Klopfer says, “and it was nowhere to be found. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist, but we couldn’t find a good book for six-to-ten-year-olds anywhere. So we decided to write our own.

Thus evolved Darwin and the First Grandfather, a small, colorfully illustrated (by Gretchen Morrissey) book of how humankind began.darwin-1

Darwin’s narrator, asked the where-did-we-come-from question by her own 8-year-old replies that she’ll tell him two stories. She tells first the biblical creation story – which would presumably please the creators of Texas textbooks (and which many if not most Christians see for what it is: a story.) Then she launches into another story, a tale of a boy names Charles and the discoveries he makes as he follows his own curiosity. It is a delightfully readable account of  creation from one perspective and evolution from the perspective of scientific truth.

Scientific publishers who had brought out Klopfer’s scholarly books were less than enthusiastic about undertaking a children’s book. The firm that had published his earlier children’s book had subsequently gone out of business, and he lacked a good connection to children’s book publishers. One atheist publisher was delighted with the idea, but eventually said he could find no way to market such a thing. “So we just put it aside,” Klopfer says now, “and it sat in a file cabinet for years.”darwin-4

Happily for children everywhere, the father-daughter duo recently dug the manuscript out again and decided to self-publish. Klopfer’s neighbor, a textile design artist, agreed to do the illustrations, and Darwin and the First Grandfather was born.

That third grade questioner? He did learn the scientifically accurate story of evolution, which today’s third graders can learn with the help of his mother’s and grandfather’s book. Currently he is a graduate student in computer science at Yale University.

 

Re eGadgets: will eReaders replace books?

In all the current talk about new eGadgets and their impact, the eBook has pretty much escaped condemnation — except for the dwindling population still committed to the printed page. And some of us hold-outs are beginning to waver.

Two old friends, Peter and Martha Klopfer, arrived from North Carolina yesterday with 60 or 70 books to get them through 10 days on the west coast. Peter, who is a Duke Professor Emeritus of biology,  and Martha, who is a thinker, runner, endurance rider and generally literate person, are prone to go off into the jungles of Madagascar or trekking in the Jordanian desert or climbing Machu Pichu. On these sorts of trips 30 or 40 books in their old-fashioned form are difficult to manage.

Enter the justifiable eReader.

There are by now enough eReaders to fill an old-fashioned 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of paper in 10-point Times Roman type. There’s the pioneering Kindle and the Kobo and the Nook and the Sony and of course the loudly heralded iPad, and there are probably a dozen others poised to debut.

But would you cuddle up with an eReader, asks Cynthia Ramnarace in an AARP Magazine blog?

Absorbing the written word isn’t what it once was. Whether you’re a new convert to e-reading or a die-hard fan of bound pages, you can’t ignore the evolution of reading. News reported by websites, e-mail and text messages is strangling printed newspapers. E-mail has replaced handwritten notes. And entire books can now be read on hand-held computers with a mere 6-inch screen.

The issue Ramnarace and others are debating is all about the reading experience. Can you be transported to another realm, as has always been true with paperbacks devoured on secluded beaches or under old trees in back yards — or under the covers with a flashlight for that matter, by a bunch of words on an eScreen? Maybe. But hard core print-book people think not.

“When books become computerized, you lose that contact with the maker,” says Cindy Bowden, director of the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “When you pick up a book, you notice the feel, the touch, the way the ink bleeds into the paper.”

If anybody thinks the paperback or its big brother hard cover will ultimately defeat the eBook onslaught, however, it is probably wise to think again. The copies you can buy in a bookstore that can’t also be bought in an eForm are getting fewer and farther between every day.

Not all books are available as e-books, but many are. Of the two industry leaders, Kindle boasts a library of 285,000 books, most for $9.99 each. The Sony Reader provides free access to 500,000 books in the public domain, including classics like Jane Austen and William Shakespeare; the Kama Sutra and the Bible; and contemporary works like Sue Grafton and Dennis Lahane, even “The DaVinci Code.” Another 100,000 are available for purchase from the Sony eBook Store.

Over time, e-readers could prove more economical than traditional books. For the price of buying 26 new hardcover books, one could also purchase the same number of e-books, plus the Kindle itself. And the devices allow readers to sample the first chapter of any book for free before purchase. Digitizing words could help elevate the medium, and in turn, boost a struggling publishing industry.

Peter and Martha are en route to the 40th annual Ride & Tie championship in Trout Lake, WA, where there is great beauty but not library and where they will celebrate their 55th anniversary in a manner somewhat more strenuous than most post-50th observances. After the race, there will be eReading.

Can You Love an Electronic Reader as Much as a Book? The Debate Is On – AARP Bulletin Today.