Friday, 25 November 2011

Bang: Science Books for the Preschooler

Getting to the point where I could no longer bear reading Monkey Truck to my son again I embarked on buying him some new books. I think we did well, especially in the originality department: The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man is a great superhero book for kids (I thoroughly enjoyed it myself!); and the Mad Magazine based Spy vs. Spy allows my four year old to read a book by himself for the first time ever. At least on paper, because it is surprising how much one needs to bring with them into the comics reading experience in order to be able to understand it, even if that particular comics does not have any text to read.
Of the books I bought my son, the ones that interested me the most are the science books. Yes, one can put one’s hand on science books that would make a four year old happy! The first example is Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton, a dinosaur book that aims to describe dino action in a manner as close to what science predicts as possible. At first our four year old was intimidated by the t-rex coming in to eat the goodies, but once he realized there’s a happy ending he was alright (note I am working under the assumption it’s OK for me to provide bloopers on children’s books in this forum).
The second example is a proper non-fiction popular science book for kids: Bang! How We Came to Be by Michael Rubino attempts to pull the same trick that Richard Dawkins pulled in his award winning Ancestor’s Tale. It does it in reverse order to Dawkins’, and it does it with children in mind: it starts with the Big Bang and progresses through the evolution of the universe to the evolution of life on earth, up to the point it gets to us humans. It is quite detailed; I would put my money on 98% of the world's population not knowing half the things the book says, so you can argue this one is a kids’ science book that parents can learn from just the same. It features too many words I had a problem with myself, most notably the names of various species; the language, too, is probably too articulate for the book’s target audience (unlike Dawkins, who pulled things off extremely well on his The Magic of Reality). Complaints aside, Bang! is a great book and at least our four year enjoys it thoroughly.
The idea of putting the information in Bang! in the hands and brains of my four year old is interesting. I doubt he is able to digest the full meaning of the evolutionary story (can I?), but he does seem to be able grasp the idea that all life upon this earth is related even if his focus is mostly on the more exotic life forms described by the book. Most interesting is the fact it does not seem to bother him at all that us humans have evolved from ancestors that were apes, and before that ancestors that looked like various shrews, fish, amoebas etc. Unburdened by the need to feel special regard for humans, it doesn’t take any effort at all to make him happily accept evolution as fact.
This unquestionable acceptance begs the question of whether me supplying my child with popular science books on evolution is any different to another parent supplying their child with books about, say, the Noah’s Ark myth and passing them on as the truth. Aren’t both acts different manifestations of the same act of indoctrination?
The short answer is: no.
The longer answer is that there is this thing called “the truth”. Bang! tells the truth the way evidence tells it; Noah’s Ark is a fable that sees no evidence supporting it, and actually has tons and tons of evidence contradicting it. These start from the fact the story was copied by the Israelites from earlier origins to its numerous factual contradictions with the world we see before our eyes today (e.g., how did koalas make it all the way to Australia, and why didn’t they leave some evidence of their trek behind). There simply is no way a honest person can accept the Noah’s Ark story as the literal truth.
On the other hand, who am I to know whether evolution is true? I’m a nobody; but I am smart enough to realize I need to call on the help of experts in this matter, and the experts are unanimous to a degree that makes me more than comfortable to accept the theory of evolution for what it is: an elegant and incredibly sensible explanation for why we’re here, that just happens to imply our ancestors looked a lot like the apes we see today in the zoos. If I wasn't to accept the experts advice on evolution then by the same token I should not be accepting mobile phone technology or intercontinental flight; after all, they were all the results of the same scientific method. Personally, I find the theory of evolution much more attractive than the one that has humans as the pinnacle of creation.

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