Aunt Jodie’s Guide: Evolving youth literature…one book at a time
The following article is based on a conversation with Jordan Bell, author of Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution. (Cover photo credit: Ian Bell)
When a dear friend of mine welcomed her first granddaughter, she reached out to me for book recommendations.
A brilliant, grounded, and socially conscious intellectual, she wanted to share with her young granddaughter the wonders of the world around her and the infinite potential of girls and women by curating a library of children’s books celebrating women’s endeavors in science.
Thrilled with this idea, I immediately took to the internet to search for books about women in STEM fields. I found textbooks, journals, magazines, novels…scores of information about women I’d never heard of.
Scientific discoveries whose female innovators were relegated to a footnote of a document in a dusty file cabinet in some university basement.
But more troubling than what I found was what I didn’t.
Where have all the children(‘s books) gone?
In a time when you can have virtually anything delivered straight to your door, I expected there to be digital shelves full of books on this topic written at a kid-friendly level.
So where were the mainstream story books normalizing STEM as a viable interest area for girls? Tales of successful women scientists to be role models for young explorers?
It took some digging, and I was eventually able to find a handful of titles to pass along to my friend. But this gap stuck in my mind.
So, when Dr. Jordan Bell came into my world through the “magical” network of social media, I just had to ask about her book, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution.
It turns out her desire to write the book came from a similar gap she noticed in children’s literature. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jordan, a psychologist and educator with a passion for science communication, and she shared with me how Aunt Jodie’s Guide came to fruition.
After watching a religious friend’s children unwrap a gift of illustrated Bible stories, it struck Jordan that there are numerous offerings for a children’s level introduction to that particular origin story, but far fewer options to unpack the perspective of the Big Bang, deep time, and evolution by descent with modification in a way that children can easily understand. Science is an integral part of Jordan’s life and something she wanted to introduce to her daughter. But she couldn’t come up with a child-friendly book that presented her own version of the world’s beginning.
So, she went home and wrote one.
Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution is an equally imaginative and intellectual introduction to the complex history of living things through scientifically based storytelling that appeals to children and parents alike. The 56-page chapter book follows Sophie and Matt as they embark on a thought experiment with their Aunt Jodie. She guides them on an adventure to learn about the work of Charles Darwin and explore inheritance, variation, and selection.
This innovative book, punctuated with vibrant illustrations by Gabriel Cunnett is written at an upper elementary to middle school level. It’s a great bedtime story for the whole family or an independent read for curiously minded school-age children as they grow in scientific literacy.
My favorite aspect—the glossary—is complete with foundational explanations of the terminology in the book and phonetic prompts for pronunciation. So, rest assured you can brush up on the Eocene epoch and Creodonts before any read-aloud sessions.
Though the idea for the book sprung up in what Jordan describes as a “white hot frenzy,” the journey from Page 1 to published took much longer. The project hit a few bumps on the road to creation, and even collected a little dust along the way.
One of authorship’s labors of love is the work that goes into book concepts before and throughout the actual writing. Aunt Jodie’s Guide, though intended for young readers, does not skimp on validated scientific information nor water down its commitment to accuracy.
During our conversation, Jordan recalled her frequent insertion of placeholder text for partially formed content like “cute, furry animals that are scientifically appropriate,” as well as the “amazing process of research” that regularly kept her working into the wee hours of the morning. It was no small task to find the right species to include in the book. She described sifting through much scientific literature, expressing gratitude for her institutional database access as the Dean of Lincoln College in Adelaide, Australia.
After much consideration, Jordan decided on the plesiads (Plesiadapis insignis) and peppered moths (Biston betularia). She completed a draft of the book supported by her own exploration of the available information. Jordan then had Aunt Jodie’s Guide peer-reviewed by a paleontology professor to ensure it was both accurate and complete.
Despite having a finished draft, Aunt Jodie’s Guide was still incomplete. Jordan supplied the words to bring the book to life, but needed the support of an illustrator to truly realize the project. It was here that the project stalled, and the book sat dormant on her computer for several years until, at a workshop she attended in 2017, Jordan made a verbal commitment to moving it forward.
After resolving to develop Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution into something publishable, Jordan set out to find an illustrator, through the not-so-scientific method of telling everyone she knew that she was seeking one. She ultimately met Gabriel Cunnett, whom Jordan characterizes as having the ability to hear her ideas for the imagery and “reach into the inside of [her] head and figure out what that looked like.”
They worked together to balance the verbal and visual imagery that convey the meanings and descriptions in Aunt Jodie’s world. This collaboration breathed life into the final version of the book that I hope you, too, will come to love.
Jordan Bell has a PhD in Educational Resilience, but is also a nerdy parent who loves reading to her daughter. When she couldn’t find enough children’s fiction with a strong STEM message to help her daughter learn about the world, she wrote Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution. Jordan believes that understanding the theory of evolution is an important key to scientific literacy for our developing citizens.
Elle Teshima is an editor and writing coach who works with academic and entrepreneurial writers to confidently produce content that is clear, compelling, and concise. As a former university instructor and business administrator, she knows both the rules of writing and when to break them. Elle is the founder of the Pocket-Sized Professor, a woman-owned business that provides writing, editing, and content marketing services to business and individual clients.