Today it's my pleasure to welcome Jordan Bell back to the blog to find out a little more about her children's book Aunt Jodie's Guide to Evolution.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a nerdy mum from Australia. I love reading, science, and talking about ideas. My daughter Ruby will be 7 this year, so she’s just edging into the demographic for my books. I have a PhD in Psychology – my thesis was on educational resilience, so I know a lot about how children develop and learn. I live on Kaurna Country in Adelaide, South Australia – close to the beach and the hills. My dream Sunday would be time alone in a café, reading all morning with a pot of tea, and then catching up with friends or family in the afternoon.
If you had to give an elevator pitch for Aunt Jodie's Guide to Evolution, what would it be?
I love science and I wanted to find a way to introduce big ideas in a way that was right for little minds. Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution is the first book in a series, introducing real science to kids in a way that’s easy to understand. It’s a perfect book for anyone who wants to foster a child’s interest in science.
Your professional background is as a psychologist and educator, what inspired you to decide to write this book?
One of my mottos is “If not you, who? If not now, when?” – so when I realised in 2011 that I didn’t know of any books that would help children grow up with a strong scientific worldview as their intellectual foundation, I decided to write one! Thankfully the rest of the world also seemed to agree that this was important – in the years since then, there has been an explosion of STEM-focussed books for kids. However, I think Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution is still one of the only books out there that teaches the scientific basics of evolution in a fun story format.
How much research did you need to undertake before you started the writing/editing process?
The entire book was meticulously researched. Genetics was my minor at university before I did my PhD in Psychology, so I was very comfortable with a broad general understanding of the topic. But to make sure I got the details right, I delved into the scientific literature including analysis of the fossil record, the history of debates around evolution, and even the timing of pre-historic volcanic eruptions. I tell you, you haven’t lived until you’re up at 1am reading about underwater rock strata and what they tell us about volcanoes near Iceland! Finally, to make sure that no errors had slipped past me, I asked a Professor John Long (an Australian expert in palaeontology) to read my manuscript and check it for accuracy. When he gave me a thumbs up, I knew I had a book that was ready to release.
The illustrations form a huge part of the story – how did you find working with an illustrator?
I was incredibly lucky in my choice of illustrator – I had the manuscript 90% complete and sitting on my hard drive by 2013, but the project was stalled because I knew I needed a good illustrator and I didn’t know how to find one. In 2017 I decided I wanted to move forward with the project, and so I started asking everyone I knew about illustrators. After a few false starts, I was fortunate to connect with Gabriel Cunnett (https://gabrielcunnettillustration.com), an illustrator and muralist who also lives in Adelaide. He seemed to have this incredible ability to just pull the characters out of my brain and get them on paper and we worked together really well to make sure Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution was vibrantly and gorgeously illustrated.
Which came first, the character or the plot?
The character of Aunt Jodie is a huge part of the books, as are her niece Sophie and nephew Matt. I wanted Aunt Jodie to be the perfect cool auntie – she has an interesting life in her own right, and spends regular time with Matt and Sophie, giving them a window into her world. I knew I wanted to help kids build a scientific worldview from an early age, and evolution felt like a significant standalone issue that would inform the way that readers looked at the world, so the plot unfolded from that idea. My biggest issue was how to manage the “time travel” aspect of looking into the past – I knew I wanted to books to be based in real science, so I didn’t want the three characters getting into a “time machine” or “magic car”, to physically travel back in time. When I hit on the idea of Aunt Jodie using thought experiments with the children, I knew it was a winner.
Are you planning on writing any further Aunt Jodie books?
Yes! I’m currently working on a sequel, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Climate Change. The science is turning out to be pretty easy to explain – the bit that’s hard to make “kid-friendly”, or perhaps “kid-understandable”, is the lack of concerted action to date, given the potential consequences for human life on Earth!
How can readers find out more about Aunt Jodie’s Guides?
www.auntjodiesguide.com is my website and my Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/AuntJodiesGuides - I share lots of links about cool science there as well as behind-the-scenes updates. Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution is available to buy at https://gumroad.com/jordanbell
Join Sophie and Matt as Aunt Jodie takes you on an imagination-expanding journey back in time. Learn about evolution in two different species, millions of years apart: the Plesiads, ancient lemur-like creatures from 55 million years ago, and colour-changing Peppered Moths from the 1800s. What happens to the Plesiads when a volcano erupts? How do the moths survive when their camouflage stops working? Discover the secrets that help all creatures transform and develop when big changes happen in the world around them.
Parents, Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents: Do you know what happened after the dinosaurs died out, but before humans existed? Could you explain Darwin’s theory of evolution to your child? Parents, learn along with your kids as we explore the key contributors to evolution: inheritance, variation and selection. Not just another boring bedtime story, this science adventure into the ancient past makes learning about the basics of evolution fun and engaging, and uses words and concepts that are right for kids in middle and upper primary school. Story-based learning helps everyone remember scientific concepts.
For anyone new to science, Aunt Jodie’s Guides also include an easy-to-read glossary, explaining the scientific terms used in the book, and how to pronounce them. So give a gift of knowledge to your children and set them up for a lifetime of STEM success!