Looking for a great book to use to help your young child understand the driving force behind evolution? Try Charlie and Kiwi: an Evolutionary Adventure (Atheneum, June, 2011, 48 pages). Peter H. Reynolds, Fablevision, and the New York Hall of Science teamed up to create a picture book that does a brilliant job clearly explaining the principle of survival of the fittest, with the science set in an engaging narrative of a time-travel adventure.
Young Charlie picks the kiwi as the subject of his bird report in school, bringing in his own newly acquired stuffed kiwi as an example. But the other children are doubtful--"Izzat a bird? Where's the wings?" asks one. And Charlie, when asked why the kiwi is so very different from other birds, draws a blank.
Fortunately, his stuffed kiwi is ready to help out, taking Charlie back in time (the box Kiwi came in magically becomes a time travel machine) to meet his many times great grandfather. Together Charles Darwin, Kiwi, and Charlie go on an evolutionary adventure, to observe first hand the ancestral proto-kiwis of New Zealand. And then they head back even further in time, to see for themselves how birds evolved from dinosaurs.
My kids and I thought this was a great book--we were charmed by the stuffed kiwi, and thought the explanation of natural selection/survival of the fittest was interesting and clearly explained. It might be a bit wordy for some picture book affectionados, but for kids with an interest in science and nature, I recommend it highly.
Here's Grandpa Charles beginning his explanation of natural selection:
"Long ago, maybe kiwis were more like regular birds.
Maybe they had wings and flew.
But say one family was a little bit different.
Say some stayed on the ground a little more and smelled bugs
a little better. They'd be safer, and catch more dinner...."
I love the idea of using a time-travel story in an educational way--I vaguely feel that lots of books say "let's go back in time," but one like this, that uses a fictional narrative, with engaging characters and touches of humor, is very rare indeed. (It's the first time I've ever applied my fantasy label and my non-fiction label simultaneously!)
(and it's awfully nice that Charlie is a kid of color)