Category: Writing

Studying Darwin and Darwin’s Study

 

Study at Down House

 

I’m working on a young people’s version of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. I feel a great sense of responsibility. The Origin introduced the world to Darwin’s insights about how species of plants and animals evolve and change over time, giving rise to new species. Since Darwin’s time, scientists have learned much, much more about evolution, species, and biology in general. Still, the Origin is one of the most important and influential books ever written. I am striving to offer the best possible adaptation of it to readers both young and old.

I’m also thinking about treating myself to something special when the book is finished. I’d love to visit Down House, the home in England where Darwin lived with his family for forty years. Although Darwin had begun to develop his ideas about evolution before he moved to Down House, it was in this study that he wrote the Origin and his later works. I’d love to enter this room and try for a moment to see the world as he saw it.

My YA adaptation of 1493 is out

Mann_1493forYoungPeople_RGB_150dpi_largeIn recent years I’ve adapted some fascinating and important books into versions for young readers. I’ve had the privilege of working on two books by Charles C. Mann, whose articles and best-selling books on science and history have given us new ways to look at the events of hundreds of years ago. Seven Stories Press has just released my YA adaptation of his book 1493, which explores what happened to crops, climate, the environment, and people after the first worldwide network of trade and travel got started in the sixteenth century. From Chinese pirates to South American freedom fighters to the man who convinced the king and queen of France to wear potato flowers, Mann’s book is filled with the stories of individuals who shaped and were shaped by history

Bringing a great book to young readers

I’m thrilled to report that I’ve signed with Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to write an adaptation of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species for kids and young adults. I could not be happier about it. It is a dream project for me in many ways.

Years ago I wrote a book called Scientific Explorers. It was the third volume in my Extraordinary Explorers YA trilogy for Oxford University Press, and it contained a chapter on Darwin, one that I was happy to see drew special praise from several reviewers. I went on to write a YA bio, Charles Darwin and the Evolution Revolution, also for Oxford; it remains in print, twenty years later. Since then I’ve written a number of children’s and YA books on subjects related to Darwin’s work and to evolutionary biology, including a four-volume series for high-school-age readers on human evolution. I also recently adapted Jared Diamond’s book on human evolution, The Third Chimpanzee, into a version for young readers. It was published in North America by Seven Stories Press, and it has also been published in a dozen or so other countries.

This new project, adapting Darwin’s own words for kids–while keeping as many of them as possible just as he wrote them, and adding sidebars to bring the science up to date–feels like the next stage in my long history of being involved with Darwin and his world-changing achievement. It also feels like an enormous responsibility. Stay tuned for updates as I strive to meet the challenge.

An interview about The Third Chimpanzee for Young People

Back in September I was featured in an interview on the website A Science Book a Day.  I talked about how I wrote the Young People’s version of Jared Diamond’s book The Third Chimpanzee, and about the challenges of taking someone else’s work and giving it a new form. I also had a chance to talk about another project of mine.

You can read the interview here.

 

 

 

NIWA Symposium, February 2014

Most of the books I’ve published have been nonfiction, often stuffed to the Plimsoll line with facts. (The Plimsoll line is the reference mark on a ship’s side that indicates the waterline at maximum allowable load. Thank Samuel Plimsoll, who pushed a law mandating such marks through Parliament in 1876. Fact.) Novelists, too, use facts to buttress their fictional constructions. Whether traditionally or independently published, every writer is sometimes responsible for researching and checking facts.

I’ll share what I’ve learned from several decades of fact-wrangling in a presentation on “Being Your Own Fact-Checker: Tips and Methodologies for Research” at 9:45 on Saturday morning, February 1, as part of the first ever annual symposium organized by the Northwest Independent Writers Association. The symposium is a two-day event filled with sessions on writing, publishing, and marketing, as well as chances to network with other writers, both traditionally and independently published. I’m excited to be taking part in it.

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