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Evolution Nominated For Silver Birch® Award

by Daniel Loxton, Oct 26 2010

I'm elated to announce that my Junior Skeptic-based book Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be is a 2011 nominee for the prestigious Silver Birch® Nonfiction Award! This is a tremendous honor (for which I thank my illustration collaborator Jim W. W. Smith, my editor Valerie Wyatt at Kids Can Press, producer Pat Linse — and the Skeptics Society for making the project possible in the first place).

Each year, the Ontario Library Association showcases selected titles for its Forest of Reading® program — a heavily-promoted recreational reading initiative, widely supported throughout Ontario's public schools and public libraries. Among the 250,000 participating young readers, kids who read a minimum of five of the 10 books in their reading category will become eligible to vote for the award in that category.

The Forest of Reading program runs throughout the Spring, culminating with award ceremonies in front of an audience of several thousand at Canada’s largest literary event for younger readers: the Festival of Trees™ at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto (May 11 and 12, 2011).

Last year's Silver Birch Fiction Award winner describes the experience:

I’ve never seen anything like it. More to the point, I’ve never seen thousands of kids screaming — like really screaming – about books.

Which is not to say I wasn’t warned beforehand. The organizers, as well as other writers who had attended the ceremony in the past, all told me what to expect. The massive stage. The lights. The screaming (did I mention the screaming?) children. “It’s like being a rock star for a day,” they told me.

Nomination is the Victory

Also competing for the Silver Birch: this skeptical book from my kids' science colleagues at Yes Mag

How To Build Your Own Country cover

Also competing for the Silver Birch: a book written by veteran author Valerie Wyatt — my esteemed editor on Evolution!

For my own part, I've been walking around in a sort of daze this weekend — not because Evolution could perhaps win (competition in my category is stiff, including two other books from my own publisher, Kids Can Press) but because it's already achieved more than I could have hoped. This nomination means that the topic of evolution will be massively promoted to grade school kids throughout Canada's largest public school system.

Thanks to my colleagues at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, my related Portuguese-language book Evolução was distributed for free to thousands of public school students in Portugal in 2009. But despite recommendations from the (US) National Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and National Center for Science Education, the nomination to Ontario's Forest of Reading program is Evolution's first major breakthrough into English-speaking schools.

This matters, in outreach terms. Ontario's educational system in particular has struggled (and sometimes failed) to give any reasonable coverage to the topic of evolution. As recently as 2000, Ontario curricula omitted evolution entirely. Even today, the central organizing principle of biology is taught only as a component of Biology 11. That seems insufficient for a province where only 59% of adults agree that “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years” (Angus Reid 2008 — PDF).

More to the point, biological evolution is not mentioned at all in Grades 1 through 10! (See the current Grade 1 – 8 Science and Technology curriculum PDF and current Grade 9 – 10 Science curriculum PDF.)

No matter how I think about this, it only becomes more humbling and incredible: this Spring, for many thousands of grade school kids, my book will be the only class-supported exposure to the subject of evolution.

Postscript

This project was a long road: years of nights-and-weekends work, out of pocket expense (for me, and for producer Pat Linse), and knocking on the doors of publishers who found fundamental biology too controversial.

I knew all that had paid off in the deepest possible way the moment parents started writing to tell me, “another month has passed, and she's still having me read the book to her in the tub.” That's what this is all about. The book has reached a lot of youngsters, and it ain't done yet. (A Slovenian translation is on sale now, and a Korean edition is on its way.)

Looking at this project as a science outreach success, I'm reminded of the heat it took from hardline atheists. At issue was my brief passage explaining, “Science is our most reliable method for sorting out how the natural world functions, but it can’’t tell us what those discoveries mean in a spiritual sense.” (See long comment threads at this post and this followup post). Critics argued that my children's book about the history of life should either have attacked theism, or else ignored one of the most common student questions about evolution.

That tiny subsection remains my honest answer. I would not, with the benefit of hindsight, do more than tweak it today. Still, in light of the criticism and the book's success, it's interesting to reflect: would Evolution have reached so many kids if I'd approached that topic in some other way? I suppose we'll never know.

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Evolution Nominated For Silver Birch® Award, 4.9 out of 5 based on 15 ratings

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26 Responses to “Evolution Nominated For Silver Birch® Award”

  1. Job well done, sir.

    If that’s your honest answer to the question, then that’s all anyone can ask you to write. Given the lack of content in those grade ranges, it’s an achievement of no small import to have a well-written book on the topic circulated. That it doesn’t answer a particular question (one of which there is likely a variety of opinions on within the various atheist communities themselves) in a way that is satisfying to a subset of the atheist groups: bummer for them.

    (for the record, I do not agree with you on that topic, but I wholeheartedly respect your right to answer that question your way in your book ;) )

  2. erinisms says:

    Congratulations!!

  3. Alessa says:

    CONGRATULATIONS, Daniel!!! That’s excellent news.

    And as an Ontario resident, I can tell you that you are dead-on with respect to the teaching of evolution in school. I attended Catholic school my whole life and didn’t even hear about evolution until high school Biology. And even then, it wasn’t the focus of the course. In my teacher’s defense, he did advocate that “EVOLUTION IS A FACT, NOT A THEORY.”

    But I’d still love it if evolution had a larger presence in schools at a younger age. Your book is simply awesome; you are remarkably talented.

    I wish you all the best. GOOD LUCK.

  4. Joshua Hunt says:

    Congrats, Daniel! This is awesome! I just finished reading your book yesterday. It’s great. Not just for kids, but adults. Keep up the great work! :)

  5. Amazing Daniel!

    The totally deserves nomination, and wouldn’t be surprised if it won. See, I told you that the few nay-sayers were just full of hot gas and BS. :)

  6. Somite says:

    Congratulations! Well deserved.

  7. Leo says:

    Awesome! Congratulations, Daniel. You really deserve it. Evolution is a wonderful book.

  8. NightHiker says:

    Daniel,

    First of all, let me say, as before, that the book is obviously a tremendously positive effort and I’m glad it is reaching a lot of kids. It’s wrong to equate every criticism you received to “hate” or even a desire the book doesn’t fare well. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m certain most of the critics still wish nothing but success in your outreach efforts.

    But since you brought such point back into discussion, let me point out that it was not just a matter of thinking you should have attacked theism or ignored the issue – that doesn’t take into account a third stance: some people, myself included, simply thought the statement was not exactly true, and defended the issue could be phrased more truthfully while still keeping your original non-confrontational approach, at least as much as possible without compromising such truth. I even offered one only slightly altered alternative on that same thread.

    It was a minor quibble, compared to the whole enterprise and the value of your book, but a matter of principle nevertheless.

  9. Jason Loxton says:

    Dan, you’re too tactful, as always.

    The Silver Birch process means your book is functionally part of the Ontario elementary curriculum this year, and will be read and discussed by tens to hundreds of thousands of kids. That is a *major victory* for evolution education.

    It also validates all the “accomodationist” flack you took.

    Ontario’s 2000 decision to limit evolution in their revised curriculum to avoid “controversy,” the 2006 Alter’s grant affair, and the 2007 John Tory comments, all strongly indicate a landscape up here which, while not friendly to creationism, is decidedly cautious about making waves. (Not to mention the fact that publishers explicitly told you the topic was too “hot” to risk publishing on!) You would have had zero chance of making this happen if you had adopted the aggressive atheist posturing some advocated for, and, a much, much lower chance of doing this if you you’d cut the science and religion passage.

    It needed to be there.

    You can quibble over the exact wording of the disclaimer (and you and I have), but it is true in so far as the language and length of the document allows. And frankly, I will happily take a real world science education victory like this over the moral one of ensuring that the description of the relationship between philosophy, hard science, and sociology of religion is perfectly nuanced.

  10. Petrucio says:

    When / where will we be able to buy the portuguese version in Brazil (or imported online). Looking forward to it.

  11. David Glück says:

    Congratulations Daniel! It really is a wonderful book. I can’t wait until my grandson is old enough for me to share it with him!!!

  12. This has made my whole day. Congrats, sir.

  13. James Hammond says:

    Congratulations! It’s a well-deserved honor: yours is a wonderful book. I’m glad it’s getting this recognition.

  14. LovleAnjel says:

    Congratulations!

  15. John Greg says:

    Good for you Loxton. Many hearty congratulations. A first rate book well deserving of the honour.

  16. Dea says:

    Awesome work! I grew up in Alberta and I only remember the subject of evolution coming up twice – once in grade 8 where a cautious catholic school teacher said something along the lines of “I know the bible teaches the origins of life a little differently, but this is science class and this is what we need to teach in terms of the ciriculum” and then again in grade 11 biology. wish more time was spent on it – it is such a cool way to explore science.

  17. badrescher says:

    That’ll do, pig.

    I mean Daniel! That’ll do, Daniel! :)

  18. Majority of One says:

    Fantastic news, sir! Congratulations!!

  19. Christoffer says:

    It is a scandal !!!!, he should have won the GOLD birch award, were should we send our angry, incoherent letters in CAPS-LOCK to? :)

  20. Chris Howard says:

    Congratulations! I can’t wait to read it to my little girl.

  21. Robert Peterson says:

    Congratulations Daniel!

    I’ve been trying to resist buying the book for my kids (and for me) until they’re old enough to understand it (they’re 5 and 6). I’ve had several experiences where I tried to explain something to them before they were old enough to understand it. I’m afraid I either convinced them that the subject was boring, or that Daddy talks too much.

    I know it says for ages 8-13, but does anyone have an opinion on whether kids younger than 8 might be able to appreciate Evolution?

    • Hi, Robert. Thanks for asking. I think it really depends on the kids — their attention spans, the sorts of storytelling you usually do, and so on.

      I have had several parents contact me to say that their six-year olds love the book. Wired’s reviewer put it like this:

      Beautifully illustrated and elegantly written, any child interested in the story of life will be fascinated by it. There’s no need to take my word for it: This review is a couple of weeks later than I’d hoped, because my 6-yr-old kept stealing it and carrying it around the house to study.

      (My own four-year old digs the pictures, and we use that as a basis for discussions on a simpler level — dinosaurs, the fact that the Earth has a history, and so on.)

  22. Dan Kennan says:

    Love the book, and can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to get it. I’m one of those who doesn’t understand how in the world some can spend energy attacking you for one small passage. In general I find them to be reaching to the choir, while you are taking the message to the streets…and the schools and libraries, where it might actually do some good!

  23. Steven Olsen says:

    I will start recommending this one at the bookstore I work at. I try to get the kids hooked on science if I can.

  24. Al Morrison says:

    Daniel, congratulations. First Warren Bonett gives your book the nod on CFI’s Point of Inquiry, now this. Well-deserved.

  25. the public schools on our district can really give some good education to young kids. they have high standards …