Australian writer and psychologist Dr Jordan Bell is currently running a successful Pozible campaign to teach kids about evolution. Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution, a book for grade school children, is currently crowdfunding on Pozible. Written by Dr Jordan Bell and illustrated by Gabriel Cunnett, both from Adelaide, Australia, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution takes children on a fun and fascinating science adventure, learning about the key concepts underpinning the theory of evolution. Dr Jordan Bell stops by at Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles to talk about her first book.
Has the idea of writing a book been simmering away for quite some time?
At the highest level, yes. As a child I could never decide between being a chef or a writer, so people used to suggest that I write cook books! But it was after I finished my PhD (100,000+ words) that I first thought that writing a book one day would be a real possibility.
What was the catalyst that got you going?
Back in 2011, I started to notice that there weren’t good resources available for parents who wanted to share a scientific worldview with their children. I’ve always believed that an understanding of the basics of evolution is an important part of scientific literacy for adults. It seemed like this was a “missing link” in terms of good books for parents and their kids. Pleasingly, since then, there’s been somewhat of an explosion in STEM-themed books for kids. But Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution is the first science adventure story for children that deals with evolution that I’ve seen.
Do you remember the moment when that idea came to you?
I was at a friend’s house, watching her children unwrap a present. It was a book of Bible stories, designed to help her children learn about their shared religious beliefs. It led me to reflect that I didn’t often see my version of our amazing origin story – the Big Bang, deep time, evolution by descent with modification – presented in a way that children could easily understand and absorb into their developing worldviews. The research that’s been done shows that the stories children are told by their family and caregivers have a huge influence on their worldview. I went home and wrote my first draft in a white-hot frenzy. The idea of Aunt Jodie, teaching her niece Sophie and nephew Matt about evolution, came to me really quickly.
How did you collect and sort your ideas? Bits of paper? Notes on your phone?
I wrote exclusively on my computer. I had a few different notes files that I worked on – the research component for this book was significant, as I was determined that the examples used would all be “real-life science” – so I was often reading and researching late into the night, finding well-evidenced examples from the fossil record, learning about the earth’s climate 55 million years ago, and at one memorable point, being still awake at 1am, reading really detailed geology articles about major volcanic explosions in Europe, to make sure a key part of my story structure would work!
Was it a slow process or did the whole creative process happen quickly?
The initial idea came to me very quickly, but putting the whole story together with accurate science took quite a while.
Did you hit a brick wall or did some parts of the book take a little longer to work through?
The “brick wall” part came once I’d finished the book and needed to find an illustrator. I had no idea how to do that, and life got busy, so the process went into pause mode for a few years. I’d also started to think that the book was a natural fit to be published via crowdfunding – there are so many parents wanting cool science books for their kids these days, and I’ve personally bought lots of great, progressive children’s books via crowdfunding. But again, this wasn’t anything I’d done before and I didn’t know how to move forward with it. Every now and again I’d think about progressing work on the book, but it took a few things coming together to get it going to the next stage.
Has it been a delicate balance with being a mum, wife, working full time and finishing the book?
It’s meant a lot of late nights and being really organised, but as “side hustles” go, this one has been pretty flexible. Plus, it’s been a labour of love, so it’s been fun to work on.
How did you cross paths with Gabriel Cunnett?
As I said, I’d been looking for an illustrator for a few years. Then in January 2017, pushed to share a goal I’d been stuck on at a breakfast meeting, I blurted out, “I’ve written a children’s book and I need an illustrator!” – and after that I just started asking pretty much everyone I met for illustrator recommendations. A few months after this, I got an email inviting me to attend a workshop about “how to do crowdfunding”, put on by Pozible.
I thought “The universe isn’t going to kick me in the butt any harder than that, now, is it?”, and went along. I got some good advice about crowdfunding, some encouragement about my book concept, and the names of 4 illustrators. I looked at their online portfolios and was immediately captivated by the body of work I saw on www.gabe.com – Gabriel seemed to have an amazing eye for appealing characters, coupled with the ability to draw really precise, technical art – and he’d already illustrated one children’s book. I reached out to Gabriel, and he agreed to meet, and together we’ve been on a really wild character design journey over the last year and a bit. Literally every time he sends me a new piece of art, it’s jaw-droppingly good.
How do you tackle Evolution given some people’s religious beliefs?
Aunt Jodie’s Guide is designed to provide a scientifically-accurate introduction to the concepts underlying evolution. It’s been reviewed by Professor John Long, Strategic Professor of Palaeontology at Flinders University, to make sure all the science is correct. Both secular and religious families who want their children to have a good grounding in STEM concepts can enjoy reading it with their children.
Have you been overwhelmed by the support on Pozible?
I was stunned and thrilled by the response. We reached 50% of the target just nine hours after launching, and our initial target was reached 9 days into the campaign. Now we’re aiming for a stretch goal to increase the number of illustrations in the book – if we can break through that, we might even be able to record an audio version of Aunt Jodie’s Guide! Supporters have until February 12th to get involved with the campaign, and pre-order your copy of Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution for a child you love, today: https://www.pozible.com/project/aunt-jodies-guide-to-evolution
Will this be the first of many books for the amazing Jordan Bell?
I would love to continue to series of Aunt Jodie’s Guides – Aunt Jodie knows lots of other scientists, so I can imagine them teaching Sophie and Matt about electricity, the solar system, or atoms and molecules. Hopefully interest will remain strong in the series!
Interview By Rob Lyon
Pre-orders for this compelling story of adventure and discovery, which is engaging for kids and parents alike, close in a fortnight, on February 12th at https://www.pozible.com/project/aunt-jodies-guide-to-evolution/