Teaching Toddlers about Evolution

What age is too young for truth?

Mary Anne Farah would say that children old enough to look at pictures are old enough to start being introduced to the truth about the wonderful world they will grow up in. Not to say there is never a place for fantasy, but there is certainly a place for fact as well.

With her own children in mind, Farah sat down and began writing a book to begin explaining how populations change over time in response to changes to their environment. With the whimsical illustrations of Megan Stiver, Pepper’s Special Wings has quickly become one of the outstanding sources available for introducing very young children and grandchildren to the greatest true story ever told.

As Farah would readily admit, she didn’t create the plot of Pepper’s Special Wings herself. It came instead in the wake of a 19th century discovery of the natural process we now call evolution by a fellow named Charles Darwin, whose birthday we now celebrate each February 12.

Scientists familiar with Darwin’s discovery began to notice that a change had occurred within living memory in a moth population in England. It seems there was a stand of white birch trees, with a population of moths that were hard to see because they were light in color, so they blended right in. Then with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and a smoke-belching factory nearby, the trees became blackened with soot. Now the light-colored moths became easier to see, to the delight of a hungry moth-eating bird population. Over time, darker-colored moths came to predominate because they were harder to spot against the background of the now-darkened white birch trees.

(Amazingly, from a fundamentalist Christian standpoint, this all occurred long after Noah’s Ark.)

Mary Anne Farah

Mary Anne Farah

Because children may have a hard time comprehending population graphs, explaining this story to them requires a different strategy. Pepper’s Special Wings is therefore told from the perspective of an individual moth, Pepper, which also creates a special bond between character and reader. Pepper is a dark-colored moth who has a hard time in life because she has the great misfortune to be “different” from all the bullying light-colored moths. She has an even harder time hiding from those nasty birds—until the glorious day when the tree trunks start changing color. (Spoiler alert: guess what color Pepper’s baby moths turn out to be?)

Farah’s spin on this moth story not only teaches good science, but gets kids thinking about self-esteem, self-image, bullying, and being teased. Children will see that being different is what makes them amazing!

How many thousands of religious children’s books are out there, brainwashing impressionable young minds with the most absurd ideas about the doings of a “great spirit” in the sky? How much permanent damage do they do? Isn’t it refreshing to have a high-quality, fun story to share that points children instead in the direction of ascertainable truth?

A special section for parents provides detailed background information, including pictures of the actual moths and trees, and suggestions for further research for adults to share with their children as they mature.

Pepper’s Special Wings is available as an ebook (it looks gorgeous on a tablet) from Humanist Press and all major ebook online retailers.