RI native raising money for kids' book on evolution

Posted Online: June 28, 2014, 4:14 am
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com
Rock Island native Jonathan Tweet is atwitter over the prospect of completing his long-planned book for preschoolers on evolution.

The award-winning, Seattle-based, veteran game designer already has raised $12,000 in a recent Kickstarter online campaign to help him self-publish a book -- "Grandmother Fish" -- that aims to make human evolution understandable to young children. Since 1993, several children's books have told the story of evolution to grade-school kids, Mr. Tweet said, but his will be the first to reach preschoolers.

"'Grandmother Fish' gets young children to love the idea that we are descended from animals," Mr. Tweet said recently. The book coaxes children to mimic the motions and sounds of five consecutive ancestors or "grandmothers": a fish, a reptile, a mammal, an ape, and a human.

In this way, evolution becomes personal to the child rather than abstract, said Mr. Tweet, 48, whose father is Roald Tweet, Augustana College professor emeritus and a popular local historian.

"I'm a big evolution geek; I love all that stuff," Jonathan Tweet said in a recent phone interview. "It's a very simple story, but a lot of thought has gone into it." While his book is simple enough for young children, the end notes include detailed scientific facts for parents, which will help them explain evolution to their children in basic terms, he said.

"A lot of adults misunderstand evolution. There's a section there on what are common misunderstandings about evolution," Mr. Tweet said. "The material is meant for parents, but written very simply to help them translate it to the kids."

One major misconception is that evolution of all living things led to humans, he said. "Evolution is going in a million directions at once, and we're just one of them."

"I love science, but I'm also a storyteller, and evolution is a great story," Mr. Tweet said. "It's amazing; it's attractive; it's sort of awe-inspiring. The core concept of evolution is that we're all related."

He chose the name of his first children's book to juxtapose the image of the "warm, soft and loving" grandmother with the "cold, slimy and scaly" fish, he said. "Grandmother Fish" will include illustrations of dozens of prehistoric and living animals so children can see evolution is about diversity, not a linear progression with humans at the top, Mr. Tweet said.

He is collaborating with children's book and science illustrator Karen Lewis.

"'Grandmother Fish' is a great concept," she says in a video about the book, which can be viewed at vimeo.com/97745667. "It takes an extraordinarily complicated issue scientifically, and condenses it down to the very marrow of the issue."

Mr. Tweet has been consulting with science educators, children's book authors, and parents to ensure the book is both scientifically accurate and accessible to children, he said. When finished, "Grandmother Fish" will be a full-size, full-color, 32-page hardback book.

He was inspired to write the book 15 years ago by his daughter Tessa, who's now 19, he said.

"How could I explain evolution to a little kid?" he said he wondered. "A lot of what I've done in games is to explain complicated things to young people." Mr. Tweet said he has focused on designing games for children age 12 and older.

Like many kids, he got into playing "Dungeons & Dragons" when he was about 12, but he never thought he would design games as a career.

"When I was in high school, nobody had that as a career," said Mr. Tweet, who was the Rock Island High School class valedictorian in 1983. He majored in psychology and sociology at his parents' alma mater, St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

He and his late wife, Tracy, moved to Seattle in 1994, where he continued his career as a game designer. Mr. Tweet has contributed to global brands such as "Dungeons & Dragons," "Magic: The Gathering" and "Pokemon." His game designs earned him a place in The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design Hall of Fame, and his career includes two years designing at Seattle-based Amazon.

His wife was an Augustana grad, who died from multiple sclerosis in 2008 at age 41.

Through Kickstarter (his site is available at bit.ly/gf-ks), Mr. Tweet raised his whole $12,000 goal in three days with the support of two famous evolution writers. He said he wants to raise more so he can make the self-published book better and print more copies, or "make a bigger splash," as Mr. Tweet said of his fishy tale.

He will create an e-book first and hopes to print the hardcover books by early next year. You can download an early draft at grandmotherfish.com/grandmotherfish.pdf.


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Sept. 16, the 259th day of 2014. There are 106 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: A fine lumber mill is on the course of erection at Andalusia. A flouring mill at that location is doing a fine business.
1889 — 125 years ago: J.B. Lidders, past captain of Beardsley Camp, Sons of Veterans, returned from Paterson, N.Y., where he attended the National Sons of Veterans encampments.
1914 — 100 years ago: President Wilson announced that he had received from the imperial chancellor of Germany a noncommittal reply to his inquiry into a report that the emperor was willing to discuss terms of peace.
1939 — 75 years ago: Delegates at the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church in Springfield voted to raise the minimum pay of ministers so that every pastor would get at least $1,000 annually.
1964 — 50 years ago: An audience of more than 2,600 persons jammed into the Davenport RKO Orpheum theater with a shoe horn feasted on a Miller-Diller evening that was a killer night. Phyllis Diller sent the audience with her offbeat humor. And send them she did! It was Miss Diller's third appearance in the Quad-Cities area.
1989 — 25 years ago: A few years ago, a vacant lot on 7th Avenue and 14th Street in Rock Island was a community nuisance. Weeds grew as high 18 inches. Today, the lot has a new face, thanks to Michael and Sheila Rind and other neighbors who helped them turn it into a park three weeks ago.

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