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If you want a couple of decent books about evolution to answer tricky questions posed by children, then you should get these.

I can’t remember what age Toby was when he started to enquire about the world and our place in it, but it was pretty young. I think it stemmed from his interest in dinosaurs. I was confident in saying that we, as people, had evolved, but I was a bit stuck as to how to explain it in more depth without switching him off.

We have both a natural history and a zoology museum in Cambridge and I wanted to be armed with a book to provide the context to the fossils and skeletons we were seeing. After a lot of searching to find the right books, I got these two.

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Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story is a serious take on the subject and explains things in an incredibly clear way:

‘When we began, we didn’t look like people. We didn’t have two eyes to blink or ten toes to wiggle. We were just tiny round cells in the deep, dark sea.’

The narrative focuses on the things a young reader can understand. The images are both beautiful and fascinating – and do a much better job than I could ever have done at explaining what we looked like as vertebrates etc. There’s also a timeline at the end.

We still use this book now, and the layers of understanding have increased as the children have got older (grasping that the spiralling genetic code we have is DNA for example). As an educational starting point, I don’t think you can do better than this.

One Smart Fish is, I think, an essential companion.

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It is an amusing take on evolution, singling one fish out who wanted to walk on the land and so invented…boots! Then of course, the story explains that much later, much much later, the fish did eventually crawl out of the water (using their fins as they weren’t clever enough to invent boots). It is silly and fun but also represents evolution in a sensible way. The final spread has a terrific illustration of evolution:

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I wish this was available as a poster as I think it captures perfectly the beautiful, wondrous and seemingly crazy thing that is our story of evolution.

I think these books make a great pairing because they offer different things, and both do justice to the topic.

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