Wonderfully well done, this book provides a much needed entry into a deeper understanding of the larger patterns of evolution. The sooner children hear these words, the better off they will be.
— Dr. Thomas Berry, cultural historian, author of Dream of the Earth
Nothing is more important than to imbue the young with the awesome story of creation and their part in it. This book is a first primer for the children of the 21st century. A must for all of us!
— Barbara Marx Hubbard, author of Conscious Evolution and Emergence
By learning where we come from we can agree on where we are going, and thus share a common ethics. The important story of our origins needs to be told to all people today but especially the young people. Jennifer Morgan and Dana Andersen do a splendid and memorable job of telling that story to young people of all ages.
— Matthew Fox, Ph.D., author of The Coming of the Cosmic Christ
Seismic cultural change has often been initiated by individuals of vision and tenacity who were placed at the right place at the right time. Jennifer has spent a great deal of time perfecting some magnificent children’s books on the origins of the universe that are beautifully illustrated, brilliantly written and critically acclaimed by leaders as extremely relevant and enlightening alike.
Jennifer’s work as a storyteller, author, educator and environmental advocate flows out of her love of the natural world and cosmology. As former director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey, she started local and national programs for farmers and consumers. In 1996, she took the Earth Literacy program in cosmology and evolution at Genesis Farm, Blairstown, NJ. It so inspired her that she went on to take classes in cosmology and evolution at Princeton University. In sharing what she learned with her six year old son, she discovered that children are intensely interested in the story of the universe. He wanted to know more and more, even the texture of the edge of the Universe. Jennifer consulted with numerous physicists, biologists and anthropologists regarding science concepts and, over time, bedtime conversations with her son turned into books. “Science is handing us an origin story,” she says, “and weve only barely begun to understand its mythic dimensions.” She believes that cosmology stories profoundly shape our relationships, work, play, culture, and institutions. Her first book won Learning Magazines Teachers Choice Award and both books received the highest review ratings from AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science).
Her Trilogy Born with a Bang, From Lava to Life and Mammals who Morph convey complex scientific information without diminishing the mystery and wonder and communicate the intrinsic part we as humanity play in the unfolding and evolving story of our universe.
The trilogy’s illustrator Dana Lynn Andersen of Santa Rosa, California, is a multimedia artist, playwright and teacher with degrees in philosophy and consciousness studies. Her paintings, often very large in size, explore the swirling forces of energy that underlie matter and seek to reveal life’s numinous mystery. She believes that as our “depth perception” expands – billions of galaxies discovered in our lifetime! – it is also essential to expand perception inwardly to the vastness within. She is founder of Awakening Arts, a network of artists who affirm the noble purpose of art as a vehicle for uplifting the human spirit. Dana provides programs and hands-on projects that have students creating like the Universe.
This trilogy should be in every school across our nation as well as library for they truly open a new chapter in educational history where the magic and mystery of our universe is combined with hard science to create a tale that brings the open minds of children into a greater understanding of who they are and how we all are part of the universe and its grand story.
— The Omni Art Salon – Conversations in Consciousness – Jeffrey Milburn (April 2008)
Did you know that cat-sized horses with padded feet in place of hooves once roamed Earth, or that the oceans formed as a result of a period of rainfall that spanned millions of years? I didn’t, which is one reason I eagerly read through the Universe series by Jennifer Morgan, with illustrations by Dana Lynne Andersen, more than once.
This series is comprised of three books: Born With a Bang, From Lava to Life, and Mammals Who Morph. Each book focuses on a different period in the history of the universe, covering enormous periods of time and gargantuan swaths of history in three compact books. The books manage both to present huge quantities of information and to keep it interesting.
For example, in book two, From Lava to Life, my personal favorite of the three, we learn about how life struggled to thrive on the new planet Earth. I read about the major periods of extinction from throughout the history of our planet. I had always known about the dinosaur extinction, but I learned that there have been numerous other extinctions, including the Oxygen Crisis, when hydrogen-hungry bacteria snacked their way to disaster by eating all the H from H2O and leaving the O in an oxygen-pollution pileup. As it turns out, oxygen is poisonous to bacteria, and so the bacteria were dying off. Ultimately, eukaryotes and mitochondria teamed up to survive this mass extinction – and we still rely on mitochondria to this day! I learned that different versions of this story have happened over and over again: battles amongst and cooperation between different creatures have shaped our planet, and continue to do so.
Which brings me to another thing I appreciate about this series: It reaffirms humans’ interconnectedness with all life, as well as with the very matter from which the planet is composed. Discussing the planet’s infanthood, Morgan says, speaking directly to the reader, “. . . you were there – as particles of stardust, churning inside Earths oceans of liquid rock.” When she details the creation of the particles that would become the basis of all matter, she says, “Everything, including your body, is made out of those same particles that I made long, long ago.” Fostering this senses of interconnectivity could contribute to young people feeling a sense of responsibility toward our planet that is born of kinship an connection, rather than obligation.
While some of the concepts and words in these books might not be for the youngest of readers, a glossary in each book should help with any vocabulary-related snafus. Important or tricky concepts are keyed to “science concepts” pages at the back of each book, where the author elaborates on the topics. Another clever addition to the books is the inclusion of timelines. Each book has its own, which acts as a continuous header across the pages. I found the timelines to be helpful in keeping all of the new information straight as I time-traveled my way through the books. One caveat: Parents should be aware that a couple of the stories might frighten young children, such as a page describing a band of apes fatally attacking a stranger ape in their territory.
In her author bio, Morgan explains that this series was born of bedtime storytelling sessions with her son, who hungered for more and more information about the universe. These storytelling roots come through in the stories, which have an engaging, conversational tone that children will enjoy. And Andersen’s illustrations are a lush and vibrant addition to the books, each picture telling its own story. Children will no doubt enjoy spending time with these illustrations, pulling out details that capture their imagination and weaving stories of their own.
At the end of the day, it seems fitting that the Universe series grew from bedtime stories – what better time to open children’s eyes to the infinite possibilities of life and the world they live in than before sending them off to dream?
— Montessori Life – Brenda Modliszewski (Issue 3, 2007)
Born With a Bang and From Lava to Life, books one and two of a three part series (the third will be available in 2005), artistically tell the story of the beginning of the universe, the creation of Earth, and the development of its diverse life forms. Morgan and Anderson incorporate Western science, art, and poetry with a tone of spiritual connectedness that emphasizes our place as humans within the creation process and the universal web of existence.
. . . Morgan and Anderson’s universe speaks to readers in a loving parental tone, making frequent references to the materials and processes contributing to human life. Themes of transformation replace life and death, contributing to the readers’ sense of belonging within the intricate universal fabric.
Morgan and Anderson blend various literary and artistic techniques to appeal to a universal audience. Rooted in western scientific tradition, the books use current scientific theories to explain complex cosmological, geographical, and biological processes. A glossary and reference section exists at the back of each book allowing the reader explore scientific principles in more detail. The informative scientific content is contrasted by Morgan’s simplistic literary style. Utilizing multi-color text, highlighting important terms in vibrant colors, and alternating between prose and verse, provide a visually stimulating, rhythmic story that can be enjoyed by young audiences who would be excluded by the scientific content alone. Anderson’s dreamlike images adorn each facing page in colorful coordination with Morgan’s key terms and ideas, presenting an interpretive visual component.
Born With a Bang and From Lava to Life provide educators with an unconventional tool for approaching science while honoring the imagination and creativity that fueled the quest to understand the heavens throughout human history.
— Taproot Magazine – Dodi Hathazi (Winter 2004)
In the magic of this story . . . suddenly, we have the feeling that we BELONG.
— Dr. Brian Swimme, mathematical cosmologist, author of The Universe Story
The story of Earth begins here where the author’s Born With a Bang left off, as our “disk of dust” spins and is bombarded by meteors. The tale is told by the Universe itself, which lyrically describes the earth as “most imaginative,” but also uses technical terms. The narrative continues, describing the changes in the earth as bacteria develop and struggle; then oxygen begins to poison them, mitochondria survive inside eukaryotes, and other forms of life begin to emerge. Dinosaurs develop, then die out. Mammals are taking over as this chapter of life ends and another is about to begin. The lyricism of the text is accompanied by Andersen’s full-page paintings that supply suggestions of the evolutionary process in emotionally charged scenes. There is a sense of a primal force to her imaginative interpretations of the life forms. Although not scientifically accurate renderings, for the purposes of this overview they serve well to stimulate curiosity and a sense of wonder. Large type, with the major points set even larger and in color, makes the reading more appealing. A few photos are also used. A visual time line across the tops of the pages helps the reader trace the passage of time. For the older and/or more interested student, three pages of more details in time order, a glossary, a list of resources, and added notes add a wealth of further information.
— Children’s Literature – Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (2003)
Perfect for students in grades 2-6, Jennifer Morgan’s paperback trilogy focuses on the creation of the Universe, Earth, and humankind. In Born With a Bang, the Universe talks of her own creation and change of form. The book From Lava to Life discusses planet Earth and its inhabitants up to the dinosaur period, and Mammals Who Morph captures the evolution of mammals, ending with human beings. Dana Lynne Andersen’s illustrations in these publications are very colorful, creative and appropriate to the storyline. Narrated by Madame Universe, the series discusses evolution from a surreal, fairytale perspective. The author provides an account of major evolutionary happenings in an easy to understand chronological report. Release the regimented views of yesterday’s scientists and take hold of the expressionistic rendition of tomorrow’s storytellers: our children. This series is best suited for storytime or for addressing sensitive creation and evolution issues.
— Green Teacher (Summer 2010)
Last year, Princeton resident Jennifer Morgan launched her career as a writer with a children’s book entitled Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Its Cosmic Story. It was the first in a series, aimed at children in grades 4-6, that will explore the origins of the universe and the beginnings of life. This month sees the publication of the second book, From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story. Morgan’s first book concluded with the formation of the planets in our solar system and this one picks up the story at that point. It traces the beginning of life on earth from the single-cell stage through more complex life forms and ends with the demise of the dinosaurs. Morgan expects to complete the third and final book in the series, the subject of which will be evolution of mammals, in 2005.
Morgan’s educational background – theology and business administration – would not suggest a career writing science books for children. But she prepared for the enterprise by taking several classes in cosmology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University. Additionally, she consulted with local experts in the field. For this second book, Morgan worked closely with professors Henry Horn, David Stern and Stephen Pacala, members of the university’s evolutionary biology department, as well as with David Paris, the New Jersey State Museum’s curator of natural history. These advisors guided Morgan through the complicated and sometimes controversial theories addressed in her book.
When I spoke with her recently, Morgan told me that she aspired to do more than simply deliver the facts about the origins of the cosmos. She wanted to write the kind of story that would ignite a child’s imagination and launch her on an intellectual adventure through time and space. Her experience as both a student and a mother – she has a 12-year-old son – would prove very helpful.
Morgan settled on the novel concept of writing the books in the form of a letter from the universe to Earthlings. The voice of the universe is charming, vibrant and enthusiastic, and both books are replete with fanciful alliterations and peppered with intriguing questions that make children eager to discover what happens next. “Why does learning have to equal boring?” Morgan asks. “If you put science in the context of a story, you engage the heart of the child. After that, engaging the mind is easy.”
While in the process of writing, Morgan found it helpful to occasionally offer young readers a taste-test of the evolving product. Typically, her first audience was her son Morgan Martindell and his classmates in the seventh grad at the Princeton Charter School. The author took their assessments seriously and incorporated some of their ideas into the book. Even the cover art was fodder for their opinions. Morgan was partial to the idea of putting a dinosaur on the dust jacket; her son and his friends favored a volcano. (See for yourself who won that one.)
Working with this enthusiastic group has made writing the books a happy experience for Morgan. “I find that what the kids say is so inspiring,” she told me, quoting one young reader who said of Born With a Bang. “That story was so exciting, I forgot it was real.” Clearly Morgan has succeeded in her goal of making learning fun.
The critics think so. Born With a Bang has won the National Teacher’s Choice Award and received the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s highest review rating.
— The Trenton Times – Liz Chang (April 13, 2003)
From Lava to Life: Book Two by Jennifer Morgan is a visually stunning journey of the evolutionary path of life from bacteria to dinosaurs. The illustrations by Dana Lynne Anderson relate the mystery and wonder of this magical process. Spectacular paintings depict the tumultuous seas of gooey microscopic bacteria and reinforce the-Earth-as-a living-vibrant-organism theme. Morgan’s description of when the bacteria “predators liquefied their prey, then drank them” is opposite fiery-red and sunburst-orange bacteria that are oozing around the book devouring each other “Eeeewww!”
Told from the Universe’s perspective, From Lava to Life gives an exciting overview of the emergence of life on Earth. It begins with bacteria’s rise in complexity as it develops into an eukaryote who is rescued from “poisonous oxygen clouds” by mitochondria. Familiar organisms like jellyfish and worms, as well as the fantastical other-worldly five-eyed Opabinia emerge from the primordial ooze. Animals, plants, fungi, and dinosaurs inhabit the earth until a meteor creates the first Great Extinction, an example of the centrality of interdependence to life on Earth. This disaster marks the end of a chapter in Earth’s history, and the book.
The text is laid out with main ideas colorfully boldfaced, little illustrations adjacent to the text and a timeline across the top, which serve to facilitate understanding and add the whimsical to these potentially heavy theories. Where science texts are sometimes painfully dry reading, Morgan brings to light the excitement of life’s beginnings through the use of vivid imagery. The reader pictures the first organisms as “large thick fingerprints slowly sliding over rocks.” Through the use of these vivid images, this vocabulary-heavy text is made more accessible.
The facts and figures here are found throughout the text and in the glossary and appendix, which are also interestingly written for those readers who want to further their understanding. The story concludes with the Universe reflecting on what it learned about itself, a bulleted summary.
So who is this book for? Anyone who has ever been interested but intimidated by science. Children younger than nine would have a hard time with the concepts but would love the illustrations. Ideally, kids between nine and twelve, but the appendix, “A Timeline of Triumphs in the Earth’s Life” make it interesting reading from twelve to adulthood.
— EarthLight Magazine – Stefanie Kohn (Spring 2003)
This second book of Jennifer Morgan’s science trilogy begins with the formation of Earth. Utilizing the same large format, brightly colored illustrations and lovingly crafted text, the reader is drawn into the story of life.
Tension between growth and habitat, adaptation of the first organisms to the poisonous clouds of oxygen that accumulated, and everything operating under solar power keep the story lively.
The rise of multi-celled organisms, then plants and fungi, through insects, fish, and amphibians, to reptiles culminates with dinosaurs, birds and early mammals. The meteorite impact that decimated life is described, and the Universe exclaims, “There was Earth, once again, smack in the middle of another disaster.” Lave to Life contains the same wonderful features that impressed me with Born With A Bang. Large, colorful paintings illustrate the book. A time-line across the tops of the pages begins with “molten Earth” and counts toward animals and plants. At the bottom of each page is the science concept referenced in the appendices. The summary page “I learned . . .” ends with “By the way, did you notice that I left lots of fossil clues around for Earthling scientists to piece together my story? Pretty neat, isn’t it?”
— Planetarian: The Journal of International Planetarium Society (June 2003)
From the author Jennifer Morgan and illustrator Dana Lynne Andersen comes the second in a series of three children’s books that are fun and informative for adults, too. Born With A Bang, the initial award-winning work in this trilogy, offered the latest findings in the science of cosmology about the formation of the universe. From Lava to Life picks up with the universe telling the story of Earth’s formation and the beginning of life on our planet. An educator, environmental advocate, and mother, Morgan has studied evolutionary science, and was inspired to write these books as she explained the inevitable questions about life to her son.
— Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness (Dec. 2003 – Feb. 2004)
(Journal of the Institute of Noetic Sciences)
An opus so brilliant in its concept and content as to instill awe and inspiration.
— S. Mark Henry, Ph.D., Mgr., Biological Sciences, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Inc. (Ret.)
This is a lovely story of evolution, which is a story itself evolving.
— Elisabet Sahtouris, Ph.D., co-author of A Walk Through Time
“The Universe Tells Our Earth Story about the beginning of life from bacteria to jellyfish to flowers to dinosaurs.”
From Lava to Life is a science story that is yours too, of your living Earth & the unbroken chain that connects you to the very first twitch of life in the sea four billions years ago.
“How did our universe, in all its majesty, come to be what it is today? Why is life so diverse? So complex? Humans have wrestled with these questions for thousands of years. You can imagine our ancestors, long, long ago, huddled around campfires on cold nights, telling stories to understand these great mysteries. All over the world, people told creation stories that came straight from their hearts and dreams. Some of these very same stories continue to nourish us today.” Page 44.
Jennifer Morgan & Dana Lynne Andersen have set about telling this immense story, first in their Born With A Bang & now From Lava to Life. Told as if the Universe has patted its lap & invited to you up for grand story, she takes you back into a time before time, when the Earth was formed, long, long before you or I were motes of dust in the storm. Long before dinosaurs were born & flowers grew.
Told in a confidential, amusing & lyrical turn of phrase, From Lava to Life spills the beans on how life began here from microscopic cells in a churning brew of chemicals as our raw orb rolled around the heavens.
Fascinating images! Dana Lynn Andersen captures our imagination with her broad strokes of things bigger & smaller than one pair of eyes can see. Jennifer Morgan’s sense of humor is both reverential & irreverent, charming & instructive.
If you are stumped when your kids ask the oldest of questions: “Where did I come from?” – then From Lava to Life is the book for you!
— RebeccaReads.com – Rebecca Brown (March 30, 2003)
From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story by storyteller, educator and environmental advocate Jennifer Morgan is the second volume in an amazing series for readers ages 8 through 12 of what science can tell us about how the Earth came to be, and how life arose upon and in it. Vividly illustrated in striking color by Dana Lynne Andersen, From Lava to Life is a most fascinating introduction to science for young readers, beginning with the formation of the earth and concluding with the age of the dinosaur. From Lava to Life is also available in hardcover (1584690437, #19.95). Also highly recommended for young readers is the first volume covering the birth of the universe and the development of the solar system, Born With A Bang: the Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story.
— The Midwest Book Review (March 2003)
The theory proposed in this book is very popular currently and also somewhat controversial. The book, well researched and cited, tells that our earth was born of meteors. The author tells the whole theory of the earth’s beginning and the cooling effect of great rain. The steps spelled out are consistent with the theory of development of bacteria and of photosynthesis. Many interesting concepts are included in a “What have I learned?” brief summary. An interesting one is that, “one kind of life can ‘rule’ for a while and then perish.”
Darwin’s theory in 1859 stated that all life came from a common ancestor. This notion is expanded and described in this book.
There are three books planned in this series. The first book, Born With A Bang, tells of the universe becoming stars and galaxies and earth. this second book continues with the formation of earth and ends with dinosaurs. The coming third book of this series will begin with mammals rising and humans appearing.
The presentation of complex ideas for children (and for others interested in deeper explanation of Darwin’s theory of evolution) is a heavy task. However, these authors are well versed in science and offer an extensive bibliography for children and another for adults. They include lists of media to complement the sequence of development of this cosmology. Though the book is geared for children, nothing is eliminated regardless of its complexity. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for children and adults as well.
— Catholic Library World (September 2003)
“This book tells how meteors smashed into the Earth and made it grow big and really hot. It melted into lava. I bet that would have looked pretty cool! When the Earth got cooled down then it rained and that is how everything started to be alive. The first thing was bacteria. It tells a lot about bacteria. Bacteria is pretty important. The book tells about how the dinosaurs got there too and then about how they got extinct.
I liked learning about the Earth. I never knew most of the things in this book before. I knew about dinosaurs, but not a lot of the other stuff. It was really cool to learn about how everything started with lava.”
From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story is jam-packed full of information. The material is presented in an easy-to-understand manner and both my child and I learned quite a bit from reading this book!
— Kids Reader Views – Cayden Aures (age 6.5) and Mom (March 2011)
This book with eye-catching art begins with the formation of the Earth and ends with dinosaurs.
— Skipping Stones (September 2003)
The story of life is, quite simply, the greatest story ever told. It should fascinate us our whole lives long – and here is the perfect first telling.
— Bill McKibben
Jennifer Morgan’s Universe (our universe) speaks with an especially entertaining style. . . . It should be heard aloud, not merely read.
— David C. Parris, Curator of Natural History, New Jersey State Museum