Mammals Who Morph is a fantastic journey through time. It is the story of mammalian evolution told in a way that will engage and enchant, as well as educate, children and adults alike. It is a must for every school library – and I shall give it to my grandchildren and my sister’s grandchildren and my godchildren for Christmas and birthday presents.
— Dr. Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist
Absolutely wonderful story and illustrations!
— Dr. Brian Swimme, mathematical cosmologist, author, The Universe Story
These books are alive with wonder, radiance, and deep relevance . . . cosmic gifts that powerfully remind all humans about our source, our connections, and our responsibility. Now students have books to hold and read over and over again.
— Judi Bauerlein, President, American Montessori Society (January 2006)
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)
Thirteen billion years ago in a galaxy not far away, the infant Universe was a swirling cloud of hydrogen. Then a star exploded, and life has never been the same.
The Universe narrates this story about Earth’s creation and evolution. She describes early animal life, such as dinosaurs, rabbit-sized camels, and elephants with teeth on their trunks. When a meteor strikes Earth and kills the dinosaurs, the other mammals survive and “morph” (or evolve) into forms adaptable to the new planet. The book discusses Earth DNA; rain forest proliferation; and how hominids discovered fire and developed language, tools, and intelligence.
The illustrations beautifully set the mood and tone. Early atmosphere scenes depict yellow-and-orange swirls of gaseous clouds, with scattered fragments of animal life drawn in dark hues of brown and gray. A deep blue-and-purple backdrop represents the darkness; when the sun appears, the backdrop changes to red and yellow, highlighting budding green rainforest plants and new animals.
The award-winning author holds a degree in theology. This is the third and final volume in her series about the universe; the first won Learning Magazine’s Teacher’s Choice Award, and received the highest possible review ratings from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The illustrator is a multimedia artist and teacher whose paintings represent the energy forces that underlie life matter. With a philosophy degree, she founded the Awakening Arts Institute for artists who use art to uplift the human spirit.
Here, the first-person Mother-Universe narration makes a great story vehicle: “When I was an infant universe, 13 billion years ago, there were no eyes to see,” she says. “Your Earth is one of my most creative planets.” There is a dense supply of educational content, for example, a timeline – in million-year increments – is displayed across the top of each page. At the bottom, key concepts like molecular-versus-fossil research, symbolic thought, and the rise of classical religions are noted, with references to the appendix. A glossary with photographs and a book and media list are included. An interesting addition is a letter from the author addressing the question, “Where is God in the story?”
Readers young and old will be intrigued and informed by this science-based tale from Mother Universe.
— ForeWord Magazine – Angela Black (November/December 2006)
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)
This is the third book in Jennifer Morgan’s series on evolution. This beautifully written book about mammals is done in such a way as to catch the reader’s attention. There are headings in bold colorful print that break up the text on each page. This makes it much easier for young readers to understand the facts about a certain part of the mammal’s evolution and not get lost in a sea of words. The book has a three-in-one presentation, which is so helpful to a reader trying to assimilate all the information. The beginning of the book is presented in a storytelling way, using unique artwork that adds to the beauty of the subject. The next part is a short summary of the text in a more simplified way, and the last part uses a more technical approach, taking the information and adding actual pictures and diagrams. The glossary at the back is always helpful to younger readers needing to understand the vocabulary. This book has something for all levels of readers wanting to learn about this interesting journey of the evolution of mammals.
— Children’s Literature (December 2006)
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)
Mammals Who Morph is the third and final book in Jennifer Morgan’s trilogy for children on the earth’s history, preceded by Born With a Bang and From Lava to Life. As in her previous two accounts, Morgan’s chronicle opens with a “Letter from the Universe” in which the reader is invited to follow the universe’s life story, as told in first-person by the universe.
As readers, our time travels begin with “mousy mini-mammals” who “ruled the days”; that is until the great meteor struck the earth 65 million years ago. The mini-mammals then disperse across the land, sea, and air, with some mammals returning to an “easier life” in the seas.
Along the way, Morgan effectively demonstrates the powerful force of co-evolution using an example of the bargain struck between horses and grasses. “Unlike other plants, grass grew from the bottom so it didn’t get damaged when the top was eaten . . . over time the horses . . . had just the right teeth for grinding grass.” Hominins enter the story wielding a variety of tools and strategies for survival, capturing the power of fire and sun, and close the story by confronting the current environmental crisis with the “creative powers of the universe that reside within each of us: imagination, love, and decision making.”
Throughout the storyline, the universe moves from “crisis to crisis.” In each episodic occurrence, Morgan characterizes the crisis as an opportunity for inventiveness and emphasizes how the interconnectedness of all life forms is very much in evidence today. For example, a lightning storm brings fire to the humans; a human’s backbone was “fashioned by fish;” the deepest part of the brain was “built by reptiles;” the cells “are directly descended from ancient single cell organisms;” the rotating shoulder was “developed by primates in trees.”
Morgan’s tale is vividly told and thoughtfully supportive of teachers or parents who plan to use this narrative with their children. Each page contains a timeline of events and in the footer Morgan succinctly captures the science concept or concepts being developed. For example, when she relates how the “morphing of the earth” resulted in the creation of wide-open plains, the science concepts are listed as “Earth cools down and new partnerships form” and a page number links the reader to a more complete scientific explanation of the event. Morgan also provides the reader with a comprehensive list of books, videos, and websites to use in extending the scientific concepts introduced.
While Morgan’s combination of storytelling and science is a compelling format for young readers, it may also prove provocative for some. First Nations readers will likely be troubled by the reference to the peopling of North America via the Bering Strait; their creation narratives do not recognize migration from Asia. Is this a case where Morgan’s personification of the universe undermines her effort to advance the reader’s scientific way of knowing the world? Will the reader infer then that the theory of evolution is just another story?
As I pondered these questions and how Morgan might respond, I read Morgan’s farewell to the reader. Here she explains that “God is purposefully not in the story so that it can be embraced by people of all religious traditions, or of none at all . . . people usually refer to ‘God’ as a transcendent, supernatural creator who exists outside the physical world . . . today we’re rediscovering a sense of divine creativity, not simply in the transcendent mode, but also as immanent, as present in the Universe itself.
While this adieu did not provide an answer to any of my questions, I do know this. In these pages Morgan elegantly captures the richness and wonder of an interdependent and ever changing world where who we are cannot be separated from where we are.
— National Center for Science Education (Sept.-Dec. 2007)
I’ve been waiting for this third book in Jennifer Morgan’s wonderful trilogy. Reviews of the first two volumes – Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story and From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story – appeared in the June 2003 issue of this journal. Those two books told the story of the Universe becoming stars, galaxies and Earth, and of the Earth cooling, life flourishing, and dinosaurs dying. In this book, “mammals rise and humans appear.”
Mammals Who Morph has the same great features as the earlier works. Large full-color paintings face each page of easy-to-see text. (The illustrations seem darker to me – there’s a lot of activity at night.) A timeline at the top of each page of text tracks what is happening. A note at the bottom of each page links the content with the science concepts listed at the back of the book. A glossary, book lists for students, teachers and other adults, and video and resource lists round out an excellent book. The tale begins with the extinction of dinosaurs and the mousy mini-mammals that survived the catastrophe. They “scraped by on cockroaches and frozen dinosaur dinners,” and over millions of years adapted to their environments, or their environments changed them. To paraphrase the text, trees sculpted hands for grasping branches. Land molded paws and hoofs. Water formed fins. Air shaped wings.
Crustal plates moved, mountains rose, climate changed, rainforests shrank, and grasses took over the plains. Primates emerged, then hominids. Physical and social changes took place, tools were used, and language developed. “Humans mixed and morphed and turned into another kind of human, one with a powerful imagination…Across the planet, they told stories about how I, the Universe was born.”
“Humans became the most powerful Earthlings of all” and are now faced with how to work together to solve the problems of pollution and extinctions. The book ends on a hopeful note, with a reminder that we have the powers that we need. As the Universe says in the opening pages, “Life hasn’t been smooth. In fact, I seem to go from crisis to crisis! There was the Great Particle War, the Massive Supernova, the Oxygen Poison Crisis, and Gigantic Meteor Crash – to name a few. But when things get chaotic, I get creative. And so do you.”
— Planetarian (June 2007)
This final book in a three-part series begins with the extinction of dinosaurs, and tells how tiny mammals survived the great cataclysm and morphed into lots of new Earthlings. A fantastic journey through time!
— Skipping Stones (Sept./Oct. 2007)
This book is called Mammals Who Morph. Morph means to change. We read the book before this one too. It was called From Lava to Life.
The beginning of this book starts when the meteor came and hit the Earth and made the dinosaurs extinct. It said mini-mammals morphed into things.
My favorite part of the book was the one with the big Gastornis birds. The book said that they were so big that they ate horses! That is a really big bird to be able to pick up and eat a whole horse.
This book says that people came from apes. Apes are a lot like us. It says that they morphed slowly into people.
I learned a lot of things from Mammals Who Morph. It even said where hot chocolate came from!
— Kids Reader Views – Cayden Aures (age 6.5) (March 2011)