In this installment of Conversations with the Artist, editor Glenn Hovemann interviews Jennifer Morgan author of the Universe Series. Jennifer Morgan’s work as a storyteller, author, educator and environmental advocate flows out of her love of the natural world and cosmology. She is a dramatic storyteller whose “first-person science” approach captivates children. To find out more information about Jennifer Morgan and the Universe Series visit her website at www.universestories.com.
Glenn: Jennifer, when your manuscript for what became Born With A Bang first came across my desk, I thought it was one of the most outlandish things I had ever seen. It took a lot of thinking and a lot of debate at Dawn before we decided to go with it. It was a huge risk. Now, your “universe trilogy” are three of the most unusual, cutting-edge books I know of. What ever gave you the radical idea of presenting the story of the Universe as a kind of autobiography — the universe telling its own story?
Jennifer: Yeah, at first it felt weird to write from the universe’s point of view but then I got into it and realized that the universe as narrator felt right for these books, conveying the implicit message that the universe has its own creativity, perspective and story that goes way beyond humans. Thinking about things from the universe’s “point of view” expands us, pulls us out of ourselves so we see a much bigger picture. I often ask the kids “why did I make the universe the speaker?” and they say things like . . . “the story is about stuff that happened when humans weren’t around so the universe has to tell the story.”
Glenn: Probably kids appreciate the “Universe as Storyteller” technique more than many adults, is that what you find?
Jennifer: Oh no, not at ALL! Adults love it as much as kids. I can’t tell you how many times I give programs wearing the electrifying universe robe and telling the story in first person universe voice and the adults are sitting there in the audience with their mouths hanging open. They love it!!
Glenn: The science was an eye-opener for me–basically none of it existed when I went to school, and I think that’s true for most adults. So these books can well be a primer in evolutionary science for adults as well as kids.
Jennifer: Absolutely! Adults are very grateful for the way that the books distill complicated concepts into a digestible form. It’s an easy way for them to learn the most important things to know about the origin and evolution of the universe — and ourselves. It took me ten years from start to finish for this trilogy and a lot of that time was spent researching the science by taking five courses at Princeton University (I live in Princeton) and consulting with top scientists in the each field. Since the series covers the whole story of the universe you can imagine I had to cover a lot of fields.
Glenn: You’ve stepped right into the middle of the teaching of evolution, a controversial subject! Do you think kids will lose a sense of wonder about the world when they learn about evolution?
Jennifer: If anything it’s quite the opposite. Kids and adults come away with a sense of radical amazement. You know, Glenn, I have a degree in theology from the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit university, and my sense of wonder for the manifest world gets deeper and deeper the more I do this work. My mission is to deepen our love and understanding of the universe and by doing that I honor and come closer into contact and alignment with the source of all power and creativity in the universe.
Glenn: How do these books supplement the school curriculum?
Jennifer: They’re aimed for the elementary classroom and that’s the time in the public school system when the solar system is taught. Lesson plans about the solar system often focus on the different characteristics of each planet in our solar system and never cover the story of the origin of the solar system, and that’s major mistake. I understand why it happens — that teachers haven’t learned about it themselves and they don’t have the plans and teaching materials — but when they DO teach the origin story, they give their students the best foundation for studying astronomy and space, earth science, life science, chemistry, and environmental science, giving them a context for studying all fields of science and relating them to each other. My books can be a big help for them and there are two free downloadable lesson plans on my website at www.universestories.com.
I do a lot of programs in Montessori schools because their Cosmic Education Curriculum for the elementary level covers the story of the universe and my books work beautifully with this curriculum. Maria Montessori observed that in the elementary years, the child asks the cosmic questions about where we come from, and that’s the time when the story should be taught. Don’t wait until students are obsessed with the opposite sex, being cool, and figuring out who’s in what social group. Catch them during that very precious window when they’re asking the big questions. They’re so eager for it a that age and so very capable of understanding.
Glenn: It sounds like you have a lot of work cut out for you as Miss Universe!
Jennifer: Yes indeed, and I LOVE IT!!