Children get a great deal from novels, even challenging Victorian novels. The great themes and rich language are wonderful. And if the original text is too challenging for younger readers, novels get adapted. Some of my favourites are from the Save The Story series, in which authors rewrite classic, but neglected stories for modern readers. Personally, I’d love one by H.G. Wells: The First Men in the Moon. It’s got some great science in it. But it isn’t science.
The great works of science don’t get adapted, especially not for children. Science gets mini-textbooks with lots of pictures. These are often very good, but they aren’t the real thing. I want my children to read Darwin and Faraday, Curie and Davy. But children don’t read these books, and it’s obvious why: they aren’t meant for children. They are written for an academic audience. Often a Victorian academic audience. A decent adaptation, however, would be just the job.
So I’ve had a go. I’ve adapted the first chapter of The Origin of Species to be used in secondary science classrooms.
The Origin of Species is a wonderful book. It explains one of mankind’s most important ideas by the man who thought it. It explains carefully and gently. It is full of wisdom and generosity. It reflects the time in which it was written. Darwin is persuasive, recognising other possible explanations, but carefully and thoroughly providing evidence to justify his own interpretation. I wanted to show this to younger readers, so I set myself this challenge:
- Use Darwin’s phrases and examples where possible.
- Keep Darwin’s conversational tone, his use of ‘I am convinced” and ‘my impression is.’
- But, keep the word count to 500 words per chapter.
I decided only to adapt the first four chapters, because they contain most of the big ideas.
The result is a text that children won’t be able to read unsupported. Just like any challenging text, it needs to be taught. So I have included teachers notes – a sort of lesson plan. The idea is that reading the text comes as the achievement at the end of the sequence of preparation, like a performance after rehearsals. The satisfaction of reading the text is the reward for hard work. Please feel free to use. I will adapt chapters 2, 3 and 4 over the next few months.