Thursday, May 23, 2019

Shelf Awareness--Moth: An Evolution Story

PB Review: Moth: An Evolution Story

Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illus. by Daniel Egnéus (Bloomsbury, 48p., ages 6-10, 9781547600205, June 25, 2019)

Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egnéus's Moth, about the transformation of the peppered moth (Biston betularia), is endowed with such a sense of wonder, the evolution story is almost elevated to the realm of myth.

It all begins "with a little moth... waking up from a long winter's sleep." After it "wiggle[s]" and "jiggle[s]," "uncurl[s]" and "unfurl[s]," the "salt and pepper" creature emerges. But "hungry predators" lurk nearby--the moth quickly flies away, joining other peppered moths looking for food while trying "not to get eaten themselves." Most have "speckled, freckled wings," although there are a small number who are born with "wings as dark as charcoal." As the sun rises, the peppered moths settle onto nearby trees. The salt and pepper variety blend right in, but the charcoal ones stand out against pale, "lichen-covered branches." Thomas's poetic yet pragmatic text asks, "Who was the best hidden? Who would survive?" Because the speckled, freckled moths have the best camouflage, they're the ones with the highest survival rate. They lay eggs and "pass on their salt and pepper wings." Until the world changes.

With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, people build factories, burn coal "to power magnificent machines" and use steam trains "to take things here... there... and everywhere." The air fills with "smoke and soot." In this "darker" world, which moths have the best camouflage? The "darkest" ones, with their "charcoal-colored wings," now live long enough to lay eggs and pass on their wing color to offspring of their own. Fifty years later, there are "as many peppered moths as ever," but they're mostly the darker, charcoal-colored moths. The "speckled, freckled" ones are rarer because "the moths [have] adapted to changes in the world." But then things change again. Cities begin to green up their acts. "Year by year by year," the air becomes cleaner and "trees shed their sooty bark." The "speckled, freckled" moths can once again blend in, and "today, both colors of moth find places to hide and survive."

Combining watercolors, crayon, acrylics, collage and Photoshop, Egnéus creates stunning visuals that feel soft and organic, yet also intricate and precise. Creative use of color, light and shadow, in addition to intriguing textures and bold shapes, make each spread fascinating to behold. Even the cover outdoes itself--silver foil highlights evoke the feel of ethereal moths shimmering in the moonlight. Back matter condenses the evolution of the peppered moth into two pages of historical facts. A deeply fulfilling look at the ups and downs of natural selection, this chronicle of the peppered moth remains one "of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: The principles of natural selection and adaptation take on a mythic quality in this picture-book look at the evolution of the peppered moth.

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