Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: HOW TO BUILD A HUMAN by Pamela S. Turner
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Amanda Bishop
HOW TO BUILD A HUMAN: IN SEVEN EVOLUTIONARY STEPS is an outstanding work of narrative nonfiction. As an anthropology major, and former instructor of biological anthropology, this is one of the best books I’ve read as an introduction to human evolution. There is something so simple, yet elegant, about how the information is presented in this book. I think it is a great introductory text for all those who need to know more about human evolution and humanity in general.
While this book is profoundly informative it is not without a sincere sense of humor. It takes a great talent to crack a joke about Star Wars in the middle of a discussion on the evolution of human language. This is most evident in the author’s use of footnotes. I think this is a great tool to encourage young readers to actually read the footnotes thereby teaching an essential reading skill. I particularly liked “Yes, fossilized skeletons can tell us something about ancient butts. Just another wonder of science” (pg. 37) Footnotes like these will get readers to wonder more about the topic and want to deepen their research.
The biggest strength of this book is that the presentation of the information is styled exactly to younger readers. The language is familiar and new concepts are presented in ways that anyone can grasp. Turner uses clear examples to demonstrate the concepts introduced. Her repetition of the phrase “the environment tests and the environment selects” emphasizes the points she is trying to make throughout this book and keeps a thread that connects each evolutionary step.
In terms of Newbery criteria I think this book is most distinguished in terms of presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization as well as appropriateness of style. Turner sections the book into chapters that focus on what she characterizes as “Seven Evolutionary Steps” and the information contained within each chapter is succinct and well organized, as well as approachable to younger readers. It reads much like a textbook in terms of organization, but reads like narrative nonfiction in terms of ease and humor. The appropriateness of style is present throughout with the consistency in how Turner presents the information and ties it all together.
Overall, I think How to Build a Human is a solid choice for the Newbery Award this year and is a wonderful book to introduce children to the study of anthropology and human evolution.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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