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- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!


I Wonder (2013)

Written by Annaka Harris

Illustrated by John Rowe

After my recent interview with Horus Gilgamesh, I suppose I've got atheism on the brain.

Annaka Harris is the wife of famed neuroscientist and philosopher, Sam Harris, himself the author of The End of Faith and The Moral Landscape (and the new, about-to-be-released Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion) and - along with Dan Dennet, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, one of the so-called four horsemen of the 'New Atheism' movement. I have often enjoyed his books and watching his debates and talks online, so I took him seriously when he wrote:

"Readers often ask me to recommend a great book for young children. My wife, Annaka, has finally written it! ...The purpose of I Wonder is to teach very young children (and their parents) to cherish the feeling of 'not knowing' as the basis of all discovery. In a world riven by false certainties, I can think of no more important lesson to impart to the next generation."

But enough about Sam. Annaka edits and acts as a consultant for science books, co-founder of Project Reason: Spreading Science and Secular Values (here, here!) and teaches Mindfulness for Children exercises through the organization Inner KidsI Wonder is her first book for children.

That's a lot to know about a book before even opening it (or in my case, downloading it). It was hard not to read it as "an atheist picture book," which does it a great disservice, as any pigeon-holing does. God could well exist within the world of I Wonder, it makes no declaration either way, but neither does it invoke the deity. It is a rather simple back-and-forth between a mother and a daughter, trying to make sense of the universe around them.

John Rowe's illustrations are gorgeous. He makes a walk through the woods seem cosmic and mystical... and when the narrative suddenly has the child walking through the cosmos itself, tiptoing in orbit with the sun, it seems a natural progression.

"But, Mama, how does the moon really stay close to us?"

"There is an invisible force called gravity that pulls all the things in the universe together. Gravity keeps the moon close to the earth, and it keeps the planets close to the sun, too."

"Mama, where does gravity come from?"

"I don't know, Eva. Nobody really knows for sure. And when no one knows the answer to something, it's called a mystery. A mystery is something for everyone to wonder about together."

I feel that short exchange is pretty representative of the entire book. A concrete, scientific answer, followed by an honest admission. The answer is not God. Or aliens. Or universe-creating pixies.  The answer is mystery. I do think that is an important lesson to share with our children, but I hope that we also push them to find answers for these questions. Where does gravity come from? Perhaps one day the answer will be apparent. But there will always be another mystery with which to replace it.

Just the other day, my 8-year-old son asked me a question about comets. He wanted to know why they didn't just disintegrate. I made up an answer that sounded right. Then my wife, who is far more intelligent than I am, told him the actual answer. Arlo looked at me and said, "You're just like Calvin's dad." Referring to the father from Calvin and Hobbes. As impressed as I was that my son who was born almost two decades after the final Calvin and Hobbes strip was published, I took his admonishment to heart. Do not be like Calvin's dad. Read I Wonder, and then look up why comets don't just disintegrate.

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