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Charles Darwin’s story told from a different type of narrator

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By Special to the Monitor

Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Rosie, a rose chafer beetle, played an important part in Charles Darwin’s voyage of discovery. Author and paleoanthropologist Anne Weaver signs her new illustrated chapter book, “The Voyage of the Beetle,” at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at Otowi Station Bookstore. Afterwards, Tea World will host a chat with Weaver and feature Dutch-treat snacks and drinks.

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The book is a reimagining of Charles Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle” as seen through the eyes of a beetle named Rosie. It starts with the real story of Darwin’s popping a beetle into his mouth.

In “Voyage of the Beagle,” Darwin recalls, “I will give a proof of my zeal: One day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! It ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.”

“The book was inspired by Charles Darwin’s own account of his seminal five-year voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle,” Weaver said. “I loved Darwin’s youthful enthusiasm, his unbounded curiosity and his lively descriptions. I wanted to introduce a wider audience to this appealing character whose ideas changed the way we think about life on earth.”

The book has an unusual narrator, said Weaver. “‘The Voyage of the Beetle’ is narrated by a rose-chafer beetle named Rosie. It’s written as a search for the ‘Mystery of Mysteries,’ the question of species’ origins. Why are there so many different species, or kinds, of living things on earth?

“Why are present-day living things  similar to ones in the past, but different, too? Where do new species come from, and why do they arise? Rosie uses encounters with the natural world — based on descriptions in ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’—to provide clues to the mystery. She writes the clues in beetle tracks in Darwin’s journal while he is sleeping. The reader is invited to come up with a solution before Charles does.”

Although the book’s reading level is aimed at kids ages 9–12, Weaver said, “The book is intended to work for readers at many levels. It unfolds as an adventure story, with humor and anecdotes to appeal to younger readers.

A wide cast of Rosie’s cousins discuss adaptation, variation and ecology in accessible language. At the same time, every chapter opens with Darwin’s own words, and the elements of natural selection theory are presented straight up. We’ve also put up a web site www.voyageofthebeetle.com, where we’re starting to develop classroom activities and provide a forum for questions (‘Ask Rosie’).”

When asked about her writing for children, Weaver said, “My writing is a direct outgrowth of teaching. I taught at Santa Fe Community College practically from the first day I got my M.S. until very recently. From the beginning I was fascinated by the challenge of communicating complex material in an exciting and lucid way. And writing is an extension of that challenge.

The great thing about being published is that all your hard work doesn’t just vanish into the ether the way it does after a lecture. The downside is you don’t get that magical live interaction that happens when a class is really cooking.”

Weaver is a paleoanthropologist, with a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico. She taught evolutionary anthropology for many years and is now a full-time writer.