One Day a Dot, by Ian Lendler

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Picture book readers vary. There are the ones who read every word faithfully, the ones who wander off on each page going, “do you see the flippers on the nice tetrapod, Moo?”, the ones who make things up that bear only glancing resemblance to the author’s original text. Then there are the footnoters.

I am a mix of all of the above, but oh, am I ever a footnoter.

Because…mostly picture books that are trying to inform kids are aiming for simple, and once upon a time I was given a superhero name by an ex-boyfriend, and that superhero name was The Great Complicator. (He was wrong. My superhero name is The Non Sequitess. But I digress.) And I know all the arguments that kids need simple, and that picture books need simple. I get that.

But part of simplicity is choosing which simplicity. And choosing carefully.

Which brings us to One Day a Dot.

One Day a Dot is telling a very simple, very small child oriented creation story. It is telling the story of how the universe got from nothingness to you, tiny child. It starts with the Big Bang and goes through planetary formation (in the blink of an eye) and evolution and all the way to your current family, where you live as the end product of evolution.

Did you wince at that phrase, “end product of evolution”? I winced typing it, but this is a very, very linear narrative. It is a directed narrative. It is a narrative in which the self-centeredness natural to a tiny human child is not the least bit disturbed: you, tiny human child, are not only the most important thing in your own life, not only the most important thing in your parents’ lives for a few years yet (as indeed you must be to survive), but the most important thing. The. Most important thing.

For example, when a comet falls, tiny human child is told, “When the big dot hit the blue dot…the explosion turned the whole sky red. The world was on fire…and all the land-fish burned. But one thing survived.” BZZZZT sorry wrong! It will be quite important to you, tiny human child, that more than one thing survived. You are a mammal; quite a few other creatures you like will probably be mammals; but guess what? It turns out that many, many other species that are *not* proto-mammals survived the Cretaceous-Palogene Extinction Event, and it will be important to the entire world and to you particularly–especially if you are the sort of tiny human child who is interested in these things–that they did.

So…this is a book with very cute illustrations, and it gives very cute My First Bible kinds of answers to not at all Biblical narratives. And if you are the sort of person who wants a simple narrative to footnote–if you find it useful to be able to say, “okay, but not quite like that”–then you can bounce around this book with a tiny human and say, look, yes, but also no. The Great Chain of Being was not fundamentally right, evolution is not a line, and resulting in you does not mean that you were its goal, any more than echidnas or the current coloration on the moths that have been peppery in various shades, but yes, One Day a Dot, and so on for billions of years.

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