Christopher Lloyd is the author of the new children's picture book Humanimal: Incredible Ways Animals Are Just Like Us!. His other books include Absolutely Everything! and What on Earth Happened?. He lives in Kent, U.K.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Humanimal--and for the book's title?
A: Last year I wrote a book on the whole history of the world from the beginning of time to the present day. It was called Absolutely Everything!
What fascinated me about this journey was that, after voyaging through billions of years of natural history, we eventually encounter humans as just another species amongst myriad other species. Meeting these early humans so at this point in the story meant they had no cultural, geographic, or racial baggage at all.
I think having this encounter with humans right back in the stone ages is why by the end of the book, once we have traveled right up to the present day, I found myself asking a profound question, which is this: To what extent are humans more intelligent superior then other species? Are humans the pinnacle of evolution? Or are people just another species alongside all the others and good at some things but not so good at others? In short, what does being human mean?
I divided the task into three key traits: our appetite to be social; our capacity for feelings; and our notorious use of tools and problem-solving skills to improve the world around us for our benefit.
These themes would become the three sections in the new book. And in each case what I discovered was that many of the things you thought were unique to humans have actually been happening in the animal world around us for millions and millions of years!
So the name "Humanimal" seemed to me to me most appropriate because by making this new word we can blur the distinctions between humans and other species. Perhaps simply changing the language will help us think differently about ourselves and emphasise the links we have with other species around us rather than accentuate the differences.
Q: As you mentioned, the book is divided into three sections: Community, Feelings, and Intelligence. Can you say more about how you chose the topics to include?
Q: What do you think Mark Ruffle's illustrations add to the book?
A: I have to say as soon as I saw Mark’s illustrations I thought they were just fabulous! Each image has a quality of being contemporary but endearing, of being individual but accessible. I honestly think they can be enjoyed by all ages, 6- 106.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: Well, I hope the stories in this book inspire children to talk about their fascination with creatures - and to discover with amazement how similar they are to ourselves!
I hope they will talk to their parents and their teachers about some of the amazing antics described in the book, such as bees that vote on where to locate the next year’s nest, or crows that use cars as nutcrackers, or an octopus that flares up and turns bright red in anger.
If these role models rub off in some small way then I will feel enormous satisfaction that children as young as 7 and 8 or 10 and 11 will be inspired to be the natural scientists of tomorrow.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Actually, I am involved in an extraordinarily exciting project as editor of The All-New Britannica Encyclopaedia for Kids: What We Know and What We Don’t!.
This giant encyclopaedia takes the concept of a reference book away from just being something to look information up in. Instead it will present a spectrum of possibilities, acknowledging things that are yet to be discovered. This will challenge children to decide for themselves what they think based on a range of evidence presented and displayed in front of them.
Britannica has the most fantastic orbit of experts and it’s especially rewarding to be working with them on a project that will manifest itself in print, given that Britannica has not actually published books since it took its famous Encyclopaedia, first published 250 years ago, online exclusively in 2012.
Once this next book is launched in fall next year I very much hope to tour the U.K. and U.S. with a quiz show based around learning cool stuff about the world we live in - far more amazing that anything you can make up!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Only that I am extremely fortunate to be able to travel as far as China and Australia and South Africa and the U.S., to be able to spend time in schools and museums and festivals with young people. It is my sincerest belief that children of the ages between 8 and 11 are at peak curiosity where everything is fascinating and nothing is beyond imagination. What a privilege!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb