Hardarshan S. Valia
From my nascent days of schooling in the small town of Chindwara, India, I’ve marveled at the colorful canvas of rocks displaying flow of highly colored minerals. I was lucky enough to follow my passion of the Earth’s history through schooling into my work place at Inland Steel (now Arcelor Mittal) R&D Laboratories, East Chicago, Indiana. My professional life was dedicated to studying carbon usage in the steel industry. There, I studied with amazement the magical formation of colorful carbon forms during the coal-to-coke carbonization process. To an untrained eye, coal and coke are dirty-looking materials. But looking under an optical microscope, seeing how the organic entities in coal melt into nematic liquid crystals that come closer and seem to talk to each other as they coalesce into a beautiful entity called coke, one falls in love with nature’s wonder. It is this intoxicating interaction with science that I wanted to share with others.
No, no, I did not run like Archimedes shouting, “Eureka!” because the coal-to-coke carbonization phenomenon had been observed for years, but I started to go to nearby schools to help children see the beauty of earth materials that I saw and continue to see. My work travels had taken me to many parts of the world where I would take every opportunity to amass my collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils. Like a folk storyteller, armed with my earth wares and wealth of stories, I would sing the Song of Earth and tell stories of Earth’s Evolution to children who, in my biased opinion, loved it very much. After the end of class, they were allowed to handle the specimens and make their own observations. Those years of telling
tales finally ended up in my taking on a project
of writing a book where my protagonist describes the evolution of life through
various geologic times.
There are four points I consider in writing for children to make Geology/Earth Science attractive to them.
1) Make it scientifically correct.
Stories/films are frequently endowed with creative licenses; the brain evolves and knowledge-hungry children are able to sort out facts from fiction. This means, yes, there is a role for Science Fiction for children in an effort to ignite the “What If” moment. However, misconception should not be created when writing science genre for children. Presentation of scientific facts must be based on what we currently understand as valid science. In my story, some characters are fantastical but the science of Earth’s history is accurate.
2) Show large scale geologic phenomenon in simple form.
To show that Mountains are formed when rocks are folded or uplifted, I show them an actual slab of Marble from China where a layer of Iron-rich brown/black mineral is folded into mini-mountains amidst the backdrop of white marble.
3) Connect the unknown to the known
To show that two organisms probably evolved from a common ancestor, I show them a large rock slab that contains two straight shelled Orthoceras and three coiled shelled Ammonite fossil types of Cephalopod fossils from the Atlas Mountain Range of Southern Morocco (See Figure 2).
The fossils are from the Devonian age (359-416 million years ago). I connect them to the current relatives of Cephalopod as follows:
4) Anthropomorphism and humor are effective techniques
To make it interesting in my story, I portray how my protagonist is drowning due to turbulence in the ocean and is rescued by a cephalopod who grabs the protagonist and provides shelter in its chamber. To give interest to my fossil character, I make them talk and exhibit all ranges of anthropomorphism.
Here is a scene in my story when the protagonist first meets a Mastodon before the start of the ice age.
“Sunny, why do you carry that trunk?” I wanted to know.
“I was the Sheppard for the Pigsty family. I used my trunk as a rope to encircle smaller pigsty.” He spoke as a stand-up comedian with a serious look on his face.
“Come on, that’s not the real reason.” I knew that he was kidding around.
“I was a circus acrobat. I used my trunk to swing from the high rope,” he said seriously.
“Oh, really!” I wanted to tease him. “Show us your great swings on this tree!” I pointed to a large tree trunk before me.
“That tree won’t take my weight. I need a big tree.” He knew fully well there was no tree in sight that would support his weight.
“Come on! I need to know now. Why do you carry that trunk?” I was getting impatient.
“O.K., O.K., Small Doodle!” That is the name he used for me whenever he showed affection. Then he continued, “A big body needs big hands, a big mouth, and a big stomach so our noses and upper lips became elongated, resembling a hand-like feature, allowing us to pick up food from the ground or pluck leaves from the trees.” He said the entire thing in one breath.
“Very interesting!” I exclaimed. His explanation made perfect sense. I marveled at nature’s evolutionary processes.
This approach is how I disseminate the beauty and the science of Earth through story telling and writing to those well on their passageway from childhood to adulthood.
Hardarshan S. Valia has published stories, essays, and poems in magazines such as: Huffington Post, NWI Times, Urthona, Hub, Bitterroot, Iron & Steel Technology, Sikhnet, Sikhchic, and Sikh Review. A story entitled “India…ana” will be published in a book entitled “Undeniably Indiana” by Indiana University Press in August 2016. During his tenure as Staff Scientist at Inland Steel (now Arcelor Mittal) R&D Laboratories, East Chicago, he contributed mostly to science journals and science books. He is married and has two children. He is a member of Indiana Writers’ Consortium, Magic Hour Writers Group, Write on Hoosiers and SCBWI.