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Follow Human Impact to Hope in Moth: An Evolution Story

Moth: An Evolution Story

Written by Isabel Thomas; illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019

ISBN #978-1-5476-0020-5

Grades PreK and up

Book Review

“This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope.” So begins a creative nonfiction tale that indeed explores the notions of contrast, evolution, and perseverance within the natural world–all through the unlikely hero of the moth. With these opening lines, Isabel Thomas chronicles the fascinating tale of the peppered moth, born with black-and-white speckled wings and the occasional charcoal-colored wings. Throughout much of history, the peppered moth used its camouflage to hide on lichen-covered branches from predators, passing on its survival trait to offspring every year. But as human industry expanded and coal became a major fuel source for powerful machines, the light peppered moth stood out against the trees and buildings now blackened with soot and smoke, while its dark-winged counterpart now stood a better chance of survival. What happened next is a prime example of how a species undergoes natural selection and adaptation, and how human intervention still plays a critical role in the survival of the natural world around us. Thomas’ compelling text combines figurative language with straightforward explanations, while Daniel Egneus’ mixed-media illustrations augments the wonder and warning of the true tale. Moth is a valuable contribution to any unit on ecology, evolution, or environmentalism.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

Introduction to Moths. Many preschool and elementary science curricula include units on butterflies, but why not moths? Use Moth: An Evolution Story to introduce a unit on moths, perhaps as a follow-up to a butterfly unit, or in place of it. Ask students what they know about moths, including what perceptions they have about the roles that moths play in the ecosystem and how they impact human life. Compare and contrast the anatomy and ecological contribution of moths. How does that compare and contrast with butterflies? Some titles you might want to share include Du Iz Tak?, by Carson Ellis; Butterfly or Moth? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart; Oscar and the Moth: A Book about Light and Dark, by Geoff Waring; Butterflies and Moths(DK Eyewitness Book), by Paul Whalley; and Night Life of the Yucca: The Story of a Flower and Moth, by Katherine B. Hauth. Enlist the help of your school or local librarian to identify other books and multimedia resources to share and explore in this unit.

Impact of Industry on the Natural World. Human industry serves as the catalyst for the peppered moth’s adaptation and evolution in the last 200 years. What are some other ways that human industry has directly impacted the survival or evolution of a species? Are these influences relatively benign, or do they have more significant consequences? And how does that impact come full circle to affect the human species? Invite students to explore these questions in an inquiry unit. Share some resources, such as this article published recently in Time Magazine, this article from Discovery Education, and this article from NatureWorks, as well as the books mentioned in the teaching invitation above. Use your databases from your school or public library, such as EBSCO or InfoTrak, to find other articles and resources that are age-appropriate for your students. some books.

Adaptation, Natural Selection, and Survival. As Moth carefully demonstrates, animal adaptation is an element of natural selection and a response that takes place over time to the changes in a species’ natural environment. The theory of natural selection plays out over generations, as those species that are able to best adapt to a changing environment are more likely to survive and produce offspring that share characteristics that allow it to survive in the altered ecosystem. Moth also shows that the phrase “survival of the fittest”, often associated with the theory of natural selection, doesn’t mean that the strongest or most aggressive species will survive. Explore these concepts, using the book’s back matter as a further resource. Share this Animal Planet website showcasing examples of other animals that have found a different meaning for “fittest”, and challenge students to research and identify a variety of animals that have evolved and survived by adapting to environmental changes over time.

Precise Words. Guide readers to take note of the precise words Isabel Thomas employs in her writing: vivid verbs, such as “stretched and quivered,” and descriptive adjectives, such as “speckled, freckled moths.” How would the text read if she had used more conventional words? Have students replace these precise words with more mundane ones and compare the revised sentences with Thomas’ original ones. How does the use of precise words change the impact of the text? Have students take a piece of writing that they are already working on, highlight key words, and have them help one another brainstorm more interesting, precise, and descriptive choices.

Figurative Language. Isabel Thomas also fills her writing with figurative language, such as the alliterative sentence, “The moths flittered and fluttered…skittered and swooped…and looped the loop all night long” and the winketty wonk”. Help students do a close reading of the text, noting how those language choices enhance the content of the text. Have students identify the lines they like best, making sure they explain how the words and language in those lines make them feel and what they make them think. Then, have them try emulating what they like in Thomas’ text within their own writing.

Critical Literacies

Perceptions of Moths. Despite their delicate frame, moths are some of the most feared and detested insects. Isabel Thomas’ sympathetic text and wonderful word choice helps to combat those perceptions. In reality, moths are greatly misunderstood, are often as beautiful as butterflies, and serve a critical role as pollinators. Have students brainstorm the reasons why people think so negatively of moths, then have them question and research these reasons more critically. For example, do all moth species eat clothing? How different are they really from butterflies? Rather than raise butterflies in the classroom to observe and study, have your class raise moths. Use a night vision app (available for many smart phones and tablets) or set up a regular video recorder and a lamp bright enough to record, observe, and study them. Support students to create multimodal presentations of their findings, and share them with the larger school or local community.

Reversing the Damage. Moth: An Evolution Story ends on a hopeful note, indicating how humans are working to reverse the damage to nature we’ve created and helping endangered, vulnerable, and threatened species grow and thrive again. Have students research the species that may be endangered, vulnerable, or threatened in your region because of human impact? In what ways can humans work to reverse the damage? Support students in identifying activist efforts they can pursue to save these species.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Moths – PBS Learning Media

Moths – Smithsonian Bug Info

National Moth Month – National Geographic

Butterflies and Beyond – National Museum of Natural History

Butterfly or Moth? – American Museum of Natural History


Ellis, C. (2016). Du iz tak? Candlewick Press.

Hauth, K. (1996). Night life of the yucca: The story of a flower and a moth. Ill. by K. Sather. Roberts Rineheart Publishing.

Himmelman, J. (1998). A luna moth’s life. Children’s Press.

Stewart, M. (2011). Butterfly or moth?: How do you know? Enslow Publishing.

Waring, G. (2008). Oscar and the moth: A book About light and dark. Candlewick Press.

Whalley, P. (2002). Butterfly & moth (DK Eyewitness Book). Dorling Kindersley.

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.