Sabina Radeva is a graphic designer and illustrator, and – more recently – an author. Her love of art and science led to her literary debut Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species which has now also been published in Bulgarian by Ciela.
Sabina Radeva is a graphic designer and illustrator, and – more recently – an author. She lives in London with her two daughters, and her favorite activities include walking in nature, reading books and painting. In 2008 she finished her master's degree in molecular biology but later made the switch to a creative career. Her love of art and science led to her literary debut Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species which has now also been published in Bulgarian by Ciela. The first UK edition of the book became a bestseller on the English market and has already been translated into thirty-one languages. In these days of social isolation, browsing the pages of this wonderful illustrated book about the life of Darwin and his amazing discoveries is a great way to turn young readers into avid explorers and enjoy your days at home with them. We talked to Sabina Radeva about the book, the connections between the world of science and art, and about what the future holds for Species and nature.
What inspired you to work on On the Origin of Species? What about this book appealed to your creativity?
I am interested in projects that combine science with art. When I came across Darwin's On the Origin of Species, one of the most important books in science, I decided to read it in the original. Darwin's work impressed me with its beautiful language and methodology. Even in the absence of modern technology, Darwin managed to arrive at his revolutionary theory through observations, various experiments, and an endless curiosity about the natural world.
During my research on the book, I noticed that there were many misconceptions about evolution, as well as strong opposition and controversy. Perhaps the complexity of the topic and Darwin's archaic language are an obstacle for many who want to learn more about his theory. This inspired me to make a children's book adaptation that is artistic, accessible and at the same time offers accurate scientific information. Both children and adults can benefit from such an adaptation of the work.
What do you hope children will learn from this book?
The book offers answers to a variety of questions. What is evolution? Why are there so many dog breeds? Have people and life on earth always looked the same? Above all, I hope the book will help children understand Darwin's theory, but also inspire them to study nature and the world around them.
And what are the books you like to read with your own children?
My children and I like to read fairytale books – both English and Bulgarian. They are also interested in illustrated science books. We sit down to read them together when they ask me difficult questions. Fortunately, right now there is a great variety of beautiful scientific books that appeal to both children and adults. Sometimes I also learn new things while reading them.
Tell us about the challenges you faced while working on this project.
The most difficult creative aspect for me was writing the text. I am not a professional writer and before that I only had experience with academic writing. In my free time I like to write, but it's not the same as making a text for a certain age group. There are requirements relating to what words are appropriate (and what words children know at this age). The text also has to be fun and interesting for the little ones. Darwin's original book has many passages that are difficult even for adult readers. After many drafts and conversations with collaborators, we ended up with a solid final draft that meets all these requirements. It took two years.
Another challenge was how to condense 500 pages of information into one thin book. In picture books for children, much of the information is encoded in the drawings themselves. This format allowed me a lot of creative freedom. I used funny illustrations, diagrams, visual stories and humor. So I managed to gather the most important information and present it in an interesting way. Although the book looks fun, the scientific aspect is not slapdash. Each page supplies a dose of scientific information that has been verified and approved by the scientists and teachers I consulted with.
What would an imaginary sequel to this book look like? What do you think will happen to the Species and nature more generally?
Darwin's book has an end, but evolution continues. With time, everything changes or evolves. We evolve along with all other organisms on earth. It is difficult to speculate about what will happen. So far, what the history of the earth shows is that species appear and disappear, and eventually humans as a species will most likely disappear like our predecessors. It is difficult to imagine what species will replace us. There's a very interesting book by Dougal Dixon called After Man: A Zoology of the Future which deals with this issue.
What is the role of art in the learning process? What are some good practices and examples in this area that you have come across recently?
Art and design can make complex information more understandable and accessible (infographics are an example of that). When I was adapting the book, I wanted the illustrations to attract readers on their own terms. There are many children and adults are maybe not interested in evolution and would not pick up this kind of book. Art can arouse our curiosity – if something looks interesting or beautiful we want to see it. In fact, this is the idea behind many new children's science books on the market. Beautiful and clear illustrations can inspire and help children learn more things. There are many recent examples and I am an avid collector of such books. All of the books published by Flying Eye Books, for example.
How is new knowledge most easily acquired, in your experience?
Once the foundation has been built, it is easier to add new information to it and upgrade. Children's books help children acquire such a foundation and then learn more about different topics at school. Topics such as evolution, ecology, physics, if addressed from an early age in an appropriate way, can support learning at a later stage.
Your next dream publishing project is...
I am currently working on three new books. I am the author of one, and the other two are collaborations. I can't talk about these projects yet. But I can say that they are books that combine science with art.
The most recent interesting and curious thing you learned is...
An interesting thing I learned recently is that some parasites are useful to humans. The word parasite sounds scary and parasites have a bad reputation. But there are parasites that stimulate the immune system and even protect against disease. Of course, we already know about useful bacteria, but there are also some worms that are useful. There are worms that increase women's fertility, help with allergies and wound healing, and can even improve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. There are many interesting new articles on the subject. The relationship between the microbiome and health is a curious topic.
You can find more illustrations by Sabina Radeva at www.sabinaradeva.com.