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Adam the Ape: A book review

Adam the Ape by Wolfgang Wambach

When I was a kid in the 80s (yes I’m that old), I was obsessed with a TV show called BJ and the Bear. The show was simple: put a truck driver and a chimp together in a big rig and then have them fight off villains and rescue people, all while exploring the country. Did I mention that the chimp wears a styling fedora? To my six-year-old sensibilities, this was practically high art. Eventually, I outgrew the show, but I never lost that childhood love of chimps and everything ape-like, and that is why I was delighted to find out that a new book, Adam the Ape by Wolfgang Wambach, has a chimp and 13-year-old kid that go on an wild adventure together. But I was thrilled when I read it and discovered that the book not only has a fun premise, it is chock-full of information about evolution. In fact, it teaches young kids about evolution so well that the Richard Dawkins Foundation praised the work and interviewed the author to help promote it. The Jane Goodall Foundation recommends it, and several skeptic and scientific organizations around the world are trying to get the word out about it. As you can imagine, that got my interest.

Now, if there is one thing I love more than BJ and the Bear it is evolution. That is because it is a beautiful theory. A drop-dead gorgeous one, really. To my eye, what makes a scientific theory beautiful is when it is simple, yet explains so much that it suddenly changes how you see everything. That’s evolution. The idea is so simple anyone can get it in three steps:

  1. Living things reproduce
  2. They change as they reproduce
  3. Some of those changes are good and get copied into the next generation. Others do not.

Add millions of years of deep time to that picture (and a bunch of messy complications) and it is easy to see that things evolved slowly from single cells to all the amazing creatures we see today. The idea is so simple that even little children can grasp it, but once they do the whole puzzle of the natural world suddenly clicks neatly into place. My son absolutely fell in love with the idea that he was related to all living things, and seeing him light up with that sudden epiphany was one of those parenting moments I live for.

What Adam the Ape does is put that epiphany within the grasp of any child who loves a fun adventure story, or chimps, or fun adventure stories with chimps. (Some spoilers follow) The story carries the reader along as Kenny, a young outcast who is constantly chased by bullies and misunderstood by grownups, goes to the circus. Kenny is mute and uses sign language to communicate, and he is gobsmacked when he meets Adam, a circus animal who signs. What makes the story interesting is that they don’t instantly get along, and although they become best pals, they have some tough times ahead as they build a friendship that bridges species. Soon they find themselves being chased by the evil circus owner in scenes involving helicopters, running atop moving trains, and even bike-chase scenes that have some pretty smooth stunts. Did I say it was like BJ and the Bear? I meant Mission Impossible.

From the back cover. Adam the Ape rocks those sunglasses.

But the real magic happens at the end of the story because that is when kids are invited to learn about evolution in an epilogue that is nearly a book of its own. Children learn about DNA, common ancestry, and that wondrous notion that we are all related to every other living thing. 

This is a great book for boys and girls ages 8 to 14, and I suspect that even younger kids will love the story if a grownup reads it with them. My own eleven year old son highly recommends it, saying that he loves the whole idea of a talking ape.

You can learn more about the book and author at the book’s official website.

The author Wolfgang Wambach

Want to get Adam the Ape? You can get a copy at Amazon or Barnes or Noble.

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