Module 11: Our Family Tree

family tree

APA Citation

Peters, L. W., & Stringer, L. (2003). Our family tree: An evolution story. San Diego: Harcourt.


This picture book introduces the concept of evolution in terms of a family tree. It traces  human evolution using broad strokes and beautiful illustrations. Starting with single celled organisms and stretching all the way to modern humans, the book helps draw connections and gives dominant characteristics at each stage. The back pages include more detailed information as well as a timeline.


I loved this book. Evolution can be a complex and challenging concept for young students to grasp. Our Family Tree ties together the broader elements in such a way that makes it digestible for elementary students. The beautiful illustrations alternate settings; either in the featured time period or the present, with a family playing on the beach. By the end of the book, the family has drawn a timeline of sorts in the sand that connects all the stages of evolution which the author chronicles.

I think the strength of the book is that it doesn’t overwhelm readers with in depth scientific language. Rather, it makes the concept relatable and gives students a place to begin building knowledge of the science of evolution. Moreover, it gives kids a sense of how we as humans fit into the nature of all things and how we are all connected.


Hazel Rochman (Booklist, Mar. 15, 2003 (Vol. 99, No. 14))
It seems like a great idea: tell the story of the evolution of all living things by showing that “all of us are part of an old, old family” and that we can trace our roots back to “tiny round cells in the deep dark sea.” But it’s not that easy to explain the minutiae of DNA and the sweep of Earth’s geology and biology to a young audience. This oversize picture book, with chatty text and elaborate, packed, brightly colored, double-page illustrations, may look child friendly, but it’s sometimes confusing. Readers are told that the time line, which appears in tiny print, isn’t drawn to scale, but it certainly looks as if microscopic bacteria haven’t been around much longer than primates. The second part of the book works best, tracing the emergence of warm-blooded creatures right up to the excitement of walking upright. This is best suited to classroom use, where adults can turn to helpful notes at the back to discuss our connections with those first tiny round cells and how we’ve changed since then.

Vicki Arkoff (Midwest Book Review, “Vicki’s Bookshelf” column, May 2003)
This gentle family album of life on earth introduces the fundamental scientific concept of the evolution of species to young children. Vetted by anthropologists and geologists, the book’s science is accurate and expressed in simple, easy-to-understand language. An illustrated time line and glossary help expand the story for children and families. The book was released to coincide with the one-hundred-and-twenty-first anniversary of the death of British scientist Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory. His “On The Origin of the Species” detailed the theory of natural selection. Modern children can now grasp the basics of Darwin’s once revolutionary theory through “Our Family Tree.” More than ever, intriguing science books like this are of vital importance to introduce basic scientific principles and to help children increase their scientific knowledge. In addition, author Lisa Westberg Peters worked with credentialed elementary and secondary school educators to create specific lesson plans based on “Our Family Tree”, to increase the book’s value as a teaching tool. Lush illustrations by Lauren Stringer (who previously illustrated the award-winning “Castles, Caves and Honeycombs” by Linda Ashman) sparkle, making this a fascinating visual feast for eager young learners.

Use in Library

This book fits so seamlessly into science curriculum, it would be great to collaborate with classroom teachers to coincide with their biology lessons. This book could be a starting point for teaching adaptation. Depending on the teacher’s plans, we could work together on a project for the students to research ecosystems and the animals that live there.


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