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'How We Found the Earth is Round' Kickstarter coming in March

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‘How We Found the Earth is Round’ Kickstarter coming in March

An interview with children’s author JR Becker!

Author JR Becker is back at it again with another critical thinking book for kids. His new book, How We Found the Earth is Round, hits Kickstarter on March 13, so we caught up with him to find out more.

AIPT: We’re here to talk today about your new Kickstarter that’s coming out for your upcoming book, How We Found The Earth is Round. What can you tell us?

JR Becker: That’s right, we’re launching the Kickstarter on Monday, March 13th, and I’m very excited about it. This will be the ninth book in the Annabelle and Aiden series. Everyone can visit the Kickstarter pre-launch page and set up a reminder. Then, once the campaign kicks off in March, they can pre-order a copy of the book and get their name or a picture of their face in the book if they want to. We’re excited to put this book out to everyone, which would be sent out in or before October.

AIPT: That sounds exciting! Okay, I have a pretty good idea of what How We Found the Earth is Round is about, but let’s talk about it. Can you give us a little bit of information on the story and what Annabelle and Aiden will be discovering?

'How We Found the Earth is Round' Kickstarter coming in March

JB: Sure! So, every Annabelle and Aiden book starts with a question that the children ask from something they see in nature. At the beginning of this book, Annabelle and Aiden are looking at the ocean and they see a ship sailing over the horizon, disappearing from the bottom up. They wonder where it went and why it disappeared from the bottom up, which by the way is one of the ways that Aristotle concluded that the Earth is round — from watching ships disappear over the horizon.

So Aiden wonders if it fell off the edge of the Earth, or if there’s like a boat elevator on the edge of the earth that’s slowly lowering the boat. The kids come up with all these ideas and then their friend Tardigrade Tom comes along and says, “Hop on my back. Let’s go back in time and find the answer!” They go back in time and visit ancient civilizations to see what they believed about the shape of the Earth, places like ancient Greece and Egypt. They visit with the ancient Chinese and Hindus. The children are amazed at beliefs like putting the earth as a flat disk or as a cube, or on the back of a turtle.

When they come to ancient Egypt, Annabelle spots an interesting looking building, which happens to be the Great Library of Alexandria. Inside is a Greek man named Eratosthenes, and they watch him figure out how the Earth is round. He measures Earth’s exact size, which he gets almost perfectly; he was off by a few miles, but gets it essentially correct. The way they see him do this is that he goes to the city of Cyrene and sees a well where he notices that at noon, the Sun does not leave a shadow on the well, but the sunlight reaches the water at the bottom of the well. This shows him that the sun is directly overhead.

So he wonders if the same thing would happen 500 miles away in the city of Alexandria. He travels to Alexandria but can’t find a well, so he holds up a stick and sees that the Sun casts a shadow, so is not overhead at that same time of day. He realizes that if the Earth was flat and the Sun was directly overhead, there wouldn’t have been a shadow, but since there was, the world must be round. He measures its distance by the degree of the shadow of the stick, 7.2 degrees, which is 1/50th of a circle. Eratosthenes multiplies the distance of 500 miles by 50, which is 25,000 miles. That’s how he got the circumference of the Earth!

AIPT: That’s a lot for a little mind take in, isn’t it?

JB: Yes! That took me a while. We try to fit a lot into each book. We tell it using a pizza analogy, like slices of pizza. We try to make it accessible to children, but yes, it’s a mouthful.

'How We Found the Earth is Round' Kickstarter coming in March

AIPT: Well, the kids are going to definitely learn a lot from this. Was there anything that you learned while writing it?

JB: I personally wasn’t aware of this at all. I didn’t know who came up with it, when, or how humans learned the Earth is round. An important, interesting point is that while many different civilizations had many different beliefs about the shape of the Earth, they all put themselves in the center of the Earth. They all thought that their capital city was in the middle of Earth, and that there were monsters all around them. That really, I think, says a lot about the root of racism, bigotry, and “othering.”

AIPT: That is interesting. It could also speak to egocentricism of sorts. You know, “it’s not all about you all the time, there’s others out there.”

JB: Yeah, we end the book with that thought. It’s the idea that when we learned the Earth was round, it was sort of us learning that we’re all equal. No one is at the center of our universe.

AIPT: Excellent! This sounds fantastic. Let’s talk a little bit about the opposite side of the coin. Why do you think it’s important for this information to reach children? And how does that play into some of the current conspiracy theories that are floating around out there?

JB: Most of us are aware that many flat-Earthers are still out there. They’ve seen somewhat of a return or convergence. This book, just like all of the Annabelle and Aiden books, is about critical thinking, which is so important in a world with flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience. My books do two things at the same time: one, they teach science and science history, and two, [they] also teach children how to wade through information.

The book just doesn’t say, “We know the Earth is round because I said so, and we know it, and NASA says so, and scientists say so, so we should just accept it.” It doesn’t say that, it actually explains the methodology in multiple ways. Not just through Eratosthenes, but also through ships going over the horizon and going up in a hot air balloon, where they actually see the horizon themselves. It’s something that we could actually do. The book is showing you that we can all figure this stuff out, we don’t just need to listen to the scientists, or scientific authorities, or flat-Earthers, or anyone. We can figure this stuff out ourselves, or at least understand how others did it in a way that makes sense to us.

AIPT: Right on, that’s a brilliant approach. I agree that it’s important for children and adults to know how we got from point A to point B, not just because, “I said so.”

JB: Exactly, and that’s what science is about. It’s what scientific authorities would tell us, too … In science you almost gain points for proving others wrong. I mean, they want you to prove them wrong because it’s not about them, it’s about the data. That’s why they say, “Here’s the data, this is what we found based on it.” That’s what the book shows as well.

'How We Found the Earth is Round"

AIPT: That’s excellent.

JB: Yeah, and … actually I started to get a little bit of pushback on this book, which is maybe surprising to some. It was surprising to me. On social media someone sent me a message and commented, “The Earth is not a sphere. Stop indoctrinating children.” I thought maybe he was joking and I went to his profile, and … no, he’s not. He’s a flat-Earther. That only confirms for me how important this book is.

AIPT: Oh, wow. How do you deal with people like that?

JB: I’m still deciding how to handle such things. I ignored him and just took it as a further confirmation of why this book is important, but in the future I think I’ll try to engage. I think it’s important, if not [for] that person, then for people to see the conversation being carried out. I don’t know. I’ll probably be sending a few copies of the book to the Flat Earth Society. We’ll see what happens from that.

AIPT: Oh, I’m sure that those guys will just love it. Okay, let’s talk about the Kickstarter. You said it will start March 13th with rewards likely to be out around October. Can you talk a little bit about the tiers that will be available? Perks?

JB: Yes, so it seems that out of all my Kickstarters, people enjoyed the one for the book called Oh My Gods! [the most], so I’m largely going to have the same exact rewards here as we did for that one. People could buy an author-signed book with stickers for $19, then the next tier would be getting your name in the book. We did a tier where you get two hard covers and then the next tier was two hard covers AND putting your face in the book. That’s something that there are limited spots [for] and people enjoy a lot …

Then we also have tiers for school visits. The best value reward tier comes to about $9.70 a book if someone buys 50 of them for a school, and that comes with these amazing Annabelle and Aiden backpacks that are very high quality. I will be giving them away as part of many of the rewards. So there’s a lot of exciting stuff there for people to see and choose from. We also have Tardigrade Tom plushies now!

JR Becker, children's author, poses by skull

Author JR Becker

AIPT: So, after this, your ninth book, do you expect to write another one in the future?

JB: Ha, okay, so my wife teases me, because after every Kickstarter I take a big breath and say, “Whew, that was a lot of work. I’m not doing that again,” and she says, “Okay, yeah … but you will.” I say, “Um, no I won’t,” and then three months later, I start to think of ideas like, “Oh, this would be great. This would be amazing.” And … then I do make it into a book. So, the final answer is — I never know.

But I have thought of doing a book about aliens and the search for extraterrestrial life for a while. It’d be fun. Maybe call it “The Golden Record,” about the Voyager and the golden record playing music out there … that would be fun for kids to know about. So, we’ll see.

Make sure to check out the pre-launch Kickstarter page for How We Found the Earth is Round, and get your notifications set up — you don’t want to miss the launch on March 13th!

Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. All month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture, and skepticism *OF* pop culture. AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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