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ASU postdoc tackles 'change' in first children's book

Book explores the story of a young joey who must leave his mother’s pouch


"Joryn Looked Up" is filled with art that is reflective of real-world environments and their inhabitants.

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May 30, 2017

After years of helping create educational content for younger audiences, Karla Moeller has published her first children’s book: “Joryn Looked Up.”

Moeller, a post-doctoral scholar at Arizona State University's Center for Evolution and Medicine, first wrote for children in 2010 as a volunteer for Ask a Biologist. She was asked by Charles Kazilek, ASU’s Chief Technology Innovation Officer and creator of Ask a Biologist, to create a story about DNA for the website. Despite no previous experience writing for children, Moeller fell in love with the process.

“I really liked that challenge of trying to get one, or a few, messages through in the simplest way possible and creating a fun story around that,” Moeller said. “I like to write what I call fictionalized non-fiction. The whole story is fiction, obviously, but you sneak in bits of non-fiction.”

The book tells the story of Joryn, a young joey who must accept that he has grown too big for his mother’s pouch. The book addresses change, and Moeller first came up with the idea during a rough period of change in her life.

“I wanted to somehow express that, even when change is scary, good things will probably come from it,” Moeller said. “The only way a bad situation can get better is through change.”

Once she’d played around with the idea for a while, Moeller tried to think of something in the animal world that was an abrupt and alienating change for an animal. A joey moving from a protective pouch to being on its own in the outside world was a perfect analogy.

Just because the idea was perfect didn’t mean the process was. Moeller said her first draft was far too “hand holding” in getting the message across. She reached out to Jewell Rhodes, the former director of ASU’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, for help. Rhodes then connected Moeller with Brooke Bessesen, who gave her advice that helped polish the piece. From there, Moeller sent the manuscript to family and friends who have young kids to get their feedback.

As for the illustrations, Moeller turned to ASU alumna Sabine Deviche, who worked at ASU as a graphic specialist and was a member of the School of Life Sciences Visualization Lab. Deviche agreed to help with the passion project and even explored watercolors for the first time while creating the art.

Moeller and Deviche also managed to sneak some real science into the book, as they both learned from Kazilek. The art is littered with various animals and plants native to Australia, and there’s a glossary that introduces them all in a way children can understand. Moeller and Deviche also consulted with ASU faculty members, including Moeller’s doctoral advisor, Dale DeNardo, to make sure the animals and plants included were likely to be found in the same habitat.

The duo isn’t done either, and are already planning their next book. According to Moeller, their next piece will focus on different family types in an effort to show children that there is no such thing as a “normal” type when it comes to families.

Those interested in buying “Joryn Looked Up” can find it on Amazon or request it as a special order from their local bookstore. It is currently available in both English and French.

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