From manatee calves being raised by a single mother to male jacana birds who raise related young from nearby nests — there are hundreds of family structures found in the wild. Arizona State University alumna and staff member Karla Moeller highlights these diverse families found in the animal kingdom while drawing comparisons to human families in her latest children’s book, “Moms, Dads and Lily Pads.”
Moeller, who earned her PhD in biology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2016 and serves as executive education outreach coordinator in ASU’s Office of the University Provost, first became passionate about science writing and communication through her involvement with ASU’s Ask A Biologist. In 2016, she took this passion to the next level when she wrote “Joryn Looked Up,” a children’s book about overcoming and embracing change.
After enjoying the process of creating her first book, Moeller brainstormed ideas for another. She spoke to her friends who are parents and learned that many of them didn’t feel truly represented in most of the children’s books that were available.
“By having conversations with friends who didn't feel that their family type was represented in many books I started thinking about different ways that animals could be used to represent different family types,” Moeller said. “At first I was focusing really heavily on one specific type of family, but then I realized that there were examples of essentially every type of family in other animals as well.”
In the 40-page picture book, Moeller introduces over 10 animal species that have diverse family structures, similar to some seen in humans. In the animal glossary section of the book, Moeller shares more in-depth information about 23 different kinds of animals.
“Nature has always been a driver of inspiration and interest for me. I got into science because the natural world is just amazing and I think that it's really important to realize how many lessons we can learn from it,” Moeller said. “That's part of why I try to combine my science background with writing.”
Unlike in her last book, Moeller utilized rhyming language, which posed a new challenge for her.
“It was the first time that I had tried to make a book that rhymed, which was very challenging. I actually enlisted the help of graduate students who have their own children who are really great judges of books,” she said. “I had them go through and help me gauge if there were any spots that tripped them up or that they didn't understand which was really helpful.”
The illustrations for “Moms, Dads and Lily Pads” were created by Sabine Deviche, an ASU alumna who earned her bachelor’s degree in drawing with a minor in biology in 2010. Moeller and Deviche first met during their time working together on Ask A Biologist.
For many years, Deviche served as a graphic specialist and visualization lab team member for ASU’s School of Life Sciences. Today she works as an independent contractor for ASU, creating graphics for a variety of projects mostly related to developing science-based educational material for K–12 audiences.
Deviche said through her collaboration with Moeller on her first book, the pair realized they make a great team.
“Creating the illustrations was a highly collaborative process with Karla. I’d send her work-in-progress images to review throughout development to get her input on all aspects of the page,” Deviche said. “Her feedback was especially valuable in ensuring that the anatomy of the animals and their environments were correct. My favorite part was learning more about the animals and their habitats myself, especially some of the lesser known animals.”
With the book, Moeller and Deviche hope to encourage families and children to broaden their definition of what a family can be while celebrating what makes their own family unique.
“It's so important that children have role models and examples that help them understand that there's no one ‘normal,’” Moeller said. “If they have a type of family that is less common, it doesn't mean that they are any less special. Diversity in families should always be celebrated.”
To learn more about “Moms, Dads and Lily Pads” or to purchase a copy, visit Moeller’s Etsy shop.