The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 8th

UNC biology professor Alan Jones creates kids’ coloring book

Jake King, who produced a lot of the artwork for the "My Life As A Plant" coloring workbook, explains some of the content to Peter Dunson, age 7.
Buy Photos Jake King, who produced a lot of the artwork for the "My Life As A Plant" coloring workbook, explains some of the content to Peter Dunson, age 7.

Coloring is a popular pastime among children, from filling in pictures of zoo animals to Disney princesses.

But thanks to the work of UNC biology professor Alan Jones, children can now use their crayons to learn complex plant biology concepts.

Jones oversaw the creation of “My Life As A Plant,” an interactive coloring book for children that simplifies the 12 principles of plant biology, published by the American Society of Plant Biologists.

“Believe it or not, I was shocked to find that there is nothing like this in the world,” Jones said. “There are many coloring books on animals and zoos, but not plants.”

Jones said he thought of the idea last fall and presented it to the society, which backed the project and agreed to fund the operation.

The society printed 3,000 copies at $1 per book, but the books will be free, Jones said. Copies are available from the department directly or from the society’s website.

Jones added that copies are being sent to Brookside Gardens in Maryland for distribution, and the Smithsonian Institution has shown interest as well.

With the typically complex content simplified, interest is spreading throughout the science communities, he said.

Local plant biologists will also bring the books to classrooms as teaching tools.

Jones said he sought involvement from the UNC art department and enlisted the help of four students to draw the book illustrations.

Senior art major Jake King, who worked on the illustrations, said he heard about the project through a listserv, and it grabbed his attention.

“We all worked really well, and the design and art teams were very cohesive,” he said.

Jones also worked with two undergraduate biology students — Jordan Humphrey and Emily O’Mara.

“I had a certain idea of what I wanted but they were very helpful about the education side,” he said.

Jones said Humphrey and O’Mara played important roles in the production, as they came up with concepts relevant to young children.

“There’s a lot of concern, even in the upper ranks of the scientific community, about poor outreach, PR, rapport, whatever you want to call it, between younger generations and science as a discipline — that they’re losing promising budding scientists,” O’Mara said.

The finished product was in print by spring of this year after being reviewed by the education specialists of the society, professional artists and plant biologists.

Susan Whitfield, a visual arts specialist in the biology department, was involved with the editing of the book.

Whitfield said the idea captivated her attention because of its long-term value and practicality.

“I’m not a kid anymore, but I think if I had this little coloring book I’d be really excited about taking crayons to it,” she said.

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The Daily Tar Heel for December 1, 2021

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