My name is James Lu Dunbar and I was born and raised in Berkeley, CA. My Mom is a developmental psychologist from China and my Dad is a puppy training pioneer from England. I went to a small private school and then a very large public high school. Along the way I developed an enthusiasm for four things: education, art, science and society. These manifested themselves at Berkeley High where I wrote and illustrated a couple of children’s books – one about racial prejudice and one about calculus. In my senior year I wrote and illustrated the school’s comic strip, with my good friend Patrick Hamilton.
I went to Brown University because there was no core curriculum. In my first two years I didn’t take two classes from any single department, and then I ended up majoring in both visual arts and sociology. I added painting and book-making to my interests, creating both giant oil canvases and multiple editions of complex pop-up books. I cross-registered to take computer art and illustration classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. In the summers, I began training, then working as a white-water rafting guide in Idaho, on week-long trips in the Frank Church Wilderness. I had my Latvian emergency/intoxication pyschologist step-father to thank for the addition of nature to my growing list of pursuits.
After graduating college I spent 6 months traveling around the Pacific Ocean and Asia with my partner. Following that we lived in Boston, where I got a part-time job as an optical-novelty factory-worker and spent my nights and off-days working on a project that would ultimately come to be called the Universe Verse. It started with the idea of making an illustrated baby-book about where babies come from, rhyming and scientifically accurate. A book that would explain the concept of genes, heredity, and evolution as simply as possible, so that the youngest age would either understand it, or simply enjoy hearing it.
But while I was writing, I kept asking “Why?” in the way a very young child might, because I really wanted to break it down into the simplest, most important parts. I ended up with such a long list of topics, that I decided to begin the story at the beginning, and build my way up to the matter of where babies come from. (which is really quite the miracle when you get down to it!)
And so I began researching and writing BANG! The Universe Verse: Book 1, about the origin of the universe. I would go on to write Book 2 and 3 about the origin of life on Earth and the evolution of humanity. I moved back to Berkeley where I began working for my Dad’s puppy-training publishing company. In December of 2007 I self-published a hand-bound edition of 349 books, entitled 7 River Riddles, which consisted of riddles I had written while working whitewater in Idaho, with elaborate pen illustrations which contained hidden clues. I built a website, JLDunbar.com, to provide an online home for my books, art and photos. In December of 2008 I published Gordy McGranite Grapples with Gradients: A Calculus Story, my Calculus children’s book, this time using Lulu.com, a print-on demand, self-publishing website.
Finally, in 2009, after two years of editing and the constructive criticism of a couple of CalTech astrophysicists, I got down to illustrating BANG! I self-published it with CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) in December and sold it to family and friends. In 2010 I tried to publicize and promote my work, I made BANG! free as an eBook, and reached out to everyone I could think of: scientists, teachers, science teachers, professors, skeptics, agnostitics, atheists, homeshoolers, planetariums, museums, science centers, librarians… and bloggers.
Thanks to about 20 awesome blogs and a handful of newspapers and interviews I have been able to spread the word about my project to a ton of people, many of whom have requested the free PDF. Then I read an article in WIRED about a website called Kickstarter which presented a wonderful opportunity. Kickstarter allows people with a cool idea sell a product in advance, in order to raise money for its production. By contacting the bloggers and others who requested BANG! I was able to raise a pretty penny towards illustrating Book 2. And because we exceeded my goal of $5000, the eBook will be available to the public for free.
In return for all that money I raised I’ve promised to send my backers a bunch of my other first-edition books, as well as some original art. I also have to illustrate It’s Alive! The Universe Verse: Book 2 as soon as possible and send my backers their first-edition copies. I promised them I’d document the whole process, editing and illustration, and post it for them as updates through Kickstarter. But since the digital book will ultimately be free, I figure I should make this whole thing public. So here I am starting a blog.
I’d like to end this with a call to any creative, scientific or educational people out there looking to collaborate. I want to take this in as many directions possible: music, animation, interactive eBooks, lesson plans, problem sets, pop-up books, lunchboxes, t-shirts… If there’s anyone else who wants to create products that make science cool for kids, why don’t we work together?
Download the Universe Verse Books 1 & 2 by emailing DunbarJam at gmail, or preview both books online at JLDunbar.com