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5 Questions With... Seymour Simon

Seymour Simon
November 4, 2013

Seymour Simon, whom the NEW YORK TIMES called "the dean of [children's science] writers," is the author of more than 270 highly acclaimed science books. He has received the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Lifetime Achievement Award for his lasting contribution to children's science literature, among many other awards. Seymour Simon is also a founding partner in StarWalk Kids Media (www.StarWalkKids.com), a streaming e-book platform designed to provide high-quality digital literature from top quality authors to schools and libraries. More than 50 of Seymour Simon’s popular books are now available in this digital format. Follow him on Twitter: @seymoursimon. 

#IRAchat with Seymour SimonFrom your unique perspective as a teacher, author, and publisher, what are the elements that make a nonfiction text riveting for a young reader?

Good writing is essential for any text, fiction or nonfiction. Too often we expect nonfiction to be “the player to be named later” in terms of quality. We expect good fiction to be “good” because of the excellence of the way a story is told; why shouldn’t we expect the same with nonfiction?

Good nonfiction is not just a list of facts that you can find anywhere, particularly in these days of the Internet. But good nonfiction tells an amazing story of real events that engages a reader completely. I strive to make my nonfiction books as absorbing as possible, setting the stage with an interesting beginning, full of fascinating facts and comparisons, lively language and a real point of view from the author and a conclusion that raises other questions so that the reader will be interested in finding out more.

With the authority that comes with being the “dean of [children’s science] writers,” can you describe your vision for the perfect utilization of scientific stories in today’s classroom?

I can tell you what I’m not interested in: Having my books become text books so that kids can be tested on lists of facts. Instead, I want to inspire kids to become interested in a subject not just for now but for the rest of their lives. I want to arouse a sense of fascination with the real world around them, the world of plants and animals, weather and seasons, starry night skies, volcanoes and earthquakes, and the poetry of life and the beauty of nature.

In an Engage blog post, you said, “Far too often, we've been asking our children…to unplug when they walk through the front doors of a school building.” Why is it important for children to interact with texts in digital formats in a school setting?

Children are digital natives, while most of us older folks are digital immigrants. Digital natives are not afraid to touch and explore devices such as tablets and computers. Give a kid a tablet and he/she will learn how to manipulate it faster and more easily than we digital immigrants will ever be able to.

To ask a kid to unplug when he walks into a school building is like asking a kid to use a feather pen to write on goatskin. Don’t be afraid that eBooks will stifle a love of reading. On the contrary, a digital library of good books that each kid can access from home and school is like a dream come true to me, a kid who grew up in a poor household that could not afford many books.

You’re co-hosting the next #IRAchat (11/7 at 8pm EST) with Jennifer Altieri on the topic of informational reading and writing. What are your goals for the night’s discussion?

My goals are two-fold. First, I want to show that nonfiction can be every bit as literary and artistic as fiction for young readers. And second, to show that reading good literature itself is what counts, not whether the reading is done with printed books or with eBooks. At this point in my life, I read both on a tablet and with printed books with equal enjoyment. There are many considerations about which one I’ll chose but it has more to do with convenience and type of book than it does with literary choices.

As a Twitter chat veteran, what advice do you have for participants that will help them get the most out of this new style of professional knowledge sharing?

Twitter is amazing for the great quality of the teachers/librarians that are using social media to learn more about education and books. I am delighted and happily surprised to find such good ideas coming out of a Twitter chat. Participants in these education chats not only get good ideas that they can use with kids, but have the pleasure of meeting other professionals from around the country who become good friends and colleagues. I consider myself lucky to be able to interact with teachers who use my books with their students.

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