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Blazing a Digital Trail with a Streaming E-book Platform

by Seymour Simon
April 15, 2013
p: Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Photographer: Michael Zamora
How is it that I’ve become a digital publisher, after a long and happy career as both a schoolteacher and an author of many books?

The simple truth is that I have been always been interested in technology, and particularly attentive to the seismic digital shift that is happening all around us. Several years ago it became clear to me that as a teacher, a prolific author, and a gadget geek from way back, I wanted to become a participant in planning the way forward into this exciting, new digital age.

Kids are digital natives, unlike most adults. (We—you and me—are more like digital immigrants.) Kids are intuitive in their approach to technology. They're comfortable with exploring, navigating, and utilizing gadgets virtually without instruction. Kids love technology and depend on their personal technology such as smartphones and tablets for fun, for social interaction, for communication, for exploration, and for learning in virtually every aspect of their lives.

Except school. Far too often, we've been asking our children, these true digital natives, to unplug when they walk through the front doors of a school building. Why should this be the case? Our schools are supposed to be teaching 21st century literacy skills and preparing our young for the real world and the digital revolution. Although we may not be entirely there yet in terms of acceptance, it should be clear to most educators that reading, writing, learning, and even assessment will all soon be heavily influenced by digital devices and capabilities.

And so we began, two years ago, to develop a digital publishing platform designed to deliver high-quality, digital trade books—both fiction and nonfiction —into schools and libraries. Working with my wife and former SESAME STREET Creative Director Liz Nealon, we developed a streaming e-book delivery platform called StarWalk Kids Media.

This platform delivers on all the criteria that teachers and library media specialists told us were critical for them: high-quality e-books that work on whatever kinds of computers or tablets the school might have; that are available to be used by multiple students simultaneously, at school or at home; and (perhaps most importantly) are affordable. I'm a teacher as well as an author. I want my books to be read. And I want them available to every student in every school, not just the elite ones.

And so we began. At first, we were working exclusively with my back catalog—good books that I know kids and educators love, but that had been allowed to go out of print because of the economics of traditional publishing. I was thrilled to discover that, in the process of converting these books to formats customized for digital devices, we had the opportunity to also update the content. Wow! It was a dream realized. As a science writer, I’ve always had to accept the fact that virtually any book I write starts to be out of date from the moment it is published. My field is one that is ever changing. But in digital publishing, this is not the case. When there are significant changes, a digital book can be updated. So for example, my formerly out-of-print planet books are not only back, they have new illustrations and updated text.

Gradually, we began to reach out to other high-quality authors who, like me, had great books languishing, out of print, on their shelves. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, these treasures gradually came back to life—updated, digitized, and welcomed by a new generation of kids.

Today, StarWalk Kids Media publishes eBooks by nearly 50 well-known authors and illustrators, including Laura Vaccaro Seeger, David A. Adler, Johanna Hurwitz, Kathryn Lasky, Doreen Rappaport, Caldecott-winner Emily Arnold McCully, and many more.

We have also designed our e-books and their supporting materials to support educators in the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards. We worked with my friend, the renowned literacy expert Linda Hoyt, who designed a detailed format called Teaching Links, which we supply with each of our StarWalk Kids e-books. These Teaching Links match each individual text to applicable Common Core standards, and suggest classroom activities that support the CCSS goals.

And now, just in time for #IRA2013, I am so proud to announce that my new series, EINSTEIN ANDERSON: SCIENCE GEEK, has been completely re-thought, re-written and expanded as a “fiction meets nonfiction” hybrid, illustrated by the wonderful artist Kevin O’Malley (click here to read a sample chapter). The new books each have five fictional stories in which Einstein Anderson and his best friend, Paloma Fuentes, use their science knowledge to unravel all kinds of tricky puzzles and mysteries. At the end of each story the reader has a chance to solve the mystery before Einstein. And then there is a real-life science experiment that kids can do at home, so they can become Science Geeks, too! I’ve also loaded all the experiments as PDFs on my website so that kids and their teachers can download the experiments for free and print out to use at home or in the classroom.

I previewed this concept for about 1,500 educators at the Illinois Reading Council several weeks ago, and an audible gasp rippled across the room when they heard the "fiction plus nonfiction" structure. This is one of the Common Core standards that educators struggle with, and we are very excited about the prospects for this new series.

I am still primarily an author, of course. I rely on the professional expertise of my colleagues to run the StarWalk Kids Media publishing company. They are an exceptional team with unparalleled expertise in branding, editorial, design, programming, marketing, and distribution.

Each educator is finding his or her way into the new digital age. It is going to be a great day. And I am proud to be part of it!

Come see Seymour Simon at IRA 2013. He will be co-presenting “Focus on Engagement: Celebrating An Active Stance with Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, and Viewing” on Friday, April 19, 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.

© 2013 Seymour Simon. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.


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