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Children's Author/Illustrator Biographies

 

Simon, Seymour
Author
www.seymoursimon.com


2002 Ludington Award Winner

Ludington Award Citation

SOURCE CITATION
"Seymour Simon." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, 2nd ed., 8 vols. Gale Group, 2002. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007.
Photograph provided by HarperCollins.

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
Seymour Simon has been publishing science books for young readers since the late 1960s. In addition to many nonfiction titles on such diverse subjects as animal behavior and astronomy, he has also written fictional works that introduce children to science and computer principles, such as his "Einstein Anderson" and "Chip Rogers" books. Simon explained his motivation in an interview with Geraldine De Luca and Roni Natov for Lion and the Unicorn, "It's very important to get kids to read science books from a very young age," Simon said. "If they're not reading books about science by the time they're twelve, you've probably lost them. When they grow up, they will view science with a great deal of fear and misinformation. Thus, if we want a literate citizenry, we have to start children on science books when they're young. They have no fear at a young age, and they will stay familiar with science all of their lives."

Simon was born August 9, 1931, in New York City. "I've always written--even while I was a high school student," he recalled for De Luca and Natov. He was also very interested in scientific topics while growing up. He attended the Bronx High School of Science, and became president of the Junior Astronomy Club at the American Museum of Natural History--projects he did in this capacity included grinding his own telescope mirror. Simon also enjoyed reading science fiction, which fueled his scientific interests.

After obtaining his bachelor's degree, Simon continued his education with graduate study at City College (now City College of the City University of New York). Between his undergraduate and graduate years, Simon served in the U.S. Army and married Joyce Shanock, a travel agent, on Christmas Day of 1953. His graduate work centered on animal behavior, and he later used the study and experience in many of his works for children about animals. After finishing his schooling, Simon became a teacher in the New York City public schools. "After I began to teach, I decided to try to write while I was teaching," he commented to De Luca and Natov. "I sent some articles to Scholastic magazines and although they didn't accept the articles, the editor of one of the magazines asked me to come in and he gave me an assignment, which happened to be for an article about the moon. The editors were very interested that I taught science because they were having a very difficult time finding anyone who could write who also knew something about science."

Simon continued writing articles for Scholastic for a few years, then decided to write an entire book. "Since my field in graduate school was mostly animal behavior, the first book that I wrote was called Animals in Field and Laboratory: Science Projects in Animal Behavior, " he explained to De Luca and Natov. "I was teaching ninth grade then and a lot of kids in my classes were doing projects. I would tend to influence them to do work on animal behavior."

Since Animals in Field and Laboratory was published in 1968, Simon has written many books containing simple science experiments that younger readers can do themselves with minimal help from teachers or parents. Though many of his works focus on animals, others focus on physics or chemistry principals. Several encourage children to explore their own immediate environments to learn about science, such as Science in a Vacant Lot and Chemistry in the Kitchen. One of Simon's most acclaimed works is 1971's The Paper Airplane Book, in which he uses the examples of different paper airplanes to explain the principles of aerodynamics that make real airplanes work. Critic Zena Sutherland, writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, called The Paper Airplane Book "an exemplary home demonstration book," noting that "the author uses the process approach, suggesting variations on the airplane and asking the reader to consider why a certain effect is obtained, or which change is most effective for a desired result." This approach is typical of Simon's books. "It's questions like these that occur to me and that have been asked of me by children (both my own and in my science classes) that make me want to write science books," he once explained. "The books I write are full of such questions. Sometimes I'll provide an answer, but more often I'll suggest an activity or an experiment that will let a child answer a question by trying it out."

Simon retired from teaching to write full time in 1979. "When I stopped teaching, I had published about forty or fifty books," he told De Luca and Natov. "But I found that I wanted to spend more time in selecting the types of books that I would do. I had been doing books that were very curriculum-oriented. They were not textbooks by any means, but they were books that were tied in with class work. What I really wanted was to write the kind of books that a kid might pick up in a library or in a bookstore, and I found that I needed more time to do that kind of book. My newer books are different from the earlier ones."

Some of Simon's later books are completely different from his earlier works in that they are fiction. Always looking for ways to interest children in science, Simon uses an appealing character who adores bad puns and solves mysteries through his knowledge of science in his "Einstein Anderson" books. The series has been widely compared with the "Encyclopedia Brown" books of Donald Sobol. Kay Weisman, reviewing The On-Line Spaceman and Other Cases in Booklist, recommended giving the book to "graduates of Sobol's 'Encyclopedia Brown' series as well as science and mystery fans." Similarly, in Chip Rogers, Computer Whiz, Simon's protagonist solves mysteries with his computer, exposing his young readers to actual BASIC programming in the process. As he concluded in his interview with De Luca and Natov, "I'm going to continue to write imaginative books about science, and continue to present them in ways that I think are interesting or novel."

With his works numbering two hundred and rising, Simon has tackled almost every imaginable science topic, from outer space to the inner workings of the body, and from natural phenomena such as weather and geology to animals in nature. Simon has explored the solar system planet by planet in his writings. In Destination Mars, for example, he includes pictures from the Mars Orbiter Camera as well as the Hubble Space Telescope to provide an introduction to the red planet. Danielle J. Ford writing in Horn Book Magazine noted that Simon's "descriptions and explanations of Mars--its geological and meteorological features and historical speculation about them--present a coherent picture of what scientists know about the planet." The same contributor praised Simon's "remarkable ability to write a comprehensible yet rigorous science text for young children."

Simon also brings this same rigor to writing about animals. In Gorillas he again blends "highly expressive photographs" with "concise and child-friendly writing," according to Horn Book Magazine's Ford. Using this winning combination, Simon provides, as Ford wrote, "a fairly full picture of gorilla behavior, physiology, habitat, and daily life" in only sixteen pages of text. Reviewing the same book, Booklist's Todd Morning applauded Simon's "clear, straightforward prose." Simon has also produced texts about sharks, ants, snakes, birds, turtles, and that favorite of favorites, dinosaurs.

Exploring closer to home, Simon has also written numerous books about the human body. The Heart: Our Circulatory System is a "clear and thorough look," according to Horn Book Magazine's Maeve Visser Knoth, while The Brain provides a "lucid text" explaining the nervous system, noted Booklist's Carolyn Phelan. And reviewing Muscles: Our Muscular System in Booklist, Susan Dove Lempke wrote, "Simon once again proves his remarkable facility for making complicated science clear and understandable." Such a description could pertain to the entire collected works of this versatile and prolific writer.

PERSONAL INFORMATION
Born August 9, 1931, in New York, NY; son of David and Clara (Liftin) Simon; married Joyce Shanock (a travel agent), December 25, 1953; children: Robert Paul, Michael Alan. Avocation: Reading history and poetry, collecting books and art, playing chess, listening to music, computers. Education: City College (now City College of the City University of New York), B.A., 1953, graduate study, 1955-60. Memberships: Authors Guild, Authors League of America. Addresses: Home--4 Sheffield Rd., Great Neck, NY 11021. Agent--Harold Ober Associates, 425 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017.

CAREER
Writer. New York City public schools, science and creative writing teacher, 1955-79. Military service: U.S. Army, 1953-55.


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