MYSTERY SOLVED! Fiction meets Nonfiction in Einstein Anderson: Science Geek by Seymour Simon
Since most of my books are nonfiction – informational books about science – some people ask me how I happened to write Einstein Anderson: Science Geek. The story began back when I was a science teacher in a New York City Junior High School. I’m sure that many of you who are teachers will recognize the scene:
It was mid-June. My ninth-graders had finished their state exams and we were really done with the science curriculum for the year. Outside the classroom windows we saw blooming flowers and sunny skies – summer vacation was nearly here and to top it off, my students were moving on to high school next fall. They liked science but saw no reason to study hard at this point – in fact, the kids were pretty much bouncing off the walls…
In a desperate effort to keep the class focused on science (actually, on anything!), I began telling them stories involving puzzles or mysteries. At the end of the story I’d ask students to figure out a solution to the problem. The one who figured it out became “Einstein for a Day.” These mystery stories became incredibly popular with my classes. Kids were vying to become Einstein. I decided to write stories like these with an “Einstein” character and my editor at Viking-Penguin thought it would be great to publish them.
In truth, the character of Einstein was based on me when I was a kid, and also a little bit on my sons, Robert and Michael, who loved science, too. In the times when I was in elementary school, pretty much every class had its science geek or nerd and I was the nerdy one who loved to quiz my classmates to see who could name the planets in order going out from the sun (in those days there were nine planets and I still miss Pluto!) or see who would fall for the old standard: “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of rocks?” I also loved silly puns – in fact I still like to make my wife cringe!
The books were well loved by kids when they were first published by Viking-Penguin and Morrow brought them out in a slightly revised edition a decade later. When we started our digital publishing company, StarWalk Kids Media, we thought it was time to update Einstein, give him a smart phone and a laptop and some more diverse and tech-savvy friends, and bring the series to life once again so that a new generation of students can become Einstein for a Day. We also had them re-illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, an incredibly talented artist.
Adam “Einstein” Anderson loves science, as I do, and thinks it’s fun to know about the natural world and figure out mysterious puzzles. He and his best friend, Paloma Fuentes, have a great time outsmarting adults and using their wits to convince the school tough guy that brains can win out over brawn. Neither Einstein nor his friends are really geniuses – they just use the science they know to figure things out. Each story contains clues about the science theme that Einstein will apply to solve the problem, so readers can really play along with Einstein and Paloma. But read carefully – sometimes the clues are false! For example, in The Impossible Shrinking Machine the sun shines directly on the same house door both in the early morning and late afternoon. That’s impossible! (Do you know why?) And that’s the clue to the solution.
We know that children love games and puzzles and everyone likes to solve mysteries, so we have written the Einstein Anderson stories to engage children in 3rd to 6th grade and model not just how to gather information, but also how to use thinking and reasoning skills and apply science principles in the real world.
Characters use technology in the stories, including searching the Internet for information, but you can’t really figure out the answer to the puzzle just by Googling. It’s more than just information you need to solve a problem You have to ask the right question to get the right answer, and in order to figure out the right question you have to think about the problem and understand what’s going on. This is great modeling for how we use the Internet in real life and I think kids who try to get the answers to our mysteries by looking things up will learn as much as others who just read the book. As long as they are using their brains they are getting something out of it!
It’s unusual to combine fiction and nonfiction the way we do in the Einstein Anderson books, but we think that’s a great way to hook a reader who thinks science is hard – as well as the “science geek” who can’t get enough chances to use obscure science facts. The stories can be enjoyed on different levels by science novices and students who have a huge store of science knowledge.
We have designed the series to meet Common Core State Standards for reading both fiction and informational text – and our Teaching Links suggest ways of comparing the two. Perhaps most helpful of all, every Einstein Anderson story comes with a hands-on science project or experiment children can do at home or at school. The science experiments are good examples of procedural text, even though they are written in Einstein’s voice. They also contain lots of valuable science information (see “The Science Solution” section at the end of the experiment where Einstein explains why the experiment works) and they are just plain fun. None require hard-to-get lab equipment, but younger kids should have a bit of teacher or other adult assistance. So try a few experiments in your kitchen or classroom and let me know how it goes.
Bad joke of the day from Einstein: Why can’t you trust anything an atom says? Answer: Because atoms make up everything!
Have fun with Einstein Anderson, Science Geek!
Seymour Simon (@seymoursimon), 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, and his website, www.SeymourSimon.com, is a Webby Honoree site, as well as one of ALA’s 2012 “Great Websites for Kids.”
Seymour Simon is also a founding partner in StarWalk Kids Media (www.StarWalkKids.com), a streaming eBook platform designed to provide high quality digital literature from award-winning authors to Schools and Libraries. More than 50 of Seymour Simon’s popular books are now available in this digital format.