Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Book that Started It All for Me

Other authors on I.N.K. have mentioned how they started writing books for kids or what children’s books truly inspired them. For me, one book answers both questions. A magazine writer at the time, I picked it up because of its intriguing title: Round Buildings, Square Buildings, and Buildings That Wiggle Like a Fish. (Sorry, I tried to get its cover shown here but messed up.) Philip Isaacson was an architect and wrote the book to explain the elements of architecture, but also to tackle the abstract notion of how and why we perceive beauty.

Frankly, I was blown away. Here was a guy who had clearly thought about this subject for a long time. He had passion and vision—two ingredients that characterize many great nonfiction kids books. And he could convey them both, beautifully.

Let’s go for the acid test, a discussion of the lowest and dullest of building materials—concrete. Isaacson starts by saying that concrete has strength, but can take on soft, flowing shapes. Then, as an example of both, he describes the now defunct Trans World Airlines Terminal at JFK Airport. “The designer of the terminal must have loved air travel, because he gave us a building that looks as though it is sailing through air. Its roof sits on columns that sweep upward and its insides soar toward the heavens. When we enter it we feel that our flight has already begun. Most terminals are the last place on land; this one is our first step into the sky.”

Okay, he can write. But what amazed me just as much as his lyric prose was his ability to explain complex, abstract subjects without dumbing them down a bit. He made us understand them—and feel them.

My reaction? I didn’t know you could write this way for kids!?! I want to try.

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AND NOW A REQUEST TO ANY TEACHERS OR LIBRARIANS who look at this site, or anyone with elementary school aged kids or anyone with access to elementary school teachers or kids…

My new book, See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House, deals with democracy, the electoral process, and ways kids get involved. To help kids start thinking about these issues, I created the KIDS SPEAK OUT! Survey—a quick (12 questions), anonymous, nonpartisan way for them to give their opinions on voting and issues facing our country.

The survey can be accessed via which takes you to my web site where you can click on the Take the Kids Speak Out Survey link on top. Another option is to go directly to my web site:

The goal is for students all over the country to participate. My target audience is 3rd to 8th graders, but the more the merrier. Could you look at this survey and, if you feel comfortable, tell students about it? Soon there will be a downloadable teachers guide for the book on the same web site that includes ways teachers can use the survey in their classroom. And other activities to help teach about elections in the fall.

Thanks so much--Susan


Kathleen Krull said...

Susan - I've already given SEE HOW THEY RUN a rave review in the July issue of Dominion Parenting Media (the free magazines in supermarkets, etc.)- with the link to your survey. The book is equal parts amusing & informative!

Joyce said...

My editor sent me ROUND BUILDINGS, SQUARE BUILDINGS as an example of incredible science writing. Too bad it's no longer in print! Am enjoying your blog. --Joyce Sidman